Liverpool Carabao Cup

The daring youth of Liverpool are Jürgen Klopp’s greatest legacy

No one appears intimidated. Nobody stands out. Nobody looks like they have morning school or wear a two-size shirt. Conor Bradley comes toward Liverpool supporters with arms raised, Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo on each side.

This is not a dream, Photoshop, or credit-card ad. Jim McConnell holds the prize without awkwardness or weight. In Liverpool and Wembley, wearing the red shirt—no matter how high the number on the back—tells you what to do and what to expect.

Despite injuries, inexperience, and Caoimhín Kelleher’s tough goal, Liverpool’s win felt certain. Chelsea had the better opportunities and the more costly team, but did we ever doubt the team made of sugar floss, Melwood students, and Papa John’s Trophy veterans?

As Jürgen Klopp takes the long turn for home, this may be the true measure of his work: a machine where winning is so engrained that the parts are replaceable, even when the replacements are children.

One may argue that Klopp’s decisions were motivated by expediency rather than need. Liverpool didn’t need to win here as much as they needed to win the league games against Manchester City and Everton in the next month, and Chelsea needed to win here more.

If the game were more significant, Mohamed Salah and Darwin Núñez would have been available, and Andrew Robertson and Alexis Mac Allister could have advanced to extra time.

However, trusting young players is not binary. This business has nuances. Give your academy products—is it braver? 10 minutes at the end of a league game you’re winning or to plunge them into Wembley chaos?

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Many coaches hide their brightest young talents, raise them on cheap, low-intensity minutes, and set them up to fail. Klopp does not simply ride with them. He throws keys.

This brings Bradley, a 20-year-old right-back with 302 Premier League minutes, into a cup final as Salah. Bradley started the game like Trent Alexander-Arnold, driving forward and drifting infield.

Harvey Elliott moved inside after Ryan Gravenberch’s first-half injury, and Bradley played right-wing like he did at Dungannon as a youth.

Bradley is 5’11” but plays like a small man: quick feet, low center of gravity, natural bracing for contact. He stopped growing last year.

Raheem Sterling didn’t follow Bradley’s right-wing runs, so Bradley often went one-on-one with Ben Chilwell, winning the ball high up the pitch and rattling the England defender to the point where both were booked for angrily arguing.

After he left on 71 minutes, 19-year-old Bobby Clark took over in midfield and won the corner that led to Liverpool’s game-winning goal.

Next, 19-year-old McConnell, a dynamic finishing player, and 18-year-old attacker Jayden Danns, who nearly scored in the 94th minute with a header, joined him.

Jarell Quansah, a 21-year-old centre-back, entered the second half of extra time. 6 academy players. The song played over Wembley as six players born after Destination Calabria’s 2003 release lifted the trophy.

Klopp was not completely accountable for this plan, just as he was not solely responsible for the tired and washed squad he left Borussia Dortmund to Thomas Tuchel in 2015. It takes a village to raise a footballer, from spotting to recruiting to coaches putting out cones on cold Tuesday evenings.

More than any win percentage or precious metal, Klopp’s legacy may be the culture that allows them to play without fear, the audacity to give them the enormous platform, and the belief to fill it.

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Since his departure a month ago, memories and legacies have dominated the conversation. The shimmering Wembley lights reminded us that every end is the start of something new.

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