Liverpool have certainly had a difficult time of late, until the arrival of Jürgen Klopp. Since then the Reds have gone from strength to strength, but the Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) is taking a look back at what’s gone before…
What a time it is to be a supporter of Liverpool Football Club. We are only months removed from a brilliant and highly unexpected run to the Champions League final, the club has finished in consecutive years in the top four for the first time since the Rafa Benitez years, and Jurgen Klopp remains the man at the helm of what is arguably the most talented squad of the Premier League era.
Even the most negative of followers have been having a hard time constructing any form of well founded criticism with regards to the mighty Reds. It is a situation I have been patiently awaiting for years. Now I do realise that I see the positive side of affairs almost to a fault at times but since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp I have never seen any genuine reason why anyone would be upset with the direction the club is heading.
With that in mind, I am going to look back at some of the doubts that have been raised over the past few years and why I believe they are as absurd now as they were then…
There are probably still plenty of people out there who still aren’t the biggest fans of the Fenway Sports Group. After all, no owners are perfect and there have been moments they could have handled situations differently. On that front there will be no argument from me.
However, what they have done in first stabilizing the club after the Hicks/Gillette fiasco and then backing the club in a key period of growth has been first class in my mind. The investment over the past few years has been integral to why the squad is currently in such good shape. The ‘Net Spend Crew’ is often looked at negatively for some bizarre reason but it most importantly showcases two critical factors: firstly that the club trusts Michael Edwards/Jurgen Klopp and whomever else makes personnel decisions to bring the right players to the club, and also let go those who may not be as integral to the overall vision. Secondly, while the funds are available to back the team, it also evident that they want to keep the club in relatively stable financial shape by spending well within their means. As a result even the more expensive signings like Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Naby Keita and Fabinho can be justified on both fronts. They were expensive signings but not as rich as they look without knowing the context of the whole net spend angle.
Most importantly, all four were integral to improving the squad, and specifically identified by Klopp as key targets. The patience shown by Klopp for both van Dijk and Keita demonstrated that he would do what it takes to get his player and ownership backed him to do so. For that reason, the harmony between all different levels of the club seems to be as strong as ever. I also haven’t even yet mentioned the beautiful new Main Stand and the newly named King Kenny Stand. These are huge changes that will define the club for years.
Moving back onto the playing squad, the one man who has diligently carried so much of the negative load over the years is our longest serving player and current skipper, Jordan Henderson. From day one, there have been skeptics. The doubt and borderline hatred was only heightened when he was given the impossible task of succeeding Steven Gerrard as club captain. Many of those skeptics still remain unsure but I just don’t get it. I can understand to a degree while rival supporters may not rate Henderson, after all he has often done an unfashionable job for the good of the team which often wouldn’t be picked up by those who wouldn’t watch him regularly. But the inability to see what he does for the good of this team on a weekly basis shouldn’t be derided, it should be lauded!.
The arrival of Fabinho should eventually see Henderson back playing in a more natural advanced midfield role. No matter where he plays though, the skipper has always put the team first. Our selfless leader has always deserved respect and it seems that slowly but surely he is winning that war of attrition.
The same could be said to a lesser extent of our noble and increasingly heroic vice captain James Milner. It seemed a strange appointment at the time given he had barely arrived at the club but with each passing day I understand exactly why he was awarded the title. Milner came to the club to finally play centre midfield but instead spent almost an entire season at left back. Did he ever complain? Not a chance. Just like Henderson, he puts the team first every single time. It is a testament to Milner that he did finally get his chance in midfield last year and went on to break the Champions League single season assist record. He has become almost undroppable at the moment which is a stunning turn of events but not really that surprising when you understand the drive and professionalism of the man.
With our two leaders, we are in very extremely safe and assured hands.
Oh Mané Mané
Sadio Mané is well loved by pretty much everyone right now. This has been mostly true of his time at Anfield but even a player with Mané’s dedication and electrifying skill has still had his moments of doubt and pain. During his first season with the club he essentially put the team on his back as the main threat while Roberto Firmino still was finding his feet in his “False Firmino” role. Were we grateful last year when his form apparently dipped? Not in the slightest.
Instead, there was a clear agenda pushing the “if only Mané was in form too” narrative when in reality he was scoring at a quicker rate than ever. It was evident that Mané wasn’t quite at his devastating best but to call him out of form always felt harsh. At the end of the day he had switched positions to accommodate Mo Salah and like Firmino it was going to take a little time to adjust.
Mané went on to have the greatest season of his career to date. He scored in every single round of the Champions League. His form fittingly reached its peak in the final where Mané again rolled the clock back to the 2016-2017 campaign and again put the team on his back in a valiant attempt at glory. Oh Mané, Mané? All I can think of still is oh…. that goal post in Kiev…. It’s still too soon…
Trust in a Goalkeeper
Simon Mignolet never really stood a chance. For whatever reason there was always a lingering hostility towards him even during the long spells in which he performed mostly well. You always got the sense that he was only one dodgy moment away from losing the faith of the masses. It cannot be easy for any player to try and carry on his day to day job with that looming threat of vilification. They are human beings after all. Even a confident player like Mignolet has a breaking point.
Loris Karius had a brief spell of trust after signing from Mainz. There was plenty of support for a player that very few had seen play but we were encouraged by the whole “he won third best keeper in the Bundesliga” narrative. Once Karius actually started playing for us it quickly became evident that he needed some time to settle and it wasn’t long before he got the Mignolet treatment which slowly but surely eroded his self-belief. The Champions League final aside, I never truly believed Karius was settled even during his best period over the tail end of last season and the aftermath of the final only proved that his form was built on a very unstable foundation.
The arrival of Alisson Becker seems to finally be a match made in heaven. The Brazilian may not be worth his hefty price tag (few goalkeepers are), but his reputation has been earned for a very good reason. He is by no means a fraud having proven himself at the highest level already, and seems to genuinely suit the style of play that Klopp strives for. Alisson seemed to have the forgiveness of the fans even if he got off to a slow start though he couldn’t look more comfortable to date. What I appreciate most is that should a mistake occur, I feel that he will be supported and he has the confidence to brush off a mistake and move on.
We finally have a keeper that everyone can trust. What a time to be alive.
The landscape of supporting Liverpool Football Club hasn’t been less temperamental for quite some time. It remains to be seen whether long awaited silverware will be won in the coming years. After all despite, the healthy position the club is in winning trophies is something not always in our control. I for one am just going to enjoy the pleasant ride and see where it takes us. I feel the below quote from Fat Boy Slim sums up the current situation perfectly. We should appreciate this team, club and culture right now for how great it truly is becoming.
“We’ve come a long long way together
Through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you baby
I have to praise you like I should”