Jurgen Klopp: ‘We will try with everything to have a Wembley moment’

Liverpool manager on struggles of last season, and his team reaching their potential

"Why is it 'Wem-ber-lee', by the way? I saw it written down that way," asks Jürgen Klopp from the far end of a table inside Liverpool's plush new training centre in Kirkby.

After a mumbled and aborted attempt to sing him the answer, Klopp’s curiosity is satisfied, but he is clearly a little rusty on matters relating to what his fans once dubbed “Anfield South”. As are his team.

Together they have lifted trophies in Madrid, Doha, Istanbul and behind closed doors at Anfield. But nothing at Wembley. There is a lasting need, explains the Liverpool manager, to correct that in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.

“We will try with everything to have a Wembley moment,” Klopp says. “We all know that in this moment the people are really happy with this team. But in 20 years if you talk about this team, I would not be surprised if people would say, if we don’t win anything any more: ‘Yes they were good but they should have won more.’

"That's why we should try to win a few things now. The next chance, the best chance, is this weekend against Chelsea when it is really tricky. We can't sit here and talk about it like it's already ours. Chelsea just won the Club World Cup and we know how great that feels. They are desperate to put another in the trophy room."

I will not wear a suit on Sunday but not because I am superstitious

Wembley finals have brought only deflation so far for Klopp, who heard "Wem-ber-lee" sung with much more gusto by the Kop when Liverpool routed Leeds 6-0 on Wednesday. "I had two finals and lost twice, but that is not too bad because I am a man for the third chance," he says. "I needed a couple of runs to win the Champions League. But no bad feelings. It is a great stadium. I really love it."

Superstitious

One guaranteed change for Klopp's third appearance in a Wembley final is, well, his appearance. For Borussia Dortmund's 2013 Champions League final defeat by Bayern Munich he swapped his usual tracksuit for a suit. In the 2016 League Cup final, Liverpool's last visit to Wembley, he did the same. There has been, and there will be, no repeat, although he maintains that is not because of how those finals ended.

“I am not overly superstitious,” he says. “I will not wear a suit on Sunday but not because I am superstitious. Someone told me before the League Cup final that I needed to wear a suit.

“With the Champions League in 2013, honestly, it is really silly but someone told me that it was expected to wear a suit on the touchline and then when I saw the first coach next to me without a suit I thought: ‘Are you kidding me?!’ No, I will not wear a suit for a football game unless it is a rule. I don’t go as a tramp to a wedding – there are things you have to wear – but if I have a free choice I won’t.

“If I look back on the pictures from the Champions League final after we became champions and how I look there, I couldn’t care less. I look completely outraged, hat there, cap over there, bad shave – really not cool. It is not that I want to look like that but it just happened. I cannot think around the game about how I look. I can’t.

“I tried really hard and I never feel comfortable. For me, somebody just has to put the things by my place in the dressing room and we go from there. I could stand there in swim shorts – as long as we win people will be happy. If we don’t win, it will be a big story. I will not wear swim shorts, though.”

Klopp does not have a pre-cup final routine. “Nothing will change,” he says. “I will wake up long before the wake-up call, go for breakfast, wait for all the others to come down and when they arrive we will have a walk if possible.” His mood does alter in the hours before a final, however, even with the experience of 10 previous such occasions as a manager.

“Nervous is not the right word; I get tense. Before the Champions League final (in 2019) I was really afraid as losing two Champions League finals is not nice. I was really afraid of being alone beforehand, sitting in a room trying to prepare a meeting and what to say. You sit there for three or four hours, because it’s a late game, and you can go nuts. But I just fell asleep. I was really happy with myself! I hope I have the same mindset on Sunday but, in the end, the boys will decide it.”

The 54-year-old has been recharged this season by Liverpool's relentless pursuit of four trophies and the return of full-capacity stadiums. The two are not unconnected. Last season left him drained as injuries destroyed Liverpool's central defence and their defence of the Premier League title. Klopp twice felt compelled to publicly deny rumours about quitting.

“I have always been appreciative of things,” he says. “I really don’t take any of it for granted, but playing in an empty stadium was a tough one. I am an emotional coach, we are an emotional team, we are an emotional club. We are not like a little bit here, a little bit there. We need this extra bit.

“That was obviously not there in the most difficult situation we had. Injury-wise, it was absolutely crazy. In some moments it was the hardest time of our football lives because you are still Liverpool but with half-cut wings. You try to fly but it is pretty difficult.

“I never thought more about football, and I think a lot about football, than in this period. How can we make it work? How can we make it so we just have a chance? That was really tough, while everyone was talking about the former champion and now the worst-ever defending champion. Thank you very much, that was really nice.

Depleted

“It was an incredibly intense season and, yes, I was more than happy for a holiday. For the first 10 days I didn’t take one time the phone out and ask: ‘Could we have this player?’ I couldn’t have cared less at that moment. We were all really drained. Just finished. Done.”

Klopp discovered he was “calmer than I thought in difficult moments” last season but trying to protect a depleted squad’s confidence, while enduring a club record run of six consecutive home league defeats this time last year, tested his man-management skills to the limit.

“The most difficult thing in my job is to explain a defeat,” he says. “You have much more questions. It’s easy to say we won and we were great. You are in a good mood and you don’t actually have to explain everything – we talk about individual performances such as Mo (Salah) scoring 150, 108 goals for Sadio (Mané), Luis Díaz fantastic. Then you lose a game and I can only say maximum 40 per cent of what is really happening.

“I can’t say: ‘It’s because he hasn’t been performing for six weeks’ or whatever. I would never say that because it’s not the truth anyway. It would just help me maybe to blame somebody else, so we go around it and that keeps you in a cage.

“If I open up a massive problem in a press conference then three days later we have to play again. I have to make sure that doesn’t happen so I try to be as honest as somehow possible but then explain a defeat without blaming individuals and without saying it’s the weather or whatever. And the weather is sometimes a problem!

“That made it so intense. It was so hard. You don’t have solutions player-wise because the players are just not there, so how can we keep the others confident until we are in a different moment? It’s not cool. I would go home and think: ‘That’s why they pay me that much money.’ In other moments I still don’t understand why they do it but in these moments I think: ‘Ah, yes, that’s why it is.’”

And for Premier League title races, Champions League glory and, Klopp hopes, Wembley moments. - Guardian