The Europa League has for a long time been considered Uefa’s second-rate competition and treated like an unwanted disruption to a team’s playing schedule.
Uefa has valiantly addressed this issue, offering the prize of Champions League football to the winners, a worthy reward for making multiple trips to second-tier Russian clubs on a school night.
Through gritted teeth, Klopp and Liverpool have survived the gruelling trials of the Europa League, sweeping aside rivals Manchester United and the German’s former club Dortmund in the process. Their success has not come without sacrifice – exemplified by the Red’s pedestrian eighth-place finish in the Premier League – but Liverpool now have the opportunity to compensate for their league form with a heralded Champions League spot.
After missing out on the Mickey-Mou… sorry – League Cup, Klopp has now racked up three successive cup final defeats, suffering a crushing loss to rivals Bayern in the 2013 Champions League, coupled with Dortmund falling short in the German Cup finals of 2014 and 2015.
“I have too many silver medals, it’s true,
“But better that than no medals at all. The longer and longer it is without a win, the harder you try and the more likely it is you will win.”
Whether Liverpool really have a squad that’s capable of competing in the Champions League appears to be an afterthought for the Red’s fanbase, who anticipate that Europa League glory would allow the team to compete at the top of the Premier League and indeed, in Europe.
Liverpool will argue that their name and history alone is enough to guarantee attracting top players. Klopp’s aura is another club attribute that Liverpool will look to exploit. I’m not convinced either is enough to attract the best footballing talent.
There’s no way of glossing over the reality that Anfield is a far less enticing prospect without European football. For any potential signing, the deal-breaker will be the opportunity to play under the bright lights of Champions League football.
If Liverpool surpass Seville and crown themselves as European Champions once more (well, Champions of sorts) then the Reds will be back amongst the elite. If they fail, a big chunk of their summer bargaining power will have evaporated in an instant.
So it’s a simple case of all or nothing for Liverpool? Not quite.
In reality, a lack of Champions League football next season could be the best thing for Liverpool’s and Klopp’s long-term development plans. Liverpool shouldn’t be trying to run before they can walk. If recent history is anything to go by, the Champions League could be a curse for Klopp next season.
After Brendan Rodgers’ mounted Liverpool’s strongest title campaign for years, his side – which many would argue far exceeded Klopp’s in depth – struggled with the additional demands of top-tier continental competition. Failing in both the league and in Europe, the stress of the tournament sparked the downwards spiral that eventually lead to Rodgers being dismissed from his post at Anfield.
It’s too soon for Klopp’s squad to handle such rigours, no matter how many players Liverpool succeed in signing over the summer transfer window. Liverpool don’t have the squad strength to compete domestically and in the Champions League.