‘We win the fitness, we win everything.’ It’s probably fair to say those words from development coach Pep Lijnders during Liverpool’s recent training camp in America won’t be long remembered or quoted in the future.
However, although the modern day setting of Stanford University was much different, they do echo with those of a former Reds manager.
The venue was Wembley Stadium on a Sunday in March 1982. At one point that afternoon the Milk Cup, as the League Cup was known at the time, looked destined for the hands of FA Cup holders Tottenham who led through a first half goal from Steve Archibald and had Glenn Hoddle, Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles amongst their impressive ranks.
Then, three minutes from the end of normal time, 20-year-old Ronnie Whelan swept a low first time finish in to the far corner to make it 1-1 and send the game to extra time.
During the period before the additional half hour began an understandably deflated Tottenham side, whose supporters had been celebrating their impending victory just minutes earlier, sat down on the grass to get a rest.
Spotting an opportunity to gain a psychological advantage, Liverpool boss Bob Paisley stopped his men from doing the same.
Full-back Phil Neal later recalled (via Liverpoolfc.com):
“Paisley would not let us sit down before extra time started. He was bellowing: ‘Get up off your feet, don’t them let them see you are tired.’ It stemmed from Shankly, who would never let an opponent see that you were weak. After that, we felt we had it in the bag.”
Indeed they did, Whelan making it 2-1 from close range before Ian Rush sealed the victory.
Of course that LFC side were the dominant force of English football at the time, an almost unstoppable machine.
But Paisley knew that even with all of their undoubted ability the simple impression that they were fitter, stronger and better equipped to go the distance had a devastating impact on even undoubtedly talented opponents such as Spurs.
Now Jurgen Klopp clearly wants his squad to have that same asset amongst their armoury, just as his successful Borussia Dortmund unit did.
BVB’s domestic triumphs were followed by a run to the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley, where they narrowly lost out to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.
In the match programme for that game in London the former Mainz player was asked about the type of football he likes to see. His answer:
“Energy, speed, aggression, hard but fair duels, a lot of goalscoring chances, hitting posts and the bar and a lot of corners – that is what I call attractive.”
The traits he mentions in that insightful reply are what he is trying to currently instil into a Liverpool squad that he has been busy remoulding this summer.
Clearly he looked at the team during the majority of the 2014/15 campaign that he was in charge for and – despite reaching two finals – decided it was lacking some of the essential elements that he desired.
That energy he talks about can only come from superb conditioning and with that in mind he recruited former Bayern Munich fitness coach Andreas Kornmayer.
It’s led to plenty of hard labour for the squad during the summer. When asked about the schedule while in California the German manager said (via the Liverpool Echo):
“It’s been busy. We have either been training or sleeping so far. We haven’t seen too much apart from the trip to Alcatraz, which was quite impressive. But we are here to work. The weather is fantastic – completely different to England!
“We are using the nice weather and the good surroundings. We are doing two sessions each day with around four hours on the pitch together. That’s a lot of time but we believe in training and we believe in that helping us to improve.”
Four hours on the pitch may sound great to most fans but it is a lot for footballers who are sometimes used to doing only half that on a daily basis during the season. Clearly, it doesn’t sound like a holiday or a jolly to America with the emphasis on ‘building the brand in another emerging market’.
For Klopp it is a serious period of preparation, as emphasised by the fact that centre-back Mamadou Sakho was sent home early for a lack of respect for the rules.
What the decision did demonstrate was that the manager has no time for anything other than 100 per cent dedication while he tries to create a side that can at least challenge for a place in the top four over the coming months.
Aside from huge fitness levels, another of the aforementioned traits Klopp longs for in his teams is speed, and to that end he has recruited Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum whom have already made an impression on Philippe Coutinho with their pace and ability.
Klopp will also have the use of Danny Ings’ pace and work-rate after the striker was unavailable for the majority of last season and he has already been on the scoresheet in pre-season warm-ups.
Putting all of this effort in during pre-season and adding speed to the side sounds ideal. But it guarantees absolutely nothing. It’s only when the season progresses that we’ll find out if ‘winning the fitness’ actually helps Liverpool to win everything else.
Johnny Hynes, Pundit Arena