Most of your football journeys will end with nothing shiny to hold.
Every season has its arc. Its own story that tells the tale of how some of the world’s biggest sporting institutions toe the line between success and failure, greatness and mediocrity.
Liverpool’s story at the end of seasons has been consistent for much of my life as a Red. It has not been a story of trophies and triumphs. So as I watched fans fall apart at the end of the last campaign, I understood why. It felt like the beginning of the end of what has been a period of success we’d always dreamt of. It felt like players’ ages were creeping into dangerous territory across the squad and luck was fading away as fast as the first team’s health.
Since returning to the Champions League and acquiring Virgil Van Dijk, this team has been largely unshakeable in its form and its commitment to the long view. From the top-down, perspective has always remained in focus for this group in a way that teams from previous eras simply couldn’t manage.
After the incredible success they had in the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons, it’s only natural that we as supporters felt like we were riding the crest of a wave that was still building. They’d given us everything and there would be more. They are up there with the great Liverpool sides of the past. Memorable European nights under the lights, adventures in far foreign lands, the end of a 30-year drought. What more could we ask for?
Win Trophies…Want More Trophies!!!
More. Obviously. And we do.
In a typical season that ends in May, by August we are demanding more of everyone at the club from the recruitment team to the training staff. We want the next thing. And at what cost? At what expense to our enjoyment of football, our connection to each other and the team?
Looking down the line constantly at the next thing is for pundits and analysts. For us as fans, it’s time to focus on the now and soak in as much of this Liverpool side as we can. We may not get a get better opportunity than the next three months before significant changes are made.
Last season felt like a gut punch, a reality check highlighting the tightrope this team had been on for three years. And yet, even in all of the drama and suffering, injuries, and shuffling of the team that had made history just the season before, this team delivered moments of joy. Whether it was goalkeeper headers, the emergence of young players whose careers are now taking off or the eventual third-place finish to ensure Champions League football once again will be played at Anfield, what seemed like a cursed season wasn’t all bad in the end.
The difficulty and uncertainty that surrounded the last campaign did nothing to ease expectations or concerns about the long-term outlook of a squad that had an age gap forming in its ranks. As a fanbase, it felt like we came into this season somehow simultaneously expecting a title victory, and the inevitable signs of demise beginning to show.
The Last Dance or Another Go?
Perhaps we’d all seen The Last Dance too many times and began to think that this may be this group’s last go before contracts became an issue and certain players’ ages became a bigger risk to carry. Were we on the verge of a rebuild or would everything just go back to business as usual when the big names came back?
I for one did not believe it would. I didn’t see a way in which any team could shake off the collective experience of last season, with all its frustrations and tactical exposure to simply return to being the machine they were in 19/20. Mentally, things evolve, and recapturing the mentality monsters’ status was always going to be difficult.
The season to this point has done little to quell the concerns over lingering effects or the tone-down expectations that were heaped on the team heading into the last campaign as champions. While this season hasn’t been the prettiest journey at times, this Liverpool side continues to turn in impressive performances, create incredible goals and show the grit and talent needed to withstand a disappointing result here and there.
As I said, most seasons of my Liverpool supporting life have seen a consistent narrative play out. Too often, that narrative involved the death of my trophy dreams in January and early February. Domestic cup exits, fading league campaigns and during the worst of times, a complete lack of European nights worth noting. And here we stand walking into the middle of February with the Reds competing in every format they can. A League Cup final on the horizon, a highly winnable FA Cup 5th round tie against Norwich, a favorable Champions League matchup with Inter Milan, and an outside chance, albeit faint, at another title challenge.
Health and Depth
All of this happens at a time when injury woes seem to be less and less of a concern. For the first time all season, Jurgen Klopp has a selection headache in midfield, with Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Curtis Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Harvey Elliott, and James Milner all healthy. Add in the addition of new signing Luis Diaz to the attacking ranks and the Reds appear to have all hands on deck for what could be a historic run-in.
Most of your football journeys will leave you with nothing shiny to hold. Liverpool hasn’t competed on all four fronts like this since the 82-83 season, a campaign I wasn’t even alive to have witnessed. This side is chasing history again and they’re coming together, healthy and unified at just the right time.
They’ve seen out the period around the African Cup of Nations, they’ve run the gauntlet of the festive period and the difficulties that immediately follow in the New Year. While it’s not exactly reasonable to expect them to win all four pieces of silverware, it’s not unreasonable to ask for at least one and a good shot at a second.
For me, the number one priority is always the European Cup. Number 7 making its way to Anfield, brings more glory and memories than a domestic cup double. A cup double that includes the European Cup would be a slice of heaven as far as I’m concerned. A domestic cup double, however, would see this group bag the only two trophies they haven’t won since coming together. It would be an amazing feat if they simply won every competition they could possibly win over the years.
Treble? No, Well Maybe, Why Not?
A treble may seem more realistic to those who supported the club from the 80s to the 2000s. After all, if you have, you’ve seen these things happen before. For me and an entire generation of Liverpool of fans, it’s an idea that seems so far removed from reality that it simply cannot be possible.
The idea that this Liverpool side will conquer all of Europe, win a record ninth League Cup and the eighth FA Cup in club history to cap an era marked by incredible memories and the abundance of joy around the club seems too idyllic to actually happen.
But if you give that thought time to marinate in your mind and understand they don’t have to be perfect, you begin to see it as less and less of a fantasy. Two-legged cup ties can be reversed after a bad result, they’ve proven that just as they’ve proven they can be the lesser side on the day and find a way to win. They can go to the biggest grounds on the face of the earth and play the most expensive sides known to man off the pitch, they’ve proven that.
There’s a story there for a fourth trophy if City will accommodate it. While it seems doubtful now, it’s entirely possible that Liverpool chase City into the final day, where Steven Gerrard’s Villa faces City. The poetic justice of Gerrard winning the title for Liverpool in any way is too good to resist fantasizing about. All the songs about the slip and all the abuse that man has gracefully endured, if he walks off a winner that day and with the title in Liverpool’s hands, it’s a comeback story worthy of another documentary.
There’s a long way to go between this and that, but if you believe in this club and this team, you know that the strangest of circumstances somehow manifest themselves for us. Perhaps it’s because we manifest them.
Most of your football journeys will end with nothing. Strap in, this one sure has the feeling of giving us something to sing about. Maybe that’s all you can hope for.