“You can’t imagine how far winning the Premier League is at the moment. Wow! really only a few months ago? ”
Klopp has long prepared for a “slog of a season” after the disruption of injuries – important in the cases of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez – and pandemic protocols; amid his fears over fatigue and his passionate opinions about the substitutes and Stockley Park.
He, by his own admission, felt there was “not much to smile about” but the past fortnight has brought a series of moments to stir the Liverpool manager.
His reunion with 1,500 people at Anfield’s Kop, celebrated with a trademark hand pump rattle. Young goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher’s European debut, so confident, drew an impromptu hug. The armband was first presented to young Trent Alexander-Arnold of West Derby.
They were moments born of necessity, products of the present. And yet also a glimpse of the future; small symbols of hope, opportunity, evolution.
Kelleher, like Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, emerged to Klopp’s relief near the end of a difficult year. The increasingly impressive Neco Williams and Curtis Jones, two other academy graduates, combined for the winner against Ajax earlier this month. Against Midtjylland, a starting XI including teenagers Billy Koumetio and Leighton Clarkson was the youngest the club have fielded in the European Cup. Liverpool had 10 senior players at one point, but they remain atop the Premier League, only seven goals conceded in their last 12 games combined.
Klopp can smile when he thinks about it because the resilience of his larger squad is a testament to the sustainability of the club and he believes there will be a ripple effect.
“If we live in dreamland, of course we want all the boys to be in good shape. and still gives children opportunities. That would be the ideal scenario.
“The injury situation that we had was… pfffff. But it helped them get more minutes.
“Rhys Williams? From the moment he trained with us, I could see that he was a real talent. Billy Koumetio? Unbelievable. Caoimhin? It certainly gave him the opportunity and he did exceptionally well. We have always been sure he was a huge talent but no one can say exactly how he will react in a good game. He looks like a calm person – and he is! But he’s also a very good goalkeeper.
” This is just the beginning. This is about your career, not just your first game, but for all the academy players right now, seeing how many players are now playing in the first team, it will give them a big boost, 100%. . ”
Klopp talks to Sky Sports from Liverpool’s new Kirkby training ground, a £ 50million complex that also represents the future and embodies the manager’s mantra that the club, under his leadership, ‘won’t sleep’.
It hurt to leave Melwood – the ‘desolate wilderness’ transformed by Bill Shankly into such a prolific creator of talent and memory – after 70 years, but the high-tech facility six miles away is home to the First Team and the Liverpool academy on site for the first time in club history.
The pitches have been arranged to symbolize progress, the main building with the glass facade shared by the Klopp team and the U23s the destination. The design deliberately separated territories – a reminder that doing so here doesn’t mean make – but Klopp can now watch the next gen from his balcony and the connections should improve the odds.
“When you move to a new home and it’s as good as ours… it has improved everyone’s mood through tough times.
“Is that going to raise everyone’s level?” We’ll see – using Kirkby the right way is more of a long-term project I think – but we’ve come here to be closer in our day-to-day work. There are a lot of former academy players in the game right now, but we want to have more. ”
The hope is that the examples given by senior players like Jordan Henderson and James Milner will have an even greater impact at close range, but a key man in smoothing the tracks is elite development coach Vitor Matos.
Matos joined Klopp’s side from Porto just over a year ago and was the man who identified Rhys Williams as a solution to Liverpool’s initial defensive injury crisis. He’s responsible for bridging the age groups, but Klopp insists his most vital job isn’t quality control of tactical elements, but rather the human aspects of development; its ability to reflect the deep empathy of the German leadership style.
“We used Vitor, not because the academy was not performing as well as we would have liked, but because we needed a connection point.
“Dynamism [Lijnders] did that too but the coach of the first team is a big job; we needed someone in this role of development coach who knows both sides and Vitor does an amazing job. When we had our first fight with the middle halves, he suggested Rhys. It helps to have someone with an eye on the academy and someone who knows what we need in a crisis. Yes, we need players but what kind of players?
“He works very closely with the whole academy; from U16, we are very close but we cannot be so close to U14 or U12 for example. The academy coaches know what we expect from them, but it’s not always fair. to play our way.
“We want to give boys a broad education. We want to know that they will be able to react to different scenarios later in their careers. Vitor is really important for individual relationships. Yes, in the first team. , we think we’re open-minded and kinda nice, but it can take a while for someone to really feel able to show off.
“I can’t have these long discussions every day with all the boys. There will be a time when that will happen but it’s Vitor’s job to make sure they know what to expect, that they know we think they’re good. enough, so that they understand the opportunity without feeling the pressure. ”
Matos’ work does justice to the fact that those who were raised to Klopp’s ranks absorbed the exam in such an impressive way.
Liverpool’s drive for self-sufficiency, for home players with the right mental and technical skills, is paying off.
Klopp described them this summer as a ‘different type of club’ when asked about Chelsea spending over £ 200million and as Diogo Jota and Thiago arrived at Anfield in the last transfer window, the Liverpool’s net expenses were just over £ 30million.
A carefully crafted transfer strategy could still change temporarily in January to bring peace of mind to a position experienced Fabinho also helped cover. Klopp believes Liverpool will remain flexible in the market, but he is adamant his commitment to what he calls his ‘internal transfers’ will continue.
“We change our approach to transfer depending on the situation we find ourselves in. If you need a world class player, you have to go for a world class player in a specific position – like Virgil or Alisson.
“But the door for the children will always be open. Always.
“The better they are, the sooner it will happen to them but we don’t want them to feel if they aren’t ready now, we’ll just stop believing in them.” ”
Equally essential, says Klopp, is providing the right kind of support sure field.
“To give children the platform to shine, you need a solid foundation. The kind of experienced, high-level players.
“The Midtjylland match is a good example. Fabinho played the first half and without speaking much he organized the last row. All the boys could trust their game. Billy has incredible talent but when Fabinho leaves the responsibility changes slightly; now Rhys is the oldest.
“You always need a backbone on the team – so you can bring the kids around. ”
If you need a world class player, you have to go for a world class player in a specific position – like Virgil or Alisson. But the door for the children will always be open. Always.
It is no small feat, even with Liverpool’s resources, to reconcile the desire for food with the demands of life at the top. “The goal is to bring a team to a football field that can win a game; there are five million ways, you just need to find one. ”
But even when caught in the chaos of the present, Klopp can’t help but think about the future. Of future.
“Our responsibility is to educate all the players in our academy so that they can have the best possible career,” he said, insisting now.
“It might be Liverpool – that would be great – but it could be another club, maybe Premier League, maybe Championship or League One.
“We have to give them the best training possible and give them opportunities. Can use these opportunities? They have to do it themselves.
This is exactly what the children of Liverpool do and, in the whirlwind, Klopp finds some calm.