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The Feelings You’re Left With

“It’s much more important what people think when you leave.” – Jurgen Klopp, 2015. “I’ll Never Walk Alone Again” – Liverpool, 2024

Moments make memories. Trophies are how we judge things historically, but moments are what we get to keep with us forever.

And so it has come to pass, the end of the Jurgen Klopp era. Words that we have all been slowly making our peace with since Jurgen announced he was leaving in January. At the time, the season retained the same feeling that most seasons under him have: possibility. By season’s end, the feelings had turned to a mix of melancholy and wistfulness. One trophy and a top 3 finish would have been absolutely cashed in by most fans when the year began, as the team looked to re-tool after a disappointing finish to 2023.

Yet, as the team struggled with injury and the crushing inevitability of Manchester City and their talented team with dubious finances, the way it finished was a bit deflating. Instead of a fairy tale Hollywood ending, the season finished in a way far more personal and human. All things must pass and no matter how much we rage against it, things will change.

That’s not to say the mood inside Anfield and around the world was really one of sadness. Instead, somehow, it was defiant, thankful and almost giddy. As if we all were pinching ourselves after waking up from a 9 year dream.

To prove this point, the game itself was almost an afterthought. Nothing much was on the line since the title had passed beyond the tema’s grasp and yet, the fans sang and sang because they wanted to live in this moment for the full 90 minutes.

Jurgen, true to form, took the mic one last time and was everything he always has been: thankful, goofy and optimistic. He took the time to plug his successor, Arne Slot, and to extol the virtues of the team and its future. He said repeatedly that he was now looking forward to being a fan of the club, to live and die not on the sidelines but in the stands. More importantly for the man, he is looking forward to living life as a citizen of the world, to embrace all the places he had traveled as a player and manager but really only experienced fleetingly. He’s earned this and the undying love from Liverpool for two key reasons: because he led the team to success but even more crucially, for giving us all so many moments.

It is rare for any public figure to leave on their own terms. Often it’s forced upon them due to injury or some other factor. However, what Klopp possesses as one of his greatest skills is a deep sense of who he is and what he represents. He’s remained essentially the same person since he first arrived on the scene and sidelines in Mainz. Some tweaks to his eyes, teeth and hair aside, he is a man remarkably comfortable in his own skin and therefore, able to put everyone he meets at ease too.

Watching how he interacts with his players, coaches, fans, even just random people on the street is to understand this simple truth. It’s what the hugs really represent, a direct impulse to grab the moment and hold onto it for as long as possible.

He certainly has a temper at times and could get grouchy, especially in defeat but there was always a sense that he was feeling everything and wasn’t afraid to show it. As a society, we have become so pre-programmed by life, almost numb to the ups and downs because it is at a constant churn. How exactly do you combat that sense of pressure, the mounting crush of life always waiting to land on you again? Jurgen would argue, it’s by being present as often as possible and cherishing the moments.

It’s why his time in charge felt like one long fever dream. Games the squad had no right of winning would turn out alright because Klopp didn’t believe in fate, but only in trying your best in that given moment. He’d push his players to transcend whatever was happening because only they were in control, circumstances be damned.

What Klopp made us all feel was that no game was too big, no opponent was to be feared and even in defeat, there could be joy for trying to push through it. Failure in the most beautiful way possible.

His teams created moments that are almost too many to count: Lallana’s Norwich game, Origi’s Everton Miracle, Allison’s Header, Barcelona, 7-0, are just a few that fly to mind. Even as all of them are only equal to individual games that come and go, the feelings from those games will stay with all of us forever. Rather than the sense that the script had already been written, here was a man and team capable of jumping dramatically off the rails to somewhere new and brilliant.

In time, perhaps very very soon, the page will turn and the focus will shift to what comes next. As it must, we cannot be slaves to the past, but must start to plan and plot toward what the future holds. However, if Jurgen Klopp has brought us anything, it’s that trying to exist for as long as possible in that moment of the eternal present, when all that matters is that you give your all with emotion, feeling, and a sense of the possible.

Jurgen can at times be spoken about almost in messianic terms, which surely, as a religious man, he’d reject. Rather, what I hope he can see and appreciate is that he was the right man for the right moment, and he not only met it, but held us in a constant sense of excitement. Through pandemics and world tragedies, he was never afraid to be himself, speak from the heart and give us everything he had. He has earned not just the right to live the rest of his life as he sees fit, but has given us all the chance to follow in his footsteps: trying to leave the world a better place than when you found it.

Football is just a game in the grand scheme of things, and while Shankly jokingly said it’s more serious than life and death, what Jurgen has taught us is is just as worth repeating: nothing is more important than life itself and we must always do our best to hold on dearly to the moments we make together.

Danke Jurgen. If I ever see you, we’ll toast a Peroni in your honor, not as a manager but as a man.

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