It has been a long week for the ever suffering supporters of Liverpool Football Club. The fall from the Manchester City euphoria to the recent desperation was as swift and devastating as Emre Can’s pile-driver at Huddersfield. As usual in these situations, I sat back and observed the chaos at arm’s length. I refused to descend into the state of depression and negativity that had yet again befallen our stricken fan base. Here’s The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) with his dissection on the Reds’ need to succeed.
Instead, I tried to find a reason for why this was happening. I may be an eternal optimist but I also feel I am rational enough to see when things are worth complaining about. I thought about it from as many perspectives as possible, and concluded that this was not a time for sadness. It was a good moment for reflection. There are absolutely some holes to fill in this squad but on the whole the outlook is in my mind mostly positive.
However, without wanting to dismiss the angry mob completely I did consider one possible hypothesis for why some of us are feeling so frustrated. It is perhaps that we are currently striving for a perfection that some may feel is necessary to get back to winning trophies. A stage of perfection that is quite difficult to reach. In this sense I completely agree with the feelings of anger.
We are a club that built our reputation on winning trophies. The landscape of football has changed in such a way that one could argue that simply qualifying for the Champions League every year is more financially significant to clubs than winning a trophy is anymore. That is one of the pitfalls of modern football to many. Would winning a League Cup of FA Cup really change our outlook especially if we failed to finish in the top four? Some say yes, the answer in my mind isn’t so obvious.
As Arsenal navigated their way past Chelsea to reach the Carabao Cup final last week, many on Twitter pointed out that for all Arsene Wenger’s detractors, he consistently gets Arsenal to cup finals and often also wins them. This is unquestionably true but nobody with a straight face could tell me that as a club, Arsenal are in a better position than we are overall both now and in the near future. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or not, I have no doubt that I would rather have our outlook at the moment than what they have down at the Emirates.
We also have to consider that there is a fine margin between success and failure in cups. Winning a league title is the hardest trophy to win simply because of the nature of the competition. The consistency needed is far greater than any cup competition demands. While we are trophy-less since 2012, we have had a number of near misses. Most recently, we were a penalty shootout and an Alberto Moreno meltdown from having two trophies in Jurgen Klopp’s first season. Fine margins that do make that big a difference.
If anyone read my recent article on Moneyball, there is another aspect of that approach which applies well here. Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane always said that their strategy would work in the regular season but the playoffs were a complete lottery and his influence was much less. The sample size of games in the playoffs was just too small. Detractors often point out that Moneyball never actually brought Oakland success in a sense of trophies but a team was built that was put in a position to succeed year after year against the odds. That is success in its own right.
We may have had little success lately in a tangible sense but we are consistently again now in contention. We could not say that in the Roy Hodgson era, we could not say that really even in the Brendan Rodgers era (2013-2014 run aside) but I am confident we are a match for anyone these days and a lot more consistently too.
After Rafa Benitez left, there was a period where the club almost became an afterthought in European football. Even when we did participate in European competitions, we weren’t considered as big a threat as we should have any longer. This season marked the first Champions League campaign in years that we had progressed to the knock out stages. We often take these moments for granted but I certainly don’t.
When I was watching football growing up, I dreamed of us being a force in the Champions League. Year after year passed and I waited patiently (in fairness it was much harder to qualify in those days) as the likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and…. Manchester United were winning those titles. Not only were they winning but we weren’t even in the competition. Contention felt so far away. Now that was infuriating to an impatient young fan like myself.
It is why the Benitez era meant so much. We became a massive force again, and really in retrospect should have won multiple European Cups. We were that much of a juggernaut. Again though, as Billy Beane pointed out, knockout rounds of the Champions League like baseball playoffs can be a bit of a lottery at times. The best teams don’t necessarily win every year.
These moments developed my gratitude immensely. I admit I did love Brendan Rodgers but the excitement I get knowing Klopp is in charge is the first time I have felt that good about the direction of the club since the heady Benitez days. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Klopp himself certainly has some faults. Some call him stubborn especially with substitutes and sometimes with the team shape but I will easily put up with those as the positives significantly outweigh the negatives. Realistically, who would his detractors have in mind to replace him? I don’t think we often realise how lucky we actually are to led by a man like Klopp.
FSG as always get a huge dose of the blame. I truthfully don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes but I do know that we do not have the financial clout to rival the Manchester clubs. I have accepted that. It would be nice to splash massive amounts of cash and become a super squad overnight but realistically that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Also, when we do win our first league title since 1990 I would love it if we triumphed as just a little bit of an underdog. We have waited long enough that I want the first one to be special, much like Istanbul was. At that point in 2005 we were still the sleeping giant. That is much of what made the night what it was.
What I am really saying is we may never find that perfection we so desperately crave. Losing Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge this month both hurt deeply for a variety of reasons. This squad certainly has areas where we could use a bit more depth and quality but I have faith in those that are already there. All we can do is aim for our own version of perfection. We may never get the perfect team but truthfully I don’t think we will ever need one. After all, it is only by striving to be that perfect team that you stand any chance of becoming a pretty good one.
Keep making us dream…