Jurgen Klopp sent clear message as FSG gave green light for major Liverpool spend

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Jurgen Klopp manager / head coach of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield on May 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images) -Credit:Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Jurgen Klopp manager / head coach of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield on May 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images) -Credit:Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

A wild-eyed Jurgen Klopp turned to Anfield's Main Stand, and with fists pumping and veins bulging, the Liverpool manager delivered a message: "This is f******* football!"

The almost involuntary outburst was in response to seeing a razor-sharp counter-attack involving Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino finished off smoothly by Emre Can to virtually confirm the Reds as Champions League participants for the first time since December 2014.

It was the sort of crisply executed, devastating attacking transition that has since become a trademark at Anfield on their manager's watch but back in August 2017 it was merely an exhilarating snapshot of what could be possible with him in charge.

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READ PART ONE: Inside Jurgen Klopp's early years as Liverpool manager

Before that, though, the Reds were entering something of a new era under their manager, who had been in the job a little over 18 months by the time he was able to devise a plan for the Champions League and the summer of 2017 saw the club enter a different stratosphere when it came to recruitment and what they were able - or willing - to do.

Armed with Champions League football and its accompanying bounty for the first window since 2014, and now able to also use the allure of Klopp to entice the stars of the European game, Fenway Sports Group gave the green light for several high-class acquisitions as they geared up for a return to the European Cup with their talismanic coach steering the ship.

First, Virgil van Dijk was earmarked as the defensive leader the club were crying out for, while negotiations with RB Leipzig started over a creative, all-action No.8 by the name of Naby Keita. Alongside those plans, Klopp had been convinced to sanction a move for Mohamed Salah after chief scout Barry Hunter and head of recruitment Dave Fallows, alongside Michael Edwards - who was now working for Liverpool under the job title of 'sporting director' - had been so effusive and persuasive in their attempts to bring the former Chelsea winger in.

All three had been outlined to give the spine of the team a new and exciting dynamic but only Salah arrived through the doors during that transfer window, signing on as the club's new record transfer at a shade over £36m in June. It was a deal that mercifully ended Andy Carroll's claim to being the costliest transfer of all time at Liverpool and one that now looks to have been one of the most astute pieces of business ever undertaken in the Premier League era.

But instead of the Egyptian being joined by the then £60m-rated Van Dijk and Keita, the Reds were instead forced to change course. After essentially being forced to cease and desist from their efforts to bring in Van Dijk from Southampton after the Saints threatened to report the Reds for tapping up their captain, the club also saw three bids rejected by Leipzig for Keita before an unusually structured agreement was finally struck on an August Bank Holiday at £52m to bring the Guinea midfielder in the following year.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was snared from Arsenal for around £35m and Liverpool headed into the campaign with lingering regrets about Van Dijk but with a fresh new look about a squad that had been paired with Hoffenheim for that Champions League group-stage qualifier. A 6-3 aggregate scoreline was a perfect encapsulation of where the team stood at the time: capable of scoring in large amounts but also vulnerable to the opposition threat.

The contrast in their strengths and weaknesses made them a thrilling watch for the neutral; able to blitz teams in minutes but also unable to withstand the opposition threat at times too. It led to an unbalanced squad that excited and frustrated in equal measure in the opening months.

A 4-0 smiting of Arsenal was followed up by a 5-0 hammering by Manchester City and before 2018 rolled in, Liverpool scored three goals or more on 16 separate occasions as Salah started in the sort of form that would see him end the term with a remarkable 44 goals. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, whose best efforts to leave for Barcelona in the summer months had been thwarted, also shone.

For all the blistering attacking displays, however, the Reds were often undercut at the back. The first day of the season opened with a 3-3 draw at Watford, Liverpool let slip a three-goal lead to be held at Sevilla in the Champions League and a 4-1 humbling at Tottenham in October was something of a watershed moment for a squad who were lacking the defensive lynchpin to enable a carefree attack to truly flourish.

The January transfer window of 2018 has since become recognised as something of a sliding doors moment for Klopp's tenure at Anfield. The ability to raise £142m for a wantaway Coutinho, who eventually got his dream move to Barcelona - a figure negotiated by Edwards - allowed the club to reinvest it into two game-changing signings who turned the Reds from pretenders to contenders and, eventually, serial winners.

Before the July 2018 capture of Alisson Becker in goal, though, came the club-record addition of Van Dijk, who, after months of speculation and intense behind-the-scenes discussions, was announced as a Liverpool player shortly after Christmas. The centre-back looked every inch a superstar-in-the-making when he sat in the stands to watch a 2-1 win over Leicester City on December 30.

A goal on his debut - to help knock Everton out of the FA Cup, no less - was a storybook start to life on Merseyside but it was his contributions from a defensive perspective that made sure the free-scoring attacking department were able to win games for the club, even without Coutinho, who was not directly replaced by a like-for-like frontman.

With Van Dijk acting as the father at the fireworks display, Klopp was able to enjoy the explosive bursts of his forward players safe in the knowledge that his team would no longer get their fingers burned. A charge to the Champions League final in Kiev started to gain momentum when Porto were clinically dispatched 5-0 in the first leg of a last-16 tie in Portugal.

The emergence of Klopp's side as a European force once more was leading to something of an organic resurgence of the fanbase off the pitch. The fan-led BOSS Nights, the rise of Jamie Webster and a football chant that reverberated around the continent in Allez Allez Allez all contributed towards a modern-day impression of the club's glory years of the 1980s.

Manchester City were beaten home and away as the Reds recorded an impressive 5-1 aggregate win over Pep Guardiola's side to set up a semi-final with Italian side Roma. Domestically, the race for a spot in the top four was being overlooked in favour of the far more intoxicating charge towards European immortality.

A riotous night of Champions League football at Anfield saw Roma skewered by the brilliance of Salah as Klopp's side won 5-2 before a nervy end to the second leg in Italy saw them secure a first final appearance in the European Cup since 2007.

The kings of European football, Real Madrid, were waiting at the NSC Olimpiysky. There was to be no famous triumph for a team who started as unfancied outsiders at the beginning of the campaign but a 3-1 loss in Ukraine helped weld the mentality for a side who would return 12 months later as firm favourites.

Part 3 focuses on the fallout from Kiev and the charge towards Liverpool's sixth European Cup, which came just weeks after what was their best ever Premier League season to date