Jurgen Klopp says he “would love” to reach the UEFA Europa League final this season as the Liverpool boss – in a wide-ranging exclusive interview with TNT Sports – opened up on his club’s approach to the competition and his overall tenure at Anfield.
Liverpool have not featured in the Europa League since 2016 when they reached the final in Klopp’s first season at the helm, losing 3-1 to seven-time winners Sevilla.
“Wherever we go it will be a massive game for the teams, everybody who comes to Anfield it will be a massive game. In the [UEFA] Champions League [it was] the same but it will be here as well, and we have to be 100 per cent ready for that.
“We want to go as far as somehow possible. I would love to go to the final, obviously, but I have no clue if we can reach that because there will be a lot of fantastic football teams in between us and that target, so we have to make sure we perform.”
The last remnants of that 2016 Europa League final squad departed Anfield this summer, with Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and James Milner all transferring away.
Does that mean that Klopp will use the competition to find the next generation of Liverpool stars?
“If there will be kids involved that depends on the level the kids can show in that moment,” he said.
“We have real talent there, but it is not experimental. I think if we don’t get hit by an injury crisis then we should have enough players to field Thursday and Sunday a top team, and that’s pretty much the idea.
“Then we will see how we build a squad. I didn’t think about that yet to be honest because these kind of long-term plans in football make absolutely no sense because you can kick them in the bin pretty much the second after you had them, for whatever reason.
“So we will see, but we have good kids. That’s the benefit of the [recent] international break, when you have all these kids in training. We had 16-year-old boys here, and they are incredibly good, incredibly talented.
“I can’t wait for them, but now in the moment we leave them where they are, they shall develop and all these kinds of things.
“But there a few good players out there in the academy and for all the Liverpool supporters out there, I’m pretty sure the future’s bright.”
On October 8, Klopp will bring up eight years in charge of Liverpool.
In an era of considerable managerial upheaval – especially in the Premier League – the German’s long tenure is something of a rarity, even if Manchester City boss and long-time rival Pep Guardiola is himself into his seventh year at the Etihad.
Reflecting on his remarkable spell at Liverpool, Klopp said: “To be in the business is a joy, it’s a pleasure, an honour, something I never would have expected thirty years ago that it would be possible, especially not for that long.
“So I enjoy a lot what I’m doing. it doesn’t mean we don’t have difficulties – we have a lot, we have a lot of challenges every day.
“But I don’t think Pep or I deserve any kind of praise for being around that long, we work for great clubs and we work together with fantastic players. And we have international breaks by the way, I have my feet on the table for a few days at least and can really rest. I know how important this could be for the players as well but they don’t have it.
“So that’s no problem, it’s the job that you have to do, it’s the order from the club, from the people out there, to use the circumstances you have, make the best of it and try to win as many football games as possible.
“The more often you do that, the longer you are allowed to do it. It’s really cool that people let me do it for that long already because I really love it.”
On whether he has taken any inspiration from some of the long-serving managerial greats of the game, Klopp added: “I never thought I will be one of them, so I forgot to look at them. It just happened. I’ve only had three clubs so each club has had a different story, a different starting point.
“What everybody wants to see – the CEOs, the presidents of the club – is that their team is in good hands, that they see development, that it goes in the right direction.
“For whatever reason, I don’t know exactly, I could deliver that somehow, and that’s why I was allowed to work longer in clubs. With Pep it is easier to see, because he wins everything, so why would you send him on the road?
“I never compared myself with the real greats of the business who worked for nearly 20 years or longer in big clubs. I really think it’s only possible in big clubs, or you are a man of the club. In Germany we have a similar story with Christian Streich [manager of SC Freiburg since 2011, and involved in coaching at the club since 1995].
“Otherwise, it’s only possible in big clubs where you have success from time to time, because otherwise people want to have a change, and that’s their right.”
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