LET’S be honest, it hurts. And it’s going to for a while. There’s no enjoyable way to lose a final, and particularly one built up as a shortcut back to the big time.
It felt like we’d cracked it. Back in a European final for the first time in nine years. The chance to add a major trophy to a cabinet that hasn’t needed any rearrangement since the League Cup was added to it in 2012. And the opportunity to bat away another disappointing league finish with a lift up into next year’s Champions League.
The build up on the day had been a good one, at least from our experience. Worries of an Athens-style air of disorder policed by over-zealous officers didn’t play out. There was some well-documented trouble in the ground before the match but it was, by and large, a party atmosphere with the police, although tooled up to the nines, seemingly happy to adopt a leave-it-alone approach.
UEFA were about surveying people about their experience and hopefully the message was clear from those answering on the day as it was from most in the lead up to the trip to Basel. Both the ground and the city remained unsuitable for a game of this stature. Everyone seemed to have a tale of woe centred around either transport, accommodation, or both. Including me.
Mulhouse, where we ended up, was miles away over the border in France and on arrival in Basel, a trusty policeman informed us there was no way to get there by public transport. Incorrectly. Transport links were poor. Three buses a week! And industrial action from French train drivers further increased the chaos with no-one across the various organisations involved — on either side of the border — having the forethought to arrange suitable alternative transport. Instead, that was left to the fans, many opting for — and encouraged to do so by police — a 100 euros taxi, others battling to get on a single coach to replace the cancelled last train out of Basel. That got interesting by all accounts with coppers called to keep the peace as a stand off over seats ensued.
For many other Reds the plan was simply to hang around. Wait until it gets light and everything starts up again. For a supposed showpiece event it’s not really good enough. It’s not unreasonable to expect UEFA to pick a ground that can at least get close to satisfying demand for tickets and a city that can actually accommodate that crowd, is it? And it’s not asking for too much that some consideration is given to those who travel, either. The hope would be that someone somewhere learns some lessons. But given UEFA’s track record, and how they seemingly rate ordinary match-going fans on their list of priorities, maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath.
But that’s gone now. Searching for tickets, accommodation and travel for a European final isn’t a problem we’ll face next season. And that’s the sad thing, isn’t it? Now we’re seeing headlines about the Klopp honeymoon period being over. Suddenly, every aspect of the club is under the microscope again, from how and when the manager encourages Liverpool supporters to get behind the team, to which players should go, who should stay and how much should be in the transfer kitty.
Meanwhile, players that remain in the squad, players that Liverpool may have to rely on in the future, are abused online, criticised at every turn. I don’t rate some of them, either. But until they are sold or bombed out of the side due to the recruitment of a more suitable replacement, they’re Liverpool. And part of the Liverpool that made the second half of this last season a joy. Don’t think they have taken defeat lightly. There were no smiles on show at the team hotel post-match (we blagged in briefly…). Apparently Klopp got them geed up later. Good.
Distraction techniques from the heartache are in full effect from fans, from randomly turning attention to Everton and Evertonians to griping about where our supporters are from and who is the best. This again? It’s the online equivalent of a toddler’s supermarket aisle hissy fit. Understandable, there’s frustration. But not enjoyable, and such a contrast to the excitement of the build up, when, as so many sang, we thought every little thing was gonna be alright. It still might be. Just not right now.
Right now, from scanning the media, mainstream and social, and listening into post-match conversations, it’s like a light has gone out. All the facts and figures that were lighting up our Liverpool lives plunged into darkness. We’ve got a great manager in Jürgen Klopp, one who was linked with jobs worldwide before choosing Liverpool. The Anfield atmosphere isn’t a thing of the past, we’ve proved it. The team everyone is now turning on was performing better than it was in the dark days at the end of Brendan Rodgers’ reign. It knocked out Manchester United. And Dortmund. And Villarreal. Beat Chelsea, and Manchester City. Battered Everton (they hardly touched the ball…the ball…the ball…). Yet the good performances, the big wins, the moments that made you proud to be a Red again — all were ripped up and scattered into the stands of St Jakob Park judging by the reaction of some.
Do we really need now to take the route of starting to undress the manager’s record? Talking of his record in finals, of him ‘freezing’ in this one and so on? Klopp needs backing, not sacking. No-one would surely say different. So why the over-analytic negativity now? It’s not a squad of his choosing. He hasn’t influenced recruitment over a sustained period of time. He hasn’t had a pre-season to hammer home what he expects (and encourage the necessary fitness levels). All that could (should?) mean sustained success to come. But every other club will be plotting similar, to varying degrees.
It’s still raw, of course. And it’s an excruciating wait now until August 13, when the real football involving Liverpool starts again and the summer practice sessions that will follow Euro 2016 are over. But if post-match anger and frustration evolves into something more, and the cycle of building our managers up then knocking them down begins again long term, then fuck our lives.
Let’s hope it isn’t that. Let’s hope as a collective the vibe is soon one of realising we’re not in the worst place in the world as a club. For a football fan, losing a final on foreign shores has to be right up there among the hardest metaphorical kicks in the bollocks you can receive. Suddenly, home is a long, long way away. Suddenly, the beer doesn’t taste quite so sweet. Losing a final, the second one in a season, is tough to take. It doesn’t feel like any sort of achievement. Yet all that was said before Sevilla deservedly won the trophy still stands. Liverpool now and Liverpool then feels like a different beast. Black marks hang over many of the squad but equally others look like they can now serve the club; that they like Klopp and Klopp likes them and we’re seeing players with a performance in them now.
Summer recruitment remains massive, and perhaps that job has become more difficult without the lure of any European football. Can you keep a big squad happy with less football? Maybe, maybe not. My guess is you can if you’re winning. And while some players may not be tempted to Liverpool because there isn’t an immediate offer of Champions League, others might see the bigger picture. They might want to play for Liverpool, and for Klopp. They might realise first-team chances are better here than there, wherever that may be. And they might note, too, how many of Klopp’s current inherited crop speak so highly of the man in the dug out. They’ve enjoyed the transformation, they’ve enjoyed their football, enjoyed training. Klopp has made it fun for them, and fun for us. It’s been something we recognise, and wanted, from Liverpool FC. Liverpool with balls, Liverpool with fight. Liverpool with something about them, on and off the pitch.
Sevilla was hard to take. A period of what if will follow. But part of that what if is what if Liverpool improve the squad, which they surely will. What if Liverpool buy quality in the right areas? What if less games means better league results, like it did last time Liverpool challenged for the title? What if some of the players involved become richer for the experience of the second half in Basel? What if the nous and awareness we so often talk of now becomes closer to being a reality for some of the more naïve players in the squad?
Ultimately, it feels better to think of a bright side. Because replaying what can’t be changed achieves little. Buy the best, Liverpool. Come flying out the traps in August, Liverpool. Let’s get back in Europe and next time, let’s win it.
Up the Reds.