Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool farewell tour skips, screams and grins on way to ‘most special trophy’

And so, the first big staging post in the Jurgen Klopp farewell tour is ticked off.

Klopp’s description of Liverpool’s Carabao Cup final win on Sunday as “easily the most special trophy” he has ever won might be a bit hard to swallow from someone who has the Champions League and domestic titles in two countries to his name. But such was the emotion, the warm afterglow of victory, that he probably meant it in the moment.

The announcement of his departure, five months before it will actually happen, was a practical necessity. But a side effect of it is that now, every vaguely significant occasion will be ‘the last’ time Klopp does a certain thing. The last game against Manchester United. The last game against Manchester City. The last European game. The last game at Anfield. The last game full-stop.

This was, potentially, the last final, the last game at Wembley. There is still the FA Cup and the Europa League to come, but given Liverpool’s mounting injury list and stacked schedule, there’s no guarantee they’ll get past the next round, never mind reach the finals.

Klopp has tried to insist that he doesn’t want the next few months to be about him. But he’s also not an idiot: he knows that even if Mohamed Salah scores a hat-trick in every game or they don’t concede another goal for the rest of the season, everything will be viewed through the Klopp prism.

“I was really overwhelmed,” he said afterwards. “It had nothing to do with (it being) maybe my last game at Wembley. I checked that. It was how everybody contributed.”

Watching Klopp on the touchline during games is almost a sport in itself. You know most of the moves by now. The animated, exhaustingly intense conversations with his coaches. The massive, mirthless grin on his face when something goes wrong. The massive, mirthful grin on his face when something goes right. That terrifying expression of fury where he seems to be grinding his teeth into dust. The visceral celebrations.

Klopp loved the celebrations (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

In the second half of this game, he called the 19-year-old Bobby Clark off the bench, and attempted to assuage his nerves with an arm around his shoulders, a thousand tooth grin and a little kiss on the youngster’s forehead. Moments later he was screaming with undiluted fury at one of his players for a positioning mistake. His ability to switch between a favourite uncle who would sneak you a twenty when your parents weren’t looking to the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, within seconds, is extraordinary.

The power that he has to whip a crowd into a frenzy must be intoxicating: in extra-time, he encouraged the Liverpool fans to step things up a little, which led to a sustained five minute wall of noise.

When Virgil van Dijk scored the winner, he banged his chest with one fist like some sort of great ape trying to assert its dominance. When Jayden Danns made a late block as they looked to see out the game, he did it with two fists.

Klopp is rarely shy about joining in with celebrations, but he really revelled in these ones. When the final whistle blew he turned around and stood on the touchline, arms outstretched like a baseball capped Christ the Redeemer, as Liverpool players and staff careened around and jumped on top of him. Ryan Gravenberch briefly threw down one of his crutches to embrace the manager.

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Gravenberch, one crutch thrown to the floor, hugs Klopp (Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images)

As the team celebrated on the pitch, Klopp wandered around looking for people to wrestle into one of those massive bear hugs. He did something similar the last time he beat Mauricio Pochettino in a major final, the 2019 Champions League, zig-zagging across the turf to congratulate whoever he could get his hands on, revelling in the collective joy.

As the team made their way to collect the trophy, he stood back for a minute and watched his young players ascend the steps. Then he climbed them himself, bouncing up and down like a giddy child on the balcony, before lifting the three-handled cup with Van Dijk. He’s never done that with any of the other trophies he’s won at Liverpool: he can protest that these last few months are not about him as much as he likes, but he’s clearly very aware of it all, and wants to make the most of every moment, be central to every celebration. Who can blame him?

Those celebrations continued back on the pitch. Klopp linked arms with his coaching staff to sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, then when that other great Liverpool anthem, ‘One Kiss’ by Dua Lipa, was played over the Wembley speakers, he danced. Well, danced in a fairy loose way — he did that dance that only footballers seem to do, sort of skipping around with your arms outstretched in front of you, moving them up and down.

There were a few moments when he seemed like he was sitting back, trying to take it all in a bit more. But then someone would come over and hug him and puncture those moments. On his way off the pitch and down the tunnel, he stopped a couple of times: one was to give Liverpool’s club photographer, Andrew Powell, a big hug, another was to talk to Kenny Dalglish.

It’s tempting to wonder whether a night like this might cause Klopp to reconsider his departure. But if anything it will probably have strengthened his confidence that he has made the right call: he knows he will probably be going out on a high of some description, and the collection of youngsters he was so enthusiastic about are there for whoever comes next. He knows that even if they lose every game from here, the club he leaves is about a million times more healthy than the one he arrived at.

Not that he was admitting as such. “I couldn’t care less about my legacy,” he said after the game. “I’m not here to create one. As the manager of a football club you’re there to do the job. We learned so much in that time.

“It’s not a problem if the manager leaves, but if these people leave. As long as these people (fans) are the way they are, Liverpool will be fine. From time to time we need something to really celebrate. This was so special. You saw the game, you saw the circumstances.”

Klopp has his flaws. He can occasionally be pretty unpleasant to the media, when he’s in a bad mood (the trade off being that when he’s in a good mood, he’s smart, thoughtful, entertaining, passionate and funny). You don’t want to be on the wrong end of his ire if you’re a fourth official on the touchline. For fans of other clubs, he can be ‘a bit much’.

But he’s made English football a better, more entertaining place over the last eight years. It would have been much duller without him. Depending on Liverpool’s progress in the FA Cup and Europa League, there are a maximum of 37 more games of Klopp’s time at the club.

Make the most of them. We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

(Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

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