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Jurgen Klopp has cried the bitter tears of final-day disappointment before but he is unlikely to do so on Sunday. Not because Liverpool are certain to win the Premier League. Their chance remains very much an outside one.
Klopp will retain his equanimity partly because he already has two trophies in the cabinet and the chance of a third next weekend in Paris. But largely because his first two years of management at Mainz taught him to maintain perspective.
Klopp does failure well. Maybe better than any other manager. Not that he likes to lose but he does have a gift of placing setbacks within a bigger picture, which is enormously inspiring.
Jurgen Klopp will not shed any tears if Liverpool miss out on winning the Premier League title
It started in Mainz in his first full season in management in 2001-02. He was the wunderkind of the Bundesliga 2, the German second tier, as Mainz occupied an unlikely promotion place for what would be an unprecedented stint in the top flight. The club needed three points from their last three games but got two, losing 3-1 at Union Berlin on the final day of the season.
‘Our life’s dream has been destroyed,’ Klopp said, crying with players in the dressing room.
The following season, on the final day in 2003, they had to outscore Eintracht Frankfurt by a goal to go up. Mainz were 4-0 up and Frankfurt winning 4-3 with ten minutes to play. But then Mainz conceded a late goal and Frankfurt scored twice in injury time to win 6-3 and so go up at Mainz’s expense.
Klopp suffered final day frustration in the early stages of his managerial career at Mainz
So, when Klopp spoke last week of the importance of enjoying the journey no matter what the end result, it was a lesson honed from experience. ‘I knew [this] at that time already,’ he said on Friday, recalling those Mainz defeats.
‘I’m not sure I said it at that time but I thought it. Out of 365 days, 364 days at Mainz were better than ever before in our lives as footballers. And the last one was particularly bad. It’s up to us to judge what we make of that.
‘And I always made of that: “OK, let’s give it a try and make 365 of it [next time]” And that’s how it is. But for that you need the other 364 as well. And that’s what we always did. Mainz life gave me another knock, because we didn’t get promoted by a point and then by a goal, so it was real test.
‘And then we got promoted. So things work out if you stay on track. If you stay in the right mood. And that’s what we will be. So, I learned it early. That’s the only way I can do it actually.’
And as he said before the FA Cup final: ‘If we are all only happy when we are winning, when your race finishes, then what life would that be?’ Yet at Mainz he did more than merely offer perspective to setbacks. He positively used the moments to inspire the next season. Still vividly recalled in Mainz is the day after that second promotion failure and the speech Klopp gave. In a city where football wasn’t a huge deal —
Mainz were still semi-pro in 1988 — more than 10,000 fans turned out to salute the team at a town hall reception. Suddenly Klopp was on the microphone. ‘I’ve been thinking about yesterday and decided that it must have happened for a good reason,’ he said.
‘And I’ve decided that someone, somewhere wanted to show to the world that when you get knocked down, not once, not twice but even three or four times, that you can get up again and keep fighting. And that person decided there is no better town to show this to the world than Mainz.
In the 2001-02 campaign Mainz missed out on promotion at the conclusion of the campaign
‘Which club experienced what we did last season? Which club have gone through what we’ve been through this season? And now which club are going to have the story we’re going to have next season when we come back even stronger?’
Later, he would tell club colleagues: ‘I didn’t know what I was going to say when I got up there. I just said what came into my head and spoke from my heart.’
Unplanned it may have been, but it was transformational. ‘The mood changed instantly and it felt like a celebration and a rally,’ said a colleague. Mainz were promoted the next season and now, 20 years on, are an established Bundesliga force, eighth this season.
Liverpool will not fear failure on Sunday. if they don’t overhaul Manchester City having, for a second time in four years, accumulated over 90 points only to finish second. Klopp has been there and done that and knows how to use the moment.
Amidst all the tension, he really does look as though he is having the time of his life. ‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few exciting times. My missus asks why always go down to the last match day. It happens incredibly often. [But] it’s exciting seeing how good the boys are and seeing the steps that we’ve made.’
Liverpool will not fear failure on Sunday and have already achieved a lot this season