ALBERTO Aquilani hadn’t played a game for Liverpool when a banner in his name was unfurled on the Kop for the first time. It displayed the Italian’s shirt number in Roman numerals next to an emphatic message telling of a hero rising, as if the new signing was a prophet sent by the gods to commit only good.
Aquilani — a £20million signing from Roma in August 2009 — was also photoshopped in full gladiator regalia. He would be Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Merseyside Legions, and loyal servant to the true emperor, Rafael Benitez.
Some match-goers at Anfield had decided that the Rome-born playmaker was already worthy of the kind of gesture not afforded to his predecessor, Xabi Alonso, at any point during his stay at the club despite being a Champions League winner.
By then, Benitez’s judgement was considered so sound that it did not matter that the midfielder was already injured when he joined Liverpool. Night would follow day and Liverpool would thrive.
I thought of this introduction on Sunday evening when I checked out Liverpool’s official online store. Barely 48 hours had passed since Jürgen Klopp’s unveiling as Liverpool’s manager and already merchandise marking the event was available; event being the relevant word here.
That “The Normal One” t-shirts embossed with a set of steel-rimmed glasses and baseball cap, as well as the other special stock, suddenly became available to purchase, might suggest that it is quite easy to design and distribute such material very quickly or, in fact, some people at Liverpool knew for a while that Klopp was coming.
The negative hysteria that Brendan Rodgers spoke about a week before his sacking as Liverpool’s manager pales compared to the affirmative madness surrounding Klopp’s arrival.
My window cleaner, for example, had told me on his previous visit that he placed a bet on Liverpool to be relegated under Rodgers. He then boasted to me on Monday morning that Klopp’s appointment had inspired him to wager £30 on Liverpool winning the league under Klopp.
The odds were 40-1.
I have written in this column before about football being an extreme place and although society prefers to think oppositely, it is a reflection of the way people are.
Since the weekend, it is has been noticeable on social media that two groups of people exist when it comes to opinions on Klopp. There are those who think he might be the best thing that has happened to Liverpool in its recent history and those who are wary — warning that we have been here before, especially with players who have failed to deliver.
Football is passionate so I suppose it is bound to happen. Yet the middle ground appears to have sunken and few are recognising that there is major difference between being excited and optimistic and dizzy and deluded.
Maybe that’s because football has lost its ability to enjoy the moment without getting carried away. Maybe it’s because Liverpool have been unsuccessful for so long. Maybe it has been forgotten that ambitions are not the same as expectations. One is healthy and the other, not so.
It is true that careers have been flattened in the pursuit of the impossible before a natural development has even been allowed to begin.
Yet while football used to be an escape from the realities of life, it has now become an extension of the problems. How is it possible to enjoy a narrow window of Kloppomania when you’ve got Tottenham away next weekend and the new manager will have little time to enforce his methods?
What about in six, 12 or 18 months’ time: where will Liverpool be then? There is so much football, as Mitchell and Webb joke, that it keeps on coming.
Players talk tediously about focusing on the present but maybe that’s the way to be. Maybe they’ve got it right. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy or, at best, just become very unhappy indeed.
I might be wrong, but I can envisage Liverpool losing at Tottenham and struggling for results in Klopp’s first month in charge as he comes to terms with the challenge he faces — which is considerable.
He will soon realise that Liverpool has lots of problems that need fixing: the goalkeeper that does not have the personality to shrug off mistakes, the absence of a decent left back and certainly a centre half; how will he deal with a hotchpotch of a midfield that Rodgers has left behind? And where are the fast wingers? Jordon Ibe is the only one and he will need to rediscover his confidence.
There are problems elsewhere as well: the influence of the transfer committee, which needs to be put in its place for Liverpool to flourish. The discourse over the last few weeks on the topic has become boring, mainly because the thrust of the argument — whatever side you happen to take — is generally misled.
You are either in favour of statistics or against them when, really, the discussions should be focusing on the personalities involved and competency levels.
For what it’s worth, I believe that statistics can help any football club. Yet they should form the basis of an opinion rather than be the conclusion. Statistics are black and white and football is a sport where shades of grey are immeasurable. Emotion can be a defining influence and it cannot really be quantified in human activity by data. If you think otherwise, you are probably a computer.
It was encouraging to hear that Klopp will have “the first and the last word” on transfers on Friday. Listening to him talk and watching his forceful manner, I imagined the same rule will apply to most of the issues that exist at Liverpool.
Eventually, that should prove to be for the best. It is not unreasonable to think that Liverpool might win something with Klopp in charge.
So maybe it’s time to lighten up a bit.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo.Com & PA Images