Walk On Walk On – to 2021 and Beyond
The title has been won, and the journey is over. So, “What’s next?” might be a more appropriate question than “What if?” and “Why not?” or even “Another round of Jameson shots?”
There were a lot of detours and false dawns along the way, but just like how Everest was finally scaled, and Phil Mickelson eventually won his first major, the ultimate destination has been reached for Liverpool Football Club. I even refuse to fall into the trap of thinking that our results against Burnley, Manchester City and Arsenal have any implication of next season: you can argue about motivation and celebrations as much as you want, but these games only mean something to the teams we play against. From our point of view, it is just a long victory lap.
For us Reds, this season is over, and the goal has been accomplished. Taunts about COVID-19, VAR, Rule changes, and anything else can be answered with beer froth and a flip of the bird. Our perspective and patience need be explained to no one.
But what do we expect from the near future? Of course, we want more titles and not to wait another 30 years. We want consistency, consolidation and a sustained period of success. But more importantly, we want those titles to be as meaningful as this one. A champion squad built the right way, with a combination of young talent, top shelf signings, and the current core getting even stronger. Regardless of Manchester City’s ban reversal, Liverpool should continue adhering to the Financial Fair Play rules, because that is what makes our title(s) more meaningful.
In my humble opinion, here are the things which a majority of the reasonable and pragmatic fans want to see moving forward:
The Senior Squad
How do you improve on perfection? The most dangerous front three, the hardest working midfield, two absolute beasts in defense and goal… The only positions I can think of (with room for much improvement) are an attacking midfielder and a taller striker to give a new dimension to the overall goalscoring threat.
To be fair, the only way to augment this squad would be with a couple of proven veterans who can hit the ground running. I do hope the Thiago rumors turn out to be true and we do get him. There is a lot of griping about his age (29 years), but in my opinion he can only help strengthen our current winning culture by bringing over his big game experience and veteran savvy from Bayern Munich, the gold standard of German club football. Chelsea did it when they brought in Pedro, and City did it when they brought in Yaya Toure.
Much as the fan in me would like a big marquee name like Sancho, Mbappe or Haaland to come in, Liverpool will never be that kind of a club. And most fans are fine with that. As the reviled Gary Neville pointed out, Klopp is a manager that “turns $30 million players into $130 million players”.
In short, what would be best is finding a couple of veteran and effective players in the Salah price range, who can come in and keep the Big Red Machine rolling. Thiago, and possibly Son Heung-Min from Tottenham (please let this happen), would ensure that the team is in good position to defend its title. A diamond-in-the-rough signing like Andy Robertson would not hurt either.
Hardcore Reds will know the names of our young talent. Youth players like Curtis Jones, Marko Grujic, Harry Wilson, Ki-Jana Hoever and the list goes on. But, to me, the 2 youngsters who will determine the continuance of Liverpool’s success are Holland U19 International Sepp van den Berg and Republic of Ireland U21 International Caoimhin Kelleher.
It is my strong belief that the key to any club’s success is to have an All-world talent at both centre-back and goalkeeper positions. Over the last 30 years, we have world-class strikers like Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Patrick Berger. We have also had phenomenal midfielders like Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard. But the title returned only when we acquired the pair of beasts that are Alisson Becker and Virgil Van Dijk.
Barring injury, we are set at those two positions for enough time to let Van den Berg and Kelleher develop. Continued FA Cup and League cup games with the odd mid-week game thrown in can help these two mature and position us nicely for the future.
As much as we would love it, the chances of Jurgen Klopp staying at Liverpool for the next two decades are slim to none. Being a manager of a top six Premier League club comes with a crushing level of scrutiny and stress. Klopp has been fantastic at absorbing the pressure. He has also done a brilliant job at managing the media demands and fan expectations. With a Champions League and now a Premier League title under his belt, Klopp has earned the right to leave or stay on his own terms. He could leave us to manage the Leavenworth prison soccer team, and no supporter would hold it against him.
In the event of his eventual departure, the club will need to adopt a constant process of evaluating whether to carry on his good work or look to someone with a different vision. United have been an example of how not to replace a legendary club manager. Even if the club brings in a legend, a proven veteran manager or hires in house, the move can go pear shaped if there is no clear vision or team building philosophy.
The two Klopp methods that need to be adopted and ingrained in the club must be strong conviction in the style of football, and an insistence on the kind of player that will fit into that style.
Klopp has been successful in building a culture, a unity and sense of common purpose at Liverpool. This has been missing for a long time.
I remember a time when no Liverpool season was complete without one high profile transfer request being put in. One season it was a Mascherano, the next a Torres, then a Suarez, a Sterling and finally a Coutinho. The last two years have been a period of tranquility when it comes to squad stability.
Things can change quickly, but for the present, the primary players like Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino all seem to be happy at Liverpool and with their roles. As an icon for the Arab world, Salah would be a merchandising gold mine for any club on the continent. And to see such a diverse group of players happy to live in Liverpool for a large part of the year, instead of London, Madrid or Milan is evidence that they are committed to the club and to the city from an ambassadorial and philanthropic point of view.
In short, these are the kind of players that the club needs to continue recruiting and bringing over. Players who see the big picture beyond the transfer fees, wages and their spouse’s shopping, dining and clubbing options, though I can attest that Liverpool is a great city for all these activities. If a player prioritizes his legacy and the thrill of playing at one of the best stadiums in the world and in front of the best fans in the world, he will not find a better club than Liverpool FC.
To conclude, this is the best time for the club to chart a course for a long dominance of England and Europe. The fans adore the team now more than ever, and Klopp’s love affair with the club and the supporters has been as strong as if not stronger than his first season. I hope there will be continued success and a Champions League-Premier League-FA Cup treble soon, because the fans do deserve to experience that special moment at Wembley again. May the victory march of the Merseyside Reds continue for as long as possible, and may the voices of Anfield keep getting louder!