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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Defiant Jurgen Klopp rejects ‘loser’ tag after ‘special’ Pep Guardiola rivalry

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After Jurgen Klopp delivered his bombshell, the stunning announcement that he would leave Liverpool at the end of the season, a man suddenly shorn of his nemesis got in touch. The contents of the conversation will remain confidential, the German said. Yet the lines of communication with Pep Guardiola have always remained open. Klopp had demurred when theirs was described as an epic rivalry, arguing that it was never a rivalry. Nor, he said, is it a friendship, either.

But for the Premier League, accustomed to the rancorous relationships between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, or Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, or Wenger and Mourinho, or Antonio Conte and Mourinho, this has been something different, a duel between greats defined by respect. They form a mutual admiration society, one who may reminisce together in the future.

“I don’t know 100 percent if we like each other,” Klopp mused. “I just know the respect is there. We have had talks. Phone calls. Stuff like that in different moments. He went through a difficult period. I went through a difficult period. On a private basis. So we had contact there.

“While we are in charge of our respective clubs, why should we have a friendship or relationship? After that, if we meet and look back then there will be a lot of things we could share and that will probably happen.”

And yet, Klopp does not need the distance time confers to realise how remarkable their battles have been. “I know that already, I know that it’s special,” he said. “I know we have had lucky and unlucky moments. I am fine with it. We can’t change it anymore.”

The broader theme has been that Klopp, a rarity in winning more games than he has lost against Guardiola, could prevail over 90 minutes, but over nine months Manchester City tended to finish above Liverpool. Guardiola is the reason why Klopp’s medal collection is not more extensive. He holds the bittersweet distinction of the two highest points tallies ever secured without winning the English league title: 97 and 92. Yet there is no bitterness that Guardiola denied him.

“In those years with one point behind, everybody knows on one specific moment it could have been different,” Klopp added. “For me, it doesn’t minimise the joy of what we did at that particular time. There is no silver medal in the Premier League or the Champions League.”

Klopp admits his rivalry with Guardiola has been ‘special’

(Getty Images)

There are times when Klopp has been a serial runner-up: he lost a Champions League final with Borussia Dortmund, too. Yet he is content with his lot, no loser in his own eyes. One of his feats was to push City to still greater heights.

“I know it’s a great achievement to reach four Champions League finals but losing three of them will be considered on the outside,” he explained. “They will not write it on the gravestone. Stuff like this for me is not important. I am not that person who needs that to feel good about myself. I don’t consider myself to be a loser because I lose finals, and I don’t consider myself as a winner because I won one. That has nothing to do with me.

“I just try to make the absolute best out of everything: so what we get, what we have in our hands. That means this team. Yes, these fights and having 97 points and not winning the league is incredible, and, yes, we pushed each other. I’m sure City doesn’t reach 100 points without us and we don’t get 97 without City. You need that.

“In these difficult moments when players are not there and stuff like that, you need this little bit extra. The thought that if we don’t do it the other will come definitely pushed the other. It was good fun. It would have been better fun had we won it more often, no doubt about that, but my own view on it doesn’t change because of having a trophy or not. It was just exceptional what the boys did and it will not happen regularly.”

Klopp insists there are no losers in his rivalry with Guardiola

(Getty Images)

Or again, perhaps. Yet Klopp dismissed the idea he is an impossible act to follow. But Guardiola is, he believes. Instead, he feels, he has not elevated expectations to such an extent that no replacement could succeed at Anfield.

“I really think it is the perfect moment for a new manager and not the wrong one because we didn’t win everything, we left spaces,” he explained. “The people gave Bill Shankly the chance, and what came after Bill Shankly, and they are all bigger than we are, and the people will understand in the end that this was a fantastic time and we all enjoyed it like hell. What a ride. But I am 100 percent sure that what they learned over the years is if we trust and we push then everything is possible. This team will attract top class managers, 100 percent. Go at City after Pep Guardiola and you need to be champion 10 years in a row to achieve the same.”

But for Klopp, Guardiola would have already won the Premier League in six successive seasons. But for Guardiola, Klopp would have had three titles. They have been the obstacles to each other’s ambitions, raising the bar, two winners and no losers giving each other a hell of a ride. They may have done it without enmity, without acrimony but with a compelling, enduring brilliance. It has been special. But now there may only be 90 minutes left of Klopp against Guardiola, of a special battle.

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