Jurgen Klopp exclusive – ‘If I was smart I would have left in the summer!’
The Liverpool manager explains the difficulty of trying to establish a new domestic legacy in a league he admits is ‘even more difficult’ than he ever imagined. Watch Ajax v Liverpool exclusively live on BT Sport from 7pm tonight.
It’s no exaggeration to say that in steering Liverpool to their first ever Premier League trophy – and their first top flight title for 30 years – Jurgen Klopp elevated himself to demi-god status on Merseyside.
It was the reason why the German coach was brought to Anfield as Liverpool’s top target following Brendan Rodgers’ departure in 2015.
But many managers have walked through the Shankly Gates to that weight of expectation and most have failed.
Klopp knows that, as he alluded to during an exclusive chat with BT Sport ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League opener against Ajax.
“If I would have been a really smart person I would have left in the summer,” he joked when asked to reflect on his legacy at the club so far.
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“It would have been really positive what people would have said but unfortunately I’m not that smart.”
Given the events of the past few weeks, Klopp could be forgiven for wishing he had walked away with Liverpool fighting through a difficult set of circumstances either side of the recent international break.
First, there was the surprise 7-2 mauling dished out by Aston Villa at the start of the month – the first time Liverpool have conceded seven goals in a game since 1963 and the first since Arsenal in 1953 to do so as reigning champions of the English top flight.
Then, a much improved performance against table-topping Everton after the break was almost forgotten about against the backdrop of a likely season-ending knee injury to Virgil Van Dijk that rocked the team with equal impact.
So what has Klopp made of the chaos endured by his side during a ghoulish October so far?
“It’s not a situation you want to be in, it’s clear. You don’t want to lose 7-2 to Aston Villa nor lose probably the best centre back in the world in the next game,” the 53-year-old said.
You cannot become a European or domestic force by saying it – you have to play good football
- Jurgen Klopp
“But that’s what I spoke about, these are the challenges we face constantly and we have to deal with it. It’s not a problem for me that we cannot sort, I just feel for the player [Van Dijk] in this moment. That’s what hurts me most in these moments.
“You can lose a football game, but stay all healthy and everything is fine because you can try to win next week – which we will of course. But the injury is obviously a really bad thing.
“After the Arsenal game some pundits said we will run away with it [the Premier League] and stuff like this. A week later we lost against Aston Villa pretty heavily and we were the worst defending team in the world.
“After the international break, in the next game we lose Virgil, so what people will make of it – I don’t know. But we will deal with it, that’s the plan, that’s what we do. Difficult situations can always bring you closer together which is difficult for this team because we are already really close together and we strike back, with football.
“Our weapon was always football and will always be football and that’s what we’ll try to use and see where it leads us to.”
So far that style of football has steered Liverpool to enjoy the club’s most successful period of the Premier League era having won the league, the Champions League, the Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup as well as runner-up medals in the Europa League and League Cup.
With each passing year Liverpool have improved and impressed, winning 44.2% of their games under Klopp in his first season and 71.9% as they romped to the title in 2019/20.
In every season since Klopp joined the Reds, they have won more games than they did during the previous campaign and the former Dortmund man now boasts the best win rate of any Liverpool manager to have taken charge of more than 50 games.
Have the successes of the past five years surpassed even what Klopp himself thought possible?
“I didn’t have many expectations so it wasn’t that difficult to surpass them because I knew before how difficult the Premier League would be,” he continued.
“I’ve felt that it’s maybe even more difficult that I thought before coming.
“Winning the Champions League and Premier League in that time is obviously a pretty big one. But sitting here at the moment I feel like neither – like the Champions League winner of one and a half years ago nor the Premier League champion of last year, a few months ago.
“It’s just a job to do and you’re right, I don’t have a lot of time to reflect, but when I do it’s all good from that point of view but still more to come.”
The coming months are likely to be the most challenging Klopp has faced since taking over, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the aforementioned loss of talismanic defender Van Dijk which has suddenly exposed a skeleton defence now manned by an injury-prone Joel Matip, an out-of-form Joe Gomez and a part-time centre-half in Fabinho.
On top of that, a punishing, congested calendar of football over the next six months will stretch even the most bloated of squads to the limit of their physical capabilities, handing the likes of Man City, Chelsea and even Man Utd an advantage given their superior squad depth.
And despite the ongoing financial uncertainty imposed by the coronavirus crisis, Liverpool’s rivals have strengthened – some significantly, in the case of Chelsea – in anticipation of a more evenly-fought title race this season.
For Klopp, however, the goal remains very clear.
“To be very, very competitive in each game which means we are ready to show we can invest all we have in the specific game to win,” the Stuttgart-born coach explained.
“We will see at the end of the season – not just this one but every season is a summary of difficulties and it’s all about how you deal with them.
“We did that quite exceptionally the last two years but this year we obviously have some different challenges but we will try to deal with them in the same way. So that’s the plan.
“There’s no real targets that we have to do this or that, just to stay successful – whatever that means. I know people outside measure that always in trophies but for us it’s the way we play, the way we deal with our situation – all these kind of things can be success as well.
“Of course, at the end of the season we need to have qualified for the Champions League – we have that pressure from these kind of things, that’s clear – but all the rest, I don’t know in this moment so I don’t really think about it, I’m really in preparation for the Ajax game, then the Sheffield United game, then Midtjylland game, and then the Man City game if I’m right.
“There are a lot of games to come obviously and we have to be ready for all of them.”
The manner in which Liverpool cantered to victory in the Premier League last season – at once stage setting a new record for the largest lead in top flight history (25 points) – suggested they had the ability to build one of the division’s great new dynasties over the next few years.
But as title rivals Man City found out just a year after breaking the Premier League points record (100), the championship is more easily won than defended.
Since 2009, only Pep Guardiola’s City have managed to retain the league trophy – a trend of fleeting champions that Klopp believes is here to stay given the rigours of modern football.
It’s a massive achievement what Liverpool achieved in the past but you cannot compare those times with nowadays
- Jurgen Klopp
“It’s just not possible anymore,” he said, when asked if Liverpool could become the dominant domestic force they once were.
“I’m sorry to say that, it’s not possible because other teams would have done it more often in the time Liverpool was not ready for it yet.
“Because of the power of all the other clubs it’s a massive achievement what Liverpool achieved in the past but you cannot compare those times with nowadays.
“There are so many challenges out there, not only from England but all over the place and we have to be ready in the specific game.
“You cannot become a European or domestic force by saying it – you have to play good football. You have to fight with all you have, you have to stay greedy, all these kind of things.
“So far the boys are that, but other teams are doing really well. We respect that but not in the game when we play them obviously, what they did around this game we don’t care too much because we want to win it. But that’s all.”
Klopp’s Liverpool legacy will remain intact come what may over the next few years given what successes he has brought to the club on the pitch.
But a legacy forged in silverware alone has not been the driving influence behind Klopp’s path to becoming one of the top managers in football.
Famously describing his exit from Borussia Dortmund in 2015, he said: “It's not important what people think when you come in, it's much more important what people think when you leave.”
Given the scenes that bode him farewell at the Westfalenstadion that year, Klopp would surely consider his impact on the club a success by any measure. Does he feel he is on the way to doing the same at Liverpool?
“I don’t know, it’s really not about me,” Klopp replied.
“When I used that phrase [it doesn’t matter what people say about you when you arrive, but what they say when you leave] it was specifically about the Dortmund farewell because people were positive when I arrived there and they were positive when I left there in the right manner.
“So that’s all good and if that happens, whenever it will be, I will be fine with that. What we can win between now and then, I have no idea, but I can promise we will try everything.”
Watch Ajax v Liverpool exclusively live on BT Sport 2 HD and online from 7pm.