Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp talks to ESPN about legacy, staying on top and more
5: 00 AM ET
Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
BANGKOK, Thailand — It has been the briefest of summers for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. Just 45 days after losing the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris, the team that came so close to achieving an unprecedented quadruple last season was back in action in a friendly against Premier League rivals Manchester United in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Liverpool’s 4-0 defeat against United in the Rajamangala Stadium — Erik ten Hag’s first game in charge of the Old Trafford team — is unlikely to offer a reliable guide to either side’s prospects for the 2022-23 season. After all, the preseason is the time to prepare for the year ahead, to acclimate new players and learn to cope without those who have left. ESPN caught up with Klopp in an exclusive interview during Liverpool’s two-day stay in the Thai capital, at the club’s base at the St. Regis Hotel, to discuss the issues facing the 55-year-old manager and his players.
Mohamed Salah has committed his long-term future to the club by signing a new three-year contract, while Darwin Nunez became Liverpool’s record signing in a transfer from Benfica that could be worth as much as £85 million. But there is also the challenge of overhauling last season’s champions Manchester City in the Premier League, as well as bouncing back from losing to LaLiga’s champions in Europe.
Looking relaxed and sounding upbeat after a short summer break, Klopp told ESPN that he is planning for the present and the future after winning two of a possible four trophies last season. The former Borussia Dortmund coach, who signed a new contract until 2026 earlier this year, also discussed his vision of Liverpool after he leaves the club.
But with the new season set to start in less than four weeks’ time — and with a World Cup wedged in the middle, from Nov. 21 to Dec. 18 — Klopp says that the season ahead will be a challenge on and off the pitch as several teams are ready to compete for honours.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
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ESPN: How do you reflect on last season, having come so close to winning four trophies, but missing out on the Premier League and Champions League?
Klopp: I’m very positive about the season and the things we did, of course. When you are that close, it would have been nice [to win everything], but it doesn’t hurt anymore.
It hurt in the moment, that’s clear, when we came a bit short in the league and lost the Champions League final, but honestly, the next day [when Liverpool had a homecoming parade] showed us everything we needed to know, the people obviously. That’s what we do: we do it for the people and they obviously appreciate a lot what we did over the year. It was a spectacular season with an insane amount of points, an insane amount of games and all this kind of thing, so they are really very positive reflections.
We knew that if we would have won both competitions, we would still have had to improve and change here and there. You can’t always do the same stuff and hope you will have a better outcome — you need to improve in details, and that’s what we would have done had we won it, so now of course, it’s all good and we are here, recharged and ready to go again.
ESPN: Sadio Mane has left Liverpool for Bayern Munich, but you have signed Darwin Nunez, having already added Luis Diaz in January. Are we seeing the evolution of your squad for the years ahead?
Klopp: It is necessary. We didn’t only lose Sadio, we also lost Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino just from the playing squad last year. Some other players might leave as well, but we brought in Luis in the winter, Darwin now, Fabio [Carvalho] and Calvin [Ramsay]. It is really exciting because the boys are fresh and full of excitement — big eyes — being together with us, so it just changes the dynamic in the group and it’s really necessary.
I’m now in my seventh season and it’s important that we don’t just do the same thing again and again and again. We have to push ourselves to the next level and for that you always need a new input and that’s what we got.
Mark Ogden says signing Mohamed Salah until 2025 can only be good news for Liverpool.
ESPN: Salah ended speculation over his future by signing a new contract, so how important was it for the team that he decided to stay?
Klopp: Very important of course. It’s always like this. If it wouldn’t have happened, we would have had to deal with that, but I knew early that Mo’s wish was to stay and the club wanted him to stay. Then it’s just negotiations.
If you do that in other parts of business out there, nobody is aware of it. You just realise at the moment when they are still together. But in football, we all do that in public and that’s why it felt, for the people, a bit nervy, but for us it was never like that.
It was a very important signing for us. I always see it like this: if we had to sign him now from another club, wow, what a player we would get. But now we have him still here and that’s absolutely great. You see him here now and he is absolutely happy about the future with us, so yes, great news.
ESPN: You also committed your long-term future to Liverpool by signing a four-year contract in April, which will take you to 11 years at Anfield.
Klopp: [Laughs] Sorry!
ESPN: But having won everything as Liverpool manager, including the Premier League and Champions League, do you now look ahead and think about what you want your legacy as manager to be? What do you want, or need, to do before you leave Liverpool?
Klopp: Not really. It’s not that I look at my Mainz time and think back: it’s a nice memory that we went to the Bundesliga and won the league twice with Dortmund and the cup. It’s all nice, but it’s not the first thing I think about when I think about my time at Mainz or Dortmund, and it will not be like this when I think about Liverpool.
My target, or aim, is of course to win as much as possible, but when you leave, you have to leave the club in the best possible situation. I think that is really important. It only makes a real legacy because if you squeeze everything out of a club and leave, somebody has to clean the rubbish or whatever. That’s not how it should be. The club should be in the healthiest position possible and should have a team that is ready to go for the next chapter.
But that is in the future. For the moment, I am really happy with the circumstances we have and the squad we have created.
From an age point of view, it is now really interesting, we can really mix it up. We have quality from the youth side, very experienced players and all these kinds of things in this mix. But all of them are full of determination and desire to make the next step and win more and that is what is really important. What I say is that everything we do is based on the past, but to be ready for the present and prepare the future. We have to do all of this at once, and I think we are in a good position.
Jurgen Klopp speaks about UEFA’s inquiry into the scenes which unfolded before the Champions League final.
ESPN: During those four years, until the end of your present contract, do you expect it to simply be a case of Liverpool vs. Manchester City for the honours? You both seem so far ahead.
Klopp: We are not that far ahead. That’s always a misunderstanding of the points tally of last season.
We played Chelsea — I don’t know how many points more we had, I really don’t — but we played them four times and we didn’t win one game against them. It’s not because we are bad that day — no, we were really good in those games — but over 90 minutes each time, before the penalties [in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals], we never won, so Chelsea are incredibly strong.
You have to look at Tottenham, and what they are doing at the moment. They didn’t get worse this year. Arsenal are still there, Man United with a new start, all these kind of things.
It’s always the same and we changed a little bit — not too much, but a bit. City changed maybe more, I don’t know, but we will see in the next few weeks. But that’s how it is. The basis has to be right, and it is right for us and from there, we can go. I’m not interested in the points we had last year, I’m only interested in what we can get this season, but I am positive, really optimistic, but I’m not sure, so we will have to fight and see what the outcome is.
ESPN: What impact will the World Cup have on the season ahead? Do you expect it to create uncertainty?
Klopp: In all parts it is strange, domestically and internationally. In Germany, they stop playing then start again in late January. We start again on Boxing Day. That means [the World Cup] has an impact in the Champions League if you are still in it then. I haven’t yet planned that far, but it is clear that it is a massive challenge and what we have to do here is prepare as good as possible for the next period until November.
We have a big group [of players] going to the World Cup, but thank god they can’t all go to the final. A lot of them can go to the semis, which is the same length of the tournament, so it will be tough. And then a week later, the boys have to play again.
It’s really, really hard, but that’s the situation and it’s the same for all of us and that’s the only good thing about it.
In Europe, I don’t know, but in Germany it is an extremely long break and that is a challenge too — to pick up again and get rhythm, but at least the ones at the World Cup get a long enough break. Our players again — surprise — don’t have a real break, but everyone expects them to perform again one week after they might have won the World Cup.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.