“Champions don’t complain, they are too busy getting better.”
That was the motivational message, written in large letters, that greeted Jurgen Klopp’s squad when they assembled in the western Austrian state of Tyrol after a two-hour drive from Salzburg.
It was late last July and the Liverpool squad were at the midway point of an unprecedented four-week European training camp. Limbs were weary but spirits were high.
With the ongoing effects of the pandemic again ruling out the possibility of a lucrative pre-season tour to either America or Asia, Klopp and assistant Pep Lijnders had free reign to create what they regarded as “the perfect base” for the challenges ahead.
No long-haul travel, no commercial appearances, no unwanted distractions. They kept things fresh by dividing that precious month away between Salzburg, Tyrol and the French spa town of Evian. Both on and off the field, every box was ticked.
The contrast to the previous summer, when a spate of positive COVID-19 tests led to players isolating in their Austrian hotel rooms and training was hampered by monsoon conditions, could hardly have been more stark.
Liverpool had been running on empty by the end of the 2020-21 season. Their defence of the Premier League title had been derailed by a series of devastating injuries. The players hated the soulless environment of behind closed doors football and the strict protocols which meant they couldn’t even eat meals together.
After a gutsy resurgence on the run-in salvaged Champions League qualification, Klopp’s men had nothing left to give. But when they were reunited in Salzburg two months later the mood was very different.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane had enjoyed the rare luxury of an extended summer break and the benefits were there for all to see. Trent Alexander-Arnold was similarly revitalised after a thigh injury in a pre-tournament warm-up game forced him to sit out the European Championship. England’s loss proved to be Liverpool’s gain.
The feel-good factor was fuelled by the return to the fold of centre-backs Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez after lengthy injury rehabilitation programmes. The spine and structure of the team were being restored.