At the Wanda Metropolitano, well after the final whistle, after the medals had been presented and the big-eared trophy lifted, Liverpool’s players and coaching staff started assembling near the end occupied by their traveling fans. The stands on that side were packed to the rim, almost as if a major European final was about to get underway. Once the horizontal array of red jerseys and black jackets had grown big enough, the speakers started playing You’ll Never Walk Alone, the anthem and totem Liverpool Football Club, and their city, live by.
By the time the song reached its chorus of “Walk On…”, the line on the pitch was complete. The entire backroom staff stood shoulder to shoulder with the players. There wasn’t any overzealous display of toned abdominal muscles, or someone holding aloft their jersey with name and number facing the fans. It had been a long and arduous journey for this team, often decided by moments of inspiration and individualistic magic, but it was a journey taken together. They sang along with the fans, the Champions League trophy kept in the middle as a mark of shared possession.
The air in the city of Liverpool moves a little differently from the rest of England, especially London. It is a city built on the sweat and toil of dockers and shipwrights. In the late nineteenth century, Liverpool’s docks were responsible for more than 75 percent of the cotton entering the country.
Between that scale of opulence and the unemployment and apathy under the Margaret Thatcher government of the 80s, the city rode crests and troughs as a community. They have often fought an unfair, often implausible, battle against London, the technicolor picture of wealth and affluence. But they have been defiant, not submissive, never bending backward in a plea for inclusion.
“Liverpool has never looked towards London. It has looked towards Ireland, towards America. You know what we say – ‘Scouse, not English’.”–Anti-Sun activist Paul Collins to journalist Wright Thompson
Even today, their political parties are vocal, socialist, and left-leaning. Their bookstores and pubs often have subliminal Soviet messaging on the walls.
Jurgen Klopp is a man who believes in that appeal of a common objective. In an interview with the Independent’s Jonathan Liew, he mentioned how he grew to love football because him and his friends could feed off each others’ energies and skills to achieve a collective triumph.
Between Mainz, Dortmund, and Liverpool, his coaching philosophy has always anchored on principles of the collective. His teams run and press like they’d rather pass out than let their companions down. At Liverpool, the biggest and most significant team of the three, it has taken him a while to completely imprint that idea, but the wait has come with stunning rewards.
Last year, when his men in red could only watch and ponder as Sergio Ramos lifted the Champions’ League trophy for a third consecutive year, there was a sense of this team as an effective, appealing but unfinished entity. Once Mohamed Salah went off with a dislocated shoulder, Liverpool could never fully recover. They played well, were defensively tight too, but didn’t have the zing and power that wins you the last yards. Their Premier League season suffered from the same malaise. When they were good, they were frighteningly good, but when it got sticky, they would often find themselves unable to maneuver.
In the days after the defeat to Real Madrid, Klopp had made it a point to talk in detail about Loris Karius’ concussion before the first of his two howlers. And yet, for all his sympathy and empathy for his player, it was Liverpool and Klopp’s ruthlessness in the transfer market which made the difference this season. Karius went on loan to Benfica, clearly not in the technical and mental shape to take Liverpool forward. In came Alisson Becker from Roma, a commanding presence in the box, equally adept with the ball at his hands or feet.
Virgil van Dijk was six months into his Liverpool career and already looking like a million dollars every time he played. From the moment he first stepped inside Melwood and inherited Sami Hyypia’s number 4 jersey, he has been the calm in the middle of Klopp’s gegenpressing storm.
One year on, those two were Liverpool’s men of the match in the biggest annual game in Europe.
The match, itself, was punctuated by fouls, heavy touches, missed passes, goal-kicks, and throw-ins. Neither team could manage a sustained spell of possession, as they fought hard to break the cobwebs from the dormant three-week spell since the end of the Premier League. Between Mo Salah’s penalty and Divock Origi’s neat bottom-corner finish, the contest was edgy, yet boring for the pure lack of any spark of real brilliance.
This was the kind of contest that Liverpool were unable to master last season, but this time, they had men as ruthless as they are gifted. The tackles were hard, the touches were sure, the saves were punched well away from danger. This is a team of mentality giants. Tottenham probed and prodded, but couldn’t quite break the door open. Mauricio Pochettino’s men are in the middle of the same journey that Liverpool found themselves on last season. In a match that didn’t give either team enough breathing space, Spurs couldn’t find a clinical edge. They’ll emerge from this wiser and stronger.
Liverpool had that edge. More importantly, they had the belief and expertise in finding a way through at some point. As Tottenham got closer, the chance fell to Divock Origi, who had come on as a substitute for a jaded Roberto Firmino. Origi, a survivor from Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool (also against Tottenham), has made a difference at the most crucial times this season. Against Everton, against Newcastle, against Barcelona, when Liverpool really needed a push, Origi had come good. At Madrid too, he was there, hitting the ball cleaner than most others had all night.
At the onset of this season, Divock Origi’s career was in flux. His loan move to Wolfsburg the previous year hadn’t quite flourished and he was almost on the flight to Huddersfield for another loan spell. But, at the end of the night in Madrid, he stood in that line shoulder to shoulder with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Virgil van Dijk, his name firmly engraved in Liverpool Football Club’s august history. There is space and scope for everyone here.
Liverpool, the club, the city, and their philosophy, are the champions of Europe.