IN the wake of Liverpool’s second-half capitulation in Basel, there was a crushing sense of disappointment at the way it all fell apart so quickly for the Reds, writes JOEL RABINOWITZ.
The remarkable journey which saw Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal dispatched in spectacular fashion promised so much, but ultimately yielded no glory at the end of it.
Too many Liverpool player simply failed to step up to the occasion. Philippe Coutinho was uncharacteristically anonymous — usually renowned for having an impact in the biggest games, his influence was hardly noticeable. Emre Can couldn’t replicate his dominant performance against Villarreal, instead reverting to the erratic, unrefined Emre Can of old. Then there’s Alberto Moreno. The less said about his performance the better.
Daniel Sturridge’s stunning finish was a moment of pure individual brilliance. A special goal worthy of winning any cup final. It’s a shame it counted for so little. Thereafter, Sturridge found himself increasingly isolated and unable to affect proceedings, aside from sticking a leg out in an offside position for Dejan Lovren’s header to be ruled offside.
There was, in truth, only one man who could walk away from that pitch knowing he had given absolute everything to the cause and performed to the best of his ability. Only one man who played with the kind of spirit and desire required from a side seeking to lift their ninth European trophy.
That one man is Kolo Toure.
Liverpool should not be in a position where their best-performing player in a European cup final is a 35-year-old veteran centre-back. And it could be the last time we see Kolo Toure wearing the Liverpool shirt. There is no new offer on the table from the club and his contract expires in the summer. If that is the case, then what a way to go. Because this was the performance of a champion.
Over his three-year career at Liverpool, Toure has become one of the most popular figures at the club — not just with the players and the fans, but around Melwood, too. Everyone loves him. His professionalism and attitude have always been first class. Whenever called upon, he has rarely ever let the side down and always put in a strong performance — especially this season.
The loss of his presence would represent something more than just the loss of an ageing defender. His leadership and character is something unrivalled; very few (if any) players can offer something similar in this current Liverpool squad.
And yet, in spite of all this, there has long been a sense that Toure doesn’t quite receive the credit or respect a player of his credentials truly deserves. At times, he has been considered a figure of fun by certain fans. Often it is just good-humoured and well-natured — just people having a laugh. He’s a funny guy after all. But in the same way there are long-running and frankly tedious ‘jokes’ about Joe Allen, Toure has also been the subject of this fan culture. It isn’t necessarily malicious, but sometimes there is a sense that fans don’t quite take Toure seriously.
Let us not forget this is a player who was part of the Invincibles side for Arsenal in 2003-04. To go an entire Premier League season without losing a single game is a tremendous achievement. Toure formed a formidable partnership with Sol Campbell in the heart of that Arsenal defence, writing his name into the history books as an integral member as one of the greatest sides in the history of the English game. A two-time Premier League champion and winner of the African Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast, Toure has enjoyed a hugely successful career — one that commands respect.
There is a strong case that Liverpool should offer Toure a one-year contract extension following his impressive performances this season, and also to keep hold of such a popular personality in the club. Despite his lack of pace and limited distribution, Toure’s reading of the game and positional intelligence are still first class. With an impending ban and uncertainty overshadowing Mamadou Sakho’s future, Martin Skrtel more than likely heading out the exit door and Joe Gomez returning from a lengthy injury lay-off, perhaps it would be worth keeping hold of Toure as a reliable presence, to step in when needed.
For all the promise and talent at Klopp’s disposal — and there is plenty — one thing this Liverpool squad is sorely lacking is experienced heads. Players who’ve been there and done it all before — the absence of which was brutally exposed in Basel.
Toure would rarely feature next season if he did sign a new deal, with Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip expected to be Klopp’s first-choice pairing. Exceptional circumstances have led to a situation whereby Toure has been called upon more often than expected this season. And every single time, he has played each game as if it were his last. These are the kind of characters we need at the club.
Even if Toure is not offered a new deal and leaves his playing days at Liverpool behind, the club must do everything to ensure he remains at the club in some capacity — whether that be working towards a coaching role, or taking up an ambassadorial position. His presence is one we do not want to lose.
It’s a great shame we couldn’t give him the send off he deserved in Basel, if that does indeed turn out to be his final game in the red shirt. Players of his ilk do not come around very often.
It has been an absolute pleasure to have him at the club over the past three seasons. Whatever happens, thanks for everything, Kolo. All the best.