Klopp, klopp, klopp... Liverpool hooves thunder in Spain!

It was a much-needed win as the club and its steadfast supporters required a piece of silverware to reaffirm their faith in the Klopp Project.

The triumphant Liverpool team on a parade bus at home after winning the UEFA Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid on June 2.   -  Getty Images

It was not a final to remember, it was not a final to cherish, it was not a final of beauty.

It was a story of redemption and reaffirmation.

Liverpool’s scrappy triumph over fellow English rival Tottenham Hotspur in the gargantuan settings of the Wanda Metropolitano — home to Atletico Madrid — in the Champions League final helped alleviate the pain of being blocked at the final hurdle by the ageing galacticos of Madrid in 2018. This triumphant return to European supremacy was scripted by an ever-improving team of Jurgen Klopp — who was fighting an invisible bout of his own against his tarnished legacy of six titular defeats, including his last three in Europe. It was also a triumph for Mo Salah — often derided this season — who was left bruised, floored and grief-stricken by the machinations of Sergio Ramos in Kyiv last year, but here he was, scoring the opening goal, lending this clash an early sense of inevitability.

Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, is tossed in the air by the team’s players in celebration after winning the UEFA Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur. Before this triumph, Klopp was fighting an invisible bout of his own against his tarnished legacy of six titular defeats, including his last three in Europe.   -  Getty Images

 

Within the first minute of this final, Tottenham was on the backfoot as Senegalese Sadio Mane’s shot found the outstretched arm of Moussa Sissoko, an infringement that brought a penalty. Salah scored and Liverpool did enough — despite some mid-game nerves — to keep its hold in the first all-English Champions League final since 2008. “To concede a penalty after 30 seconds...that completely changed our plans and had a massive impact,” said Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager.

Pochettino, operating on a measly salary budget of €176 million (KPMG Football Benchmark) — Barcelona’s total outlay on players was €562 million last season — had already conjured miracles besting the neo-riches of Manchester City and a re-emerging Ajax Amsterdam to reach the final. Here again, he was fighting an uneven battle — in a toilsome campaign, 14 of his outfield squad had played 1,500 minutes of football (the most among the top six Premier League clubs) — against a backline forged on £150 million spent just on defender Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker.

READ | Klopp flattered by Beckenbauer praise

In a game that didn’t reach a level that both these sides are well capable of attaining, it was the experience and composure of van Dijk and Becker that ultimately made the difference, as Spurs failed to find a breakthrough despite enjoying more than 60 percent of possession. The fans were left to endure an hour and a half of on-field white noise as Spurs — perhaps hamstrung by a half-fit centre forward, Harry Kane — failed to react emphatically enough to make a game of this glorious chance that, in all likelihood, will never again arrive this easily for a club of such modest attributes.

In the end, Liverpool, drawing on its experience, refused to be rattled by sustained pressure and delivered the icing on the cake through Divok Origi — the slayer of Barcelona — with minutes left to play. It was a much-needed win as the club and its steadfast supporters required a piece of silverware to reaffirm their faith in the Klopp Project. “I don’t want to explain how we won it. What is important is that we won it,” Klopp, who took over in 2015, rightly said.

Divock Origi makes it 2-0 for Liverpool in the 87th minute of the UEFA Champions League Final. The match ended with that scoreline.   -  Getty Images

 

This was a result for an excellent season, a win for improvement, a title for combined work and not just a final high that looked anticlimactic after the adrenaline rush of Liverpool’s improbable semi-final turnaround against Barcelona — overturning a 3-0 first leg deficit.

Liverpool, earlier in the season, had squandered a Christmas lead to allow Man City to claw back from a seven-point deficit to register back-to-back Premier League titles. Despite a club record-breaking 97-point season, the Reds were a point behind after 38 games and were left waiting to fulfil their desire of an English crown since 1990.

READ | Beckenbauer wants to see Klopp at Bayern

There have been enough false dawns at Anfield, first under Rafa Benitez and then again with Brendan Rodgers in 2013-14, and signs of another luck-less, yet brilliant periods have been there all along.

Liverpool’s last European triumph came in Istanbul in a comeback win over AC Milan under Benitez in 2005. However, unlike after Istanbul, this victory does not carry the scent of a one-off miracle, but a natural culmination of several years of steady headway.

It is a perfect platform to kick-start an era of success with the team looking well capable of adding more trophies. Klopp — unlike Messrs. Benitez and Rodgers — has shown the maturity to tweak and turn his systems to achieve team goals while not always strictly adhering to his DNA of “heavy metal football.” His team has given up on its manic pressing to play a more controlled game, offering opponents little opportunity to breach its defences.

This Mohamed Salah penalty kick set things rolling for Liverpool in the very second minute of the UEFA Champions League final.   -  Getty Images

 

Klopp has made winning all important, where individual flair is often appropriated to serve a collective, where players are slotted in unusual playing positions to deliver effective results.

“Bill Shankly laid the foundation; Bob Paisley took them to a different level. They are the levels everybody’s been striving to get to ever since. Fans won’t be happy until they get to their standards, but they are close now, 100 percent,” says former Sportstar columnist and Liverpool’s all-time top goal-scorer Ian Rush. “It won’t be easy to knock Manchester City off the top — if they cap the finances it may be a bit different — but we came to City’s standards this year. Next season will be harder.”

READ | Salah reveals how painful picture motivated Liverpool in Madrid

Paisley, as a manager between 1974-83, won three European Cups (precursor of the Champions League) and six domestic League titles, establishing Liverpool as the undisputed leader in England and Europe and it’s only natural for the club to yearn to return to those glory days.

But, in a world dominated by heavy-spending teams like Man City, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester United, it might not be easy for Liverpool to be the biggest club again. But a passionate Klopp with his dazzling stars can bring back pride to Merseyside — out in numbers to celebrate the moment — where “You’ll never walk alone.”