MADRID – They hail from Germany and Argentina and are respected and admired across the world mainly because of one thing: they are genuine.
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They let their emotions pour out on the sidelines. They speak with passion in press conferences. They love their players unconditionally. They are human and fans understand them. They are relatable. The kind of blokes you would enjoy sitting down the pub with to grab a pint and talk about the game. They come across that way in front of the TV cameras and they are like that behind-the-scenes when journalists speak with them on or off the record. They are just normal guys living their dreams.
The latter cannot really be said about Pep Guardiola, so Klopp and Pochettino are the lovable characters who speak the game in the same language as the fans who adored their players. The names of Pochettino and Klopp were sung loud and proud in the streets of Madrid in the lead up to this final and they will be sung long after Saturday’s grand finale.
The similarities between the way Pochettino and Klopp act is at times startling, and both were cracking jokes and smiling on the eve of their finest moment as a manager. For one of them…
“There are two clubs in the final who have built step-by-step. I respect a lot what Poch and Tottenham have done,” Klopp said when speaking to the media before the final. “They are a very talented group but what they did together, how they improved together, we had to do it a different way, but in a way it is still similar. Two proper teams in this final. It’s a real football final, now both have to deal with that because it makes the game pretty intense… We’re really looking forward to a proper game I’m sure.”
That respect was reciprocated by Pochettino, as he hailed the German coach for reaching a third UCL final in his career and a second-straight trip to European soccer’s biggest game.
“For Jurgen to be here 10 months ago and be here again now is special. I admire Jurgen a lot. He’s a very good example. Maybe he has been a little bit unlucky, but it is the third time he is going to arrive at this final – the most difficult thing is to arrive at the final,” Pochettino said. “Sometimes the universe is with you, sometimes it’s against you. But to arrive in a third champions league final? I admire him a lot. Of course we are in football because we want to win but I think the journey to the final of the Champions League is the most important and the most difficult thing.”
Respect has been earned and they respect one another.
Their paths to get to this date with destiny have been similar. The way expectations have been altered at their clubs is down to them and the vision they’ve shared with their players and the way it has been carried it. Off the pitch both teams have moved forward in terms of stadium development, while Liverpool’s financial muscle and global appeal still puts them far ahead of Spurs in terms of the resources they have.
Whatever happens on Saturday both clubs have done things the right way.
Pochettino arrived in England in January 2013 and took struggling Southampton to an eighth-place Premier League finish in an 18-month spell before joining Tottenham in the summer of 2014, as he led Spurs to the League Cup final, four-straight top four finishes and now a UCL final. He did this with a young, hungry team with a clear playing style which punched above its weight time and time again.
Klopp arrived in England in October 2015 at Liverpool and his first game as Reds boss was at Tottenham against Pochettino. Since then Klopp has taken Liverpool to four major finals – the Europa League, Champions League and League Cup — but lost three of them, and his side came agonizingly close to winning the PL title ahead of this showdown in Madrid. The have spent big over the last 12 months to get them to the final stage, winning trophies, and now they must deliver.
Both have led their teams on an upward trajectory in impressive fashion, dragging the fans and everyone connected with their clubs along on the journey with them. But one thing evades them…
The debate over whether Klopp or Pochettino’s respective reigns have been ‘successful’ continues to end with, ‘but yeah, what have they won?’ and of course silverware is important.
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But the close-knit feeling in the squads they’ve created, the high-press, hard running playing styles they have ushered in as the new norm across the English game and the hope they’ve returned to their fanbases cannot be overlooked. Because of Klopp and Pochettino, fans of both clubs believe anything is possible.
And they’ve done all of that without pissing people off (for the majority of the time) and with smiles on their face. Respect has followed the long, hard hours on the training ground.
Whichever manager wins the Champions League the wider soccer community will be delighted for them. Whichever manager loses will have their support amid major disappointment.
But, finally, one of them will hush the naysayers as they hoist the European Cup into the humid Madrid sky on Saturday evening.
Whatever happens in Madrid, Klopp and Pochettino won’t change one bit. And that is why they are loved.