Adam Lallana loves Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp but admits he wanted Spurs and his ‘mate’ Mauricio Pochettino to win the Premier League.
Lunch time in Liverpool city centre and Adam Lallana is holding court in his favourite hideaway. The rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee hangs heavily in the air but all the England international can smell at this particular moment are joss sticks and aftershave.
Lallana, you see, is talking about his relationship with Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. To give context of how they became so close, he needs to take us back to Southampton in 2013 when, unbeknown to many, the midfielder was going through one of the most difficult spells of his career.
‘I hadn’t really heard of him before he came,’ Lallana explains. ‘It was January, snowing and me, Jose Fonte, Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert and Kelvin Davis turned up at St Mary’s to meet him. When he came into the room, he had an aura straightaway.
‘He overdid the aftershave because we were like, “Bloody hell!”, but he made this impression. At that time, I didn’t want to be captain. I was 24. Being in the Premier League was pressure enough. There were times I’d be on the pitch thinking I didn’t want that armband.
‘Anyway, one day Pochettino sits me down. His English wasn’t very good but I was in his office and he said to me, “What’s happening?” He knew something wasn’t right. I used to speak to the chairman (Nicola Cortese) after most games. If we weren’t playing well, he would give his opinion.
‘As soon as I mentioned that to him he was like, “This . . . This . . . This needs to stop! You can’t feel the weight of speaking to the chairman if results aren’t going well! This is my job! You are my player! I want you to be free!” Straightaway, I felt heaps better and thought, “What a manager he must be!”.
‘The relationship grew from there. I would call into his office two or three times a week, to look at clips and things. He would offer me his mate (South American herbal tea). I remember him having these joss sticks lit and that smell reminds me of being in his office.’
‘There aren’t too many managers who you would have a friendship with after going your separate ways but I do with him,’ says Lallana. ‘Last year, of course I was desperate for Tottenham to win the league but it was for him, not because I’m a Tottenham fan. I’m his friend.’
We meet in The Quarter, a fashionable bistro close to Liverpool’s towering Anglican cathedral in one of the city’s most historic areas, and Lallana has become a regular here, frequently visiting for lunch when a table for four usually includes team-mates Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Danny Ings.
During the course of the hour we spend together, managers dominate the conversation. Lallana, now 28, had a chemistry with Pochettino but the same is true of Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, who also happens to be his next-door neighbour in Formby, a village on the West Lancashire coast.
Klopp has a mischievous side. He allowed Liverpool’s players a night out on their recent tour of the United States, with the meeting point the hotel lobby. Klopp was looking at how everyone was dressed and when he saw Lallana he shook his head, smiled and enquired: ‘What the **** is that?’
But Klopp is ultra-serious when it comes to football and he holds Liverpool’s No 20 in the highest regard, considering him one of his most important players, having confided not long after he arrived last October that Lallana was ‘my biggest surprise’.
‘I remember one of his first meetings when he arrived,’ says Lallana. ‘He told us he was going to be our friend but not our best friend. That’s how it should be. I see him taking his bins out, we take each other’s mail. We just have a relationship like normal people do.’
It was at White Hart Lane on October 17 last year that Klopp had his first taste of English football and the iconic image of that day was Lallana falling into his new manager’s arms, having run himself to a standstill. In the 54 games that followed, he has scored six goals in all competitions.
Is that enough for someone who cost £25million? Can he see why some question what he contributes to a team? These are questions he enjoys tackling, sitting up in his seat and becoming animated as he fights his corner. ‘It’s a good point,’ Lallana replies. ‘If I was a manager, I wouldn’t want a “nearly man” in my team. Not a chance. Especially at a club like Liverpool. I read something the manager said after the Arsenal game. He was talking about having men in the box.
‘Of course it was nice to score that day but, trust me, the managers do not care who score the goals. They just want the goals to happen. The older I get, the more I am willing to sacrifice myself for the team to win. It’s definitely interesting where you are coming from.
‘I know people say, “Oh, he doesn’t score enough for Liverpool, he hasn’t scored for England!” . . . Should I have scored against Russia (at Euro 2016)? Absolutely! Afterwards, I’m thinking, “****ing hell! Why hasn’t that gone in?” If that goes in, we’ve won the game.’
That 1-1 draw in Marseille set the tone for a wretched fortnight, one that ended in acrimony and embarrassment against Iceland. Lallana was dropped for the last-16 tie in Nice, having started all three group games and played well. So why did Roy Hodgson omit him from the team?
Lallana found out 48 hours before kick-off, when Hodgson called him up to his room and told him face to face. Though the decision left him crestfallen, Lallana will not join the masses in pouring scorn on the former England head coach. His account of what happened is actually poignant.
‘It hurt and I am not afraid to admit that,’ says Lallana, whose England debut came against Chile in 2013 at Wembley. ‘Could I understand it?’ Long pause.
‘You have to understand it. All I cared about was us going through — and I’m not for one minute saying that if I play, the result is different.
‘I saw Gary Neville on Monday Night Football the other week and he said the last 60 minutes of that game were something he will never be able to explain. I know what he means.
I was sitting there thinking, “Why is this happening? This shouldn’t be happening!” It was awful.’
The situation became even bleaker when they returned to the dressing room.
‘Roy said in a meeting to us after the game that he was going to be resigning,’ Lallana continues.
‘It was worse the day after, when we were packing our bags and leaving for home. It was terrible, really. It just made you think that there is more to football. This man had just lost his job. I don’t know if he will manage again in his career — or even if he wants to. He was a very good man. A very, very good man. He gave me my international debut. I respect him entirely. Even though I was desperate to play in that last game, but at the end of the day he is human.
‘He was under massive pressure. It didn’t work out. He lost his job and the whole nation was probably against him. He looked vulnerable that day and it wasn’t nice to see an experienced man like that.’
Has what happened in France left him wondering about his own international career?
Allardyce Call Up
As he points out, his 26 caps have yet to yield a goal, even though Lallana has been included in Sam Allardyce’ first squad for the opening World Cup qualifier in Slovakia.
The whole England squad received an email from Allardyce before the new Premier League campaign, in which the new head coach wished everyone well and stated how he was looking forward to working with them.
‘I’m an honest player,’ says Lallana. ‘I think managers see that I am honest. It’s difficult for me to say why managers keep picking me. I’m not going to sit here and blow smoke up my own a*** and say I should be playing every week.’
Such statements can be left to the managers and before he leaves, Lallana wants to talk about Liverpool once more. It has been a topsy-turvy start the campaign, winning at Arsenal and losing at Burnley, but he speaks with confidence about the adventure ahead.
‘I just believe we are going to succeed,’ he says. ‘OK, we lost two finals last season. I was talking to someone the other day about the Europa League final (which Liverpool lost 3-1 to Sevilla). My God! If only we had won that!
‘It hurts me now even more than it did on the night and I was absolutely heartbroken then. It just would have been massive. If we do what he wants us to do and we can visualise how he wants us to play then we will succeed. He’ll get it out of us.’
And to make the point, Lallana says it again. ‘He will get that out of us.’
Article courtesy of The Mail Online