“Nice, isn’t it?” Jurgen Klopp greets FourFourTwo with his trademark smile inside Liverpool’s new £50 million training ground on the outskirts of the city.
The Reds moved from their historic Melwood training ground mid-pandemic, a move that was delayed slightly after the world went into lockdown and construction stopped on what is now known as the AXA Training Centre.
The move was already long overdue, and something that both Klopp and owners Fenway Sports Group had long sought to make happen, with the merging of the academy and first-team into one location being absolutely vital.
The new place isn’t exactly unfamiliar, with Liverpool having expanded their former academy site to combine the academy teams and first-team into what Klopp has previously described as wanting to be “the headquarters of Scouse football.”
Its location, though, isn’t exactly glamorous. Kirkby is an area of Liverpool known for being working class. Its most famous son is Phil Thompson, who famously took the European Cup to the local pub, The Falcon, in 1981.
Had things played out differently, Kirkby would actually be home to Everton Football Club now, with the Blue half of Merseyside having proposed a 50,000-seater stadium in the town back in the late-noughties in partnership with Tesco. Liverpool fans took Tesco bags to Goodison Park to mock the plans, which were eventually shelved after a supporters campaign.
The drive from the M57 is usually accompanied by trucks heading to the industrial areas of Kirkby. The training ground itself is hidden behind a David Lloyd gym. Perhaps, though, that’s more the Liverpool way: understated and appreciating hard-working values.
The location also means it’s closer to Klopp’s home in the more plush surroundings of Formby, north of Liverpool. “From Formby it’s pretty similar [the route], one is after the other,” he says.
FFT has to ask, did he or anybody else mistakenly drive to Melwood when the move first happened last November: “It happened at the beginning, obviously once or twice – [but] we adapted well!”
Like most things in 2020, the move wasn’t without its challenges. “We sat here - in the six, seven months we were here - for three or four of those months in winter coats as we had to open all the doors [for ventilation] and it was pretty chilly!” Kirkby is well known for being the windiest place on Merseyside; just ask any observer of academy games there over the last 20 years.
The Reds’ under-23s are still not able to use all the facilities yet either, which, “is a bit of a shame."
“But it is all fine,” says the boss. “We adapted really well, it’s a great place to be. Absolutely great. The pitches are outstanding!”
It’s those pitches (three full-size ones) and facilities (two gyms, a full-size indoor sports hall, swimming pool, hydrotherapy and rehabilitation suites) that makes Klopp ponder how his own career might have played out.
“That’s the one thing I would like if I had a time machine, go back and play the games I played with the balls, pitches and boots we have today because 20-25 years ago it was completely different and just have a look at how my football will have looked then.
“I’m not sure it would have improved a lot but a little bit at least so we have perfect circumstances here.”
Also inside Liverpool’s new training ground is a padel tennis court and a beach volleyball area. When we sit down with Jurgen he’s still sweating after a coaches match. He's keen to point out the score. “We won the game 5-2!”
This month sees Klopp’s six-year anniversary at Liverpool and it’s clear that his passion, drive and enthusiasm for the job is just as strong as when he walked through the doors in 2015.
“I’m fully here,” he says when asked about his ambitions for life away from football eventually. "I’m full of energy and I want to go as far as possible and let’s see where we can end up.”
October also marks 11 years since FSG purchased Liverpool, with the AXA Training Centre another huge improvement to the club’s infrastructure and long-term vision. While they have plenty of criticism from some supporters, their commitment to improving the club cannot be questioned.
For Klopp, the improvements are clear. “Kirkby will never be an excuse for any game we lose in the future,” he concludes.
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