On the day his side left Merseyside to fly to Madrid, Jurgen Klopp recorded a message to a dying man on the other side of the world. The Liverpool manager talked about life and death and the beauty of belonging to the community of players and supporters that bonds a club together and gives it its identity.
‘The only thing we would try to do the whole year,’ Klopp said to Liverpool fan Dave Evans as he stared into the camera, ‘is to give people some hope. Some joy. Some good moments to remember. We share these moments…We share these experiences. That makes us actually friends.’
Liverpool are a club fuelled by emotional energy like no other and fired by that hope and that joy of which Klopp had spoken, tens of thousands of their supporters had streamed out of the squares and the bars of the Spanish capital where they had congregated all day and made their way to the Wanda Metropolitano where it squats on the outskirts of the city.
There in the sultry heat of the evening, a second minute penalty from Mohamed Salah and a late strike from substitute Divock Origi delivered the joy the supporters craved and rid Klopp of the reputation of the man who always loses finals.
With it, they re-established their team as one of Europe’s elite and banished the pain of their defeat in the titanic Premier League battle with Manchester City.
This was Liverpool’s sixth triumph in the European Cup and Champions League, a record that lifts them above Bayern Munich and Barcelona and behind only AC Milan and Real Madrid in the history of the world’s leading club competition. What a triumph this was. What a tribute to a team’s ability to bounce back.
It was only 12 months after all, when they were leaving the pitch at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, desolate having lost to Real Madrid in the final, courtesy of the eccentricities of their goalkeeper, Loris Karius, and a stunning overhead kick from Gareth Bale. They have lived through this season determined to purge themselves of that disappointment and on Saturday they did it.
So what have you won Jurgen Klopp? No longer can the accusation that the German is a nearly man be levelled at him. Never again. Saturday night fixed that.
He has won the biggest prize of all now. His image will be paraded on the Kop among the images of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Rafa Benitez. He is one of the great ones now.
The slurs were always ridiculous anyway. Klopp won titles with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich. Before, he was the underdog.
On Saturday night, his team was the favourite and they made their class count. It wasn’t the classic many had been expecting. The heat saw to that. It was not high-energy. It was subdued. But history will not care too much for that.
It was a desperately disappointing night for Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino’s hopes of leading Spurs to being the 23rd club to win the competition were dashed and now there is bound to be doubt about his future. He gambled by playing both Harry Kane and Harry Winks in the starting line after long injury lay-offs and the gamble did not pay off.
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
Lloris 6; Trippier 6, Alderweireld 6.5, Vertonghen 7, Rose 6.5; Winks 5.5 (Moura 66 6.5), Sissoko 5.5 (Dier 74); Eriksen 7, Alli 6 (Llorente 82), Son 6.5; Kane 6
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Vorm, Sanchez, Foyth, Davies, Aurier, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Lamela.
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino 6.5
Alisson 8; Alexander-Arnold 8, van Dijk 7, Matip 7, Robertson 8.5; Wijnaldum 6 (Milner 62 6.5), Fabinho 6, Henderson 6; Salah 6, Firmino 6 (Origi 58 7), Mane 8 (Gomez 90).
Subs not used: Mignolet , Lovren, Sturridge, Moreno, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Brewster, Kelleher.
Goals: Salah 2 (pen), Origi 88
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 7
Referee: Damir Skomina – (SLO) 6
PLAYER RATINGS BY PETE JENSON AT THE WANDA METROPOLITANO
Liverpool had been odds-on with the bookmakers but this was a game in which, for the neutrals, there was no favourite.
Both teams had lit up the season with style and panache, both teams were packed with flair players, both teams have become known for football full of energy and creativity. This was not a match of opposites. It was a final of like minds.
The managers, too, are widely liked. Klopp and Pochettino are dynamic men whose love for the game inspires everyone who watches or listens to them. They are coaches who are adored by their club’s supporters but they are also football evangelists. This was not a match that pitted hero against anti-hero. There were only good guys.
The Premier League table suggested Liverpool would win. They finished 26 points above Spurs and beat them home and away. But Spurs fans were not particularly daunted by that. Liverpool only squeezed past them the last time the teams met, at Anfield in March, courtesy of an error by Hugo Lloris that led to a late own goal by Toby Alderweireld.
True to their ethos, both men were bold with their team selections. Pochettino made the biggest call, thrusting Kane straight back into the starting line-up after two months out with an ankle injury and also recalling Winks.
The decision to restore Kane was especially cruel on Lucas Moura, the hat-trick hero of Amsterdam, who had fired Spurs into the final with a hat-trick against Ajax.
Klopp adopted the same attitude. Roberto Firmino is his most important attacking player, the man who brings creative balance to the front six, and Klopp restored him to the starting side even though he had only played 11 minutes of football since sustaining a groin injury in April. That selection relegated James Milner to the bench.
Klopp was under added pressure going into the game because of a list of final defeats that began with Borussia Dortmund’s 2013 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich, took in two German Cup final defeats, a Europa League final reverse with Liverpool, and a League Cup defeat and ended with more Champions League heartbreak against Real Madrid in Kiev last season.
‘I am the world record holder in winning semi-finals,’ Klopp joked through gritted teeth.
If he was feeling the pressure, his team soon settled his nerves. A few passes after kick-off, Jordan Henderson lofted a ball over the Spurs defence to Sadio Mane, who was in more space than Spurs should have allowed him.
Mane checked when he got to the edge of the area and when his cross hit the outstretched arm of Moussa Sissoko, the referee pointed to the spot. There were 21 seconds on the clock.
Replays suggested the decision was harsh but not harsh enough to warrant it being rescinded.
There was a delay while the referee checked with VAR and then confirmed the penalty. Mohammed Salah, Liverpool’s leading scorer, stepped up and blasted the ball past Lloris.
Only one minute and 48 seconds had elapsed, making it the second fastest goal in the history of Champions League finals, beaten only by Paolo Maldini’s opener after 50 seconds against Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005, a goal that turned out to be the prelude to one of the greatest comebacks the game has seen.
The Liverpool end of the stadium screamed and bounced in exultation when Salah’s shot hit the back of the net but any temptation to think this match was over before it had begun was tempered by the memory of Spurs’ comeback against Ajax.
The game settled for a little then, becalmed, as if it did not quite know what had hit it. Spurs regrouped, Liverpool seemed to be trying to work out whether to consolidate or press home their advantage. The cloying heat grabbed at the players and sucked the drive out of them.
Both sides gave possession away regularly. It was another 15 minutes before Liverpool threatened the Spurs goal again, Trent Alexander-Arnold whistling a shot across Lloris and just wide. It was three weeks since the end of the English league season and both teams struggled to find fluency.
Neither offered much going forward. On the Spurs bench, Pochettino began to grow agitated. When a trailing arm from Robertson inadvertently struck Kieran Trippier in the face, the Spurs boss leapt to his feet and remonstrated with the referee. Henderson told him, in what appeared to be forthright terms, to sit down.
After the interval, the Spurs fans sensed their team beginning to gain the ascendancy and roared them on as they attacked their end. Liverpool’s defence was starting to get stretched now and Son almost wriggled free in the area only for his shot to be blocked. Klopp knew the momentum was shifting. He brought on Origi for Firmino and Milner for Gini Wijnaldum.
Liverpool began to respond to the changes. The clock ticked down, bringing the prize closer and closer, and they searched for the goal that would put the game out of reach. Mane jinked his way past Christian Eriksen and when the ball broke to Milner, he lashed it just wide of Lloris’s left-hand post.
It was end-to-end stuff now, the game we thought we might have had from the start, the game we might have had in English temperatures.
Son burst through the Liverpool defence next and cut the ball back to Dele Alli but his chip was easily caught by Alisson. Alisson was pressed into action again and again now, beating away a shot from Son and diving low to stop a shot from Lucas Moura.
Ten minutes from the end, hearts leapt when Milner brought down Danny Rose on the very edge of the area. It was a free-kick not a penalty, but even though Eriksen struck it sweetly, even though it was curling towards the far corner, Alisson flew across his goal and pushed it wide.
After all that pressure, though, Spurs were undone in the final minutes. They failed to clear a corner and when the ball fell to Origi 10 yards out, he took a touch to steady himself and then drove it past Lloris low into the corner.
This time, there was to be no comeback.