Liverpool had lost the first leg of their two-match Champion’s League playoff against Barcelona 0-3. Getting beaten by them was nothing to be ashamed of, but it still hurt. Barcelona was widely regarded as one of the tournament favorites, plus they had the best player in the world. Liverpool, on the other hand, was in the midst of a comeback after years of struggling to reclaim their former glory. Despite the recent improvements, they were yet to claim a major trophy. This loss represented a dashing of the team’s and the fans’ hopes. Now they found themselves heading into the second leg with a near-impossible challenge.
First, they’d have to win by a 4-goal margin to win the series (goals are counted in aggregate). The most recent team to pull something like this off? Barcelona, their opponent, two years prior. Certainly, they’d be extra mindful of not blowing their own massive lead. Second, Liverpool would have to do so without two of their best-attacking players. The future was not looking bright. They had made a good run only to find the odds stacked against them. But, they still had the source of all of this heart their reinvigorated team had been playing with: Jurgen Klopp.
Klopp was the coach, the leader, and the undeniable energy behind the team. Known for his affable smile, white-knuckled hugs, and impassioned celebrations, he had reinvigorated the club and city since joining in 2015.
The second-leg match would take place at Anfield, Liverpool‘s home, and in the pregame press conference, the reporters pressed him on if and how he’d pull off the impossible. Klopp said they would,
Just try. If we can do it, wonderful. If not, then fail in the most beautiful way.
By just over halfway through the game, Liverpool had scored 3 goals. This was enough to take the match to a penalty shootout, effectively shifting the outcome from certain death to putting their future in fate’s hands. Scoring these three goals alone was an amazing accomplishment. And yet, they weren’t done. Liverpool didn’t quit. A quick corner kick with 10 minutes to play saw them notch the 4th goal needed – this goal, for the win. They then held on through unrelenting Barcelona pressure to close out the game. The stadium erupted. It was pure electric. Their win was one of the great moments of modern sport. An impossible comeback victory against the toughest opponent, at home, after years of struggle. Beautiful.
As we head into the new year, we can carry Klopp’s words with us. No matter the odds and no matter the circumstances, we can play our game beautifully. If we succeed, we can do so beautifully, and there’s pride in that. If we fail, we’ll do so beautifully, and there is pride in that too. We’ll never know the outcome until we play, but we can know the way in which we’ll play before we even step into the arena.
Here’s to playing beautifully in 2020.