Jürgen Klopp always knew transforming Liverpool into a champion team would involve a cultural step-change. The moment the scale of this task hit home was two days after his appointment as manager in October 2015, as the team he’d inherited from Brendan Rodgers warmed up before Klopp’s first game in charge at White Hart Lane.
“I always watch the other team warming up. Tottenham, they were good looking, dark blue training kit, organised. Harry Kane, Dele Alli. Everything looked set. Then you turn around, and wow! We all looked like Captain Picard!
“Wrong sizes, they didn’t fit really the players. I was not happy. I thought, how can it be the game’s not even started and we’re already the second best? The next day I asked for a meeting and said what can we change immediately because I really think these things are important. I’m not a control freak, I just think things should happen in a specific way.”
Klopp’s recollections are contained in a new film called The End Of The Storm, directed by James Erskine, which chronicles Liverpool’s title-winning season in vivid, feature-length detail. The End Of The Storm is a love letter to that astonishing winning run, its transformative effects on Liverpool supporters around the world, and the extraordinary events of the global pandemic. It also contains some startlingly unfiltered access to both Klopp and his players.
The most striking insight comes, as ever, from Klopp, who ranges across subjects as broad as Liverpool’s accommodation of the team’s Muslim footballers, to his own manic behaviour on the Liverpool touchline.
“The most obvious thing is people see me very animated constantly, grinding my teeth and pointing. I cannot look overnight like The Thinker, standing out there like this [adopts Rodin pose] and everybody thinks obviously something must be going on in his mind. At specific moments I still look like a complete idiot on the sidelines, I know that.
“I still have the most red cards, or certainly the most fines as a manager in the history of the Bundesliga. Irony doesn’t help. Referees cannot really deal with that. I think it was my first red card as a manager, I went to the assistant referee and I said: ‘How many wrong decisions are allowed? Because if it’s 15 we have one left.’ He raised his flag, and whoosh, I was already on my way to the stands. But I can’t sit down.”
Liverpool’s champion team has been striking for its unity of purpose, but also for the attention to detail behind that. In the film Klopp also reveals that this extends to how the club’s Muslim players, notably Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, have their own routines integrated into the team’s match-day plans. This extends even into the changes Klopp has put in place to allow Salah and Mané to wash after the team warm-up, in keeping with Islamic custom.
“I love that we have so such ‘Multi-Culti’,” Klopp says. “I would say [having] the best ambassadors for being a Muslim in the team is really great. Muslims wash their body very often in specific situations. Before warming up, after warming up, it takes time. So we decided to do things differently.
“We only had an hour when we arrive in the stadium, and when we go back in the dressing room after warming up to do these rituals. It costs us exactly two minutes to do these rituals. And it’s easy to give these two minutes away that they can do in this moment what is to them absolutely important.”
Klopp also offers some insight into his team’s tactical rhythms, and an observation not often made about Liverpool’s pressing style, that is a way of saving, not expending energy; of preserving his team’s shape as much as attacking the opponent.
“You don’t have to be fitter to play for Liverpool. You just have to be fit and to fit our plan. And our game is not actually as intense as it looks. We do the things we do to save energy. Winning the ball back immediately is a two or three-yard sprint. If you don’t win the ball there, 10 players have to run 50 or 60 yards to win the ball, it’s much more exhausting.
“Even when we are attacking we need to have players who are ready to defend. Because the only time in life when you can feel free is when you have protection.”
It is a way of playing that reached its apex last season, and indeed during Klopp’s time at Liverpool, with the 4-0 defeat of Leicester at the King Power stadium on Boxing Day. As Klopp says in the film: “To have just become Club World Cup champions and play the best game of the season, it was unbelievable. It was pure football power destruction my boys.”
There were of course bumps in the road in that steamrollering season. Klopp is animated, even now, by Hamza Choudhury’s tackle in the reverse fixture at Anfield that led to Salah missing two weeks of the season.
“I have no problems with challenges in football because it’s a contact sport,” he says. “But this boy I was very angry with because two weeks before he injured another player. And he came on and was overly aggressive. In these moments I am really angry. I don’t like it. I cannot really deal with unfairness.”
Then, of course, there is the single great force majeure of the last year, the Covid-19 epidemic that cuts through The End Of The Storm’s footballing narratives like a scalpel. Erskine treats the epidemic with delicacy. There are separate strands following Liverpool fans around the world, including one in Wuhan, China. And the football story is also a lens that captures its devastating power. Klopp gives a detailed account of how the dark clouds of March 2020 began to spread across the insular world of football.
“I remember we played against Bournemouth [on 7 March], and we were 25 points now ahead, a big gap. City played the next day and lost against United. I remember lying on the couch at home, I was really [like] ‘phew’ … Then I woke up Monday morning and heard about Madrid closing schools and universities. We had an incredibly important Champions League game against Atlético. And we had five to six thousand people from Madrid coming to the game tomorrow. That made absolutely no sense.
“It was very difficult that night to prepare a football game, to ask the players to do everything to win it, without knowing what will happen the day after.
“We played this game, a really good game, but lost it and went out of the competition, and I remember I was really angry about the way Atlético Madrid played. But five minutes later after I did all my interviews I thought: ‘What an idiot are you, you worry about losing a football game but the world is in a most difficult place ever.’
“So I drove home and next day coming into training it was already clear the league will be stopped and now we have to organise the lockdown. The whole club had to do an incredible job to keep these high-profile boys in a safe place when the only thing you can do outside is go out food shopping, but that is very difficult for professional, very famous football players.”
The ending to the football side of that story is still fresh, but so strange it bears rewatching. The sight of Liverpool players talking about the haunting uncertainties of the first lockdown, the vagueness over what exactly this illness was, the need to offer constant mutual support, is a reminder of a genuinely strange time.
In between Klopp returns to the subject of his own family, and in particular the galvanising figure of his own father, who he remembers in context of the wider grief of the last eight months.
“My father died nearly 20 years ago. Now when I look in the mirror I get a shock because I look exactly like my father. I would today have a brilliant relationship with him because I am now old and strong enough to say what I want to say in the right tonality. We could have a really cool conversation about the things that happened, but unfortunately we can’t do that.
“Unfortunately, when I’ve described my dad, when I read it back from time to time, it’s not fair how it sounds. This relationship was based much more on respect and clear messages. He was an unbelievable football player. Kaiserslautern offered him a contract when he was 18. But my grandfather didn’t allow him to join them. He wanted me to fulfil his dreams. I loved all the things he wanted me to do.
“I am now achieving what he wanted me to do. Being really successful in sports. The real shame of this story is that he wasn’t here any more when I became a manager.”
The End Of The Storm is released on Digital, Blu Ray and DVD on Monday 30th November. Pre-order at endofthestorm.film