The party was only just getting started in Madrid, but Liverpool’s players were already talking about the future.
The message was clear.
“For us, it’s the start,” said Mo Salah. Jordan Henderson was in agreement. “I want the team to keep improving,” said the captain. “I want to win more.”
Joe Gomez talked of “limitless” boundaries for Jurgen Klopp’s team, while Daniel Sturridge spoke of “opening the floodgates” for a new era of Anfield success. The striker won’t be around to witness it, but he fully expects the Reds to kick on from their Champions League triumph. “It’s that culture of getting over the line,” he said.
So what comes next for the European Champions? How can Liverpool build on this and, for want of a better word, create a new kind of dynasty at Anfield?
It won’t be easy. The standards set this season have been remarkable – Liverpool lost just one league game and dropped just 17 points in total – and in City they have run into a once-in-a-lifetime foe. Pep Guardiola’s team, clearly, will be the ones to beat again next term.
The good news for Liverpool is that the core of their side remains fresh, hungry and experienced enough to perform consistently, yet young enough to improve too.
The majority are aged between 22 and 29 with only Milner, of the regular starters, the wrong side of 30. Additionally, the key members of the squad – from Salah to Trent Alexander-Arnold to Sadio Mane – are tied to long-term contracts, none of which contain release clauses. Getting a player out of Liverpool in the next couple of years will be nigh-on impossible, even for the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The Reds will offer new deals to Milner, Joel Matip and Divock Origi, all of whom are entering their final year, while Virgil van Dijk can expect an extension too. Eighteen months into his Anfield career, the PFA Player of the Year has certainly earned his payrise.
Ideally, Liverpool would extend Klopp’s deal this summer too. The German is contracted until 2022, and would only need to say the word to be granted an extension. As much as Liverpool’s success is a collaborative effort, there is an appreciation from Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owners, that without the 51-year-old at the helm, their collegiate efforts would be in vain. The value of a strong, open-minded leader, able to manage relationships as Klopp does, cannot be underestimated.
Klopp’s relationship with FSG is stronger than ever. He is particularly close to Mike Gordon, the president, and held lengthy conversations with John W Henry, the principal owner, and Tom Werner, the chairman, in Madrid. He has hinted in the past that he may look to take a break from football when he leaves Liverpool, but FSG hope that he will be around to guide their club for many years to come. Certainly, he is happy and settled for the time being.
Settled, too, is the club’s off-the-field setup. Commercially, the Reds are making significant strides – in February they recorded a world-record net profit of £106million ($135m), with the club’s turnover up to £455m ($578m). Its estimated value, according to Forbes, is £1.7billion ($2.2bn).
Those numbers will only increase in the coming years. Liverpool will earn close to £100m ($127m) from their Champions League exploits this season, and are hoping to sign the most lucrative kit deal in their history in time for the 2020-21 season, most likely with Nike, the American giants. Unsurprisingly, brands are desperate to be associated.
Further expansion of Anfield remains on the agenda. Liverpool have until September to proceed with existing plans to add 5,000 sets to the Anfield Road stand, but reports this week suggest they could pursue a bigger project that could raise the stadium's capacity past 60,000. FSG, of course, know that they would be able to fill that 10 times over, such is the demand.
Yes, these are exciting times on Merseyside, with the move to a new £50m ($64m) training complex at Kirkby set to be completed next summer. That will bring together the first-team and the Academy on one site, creating, in Klopp’s words, “the football headquarters of Merseyside.”
Hopes are high for the next generation of young stars. Rhian Brewster and Ki-Jana Hoever, 19 and 17 respectively, are already part of the first-team setup, while Barry Lewtas’ under-18 side won the club’s first FA Youth Cup for 12 years in April, beating City in the final.
Liverpool are also set to benefit from an improved loan strategy, which has allowed younger players to gather experience and create value by performing elsewhere. The likes of Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent, Marko Grujic, Herbie Kane and Taiwo Awoniyi have put themselves in the frame for big moves this summer, whether on loan or permanent. Liverpool will, if needed, be able to raise significant transfer funds that way.
It is not expected to be a huge summer of spending, mind. More than £170m ($216m) was committed last summer, but the word this time around is that it will be about fine-tuning more than anything else. A back-up full-back, for example, will be needed, and probably a goalkeeper too. In an ideal world, Klopp would add a young, pacy, multi-functional forward player too. If Liverpool lacked anything this season, it was an extra game-changer from the bench.
The good news is that the club’s recruitment team, led by sporting director Michael Edwards, continues to deliver. The Reds’ transfer record in recent years is as good as any.
Anfield is now a destination for players, rather than a stop-off point. From worrying about key men leaving, Liverpool can now attract anyone. They don’t need much of a sales pitch these days.
That’s what Klopp and Co. have created. Now, the challenge is to take the next step, to turn it into something which will last.
Limitless boundaries, indeed.