Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp reveals he turned down Man United

Alex Rea 13/01/2018
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Different shade of red: Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has revealed he turned the chance to become Manchester United manager after Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit in 2013.

Klopp was being lined up ahead of Ferguson’s retirement but the then Borussia Dortmund coach rejected their advances in favour of continuing his battle with Bayern Munich.

The German left the club in 2015 before later taking up the post at Anfield following Brendan Rodgers’ departure.

In an exclusive interview with Liverpool legend and Sky Sports pundit Phil Thompson, Klopp said: “I’m a football romantic. I’m confident but not as confident as other managers, thinking this club will call, that club will call.

“A lot of clubs called and I said ‘No, no chance, I need to make a break now’. Even my wife knew, if Liverpool is calling, I go.

“And that’s really difficult to explain. Yes there was interest – Manchester United, yes they were interested a year or a year-and-a-half before, but it didn’t feel right.

“I couldn’t say Man United is not my club, it didn’t feel right.

“When Liverpool called, I had no chance. It was actually too early for my plans.

“I said, ‘Wow, come on!’ But then coming here and feeling the spirit immediately, it was just, for me, a match in heaven.”

Liverpool are involved in an attacking match made in heaven when they host runaway Premier League leaders and United’s neighbours Manchester City on Sunday.

The Reds were battered 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium in September but with the mitigating circumstance of Sadio Mane’s controversial sending off. And Klopp is hoping for revenge at Anfield this weekend.

“When I think about the game on Sunday, I cannot forget the first we played against them,” he added.

“It changed the season for City in a positive way and gave us a little knock for a few days and weeks.

“That was unlucky, it was an open game. Nobody cares about that anymore but it’s the truth. We got a red card, which was the worst place in world football to be one down – wow! No chance that day.

“We have to pay back, in a football way. We have such a strong group here, they really love working together, if you would have seen the sessions this week they are on fire.

“I love that, but that doesn’t mean we will win against Man City, but that does mean we can be really difficult for City.”

Liverpool will be taking on City without another influential figure with the spectre of Philippe Coutinho’s exit looming over this clash.

The Brazilian joined Barcelona in a £142million deal earlier this month after a protracted transfer saga and the Reds boss insists the club had no option but sell now.

He said: “We had no chance to use him in the second part of the season. We all tried everything to convince him.

“I cannot give you the details, but we tried all you can imagine, believe me.

“It started in the summer. That was the problem, it was really late. Philippe says, and it’s 100 per cent the truth, I really believe that he wouldn’t have left Liverpool for any other club in the world.

“He was convinced he wanted to go, so in the second half of the season we couldn’t have used him.

“Having a player of his quality and bringing him out there [to play], but his head is already away, and then he plays at 40 percent, gets injured or not, it’s a difficult situation for the whole squad.

“And so, that was the moment, we went okay, we have to do it. To make the best for us. For sure, he can fulfil his dream, but we are still here and it’s a big business with the money.”

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Saudi Arabia women attend football match in stadium for the first time

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A historic ruling means women are now allowed to watch football in Saudi Arabia stadiums.

Saudi Arabia allowed women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match Friday, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes.

The new measure comes after Riyadh, long known for imposing harsh restrictions on women, announced it was lifting a ban prohibiting them from driving, as well as reopening cinemas.

Women supporters, all wearing the traditional black abaya robe, arrived well ahead of kick-off in the Jeddah stadium, some in sunglasses and others with loose-fitting veils.

The Islamic kingdom has announced a series of reforms initiated by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since last year.

The first football match women are being allowed to attend is a clash between Saudi Premier League clubs Al-Ahli and Al-Batin in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Alone or accompanied by their families, many women sat in reserved seats in Jeddah’s Pearl stadium.

The game was scheduled to kick off at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT), but enthusiasm for the historic encounter began well before the kick-off.

Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, said she was proud and looking forward to the match.

“This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change,” she told AFP.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, called Friday a “historic day in the kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes”.

“I am proud and extremely happy for this development and for the kingdom’s moves to catch up with civilised measures adopted by many countries,” she said.

It was a historic day at the Jeddah stadium.

It was a historic day at the Jeddah stadium.

The Saudi government said last week women would be allowed to attend a second match on Saturday and a third next Thursday.

The kingdom, which has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, has long barred them from sports arenas through strict rules that keep the sexes apart in public.

‘HAPPINESS AND JOY’

But in September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in the capital Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to attend celebrations marking the country’s national day.

The easing of social controls comes as Prince Mohammed looks to repackage the oil-rich nation as more moderate and welcoming.

The powerful crown prince’s “Vision 2030” programme for a post-oil era stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an energy slump.

Noura Bakharji, another Jeddah resident, said she always felt bitter when her brothers came back from stadiums to tell her about the excitement of watching football matches in person.

“I always watched games on TV while my brothers went to the stadiums… I asked myself repeatedly ‘Why I can’t go?'” she told AFP.

“Today, things have changed. It’s a day of happiness and joy.”

Hours before the game, Saudi clubs were encouraging women to attend through tweets on social media.

Some clubs are offering special abayas — traditional head-to-toe robes for Saudi women — in team colours.

State-owned Saudi Airlines announced prizes of free tickets for five families who want to travel between cities to watch games.

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Top-four, not trophies, is Man United's priority this season, says iconic keeper Peter Schmeichel

Nick Watkins 12/01/2018
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Peter Schmeichel believes Manchester United must prioritise the Premier League this season – even if it comes at the expense of winning trophies.

Second-place United have little chance of lifting the domestic title this season due to runaway leaders Manchester City, who are 15 points clear of their neighbours at the top.

Jose Mourinho’s side won both the Europa League and EFL Cup last term and can still go for glory in the FA Cup and Champions League, with the last-16 tie against Sevilla looming.

However, Schmeichel insists United must pour all their energy into cracking the top four – they are currently six points ahead of fifth-place Tottenham – after finishing down in sixth last season.

“The key is improvement, success has got to be a better league position than last season,” the Dane told Sport360. “I know United won the League Cup and the Europa League but you have to separate those out.

“Yes they’re trophies and they’re nice to have, but for me success has to be a better league position. We’re going well in the Champions League as well so let’s see what happens there as well.”

United have not looked close to winning the Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and former goalkeeper Schmeichel admits the club are still feeling the aftershocks of his departure.

“We’re still catching up and rebuilding, which is not easy in this current footballing climate when everyone has a huge amount of money to spend,” he added.

“Manchester United is going in the right direction though as it was two very important people who left at the same time – Sir Alex and David Gill and so a lot of experience was lost.”

Schmeichel is currently in the country for the Abu Dhabi Invitational golf tournament, which is taking place at Yas Links over the weekend.

Dwight Yorke joins his former United colleague on a celebrity team that includes Ruud Gullit, Alessandro del Piero and Luis Figo.

The event, which concludes today, is raising money for the Cancer Care Patient Society – Rahma. For all the latest action, visit abudhabiinvitational.ae.

Keep up-to-date with the live action via Twitter @ADInvitational and Instagram @adinvitational.

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