The day Jurgen Klopp walked into his first Liverpool press conference, in 2015, he prophetically claimed he would be sitting in the same seat four years later with at least ‘a title’,
Saturday’s Champions League final victory saw him deliver on that promise in spectacular fashion and with perfect punctuality.
Now, however, in order to truly claim ‘mission accomplished’, the focus, once the celebrations have been rightly relished, must quickly switch to next season’s Premier League campaign.
When you consider Liverpool’s enigmatic manager took over a team four years ago that was struggling to even qualify for Europe, the achievement in Madrid, despite all the money spent in the interim, is special; victory in the second of two consecutive Champions League finals and the ultimate trophy in European football now nestling in the Anfield cabinet alongside the previous five that made legends of his predecessors.
But Klopp must know that however glittering the famous big-eared trophy might be, it isn’t the ‘title’ that will define his Anfield era and not the one which Liverpool’s global fanbase first brought to mind when he made his famous statement.
The irony is that while Pep Guardiola has claimed his legacy at Manchester City, despite all the trophies he has already won, will depend on his ability to deliver European success, Klopp’s ultimate mission is to deliver a first ever Premier League title for a club that, in the 1970s and 80s, used to take finishing first as their inherent right.
He came so close to achieving that goal this season, pipped only on the final day by magnificent City, and the margins are slender; but Liverpool’s goal this summer is to find a way to bridge that tiny gap with the one or two extra bits of quality that could tip the balance.
In that sense, winning the Champions League is the perfect first step; it brings with it the prestige and extra finance that means Liverpool can compete at the very highest level in this summer’s transfer window — and they’ll need to.
On the face of it, the squad doesn’t need much.
Perhaps another world-class centre-half, perhaps something different, something unpredictable, in midfield; but the purchase of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson last year showed what a difference just two players can make and you can be certain the Anfield hierarchy will not be resting easy; they know the best time to buy is when you are on top.
The full return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from injury will make a difference, of course, but Liverpool also know they cannot afford to rely on spirit and hunger to turn around so many games next time, even if it made them so thrilling to watch; they want the kind of professional and dominant performance which saw them overcome Tottenham in Madrid without the drama that typified much of their Premier League campaign.
In that sense, winning the league title will undoubtedly be Klopp’s biggest challenge, however long he stays at Anfield, and of course he knows how tough that challenge is.
History undoubtedly helped Liverpool take the Champions League, it gives them a stature in Europe that provides an advantage at every level and especially on those glorious European nights in front of the Kop.
But, as he hinted in that first press conference, it may also be what is making life tougher in domestic competition.
“Twenty-five years ago is a long time,” he said that day (although of course now the wait is 29 years).
“In this time all people have tried to get better, to improve, to take the next title. But history is only the base for us. You don’t take history in your backpack and carry it with you for 25 years.
“When I left Dortmund my last sentence was: ‘It’s not so important what people think when you come in, it’s much more important what people think when you leave’.
"Please give us the time to work on it, to think more positive than you do today about me and about all the people at LFC.
“This could be a really special day if you want and if you work for it and if you are patient enough. We start today in a difficult league against opponents who are bigger and bigger but in a special, Liverpool way, we can be successful.
"We can wait for it, I don’t want to say we have to wait for 20 years, but when I sit here in four years, I’m pretty sure we will have won a title. I’m pretty sure.”
One, two, three, four, five...SIX!! 😁 pic.twitter.com/KZ66RqrJ8W— Liverpool FC (@LFC) June 2, 2019
On reflection, Klopp’s confidence, in himself and in the club, was both admirable and bold; but it has proved correct — and his determination to manage ‘in the present’ rather than trying to emulate heroes of the past has been the right way to handle the pressure.
“It’s cool that some of you, and the fans, are looking forward to the next few years and months, but none of these past managers said: ‘My target is to be a legend’,” he said in 2015.
“This is a great club because of many, many great decisions in the past, now we have to work in the present.”
Right now, in the present, Liverpool are European champions; but the desire, and need, to be champions of England is no less than when Klopp first arrived.
It’s the next step, the next target, the ‘title’ that will place Klopp up there with Shankly and Paisley and the final realisation of his opening-day promise.
Given the way he has driven Liverpool so far, don’t rule out it arriving in time for his five-year anniversary.