Jurgen Klopp takes Liverpool back to the biggest stage in European club football on Saturday, desperate to rid himself of an unwanted record but confident in one fact.
The inspirational German manager’s run of failure in finals has been well documented, and analysed and rationalised intensely, but as he looks to inspire his team to the first trophy on his watch against Premier League rivals Spurs, Klopp has listed his current side as his best ever.
“I don’t like to blame my other teams. I love them all!” grinned Klopp at the club’s media day yesterday. “They all gave everything but I have never been part of a final with a better team than this, that’s true. In different times, for different reasons my teams were good as well.
“I am not so surprised because our boys mix our potential with attitude in the best way I have witnessed. That is brilliant, exceptional, and it brought us where we are.
“These boys did it for the chance of being there, gave us a lot, showed us a lot and in the five or six days between Barcelona and Barcelona, I would say nobody believed more in this team than the team themselves.
“That is why we are here. It is a sensational situation. We didn’t expect it, we wanted it really desperately but it looked like it slipped through our fingers in the group stage, we struggled in the away games, but did it in the most mature way.”
That Barcelona semi-final victory will live long in Anfield folklore, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s final, and that display against all the odds means that his claim does not appear particularly outlandish, especially given Liverpool have just finished the season with 97 points, third-best in the history of the Premier League.
But Klopp has already managed to put together some accomplished sides, despite his current poor run of form in cup finals.
The Liverpool manager has lost his last six cup finals —including two Champions League showdowns and three in his time at Liverpool, the League Cup and Europa League Finals of 2016 and last year’s heartbreaking reverse to Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Perhaps that explains why Klopp hesitated, half-jokingly, when asked if reaching the final on Saturday, for a second successive season, represents the highpoint of his managerial career. That honour belongs to a very different team from a decade and a half ago when Klopp was setting out on his managerial career, “If I win it, yes. It would be different to the last finals, eh?” he said.
“To bring the team to the Champions League Final is the biggest moment in my career? No, no, the biggest moment of my career was 2004, getting promoted with Mainz!
“If you had known the money we had, the circumstances we had, nobody needed us in the first league. That was so far the biggest moment, but winning the Champions League with Liverpool? That would make me think something new.”
It is that flirtation with history, with destiny, that makes this weekend so intriguing, not least because Liverpool face a familiar foe and one who should offer a cagey encounter given the fact they are from the same league.
“It will be very tight, no doubt,” said Klopp. “The quality of Tottenham and us is pretty similar. The difference between us in the league is consistency. We won both games, but both 2-1. The home game was a tight game with a lucky punch from us in the last minute. Poch is right. Emotions will be completely different.
“You have to use the emotions but in the right circumstances. It’s a special game, but we have to bring ourselves in the right mood.
That’s the job to do; play the game we want to play.
"We know about Tottenham a lot but after three weeks, I would have known the name of the groundsman of Barcelona as well if they had been the opponent.
“We know it is difficult, Tottenham know it is difficult so let’s play a difficult game and let’s win it.”
Meanwhile, the Madrid encounter will offer a reunion of sorts for Liverpool’s in-form Dutch international midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum who comes face to face with his former teammate Moussa Sissoko in the Spurs line-up.
The pair were in the Newcastle side relegated from the Premier League three years ago, a far cry from the heady surroundings of a Champions League final date and the biggest prize in club football.
“To be fair, with Moussa I have quite a good relationship from Newcastle,” said Wijnaldum.
“When I went there, he was the first player who brought me to eat something, so it was not even a Dutch player, even though there was a lot of Dutch players there.
“Since that moment, I have had a really good relationship with him. He came to my house a lot of times in Newcastle and even when we split, when he went to Tottenham and I went to Liverpool, we have still continued to speak to each other.
“We congratulated each other about [reaching] the final, but in the final we will not be friends for 95 minutes – and afterwards we will speak again. He is a special friend because, as I said, when I came to Newcastle he was one of the players who helped me to settle in.”