A reward due for both, but served to one
Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will go into the Champions League final on very different footings. Klopp, the Liverpool manager, has reached the stage twice before but never won, and his Tottenham Hotspur counterpart has never managed on a stage bigger than a domestic league final.
Both men are often at stark contrast, starting from their attire -- Klopp prefers the tracksuit on the sidelines while Pochettino can be found in tailored shirts, ties and suits -- to their personalities. The German is enthusiastic and animated, while Pochettino, an Argentine, has a calmer demeanour. Perhaps the latter has seen enough colour from when he famously shared a room with Diego Maradona.
However, although they may be polar opposites off the field, their philosophy of the game is much the same. They both prefer their sides to play fluent, attacking football, often taking the game to their opponent. There is undeniable tactical nous, which can be gleamed from even a cursory glance at the way their teams press.
There is also a similar way that they build their teams: through a focus on youth and shrewd signings. Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side was a prime example of his expertise in the regard, where he blended youth and experience to produce stunning results and end Bayern Munich’s monopoly on the Bundesliga. The work he had done at the Westfalenstadion is being carried on today.
Pochettino has his own, albeit less glittering, past. His teams’ best result came when Spurs finished as runners-up in the English League Cup. However, his real achievement came with Southampton, when the led the team to an eighth-placed finish in the Premier League. The players he fostered such as Luke Shaw, then in his first full season, and Adam Lallana would go on to make the Premier League’s Team of the Season.
Even now there are plenty of examples. Klopp brought in Trent Alexander-Arnold from the youth ranks and signed Joe Gomez for £3.5 million. Even the £75 million paid for Virgil Van Dijk looks like a bargain and the same can be said for the £23 million paid for Georginio Wijnaldum, the £34 million paid for Sadio Mane -- originally brought to the Premier League by Pochettino when he was at Southampton -- and the 50 million euros paid for Mohamed Salah. Those are all players that fit perfectly into the team that Klopp is creating and the results are evident.
Meanwhile, Pochettino has elevated continual-loanee Harry Kane’s game to an elite level, signed Son Heung-Min for £22 million, Christian Eriksen for a paltry £11 million and Dele Alli for a steal at £5 million. Again, these are the players who form the core of the Spurs team and were handpicked to thrive in their system.
Aside from the main men, both teams also have plenty of X-factors. Lucas Moura proved his worth with the incredible hattrick in the semi-final against Ajax but The Lillywhites also have Fernando Llorente -- who brought the ball down for Moura’s third -- and even Moussa Sissoko. The Red corner features Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi -- scorer of the winning goal against Barcelona in the semifinal.
Not only for the managers, the final represents a completely new chapter in the history of the clubs. Perhaps less so for Liverpool, because it is simply a continuation of the success that they have begun to enjoy in recent years, but adding a sixth European jewel to their crown would take them ahead of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and finally give them something to show for all the progress they have made under Klopp.
For Tottenham, it will be their maiden appearance in the final and a shot at European glory. Much like Liverpool, it will be a chance for them to reap the rewards that seem a long time coming.
The Champions League has not been kind to Klopp, whose defeats in the finals are marked by some of the competition’s most famous moments. The first, when he had led his Borussia Dortmund side against Bayern Munich, ended with Arjen Robben’s shot traipsing into goal in the 89th minute. The second, in last year’s final, was a more sobering loss as Real Madrid romped to a 3-1 win, remembered widely for Gareth Bale outdoing Zinedine Zidane and claiming the mantle of the best goal in the tournament’s final.
He will be hoping to make up for those stumbles this time around, but he will up against someone very much in the same mould when it comes to the pitch. It could be a fabulous exhibition of football, with breathless end-to-end action. Or it could be the typical cagey final that have been witnessed over the years as nerves take hold. The only certainty is that one manager will finally be able to point to a concrete sign of progress while the other, as much of an injustice as it would be, will have to wait another while.