The victory in Baku meant Chelsea had won their third European trophy in eight seasons
After witnessing their European coronation in Madrid, Simon Hughes believes Liverpool can become even more formidable this season
On any average day, the Plaza de Felipe II in Madrid is a lumpen continuation of concrete, with a huge shopping store flanking it on one side and arteries towards other, more interesting, parts of the Spanish capital on the other.
On Saturday 1 June, the scene was rather different. The first few Liverpool supporters started assembling at daybreak. By 11am, a crowd that could have filled a medium-sized football stadium had gathered. The square is long. From a stage where a series of Liverpool musicians performed, the sea of red stretched as far as the eye could see.
The departure from Merseyside was an exodus. For many, routes to the Champions League final had taken on extreme lengths. Flights to eastern Europe and back to the west. Flights, even, to countries in northern Africa, then crossing the Mediterranean by boat before long coach journeys back north.
The author of this article, working for a national newspaper in Britain, flew to Bordeaux before catching a train to the French-Spanish border. There were nights in San Sebastian and Bilbao before another long train ride into Madrid’s Chamartín station, out in the northern outskirts where the Liverpool squad were staying nearby. I had set off on Tuesday and arrived on Friday morning. The final was Saturday. I reached home via Granada in southern Spain a full week after departing Merseyside.
The sheer number of people in Madrid would mean many missed the celebrations back home. The 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur was a slog until the final whistle, when the release of energy inside the Estadio Metropolitano was incredible. This was Liverpool’s first European Cup-winning team in 14 years, the sixth in the club’s history. Only Real Madrid and AC Milan are more successful now.
For Jürgen Klopp, it was his first trophy as Liverpool manager since his appointment three and a half years ago. As the team bus leading the parade passed the iconic Liver Building less than 24 hours after what he called “the
Liverpool fans enjoy their day in the sun in Madrid
biggest achievement in my career, for sure,” he could see his wife Ulla in the enormous crowds, standing on a bin. Above her were half-built structures and standardly empty properties filled with people. There were men perched on cranes and cherry pickers, children hanging off road signs and traffic lights.
More than 250 accredited journalists from the US, Brazil and China had arrived in Liverpool and Joe Anderson – the Everton-supporting mayor – estimated Madrid would be worth more than £150m to the city in terms of tourism alone.
“I’ve talked a lot about the tourism and visitor economy and what it means for us – and Liverpool FC are the biggest contributors to that,” Anderson admitted. “What they have done for the brand of this city on a global scale is incalculable. We would have paid a few million quid for that kind of advertising – it is fantastic for the city.”
Not since 2005, indeed, had Liverpool as a place seen anything like this: back when Rafael Benítez’s team had beaten Milan on penalties after a 3-3 draw in which Liverpool had trailed by three goals at half-time, only to mount a remarkable recovery through Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso.
That final was held in Istanbul, of course: the host of tonight’s Super Cup and a city that Liverpool have returned to on three occasions since, losing each time – once to Galatasaray in 2006, then to Beşiktaş in 2007 and 2015, the latter in the Europa League.
Benítez’s improbable achievement in 2005 was marked by the fact that it was his first season in charge. Back home, Liverpool had finished fifth in the Premier League, below city rivals Everton. It felt like there was much work still to do, with Chelsea the new boys leading the pack ahead of formidable challenges from Manchester United and Arsenal.
Though English football is no less competitive now, the landscape has shifted, with Liverpool tipped to compete with champions Manchester City for the title this season just like last, which finished with City taking the prize by a single point.
Liverpool and Klopp return to Istanbul in optimistic mood. The Champions League exploits of June, as well as outstanding victories over Barcelona and Bayern earlier in the competition, have returned Liverpool to the zenith of the European game, and the achievement has relieved some pressure after seven years without a trophy of any kind.
Klopp has decided to continue with the same group of players that has taken Liverpool this far, resisting the temptation to enter the transfer market as he did last summer, which proved to be the most expensive in terms of signings in the club’s history.
The average age of Liverpool’s squad is 26 and Klopp believes there is room for improvement both collectively and as individuals. While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to push once again for a starting place after 12 months out injured, Klopp anticipates fellow midfielders Naby Keïta and Fabinho will develop further following their debut seasons in England. Meanwhile, there is much hope that teenage forward Rhian Brewster will emerge as a key player.
It is the first time Liverpool play a game in Istanbul as reigning European champions. Since arriving at the helm, Klopp has placed emphasis on both the league and Europe over domestic cups, but he knows this is a chance to win silverware – which has been scarce in the club’s recent history. The Super Cup is also a competition he has never won. It provides the platform to establish a winning culture at a club where trophies have always defined feelings.
The Liverpool manager (left) is held high by his players in Madrid; Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) played in his second UEFA Champions League final at the age of 20