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Kevin Kilbane: Klopp’s Liverpool dream will never be forgotten but it ended at Wembley

Players altered their collective focus the moment Klopp announced his plans to bow out. He was no longer their concern

Mohamed Salah clashes with his manager Jürgen Klopp on the sidelines during their match against West Ham United at London Stadium last month. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The Premier League will miss Jürgen Klopp when he finally leaves. More so than any other manager. Even Pep Guardiola.

I think Manchester City will sorely miss Pep when he eventually follows Klopp into life after English football.

This week a smiling Jürgen branded four straight 12.30pm kick-offs a “crime”. He said: “I was actually waiting for Amnesty International to go to [the Premier League].” Essentially, Klopp was using the harsh fixture list to partly explain Liverpool’s collapse in the title race.

It’s not the main reason. The Liverpool players know what happened. I bet they saw the Atalanta performance coming. I bet they believed the Merseyside derby was arriving at the worst time imaginable, and best time for Everton.


Like most professionals, footballers are a predictable lot.

Initially, when Klopp announced his departure in January, Liverpool barely broke stride. Everyone said the right things. But the players knew what would happen. The players always know the score. It is that 1 per cent lost at training. The “we are in this together, to the end” mentality, all that was gone.

The club immediately got to work. As the FAI now know, you can’t tip-toe around recruitment. Richard Hughes was hired as sporting director in March. Arne Slot looks set to be confirmed as Klopp’s replacement.

You cannot waste a moment in professional sports.

For a month or so, it looked like Klopp’s decision to retire was going to spark a farewell campaign to sit alongside winning the Champions League in 2019, the Premier League in 2020 and the 97 points accumulated as runners-up to City.

Now we know different. The academy kids capturing the League Cup was the high-water mark of players paying tribute to one of Anfield’s great managers. But that Wembley victory was when the red wave finally broke, and rolled back.

Ireland’s Caoimhín Kelleher the hero as Liverpool win League CupOpens in new window ]

When decades pass, the four surnames of Shankly, Paisley, Dalglish and Klopp will remain in the public consciousness. But the bubble burst four months ago.

I’d say about 90 per cent of the Liverpool squad altered their collective focus the moment Klopp made his announcement. He was no longer their concern. His time in their lives was on a countdown clock. People come and go from footballers’ lives all the time.

Manchester City's Rodri goes down injured during the Emirates FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley Stadium. City's marathon campaign could cost Spain dearly at the Euros in Germany this summer as Rodri has become their most important player. Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

Indifference is perfectly normal behaviour. From age 14, I was conditioned to become an athlete. You are shown a singular route to the top. Survival in the game demands a selfish attitude. Your body and mindset is all that matters.

From club owners to academy coaches, you are seen as a commodity. Sure, plenty of them are decent people, and they will take care of you day to day, but this is a ruthless business. Get injured or suffer a dip in form, and they will move you out of their environment.

Klopp is gone, okay who is Slot? What influence does Hughes have on my contract talks? Do Liverpool still want me? If not, what’s next?

You cannot be caring about Klopp if you are, say, Mo Salah. In time, the manager and the striker from one of the most thrilling teams any sport has ever known, will bump into each other far, far away from the grass. They will embrace warmly. But I bet they will talk about football as that’s their inside joke. The game.

I never had a manager announce his departure six months before going. I did have four gaffers sacked in 2½ years at West Brom. It steels your mind. Nobody is my friend here. All that matters to Liverpool players right now is how Slot sees them. Plain and simple: get in the team, stay in the team and sacrifice your social life at the altar of preparation.

Klopp, this week, was essentially talking about tired bodies.

It’s also a familiar chorus at City, where Rodri continually complains about the lack of rest and number of games. Pep agrees. Yet Pep keeps picking the same players who carry out his instructions to the smallest detail. Because that’s how City keep winning title after title after title.

I wonder if last season’s treble would catch up with them. Maybe the double is beyond them. Maybe they will slip up at Fulham next week or against Spurs three days later.

I doubt it. Guardiola always keeps an ace in the hole.

The marathon campaign could cost Spain dearly at the Euros in Germany this summer as Rodri has become their most important player. Belgium know all about the rigours of the club game as Kevin De Bruyne limps into another major tournament.

The modern player is a finely-tuned machine. More so than my days in the Premier League. I used to come back from international camps completely shattered. Especially if Ireland had an away game on the Wednesday before a Saturday lunchtime start at Goodison Park. My form rarely held. My legs were too heavy.

But it was no crime, Jürgen, no crime at all.