EXCLUSIVE: The Reds have already suffered defeat in a final this season and the 28-year-old reveals their Wembley despair will drive them on against Sevilla on Wednesday night
Simon Mignolet was distraught. He was sat in silence on the team bus, reflecting on the penalty shootout that had just unfolded, which led to Manchester City lifting the League Cup over Liverpool.
Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure had beaten the goalkeeper from the spot, with only Emre Can slotting for the Reds as the Wembley arch was lit up in sky blue on February 28. Stationed next to the Belgian on the coach was Kolo Toure, who offered some perspective amid the despondency.
“Kolo is the most experienced player in our dressing room and when he says something, we listen,” Mignolet told Goal. “He told us sometimes it can be positive to feel how it’s like to lose a final so you don’t want to experience that the next time you play in one.”
It was a message repeated to the squad by Jurgen Klopp and as Liverpool prepare for the Europa League final against Sevilla on Wednesday night, their dismay at defeat in their first shot at a trophy for four years will be a driving factor.
“Kolo knows exactly what it takes to win trophies – just as the gaffer does so we remember those words and we need to use that experience,” Mignolet explains.
“We remember exactly how we felt at the final whistle, in the dressing room after, on the coach back, when we got home and you don’t want to go through that again.
“We’ve got that knowledge now, and obviously it doesn’t mean we will win the Europa League, but it’s good motivation.
“Sevilla are a very good side – they’ve won the competition twice in a row and they know what to do in these games.
“It won’t be easy, but we will be well prepared to give ourselves the best chance of winning.
“We have also played in these kind of [tense, high-stake] circumstances and hopefully we can get the result we want with a great performance.”
In one of Klopp’s early days at Melwood, he rounded up the staff at the training facility and invited each of them to explain their roles to the players, from the tea ladies to the gatemen. The German’s intension was simple, but powerful; he wanted his charges to realise that they had a stellar support structure and that success at Liverpool could only be achieved through togetherness.
That unity has proved to be a strength during the club’s astonishing Europa League campaign. The Reds became the first English side to eliminate Manchester United from continental competition, before ousting Klopp’s former team and the tournament favourites Borussia Dortmund 5-4 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.
The second leg of that tie at Anfield is patently one of the most exhilarating encounters in the tournament’s history. A stubborn, disciplined Villarreal outfit was the next hurdle in the semis, with Liverpool losing 1-0 at Estadio El Madrigal, before dismantling Marcelino’s men 3-0 at home.
In each round, Anfield was unrelenting and the solidarity between supporters and the team has been integral for Liverpool.
“The manager gave us the message from the start – that together, if we gave everything, we could change our situation,” says Mignolet.
“Not just the players, but the staff at Melwood and everyone else involved.
“You can definitely feel that togetherness now, especially with the fans. In the games against Dortmund and Villarreal, they pushed us hard and together we never gave up.
“Dortmund, when we scored that last-minute goal to put us through, it was because they kept encouraging us and driving us forward.
“We kept believing all together and kept going. The same thing even happened in our game against Chelsea [in the league] where we scored the late equaliser.”
At the start of Liverpool’s continental campaign, the Europa League was largely viewed as a chore, but Mignolet believes the calibre of opposition the club have tackled proves how distinguished it actually is.
“I think the games we’ve played in the previous rounds against Manchester United, Dortmund and Villarreal are all matches of Champions League quality.
“Villarreal are fourth in La Liga, Dortmund are again second in Bundesliga and United is always a big team to play. That says everything about the importance of the tournament,” insists the stopper.
“Sometimes in England, people look down at the Europa League, but being from the continent, I’ve always realised what an important competition it is.
“It’s hard to win it, it takes a lot to get to the final and I think the gaffer, from the first days, made it clear that only two teams in a season can win a European trophy and we should try to be one of them.
“We’ve done incredibly well and should be proud of it. Every team that started in the competition had an equal chance to win it, and only two teams can get to the final out of over 100 and here we are against a really good side!”
The 28-year-old was keen to stress that even though Liverpool have a shot at European glory, it’s only the start of their reconstruction under Klopp.
“It’s a never-ending story, a work in progress but we’re definitely heading in the right direction,” says Mignolet.
“We’ve already played the League Cup final, and unfortunately we lost that, but we recovered and now we’ve got the chance to win the Europa League.
“But that’s only the beginning, then we have our first pre-season with the gaffer, where he can put his stamp more so on the group so we can prepare well to have a really good campaign.”
“When you play for Liverpool Football Club, who have won so many trophies both domestically and on the continent, you always have to believe that you can go all the way,” he says.
“And then you have to give everything when you have the chance to add to the history. That is what we will do.”
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