Meeting of minds: Klopp welcomes Wenger to Liverpool

Liverpool welcomed a very special visitor to their training ground this week as the Reds’ old Premier League adversary Arsene Wenger was their guest of honour, and the former Arsenal manager came bearing gifts.

In his role as FIFA’s chief of global football development, the 71-year-old was in town to present coach Jurgen Klopp and four of his players with the awards they won at the 2020 FIFA The Best gala, which was held virtually last December.

Wenger bestowed Klopp with The Best Men’s Coach award before handing over trophies to Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara to commemorate their inclusion in the FIFPro Men’s World 11.

Klopp, Alisson, Alexander-Arnold and Van Dijk earned their acclaim after they ended Liverpool’s 30-year wait to be crowned champions of England again when they claimed the 2019-20 Premier League title, which they had virtually wrapped up even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a three-month break in the season.

Klopp pipped Hansi Flick to the top coach award by the finest margin after the German pair amassed the same amount of voting points. However, the coach who led Bayern Munich to Champions League glory (with Thiago in his team) narrowly missed out in the tiebreaker as Klopp had garnered more votes from national team coaches.

It was clearly an honour for Klopp, who even went to the effort of ditching his trademark glasses and popped in a pair of contact lenses before receiving the award.

No doubt missing the cut and thrust of day-to-day coaching, Wenger stuck around at the Liverpool’s AXA Training Centre for a while to observe as the Reds went through their paces ahead of this weekend’s big Premier League game against Chelsea. He also found time for a catch up with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who the Frenchman signed as a teenager from Southampton in 2011.

Oxlade-Chamberlain left the Gunners after six years when, in 2017, he turned down a new contract offer and instead made a £35 million to Anfield. It was one of the final blows to Wenger’s difficult final year at the Emirates, but there appeared to be no ill will when the pair were reunited on Merseyside.

Seeing the images of this meeting of two great coaching minds made us wonder what they might have talked about. For example, Wenger could be saying here as he watches Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Konstantinos Tsimikas train: “This is ingenious, Klopp, really. You actually have your defensive players practice… defending. Extraordinary.”

Or Klopp could be asking here: “Let me get this straight… Liverpool find great success when we hire a specialist throw-in coach, and suddenly FIFA’s Global Football Development department wants to ban them entirely?”

“Honestly Arsene, I cannot recommend laser eye surgery highly enough. These days, they can even do tooth whitening while you wait…”

“Trent, Thiago, Virgil, nice to meet you all. Have I ever spoken about the times that I almost signed each of you?”

Unfortunately, after Liverpool finished last season third in the Premier League table and without a major trophy, it’s unlikely Wenger will be making a return visit under the same circumstances next year.

“Without the boys, the players, it would not have been possible,” Klopp said. “Arsene Wenger said it exactly right when he asked: what do you have to be, to be a good coach? He said it at the end but I think it helps in the beginning as well. A world-class team helps! And I have that, thank God.

“I work in a sensational club, get all the support you need, have only great people around me. So we come here, even in difficult times, every day with a smile on our face.

“It all makes it easier and makes it possible. I said a couple of times I’m not the biggest believer in these kind of individual awards for coaches but meanwhile I learned we just take it for all of us.

“We can obviously not change the world – one face gets the prize but it’s for all of us and I’m really proud of that.”

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