WHEN Jurgen Klopp arrived in English football amongst much fanfare during the October international break he quickly laid out his hopes for the future at Liverpool.
“I believe in a playing philosophy that is very emotional, very fast and very strong. My teams must play at full throttle and take it to the limit every single game,” he declared to the massed media huddled inside one of the suites in Anfield’s Centenary Stand.
He went on to talk about the team feeding off the atmosphere at the ground and the energy this could provide, much as his Borussia Dortmund side had done when winning two Bundesliga crowns and reaching the 2013 Champions League final.
The fast and strong part of his preferred playing style was easy to understand. But the emotional element? This could easily be described as an unworkable combination.
Footballers at their best, we’re often told, need to be cool and calm. Supposedly, they need to leave emotion out of the equation if they are to succeed.
However, at Liverpool emotional football has been a part of the club’s story – and many successes – for decades.
In 1965, just three days after lifting their maiden FA Cup at Wembley Bill Shankly’s side prepared to face Inter Milan in the home leg of European Cup semi-final.
Prior to kick off the Scot sent out Gordon Milne and Gerry Byrne – two players unable to participate due to injury – to parade the newly claimed silverware and whip the crowd in to a fervour.
The emotional frenzy whipped up on the terraces powered the team to a superb 3-1 win over an Italian side who were renowned for their defensive ability, were the holders and would eventually overturn the deficit to go on and retain the trophy.
In the same competition, this time at the quarter-final round, a dozen years later it was St. Etienne who arrived on Merseyside with a lofty reputation. They brought with them a 1-0 lead from the first leg in France.
Again though the emotion of the crowd drove Bob Paisley’s men over the line after they found themselves 2-1 down on aggregate and needing to twice find the net to progress. Ray Kennedy got one to make it 2-2 before a baying Kop were sent in to howls of ecstasy when David Fairclough came off the bench to score on an emotional evening that was looked back upon fondly as the European Cup was collected for the first time at the end of the campaign.
It was a different competition and an even more thrilling spectacle in 2001 when the UEFA Cup final produced an enthralling 5-4 extra-time golden goal win over Spanish side Alaves.
In 2004/05 there was the drama of Olympiakos, with three goals required in 45 second half minutes to somehow claim a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League; a tournament that ended with the most dramatic LFC game ever as AC Milan were defeated on penalties despite Rafa Benitez’s team being three goals down at the break.
12 months on from that stunning night in Turkey there was another 3-3 followed by a penalty shootout triumph, with West Ham the vanquished in the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.
Those last four examples of emotional football came under the stewardship of managers who were, at times, seen as dour and defensive.
Particularly Benitez, was well-known for his cold and unemotional relationships with his players. His predecessor, Gerard Houllier, always had a fondness for clean sheets at the expense of entertainment or style.
Yet, once Liverpool got involved in those games and emotions took over both bosses were powerless to stop it. The controlled, measured, precise football they craved went out the window. Instead, there was relentless attacking and goal after goal after goal.
It just seems to be within the DNA of LFC. So combining that with Klopp – a manager who openly admits to preferring emotional football – is an explosive cocktail.
From his first game he has tried to tap in to that element, with Adam Lallana saying this of his pre-match speech prior to taking charge of the team for the first time in a game at Tottenham:
“We listened to the manager and I was so pumped by what he’d said – the vibe, the emotion and the feeling – I walked out wanting the game to start there and then, in that second. It was just the passion of his words that got to us.”
So, emotion is a big part of what Klopp is trying to do at the club as he strives to shape it in his own vision.
Prior to the stunning 4-3 Europa League quarter final victory against Borussia Dortmund we had already had some examples of it. A 5-4 win at Norwich in January led to the manager and his whole squad celebrating the aforementioned Lallana’s injury time winner to such an extent that Klopp ended up with broken glasses amongst the emotional scenes at Carrow Road.
Even at Wembley in the League Cup final, when they were being outplayed by Man City, the Reds used the energy and emotion from their travelling support to somehow hang on, equalise and force extra time before succumbing to defeat on spot-kicks.
Of course being an emotional manager who wants to produce that type of football can have its downsides too.
Following a 2-2 draw at home with West Brom back in December the German was quick to admit that getting caught up in the emotion of the game meant he became embroiled in a spat with Tony Pulis, his opposite number on the visitors’ bench.
Against Villarreal more recently he was again at the heart of a passionate and ultimately successful night in front of the Kop as his side reached the Europa League final thanks to 3-1 aggregate triumph.
It wasn’t all about emotion though and it would be wrong to assume that is the charismatic manager’s only strength. Beneath the surface he is an astute tactician with a well-honed coaching team alongside him.
While emotion and using it properly clearly plays a part in his success, it’s about much more than that. When asked about the win over Villarreal he described the performance as “very emotional plus very smart”
And that’s the key; while he’s tapped in to the emotional element at the heart of the club he’s harnessing it in tandem with his own strengths.
It’s a combination that has already brought him to two cup finals with Liverpool during his first seven months at the club. Who knows how far it can ultimately take them?