I’ve tried convincing myself I’m not that bothered. In many ways, while football tries its best to act up to normality and regurgitates the VAR debate ad infinitum, I am genuinely not.
However, you can’t get away from it. There’s no escape from this sport. We can turn off the TV, ignore the texts, and walk past the newspaper stand all we want, but something will crop up to guide us back to inescapable truth.
The fact of the matter is that Liverpool FC, over the course of just two months, has taken a big stride backward. They will not make the top 4 and, barring a European miracle, will lose their Champions League status.
I am very bothered about that.
This season can curl up and die, but the dream sustaining us thus far is not one where we wake up without those unique European midweek nights. The league might always be “bread and butter,” but what feeds the winter slog is a needle injecting us with wanderlust and glamour.
The ramifications are significant. The pessimist can argue – with some justification – that eight weeks or so’s damage might take 18 months to repair. It might never be repaired should the Manchester juggernaut continue to crush everything in its path.
Before the slump, changes were already afoot. Roberto Firmino hasn’t been quite himself for a while. Doubts surrounded Gini Wijnaldum’s future, and James Milner was never going to go on forever. Sadio Mane and Mo Salah would always attract attention from suitors. In football’s modern, fast-paced world, having “won the lot,” the pair were already at the mercy of seduction by a new challenge.
Had Liverpool not taken this disastrous nose-dive, a summer of tweaks, reinforcement, and a subtle refresh of playing personnel was still on the cards. Now maybe the need is more urgent, either through choice or a forced hand should the vultures circle.
Just to deal with the present, let’s put this in context, not to assess the impact of our recent horror show, but to burrow for reasons why this has happened.
Injuries. Probably the biggest factor. They’ve dropped like flies on a weekly basis – absenting crucial cogs in this wheel for weeks and months over and over again. We had enormous luck on this front over three seasons, but karma has bitten back savagely and then some. No need to name names. It would take too long.
Personal issues. None of us knows the social and family impact thrown at each individual during this unfathomable time. Still, we do know that the goalkeeper and manager have suffered personal trauma way beyond coping with this new world.
Tiredness. A shrewd judge would fall down on the side of mental fatigue over physical.
Yes, this group has played a lot of football together – too much actually, as 2021 has reminded us so brutally – but the exhausting emotional rollercoaster has thrown its passengers off more than dizzy, more than a little queasy. From Madrid and Qatar in noisy technicolour glory to the Holy Grail amid the drabbest silence. That messes with your head. I know it does mine, and I’m not playing.
For all home sides, this season playing in deathly silence must be devastating. Little things matter. None of them have been asked for an autograph, to smile into a camera for an excited kid, heard their name sung from the rafters; or even had the sniping vitriol from the know-all anti-fan in Row 6 who motivates and depresses in equal measure.
Even before this Anfield run that could easily be denoted by “the scream” emoji, they must’ve been thinking on the blacked-out bus to the stadium…… “Not this fucking place again.”
Fans matter, perhaps no more so than at Anfield. It’s a symbiotic relationship that cannot bear separation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Liverpool have been shite, looked under-motivated, sluggish at times, even unprofessional and mardy. They all deserve a bit of a kicking for it but NO WAY in a million years does this Liverpool team lose seven on the bounce in a packed Anfield.
It’s literally not the same game, and that’s why it ought to be easier to shrug off until those reminders read their ugly heads and dig us in the ribs again.
So lots of context, reason, and rationale but reality needs dealing with now and in the summer.
What’s needed is calm amid the storm. The golden sky is some way off again but hasn’t disappeared altogether. First, we take what we can from this season. Set achievable goals ranging from winning the
Champions League (I’d believe anything in this mad world) right down to finishing in the top 8, preserving a never-lower standard bridging the 1960s to the present day. With each potential setback along the way, they must reset to aim at just finishing as best we can.
When the season is done, again, quiet reflection and cold analysis are all that will do. Any departures at our behest must be down to consideration of form over two seasons to factor in all those mitigating 20-21 circumstances. There are Liverpool precedents dating back to Graeme Souness’s era that highlights the danger of letting proven quality depart too early.
Jurgen Klopp – uttering words to the effect in the press this week- must be detached from an emotional reaction to any potential player treason and instead coldly insist they stay because they play for Liverpool.
Whatever the pull from outside, everything must be done to keep the very best at the club. We’ve given this group everything – and vice versa – and while there’s no sentiment in football, these footballers need reminding they’re still part of something special.
We don’t need reminding how painful those results are. The respective caves we dwell in hide away are constantly burgled by truth.
There is no escape. And for players and management – and the ownership – it’s time to take responsibility for what can be controlled. We’re Liverpool, and we never accept mediocrity. So, sort it out. Ready for the day the sham is over, and real football is back. That’s the only way out of this nightmare.