THE best thing that has happened to the Reds since New Year’s Day which doesn’t involve Joe Allen is the side Jürgen Klopp selected against Exeter City on a Friday night.
It acted as a reminder of two basic points for us all:
a) Gang of lads wearing the Liverbird there. Let’s get behind them.
b) You can play youngsters in cups without it being a death knell.
Indeed it arguably led to a c):
c) It was much more fun.
I was at Carlisle. Back when Brendan Rodgers was knocking about the place. I was there. It was deathly. The side too strong, too much of an eye on the weekend, too distracted.
There were absolutely no laughs. There was pressure. To have gone out would have felt dreadful. To go through felt dreadful. Extra time backbreaking metaphorically. The 90 literally backbreaking for Firmino.
Instead against Exeter, Brad Smith’s equaliser felt like a winner — a proper “fucking take that” moment, out your seat flicking the vs about like nobody’s business (bemusing people in a Prague bar in my case) and just mostly feeling like something had been stuck to someone somewhere. Possibly Gary Lineker. He’ll do in this instance.
I was with those lads. They deserved what they got from that game. They wore the Liverbird. They put a stint in, matching their opponents for endeavour and desire. Both sides played like it was the biggest game of their lives to date. They were right to do so. It was.
When people — me — people bang on about throwing all resources into the league it isn’t just because the league is everything — it is — but because at some point the younger Reds need to have the biggest game of their lives. They need to have their chance.
Six Europa League games, third and fourth round of the domestic cups. That is 10 opportunities to play for Liverpool. Ten chances to find out who can do a bit for us, who can’t. But 10 chances to give lads the game of their lives.
Football tends to be a meritocracy. If you are good enough you make it. But you need the opportunity.
Even then if you aren’t mustard you may need a bit of luck — a manager with whom you fit, an injury at the right time, the right experienced team-mate. Christian Benteke to score the header from your cross so they talk about your cross, not his miss or the goalkeeper’s save.
All of these things need to happen in some way.
If you don’t fit with the manager, it might be best that everyone knows that early — find a manager you do fit with.
These are human beings with dreams we’re talking about here. Careers. If it can’t happen at Liverpool let these lads succeed elsewhere. But the best way to know if it can or can’t happen is by playing them, getting that information. What does he do at Exeter when the camera, the lower league player, the pitch all bears down?
Every player who ever comes into contact with Liverpool I want them to feel Liverpool did everything they could whether it works or not, whether they are 12 or 32. It may be an impossible dream but it’s what a football club should be.
So it is Exeter again. What warmed the cockles after the first game was the number of Liverpool supporters who wanted to see the same lads get another go at this, out the seat and flicking the vs, get them back to our place and then we will have them.
Then we will get stuck in. What a thing. The right way to do it.
Anfield is a sell-out, ticketed sensibly, so well in the club. Anfield is a sell-out. Six thousand Exeter fans. It’s the third round of the FA Cup. It will be freezing cold. It will be the biggest night of some young men’s lives, the thing they have worked and worked and worked for. How gorgeous. Anfield is a sell-out and we’ll all be lucky to share it with them. The togger — it sneaks up on you sometimes. Drop dead gorgeous from nowhere.
Mignolet in for Bogdan. The rest as you were.