The 2019/20 season will be remembered for all of football history. For Liverpool fans, yes, we won the title—but for nearly the whole world it was an interrupted year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Modern humanity had rarely faced a challenge like the spread of this disease and the entire sporting world was essentially shut down because of it.
While no games took place, training sessions were binned and teams couldn’t even get together, the professional nature and the amounts at stake—sporting and financial—meant that there could be no real slackening off.
Players had to be ready at a moment’s notice; although the lockdown period went on longer and longer, nobody knew at the start how long it would last.
That meant a whole new set of challenges that Liverpool’s coaching and medical staff had to find solutions to: keeping players healthy, setting new fitness tasks, keeping people in touch and dishing out key information.
Jurgen Klopp‘s sprawling backroom empire at the club knows no bounds though, in areas of expertise and in ability to make the team work to the best of their ability.
Speaking to the club website, the people responsible for different areas explained exactly what they had to do and why it was such a testing period, from a footballing perspective as much as a societal one.
Luckily, one member of staff in particular had a headstart on the situation: Academy Dr Jim Moxon, who stepped up to be interim first-team head doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic and who is tipped to be offered the role on a permanent basis soon, so well did he handle matters.
“In January, February time I’d been following what was going on and starting to think of how it would apply to us at the Academy and also the club on a wider basis.
“So just thinking about how can we protect our players, our parents, our families, our community really, and what does that look like in terms of monitoring people coming in and out of the Academy and what measures can we take to reduce that impact to try to keep people as safe as we could.
“A lot of that work that I had done at the Academy, I actually transferred that over to the first team when I had to step up there. So that was really, really helpful and it meant that I kind of had an idea of what was going on. The problem was everything was just changing and changing all of the time.”
It wasn’t just about information, of course, though that was the starting point for everything the club did.
Performance analyst Mark Leyland noted the lack of togetherness affected the entire group, not just players but also staff members and everybody usually working together at Melwood.
“It sounds silly to say that it’s horrible to be away from work but because we’re with each other so much and because we’ve got such a rapport between the staff and players, it felt really alien,” he said.
Klopp has always pushed the notion of everybody in the group being as important as everyone else, and all people pulling in the same direction – so it’s no surprise to learn the boss made an all-inclusive chat group to stay in touch!
“We go from spending so much time together to spending no time with each other.
“The only real way I can explain it is the WhatsApp group that was set up by the manager and had every player and staff member in it. I was receiving 150 messages a day and that’s just because everyone missed it. Everyone missed being together.”
From a player perspective and keeping them at the top level mentally and physically, obvious changes were needed. Fitness and conditioning boss Andreas Kornmayer said the coaches had to “think completely out of the box” to make sure players stayed fit and ready and had everything they needed.
“It’s about equipment, locations, preparing the mind, preparing other things and not losing our rhythm,” he said.
Meanwhile for Mona Nemmer, Klopp’s much-celebrated head of nutrition, it wasn’t just healthy meals that were needed, but staying onboard with an established club ethos.
“Overnight we had to set up a delivery system.
“So many hands were needed, like drivers and people familiar with disposable packaging – where could we get nice disposable packaging which is still bio-degradable, just to match the sustainability idea as well.
“We had to face a complete new scenario of how to provide sports nutrition on wheels.”
And what it was all for, of course, was to get the players back to Melwood safely and in shape to get back toward playing Premier League football.
Changes had to be made at the training ground too, the domain of Ray Haughan, general manager of first-team operations.
“I was the first one back into Melwood. We went into phase one with the Premier League, which was individual training sessions. We had the two pitches at Melwood, so the days when we first started were from 8am until 8pm, so we could fit every player in one hour.
“I had to go in before all that to set up one-way systems, security procedures right down to outdoor urinals. I was responsible for all that set-up so that we could adhere to the Premier League guidelines for phase one.
“To implement change is difficult to a large group. This is the most mentally-demanding thing I’ve ever done within this club.
“Jurgen’s directive to me right across from day one was try to keep everything as normal as possible within the new guidelines.”
From the way the team pulled together on the pitch, it’s entirely evident that much work had to go in off the pitch to prepare those players.
Rarely has a club been so united in its employees as this Liverpool is, and after realising the lengths they’ve all needed to go to in ensuring a successful season could play out in its entirety, it’s no wonder Jurgen Klopp is always so adamant that everyone at Melwood has their own role to play in the team’s extraordinary success.