From tears to beers: How Liverpool found defiance amid despondency of Champions League final defeat

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So close... a despondent Klopp passes the Champions League trophy after defeat in 2018  (AFP/Getty)
So close... a despondent Klopp passes the Champions League trophy after defeat in 2018 (AFP/Getty)

It was the morning after the Champions League final and Liverpool found the trophy in a European Cup-winning captain’s bathroom. Or they pretended they did, anyhow, because the silverware actually belonged to Real Madrid.

Nor had Steven Gerrard left a replica of the Champions League trophy in his old home, either, as much as a vase that Jurgen Klopp’s assistant decided resembled it. But, amid the despondency of defeat in 2018, after the tears of returning to Merseyside, they sought solace in taking pictures with a vase and drunkenly singing songs with the frontman of a German rock group whose name translates as “the dead trousers.”

But a dream had died, rather than an item of clothing. “It started as one of the worst nights in my life,” Klopp recalled. It included being beaten by Real, with Loris Karius horribly at fault for two goals and Mohamed Salah’s shoulder dislocated by Sergio Ramos.

And yet, Klopp being Klopp, there was a happy ending and a story. It may be suitably surreal that it scarcely belongs in the managerial handbook of how to deal with disappointment – try teaching it on coaching courses – but it can now be framed in the context of subsequent success.

Yet, while he saw “a glimpse of light” at Kyiv airport four years ago, he was not to know how prophetic he would seem. “I had this thought there: ‘Do we come back next year?’” he wondered. They did, winning a Champions League final 12 months later. He could win another in a rematch with Real on Saturday but there were no such guarantees in 2018.

“The flight was obviously horrendous,” Klopp said. “The feeling was down. The families were in another plane, and the worst moment was still to come, facing family and friends. When we arrived at Melwood on our bus, all the wives, girlfriends, friends, everybody was crying. Unbelievable. We were not crying. I cry quite frequently in these similar situations, but not that day as I was OK, kind of. It was a football game, there were strange circumstances, but everybody was crying. My agent was crying.”

Klopp and a select group of others carried on. “It was now morning pretty much and then we went to the house and let a few people in. It’s the former house of Stevie G, so a little bit of the furniture was still in there. There was a big vase in the guest toilet, and [assistant manager] Peter Krawietz goes in the toilet and comes out and goes ‘Yes! It looks like the Champions League trophy a little bit!’” Klopp mimed waving the vase above his head, in the manner of a trophy, and added: “Everybody took it and had pictures with it here: ‘Ah that’s how it feels.’”

It broke the tension; a wake became a celebration. Klopp, the great advocate of heavy-metal football, had a rock star in his home: Andreas Frege of Die Toten Hosen, otherwise known by his nickname. “One of the guests is probably the most famous singer in Germany, Campino, a good friend and massive LFC supporter, like crazy massive his whole life,” Klopp continued. “Then the song starts. The fun part about it – we were all drunk – was it was a bit rainy, then we sang it, and recorded it on a smartphone. Then somebody said: ‘We have to put that out, the world needs that as well.’ It’s not a good moment when you are slightly drunk to make a decision like that.”

Klopp conjured an image of Campino lying outside, in his socks, in the Merseyside rain, ringing his agent, telling him to put the video of a singing Liverpool manager online, while asking his permission. Klopp granted it. “Bam, it was out,” he said. “Then it all started, that was that. But it was OK, it was good. It pictured the mood we were in. It was already then… we were over it.”

If it summed up his ability to look back without regret, to move on quickly, to turn heartbreak into a party, it reflects the wider attitude of a manager who used to be seen as a nearly man when he lost six successive finals.

“It’s really better to suffer together, much better in fact, than sitting alone with your thoughts,” he said. “That’s not cool. So we brought some people in and had, not the best time of our lives, but an OK time.”

Hindsight shows the last four years have instead been the time of their lives. It might get better again. But if not, perhaps Klopp’s night will take a similarly strange turn, to bring more memories, if not winners’ medals.

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