The history books aren’t kind to losers. Not in football anyway. While those defeated in wars often fought gallantly, the same is rarely said in the football stratosphere.
Winners are winners. Losers are losers. Context is often irrelevant.
As things stand, Jürgen Klopp is known as a serial loser by those who haven’t been able to call the German tactician their manager. Victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday in the Wanda Metropolitano changes that narrative. The lost finals are forgotten and instead, he’s known as a Bundesliga and a Champions League-winning coach.
The sad truth is if Liverpool fail to lift European Cup number six on Saturday, all of Klopp’s hard work over the past four seasons will be forgotten by those not affiliated with the Reds.
The fact he’s guided the Merseysiders to back-to-back finals will be less of an achievement. The fact he somehow managed to juggle a record-breaking Premier League campaign and a return to the European final won’t matter because there’s no silverware to show for it.
Ultimately, from a wider point of view, football is about winning. To fans, however, it’s about the journey.
The journeys to finals are what Liverpool Football Club is built on.
Tyrion Lannister wasn’t far off the money during the Game of Thrones finale when he said: “What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”
All Liverpool fans have witnessed a famous European night at Anfield, whether that be in person or on the television. Those nights are what fuel the fire. They’re the go-to stories and memories you return to when it looks like an impossible task for the team.
For quite some time before Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside, the Reds looked mortal in the Champions League. The aura built up during Rafael Benitez’s time with the club had waned.
But the former BVB man went to work correcting that in his first season with the club. Along with the players, he gave fans moments, memories and stories.
Liverpool looked down and out when Marco Reus scored a third away goal with just 57 minutes on the clock during the quarter-final of the Europa League clash. But Philippe Coutinho and Mamadou Sakho levelled the tie before Dejan Lovren nodded home in stoppage time.
Villarreal crumbled in the semi-final, unable to handle the Anfield atmosphere. The scenes at the end of the tie against BVB sparked that. Liverpool blew Manchester City away during the quarter-final match against the runaway Premier League leaders. The crowd believed. The players believed.
A Barcelona team, named champions of LaLiga, arrived at Anfield with a 3-0 lead. The great Lionel Messi had been in devastating form and the tie, on paper, appeared to be over. But, again, the fans believed something special could happen.
“We knew that we had a chance when we were in the dressing room waiting to run out. We knew that the manager believed in us because he had told us. We knew that the supporters believed in us because we could hear them. My God, we could hear them. And, probably most important of all, we knew that we believed in ourselves and in each other.
“That’s why when Divock scored in the seventh minute, I didn’t just believe. I knew. I knew what was coming — what Anfield was going to create.”
What followed was arguably the most historic Anfield night ever. The hosts scored four unanswered goals without the services of Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino.
But ask yourself, would this have happened if the Reds didn’t have those stories from previous seasons to be buoyed on by? Of course, all supporters like to feel something remarkable could happen. But very few seem to have as many of these moments as Liverpool.
For fans, it’s much more than just hope. It’s a feeling of knowing that this could happen because it’s been witnessed before, on multiple occasions. It’s genuine belief.
One of the first things Klopp said publicly after being appointed manager was that he intended to turn doubters into believers. He also said he’d deliver a trophy inside his first four seasons with the club. The manager is one for two so far.
Arguably the one thing he’s delivered on is the most important of the two.
But, unfortunately for Liverpool, finals aren’t played at Anfield. Freakish events have stopped Klopp’s side lifting one during his tenure with the Reds but, in Madrid, the German maverick has the opportunity to show the Anfield factor is actually the Klopp factor. That this aura of invincibility that the club possess on home turf can be transferred to neutral venues for one-off clashes.
This is the chance for the German to write his own Istanbul story. To rid the demons of yesteryear and give those faithful fans a story to tell of success in a final.
This team needs a trophy. It deserves one. However, his legacy will live on, regardless of whether the Reds are victorious in Madrid. He’s restored the fear factor at Anfield. He’s given a new generation of supporters stories they’ll tell for the rest of their lives.