At half-time in the Nou Camp in 1999, Alex Ferguson told his Manchester United players to think about what it would be like to walk past the Champions League trophy without being able to touch it. United were losing the final 1-0 to Bayern Munich at the time. They were not losing by the end.
At Anfield on Monday Jurgen Klopp said he has no special words for his team ahead of Tuesday’s semi-final first leg against Roma. He said he did not wish to make his players feel this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There will be more of this, was his message.
That may well be the case. Klopp does appear to be constructing something for the long term on Merseyside.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp insisted he had no ‘special words’ ahead of facing Roma at Anfield
The German does not want his players to believe semi-finals like these are ‘once-in-a-lifetime’
But, as Sir Alex found during his many years at Old Trafford, the Champions League is devilishly hard to win, no matter how good you are. To this day, he views two successes from two-and-a-half decades at Old Trafford to be a respectable return and no more.
The reason he was so determined to leave nothing unsaid in Barcelona 19 years ago is because he sensed a unique moment in time for his team. He knew it might not come their way again for a while and he was right.
It is tempting today to look that way at Klopp’s Liverpool side. Certainly, the Liverpool manager will improve his squad this summer. It will start next season deeper, more experienced and better equipped for a sustained crack at the Premier League.
The Champions League this season feels like a moment Liverpool must take advantage of
Equally, football can be about fleeting moments and about taking advantage of those times when the stars align and circumstances point you towards glory. Tuesday night feels a little bit like that for Liverpool.
Klopp is facing the most palatable of the three other teams left in the competition and Liverpool come in to this tie still feeling the adrenaline rush of the way they trampled on the European aspirations of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in a thrilling quarter-final.
Their key players are also fit and confident. So much depends on that at this late stage of the season.
Rarely again will Klopp have at his disposal three forwards flush with the form and freshness that is currently driving Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane inexorably forwards.
Salah — the new PFA Player of the Year — has scored 41 goals for Liverpool this season. To ask him to do that again next season, especially after a World Cup summer, would be a big call.
The Egyptian also has the added incentive of playing against his former club on Tuesday night and his contribution so far has helped Liverpool plunder 33 goals in the Champions League this season.
That makes them the competition’s top scorers and a habit of scoring quick back-to-back goals exhibited against City and previously Porto, Spartak Moscow and Seville only adds to their aura of danger.
Salah is desperate to add to his goal tally in a phenomenal season as he takes on his old team
The PFA players’ player of the year has scored 41 goals already for Liverpool this season
So Liverpool are ready, that much we know. The fact that Roma have the advantage of playing the second leg at home will help them but if anyone wishes to make Klopp’s team marginal favourites for the tie then it would be understandable.
Liverpool have glorious history with Rome. They beat Roma in their own stadium in the 1984 final and also lifted the trophy for the very first time there when they overcame Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977.
From that point of view, history is on their side and they will not fear next week’s trip to Italy. However, it is on Tuesday in front of another pulsing Anfield crowd that Liverpool have the opportunity to inflict the real damage.
What happened outside the stadium when City visited on April 4 was inexcusable and Klopp has asked that there is no repeat. But what happened inside was unforgettable for all the right reasons.
The Anfield atmosphere on nights like this is one of the few in football that does not benefit from exaggeration. It genuinely can make a difference and Roma may be aware of that. Roma’s away record in the competition this season is also exceptionally poor for a team who have managed to reach the last four.
Serie A’s third-best team have won one, drawn one and lost three of their games away from the Stadio Olimpico.
They have let in 12 goals in those games, including three in a draw at Chelsea, and the only reason their second-leg comeback at home to Barcelona a fortnight ago was so remarkable was because they had shipped four in the first game in Spain.
Atmosphere outside the ground before City has seen Klopp call for no repeat against Roma
But Klopp will be privately hoping his side can finish off Roma at Anfield like they did to City
So Liverpool will have Roma’s much talked-about goalkeeper Alisson in their sights on Tuesday and, as ambitious as it sounds, Klopp will surely harbour private hopes that his team can do to the Italians what they did to City and all but finish them by the halfway stage of the tie.
Nothing is ever that simple in Europe and Liverpool will need to scale the heights again over the next two weeks if they are to contest their eighth European Cup final in Kiev next month.
Klopp may wish to point to the future but it is hard to escape the feeling Liverpool’s time is now.