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Ken Early: Klopp’s dream factory helps Liverpool tap into emotions of the game

The charismatic manager’s understrength side showed a belief that was too much for big-spending Chelsea

The doors of the Jubilee Line train slid open at Green Park and the Liverpool fans hoping to board were confronted by an impenetrable phalanx of bodies. There would be no getting on this train.

One of them decided to express his frustration in song. “Duh duh duh DUH! Fu*k the Tories!”

The sentiment was Liverpool but the accent was unmistakably Dublin.

The Irish Liverpool fan saw something that displeased him. “He’s wearing a mask!” he shouted, pointing at the train. Then, with sarcasm, “Covid-19′s a real disease!”


The doors slid shut to another round of “Fu*k de Tories!” He was putting a bit of Scouse into his pronunciation, getting into the role.

On the train, a young Londoner who looked like he might be a Tory glanced around uncertainly. “Is there a game on today?”

Half an hour into Liverpool v Chelsea, Ryan Gravenberch lay on his back, his face twisted with pain.

“Always the victims, it’s never your fault” sang 40,000 Chelsea fans as Gravenberch was lifted onto a stretcher. “Fu*k the Tories,” 40,000 Liverpool fans yelled in response.

Gravenberch had suffered the injury when Moises Caicedo’s studs connected with the inside of his left ankle as he galloped down the left wing at full speed. Referee’s decision: play on. VAR decision: an unfortunate slip. Especially unfortunate for Gravenberch.

The VAR team would later disallow a Liverpool goal for a “foul” even the Chelsea players had not noticed in real time. Wataru Endo was offside and standing in front of Levi Colwill as Andy Robertson’s cross floated towards Virgil van Dijk.

In theory Endo was preventing Colwill from challenging for the ball – though Colwill’s effort to challenge was also theoretical. The offence was so “clear and obvious” that the referee, Chris Kavanagh, had to watch about 47 replays at the pitchside monitor before deciding to disallow the goal.

Such is the absurd current state of refereeing in the country that hosts “football’s NBA”. Officials ignore dangerous fouls in the name of ‘let it flow’, yet spend several minutes poring over multiple angles looking for reasons to cancel goals nobody saw a problem with.

Thankfully, the match was too good for the referees to ruin.

The morning of the game, Mauricio Pochettino had published “an open letter to Chelsea supporters,” talking dreamily about the power of finals to unite and inspire. “Now we must do what Chelsea do: Win.”

But when it kicked off it turned out that Liverpool, who were missing half of their strongest first XI and had played a draining match against Luton in midweek, were the team that was making all the running.

Chelsea, as they had done last week against Manchester City, were sitting back and aiming to skewer their opponents on the counter.

Towards the end of the first half it looked as though Raheem Sterling had done just that, but Nicolas Jackson was fractionally offside in the build-up.

The match was played at a furious pace and the massive effort Liverpool were putting in soon burned away their remaining resources.

Conor Bradley, Andy Robertson, Cody Gakpo, Alexis MacAllister and Ibrahima Konate all came off exhausted. Their replacements included four academy graduates, aged 18, 19, 19 and 21.

Chelsea, meanwhile, could introduce nearly €200 million worth of substitutes in Noni Madueke, Christopher Nkunku and Mykhailo Mudryk to reinforce the nearly €500 million worth of players that started the game.

Surely the sheer weight of resources would ultimately turn the game their way?

Instead, on 116 minutes, Van Dijk hurled himself at a Kostas Tsimikas corner to head past Đorđe Petrović for the second time. This time, the referees couldn’t find a reason to rule it out.

Commentating for Sky, Gary Neville called Chelsea “the billion-pound bottle jobs”.

But Chelsea hadn’t really bottled it. The truth was, they just weren’t good enough.

Part of the problem is obviously that these Chelsea players are collectively worth a lot less than a billion pounds. The reckless owners have been fleeced in the market. The squad’s uneven quality was summed up in a moment in extra-time, when Madueke escaped some exhausted-looking Liverpool challenges, looked up, and booted a hopeless diagonal ball to absolutely nobody.

The bigger and more fundamental problem at Chelsea is that they are not a real team, and Liverpool are.

“The players are professional, they are very competitive. But they need to feel the pain,” Mauricio Pochettino said afterwards.

Judging by the anguished look in his eyes as Liverpool celebrated the late winner, Caicedo needed no prompting from Pochettino to feel the pain. He was feeling it exquisitely.

Caicedo could have joined Liverpool in the summer but supposedly told Brighton to turn down the bid from Anfield, as his heart was set on Chelsea, the club of his dreams.

We can only guess at how Chelsea had convinced Caicedo’s agent that joining the Todd Boehly-fronted circus would be a better move for his client than playing for Klopp and the Anfield crowd.

At an event to open the rebuilt Anfield Road stand back in December, Klopp had suggested that Liverpool had dodged a bullet by failing to sign the Ecuadorean. Caicedo had started the game as though determined to prove a point, levelling Endo with a bodyslam before that brutal tackle on Gravenberch.

Now, as the Liverpool crowd rejoiced and the Chelsea end silently emptied, the awful scale of his mistake was staring him in the face.

“There is an English phrase, you don’t win trophies with kids. I didn’t know that. It is, in my more than 20 years, easily the most special trophy I ever won.”

Jurgen Klopp’s voice was hoarse with all the roaring he had been doing.

“I wish I could feel pride more often. Tonight that’s the overwhelming feeling. I was proud of our academy, I was proud of our coaches, my God, it was really overwhelming . . . Seeing the faces of everybody after the game, of the kids . . .”

Here is the essential difference between Klopp’s Liverpool and Boehly and Behdad Eghbali’s Chelsea. Imagine Conor Bradley had come through at Chelsea rather than Liverpool. Everyone would know that the private equity genius owners would be congratulating themselves on discovering such a rich seam of potential accounting ‘pure profit’ – an academy gem whose sale could be leveraged into an entire summer of fresh new signings.

At Liverpool he’s not a number representing a bet on a hedge fund’s balance sheet but a real footballer, with a manager who understands what he can do for the team and has surrounded him with everything he needs to show the world the player he can be.

Like Caoimhín Kelleher, who did as much as anyone to win this final for Liverpool. He made no mistakes and produced at least two matchwinning saves, from Cole Palmer in the first half and Conor Gallagher in the second.

It was fantastic to see an Irish player once again performing brilliantly and winning trophies with one of England’s biggest clubs. This is why generations of Irish fans have followed these big clubs as though they were their own.

Stories like Kelleher’s are so much rarer now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and it has become correspondingly easier to diagnose people like the Covid-denying, Tory-hating Irish Liverpool fan of Green Park station as victims of a sad strain of false consciousness – walking, talking monuments to the persistence of the colonised mind.

But that is to ignore the universal appeal of the game of football as practised by somebody like Klopp, who understands and connects with the simple emotions at the core of the sport. The man has built a dream factory. Those young faces, that joy – can you really blame anybody for wanting to be a part of that?