Sebastian Steudtner won’t be getting a Premier League title medal – but Jurgen Klopp believes he is a big reason why Liverpool are now riding the crest of a wave.
Steudtner, 30, is the surfer who Klopp called on last summer to help him convince his players that they could take the final step to become champions.
The German puts his life at risk every time he performs, taking on the world’s biggest waves in a spectacular show of technique and sheer courage.
Steudtner dropped out of school and moved to Hawaii at 16 to pursue his surfing dream – and he compares the first time he tried to conquer one of the most powerful natural forces on the planet to what Klopp’s Liverpool squad have gone through in the last 12 months.
“When I first tried to surf a big wave, I got absolutely destroyed,” said Steudtner, whose incredible exploits draw millions of hits on YouTube.
“It was a disaster, I almost got washed up on the rocks – but it was all good.
“If you expect the worst and the worst doesn’t happen, then what is there to be afraid of?
“I didn’t drown. I thought I was going to, but I didn’t – so I got back on the board and took another shot.
“When Liverpool missed winning the title last year, it was like when I fell off my board.
“What you do is pick yourself up and try again – that’s the essence of sport. It’s the mentality you must have.
“You have to lose, it’s all part of the process. You don’t grow if you never fail.”
It was when Klopp and his players saw a documentary of Steudtner riding Teahupoo, the giant wave off Tahiti considered the most dangerous in the world that they reached out to him.
He was invited over for last season’s thrilling victory over Tottenham at Anfield, when Liverpool were embroiled in a title race that saw them win 97 points and still miss out by the narrowest of margins to Manchester City.
Their response was to lift the Champions League.
But when Klopp took his squad to the French spa town of Evian-les-Bains for pre-season training, he was toiling with the conundrum of where the next marginal gain would come from.
He invited Steudtner to join them.
Steudtner recalled: “A football squad is a very tight group of individuals, but Jurgen has built a family at Liverpool.
“I was made very welcome by everyone and, after talking to Jurgen about how I could help, I took all the players into a pool with the idea of putting them into a stressful and scary situation.
“It’s a very simple exercise, putting your head under the water and seeing how long you can hold your breath.
“What happens is that panic sets in quickly because your natural instinct is to concentrate on the fact that you can’t breathe.
“Using some techniques I use when I go under a wave, I showed the players how to relax and concentrate on other parts of their body. Some of them doubled and tripled the amount of time they could stay under.
“What was the purpose of the exercise? It was to show them that they can surpass their fears and go beyond what they think they can achieve.
“Even in the most stressful situations, you can break through your limits – and we then spoke about how this experience could translate into football.
“On the pitch, a player finds himself in hundreds of stressful situations – whether making the right pass or scoring the goal.
“In sporting terms, they are all live-or-die moments played out in front of millions of people. For a big-wave surfer like me, it is a massive part of what I do.
“For a footballer, it is a much smaller aspect – but Jurgen Klopp is all about finding those small advantages.
“I think that is a key part of why he is such a successful coach.”
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