Klopp's legacy: Fearless Liverpool youth

Klopp's legacy: Fearless Liverpool youth

No one appears overwhelmed, nor do they seem out of sync with the moment. There's no sign of someone rushing off to school the next morning or struggling in a shirt two sizes too large. Conor Bradley strides confidently towards the Liverpool fans, flanked by Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo, arms raised in celebration. It's not a surreal dream, a Photoshop illusion, or a staged credit-card advertisement. As James McConnell takes his turn with the trophy, the weight in his hands feels neither awkward nor burdensome. This is Cheap Liverpool Kids Football Kit, this is Wembley, and once you don the iconic red shirt – regardless of the number on the back – you understand the expectations and what awaits you in return.

And so even amid their injuries, their relative inexperience, the pummelling of Caoimhín Kelleher’s goal, it felt like the most natural thing in the world that Cheap Liverpool Football Shirts should win this final. Chelsea had the better of the chances and the more expensively assembled side, and yet did we ever really doubt the team built from candy floss, Melwood undergraduates and veterans of the Papa John’s Trophy? Perhaps, as Jürgen Klopp begins the long turn for home, this is the real measure of his work: a machine where winning is so ingrained that the parts themselves are largely interchangeable, even when the parts replacing them were recently children.

Of course, you could point out that Klopp’s choices here were born as much of expediency as necessity. Strictly speaking Cheap Liverpool Soccer Jersey didn’t really need to win this: not as much as they need to win the league games against Manchester City and Everton in the next month, certainly not as much as Chelsea needed to win here. Had this been a genuinely monumental game, rather than the fourth-biggest trophy they can win this season, you can be sure that Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez would have been made available, that Andrew Robertson and Alexis Mac Allister could have pushed through into extra time.

But then, putting faith in young players is not a simple binary. There are degrees and shades to this business. Is it braver to give your academy products 10 minutes at the end of a league game you are already winning, or to throw them headlong into the pandemonium of a Wembley final? There are plenty of coaches out there who hide their best young talents away, rear them on cheap low-intensity minutes, set them up to fail. Klopp, by contrast, does not simply take them along for the ride. He throws them the keys.

This is how you end up with Bradley, a 20-year-old right-back with 302 minutes of Premier League football to his name, playing the Salah role in a cup final. Bradley had begun the game in the Trent Alexander-Arnold role, driving forward and drifting infield in a similar manner to his predecessor and mentor. But a first-half injury to Ryan Gravenberch forced Harvey Elliott to move inside, with Bradley stepping into the right-wing role he used to play as a kid at Dungannon.

Bradley is 5ft 11in but – as you might expect from someone who stopped growing only last year – plays like a much shorter man: quick feet, low centre of gravity, instinctively bracing himself for contact. Raheem Sterling showed little interest in following his forays up the right flank and so for most of the game Bradley went one-on-one against Ben Chilwell, frequently winning the ball high up the pitch and rattling the England defender to the point where both were booked for angrily tangling with each other.

After he departed on 71 minutes, having blown himself out a little, on came the 19-year-old Bobby Clark to orchestrate things in the centre of midfield, winning the corner that ultimately produced Liverpool’s game‑clinching goal. Next came the 19-year-old McConnell to slot in alongside him, a refined but relentlessly busy presence in the final third, and the 18‑year‑old striker Jayden Danns, who almost opened the scoring in the 94th minute with a header. In the second half of extra time came a relative veteran in the 21-year-old centre-half Jarell Quansah. Six academy players. Six players born after the release of Destination Calabria in 2003, the song wafting across Wembley as the trophy was hoisted.

And, of course, Klopp was by no means the sole architect of this strategy, in the same way that he was by no means solely responsible for the tired and washed squad he bequeathed to Thomas Tuchel when he left Borussia Dortmund in 2015. It takes a whole village to raise a footballer, from the people who do the spotting, to the people who do the recruiting, to the coaches who put out the cones on freezing Tuesday nights.

The atmosphere fostering fearlessness, coupled with the audacious confidence to place them on the grand stage and the unwavering belief in their ability to shine – perhaps this, more than any statistics or championship trophies, is Klopp's true legacy. In the month since he revealed his departure, discussions have naturally revolved around reminiscences and lasting impacts. However, beneath the gleaming Wembley lights, we were served a poignant reminder that every conclusion marks the commencement of a new chapter.

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