Zidane, Istanbul and making it in life - Lovren's Champions League dream

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In an exclusive interview with Goal, the Liverpool defender reveals how his love affair with the European Cup began with Real Madrid's coach

Walk into Melwood and you can’t miss it.

The European Cup sits proud, gleaming in the reception area, inviting all who pass it to take a look, to think back, to look forward.

Dejan Lovren remembers his first visit to Liverpool’s training ground, back in 2014. He remembers taking a moment, gazing into that glass cabinet and wondering, ‘What if it were me?’

This weekend, he could get the chance to find out.

“You see the copy of the trophy as soon as you walk in,” Lovren tells Goal in an exclusive interview ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final. “It’s there, in your face, every day.

“From that moment on, you think ‘Wow, that was a big thing that his club achieved’, you know?

“It’s something you cannot escape as a Liverpool player, the European Cup, you have to think about it. You look at the walls in Melwood or at Anfield, or the famous pictures from down the years, it’s always that trophy. It’s just... part of the club.”

He’s right. Liverpool’s love affair with the European Cup is enduring. No English club has had more success in the competition. In Kiev, they will look to win it for a sixth time. Thousands of supporters will make the trip to the Ukraine, desperate to play their part in another piece of Reds history.

For Lovren, the prospect is a thrilling one. The Croatian, too, has a soft spot for the Champions League. And, fittingly given Liverpool’s opponents this weekend, it all started with Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane.

“I think the first final where I was really aware of it was when Real Madrid played against Leverkusen in 2002,” he says. “That was the moment I went, ‘Wow, this is a big one!’

“Zidane scored that volley, that unbelievable goal. From that moment on, I really had my eye on the trophy. How can I get it, what do I need to do to give myself a chance? It started there.”

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid Bayer Leverkusen 2002

Three years later came perhaps the most famous of all Champions League finals, Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool triumphing against the mighty AC Milan in Istanbul. Nights like that leave a mark, wherever you were.

“I was in Croatia watching it,” Lovren says. “I was 15 and it was still all new for me.

“But I remember after that game people were talking for many months about it, everywhere you went – how did Liverpool do it, how did they go from there to there? What actually happened there?!

“It’s natural that things like this will stick with you. A player always wants to be part of these games, on this big stage. It’s what you play for, no?”

Now, at 28, comes his chance. Liverpool fans often complain about the central defender speaking to the media ahead of big games, believing it to be a jinx. Eyebrows were raised at Monday’s press conference when Lovren spoke about handling the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo. To be brutally honest, plenty still harbour doubts over his place in the team, long-term.

Yet there is something admirable about his self-belief and his willingness to put himself on the line again and again. He takes the knocks and he gets back up. Jurgen Klopp, his manager, is his biggest fan and repeatedly tells him so. Lovren’s form during this Champions League run has been, on the whole, very impressive.

That’s got to settle any pre-game nerves, right?

“Nerves are good,” he says. “Of course, it makes your stomach turn because you’re preparing for a big game. It’s not a bad thing; it’s totally natural to have this feeling. It’s excitement.

“Everyone has wanted this for so long, and now it’s here. You just can’t wait to start. I wish the game was tonight, to be honest!

Jurgen Klopp and Dejan Lovren

“The hard part is now, where everybody is talking about it, you are listening to TV and to the radio. You get a little bit tired of it. You want to get out there and get the game started.”

Ideally, he says, the game would have been last weekend, a week after Liverpool’s final Premier League fixture. Instead, Klopp and his squad have had a fortnight to prepare, to build themselves up, to stew.

“We’ve been able to recover well and even get some players back who have been injured, like Emre [Can],” Lovren points out.

“Yes, maybe seven days to prepare is better than 14 for a game like this, but we have been in similar positions to this; in January, I think we had nearly two weeks off after playing Everton in the FA Cup, and when we came back we played Man City and showed that we could pick it back up again. It’s not something that concerns us.

“You have to prepare like any other game. We maybe haven’t been in a Champions League final before, but we have been in similar situations with the pressure, with the media spotlight. We know what we can expect, and I think we are ready for it all.”

Dejan Lovren Liverpool PS

Liverpool will go into the final as underdogs, understandable given Real Madrid are seeking a third successive Champions League crown and have been in four of the last five finals. But if this season has proven anything, it is that Klopp’s side is capable of big things, special nights. European football suits them down to the ground, it brings out the best in them.

“Of course you feel it,” Lovren says. “When you know you are playing a big game against a big team, it brings out something different.

“But the difference now is that it is natural, it feels natural to us. We don’t need to push the button to say ‘Come on, guys, let’s do this, let’s get ourselves up for it.’ It just happens naturally now because of the work we have all put in and the mentality that we all have.”

He adds: “Look, it’s the final of the Champions League. It’s Real Madrid. Half a billion people will be watching it all over the world. We are ready. We know we have our supporters behind us, and that is vitally important to us.

“The fans sing about 2005 and winning it five times. Hopefully after this weekend they’re singing about the sixth time!”

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And for Lovren? What would it mean for him to get his hands on that trophy?

“It would mean I achieved my dream,” he says. “Then I can say ‘I made it in my life.'”

Enough said.

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