ON the CityTalk show on Thursday I said something that has caused people to tweet me such things as, “Can’t believe you said that line. Infuriating”. It’s brought Everton supporters out of their shell, with one tagging their mate in a tweet and saying, “Get on to this” and that weird little emoji of a monkey covering his eyes with his hands as if to suggest embarrassment.
What ludicrous thing did I say to engender such a response? What nonsense suggestion did I put forward that caused people to react with outrage and anger?
I said that I thought Liverpool would win the league next season.
I know it’s a cliche. I know that, according to those that don’t like us, Liverpool supporters “always think it’s their year” and it’s become something of a running joke for them. I’m also more than aware that we finished eighth in the league this season (though thanks anyway to the lads that keep tweeting to tell me, like I’ve never seen a league table before in my life).
Yet my assertion is based on more than mere blind optimism. It isn’t merely about me being a “typical Kopite”. It’s about thinking things through and analysing what’s happened before. It’s because I’ve evaluated our performances this season and considered our weaknesses and our strengths.
Most of all, though, it’s because I don’t see the point in thinking anything else (for watching Everton fans, it’s worth noting that your legendary goalkeeper, Neville Southall, has regularly insisted that Everton should talk about winning the league every season. An example, from this year: “We (Everton) need to be winning the league. We should be proud enough to say we’re going to win the league. When you walk into Man United their target is to win the league and they don’t mind saying it’s to win the league. What is ours? David Moyes told us that top 10 was great. This is a pile of rubbish.”).
At the start of next season virtually every team’s supporters will think that they can ‘do a Leicester’. The Foxes’ triumph will be used in countless motivational speeches. When some random team like Bournemouth are top after three weeks their fans will be dreaming of the scenes they witnessed at the King Power earlier this month.
Leicester’s Premier League triumph is a freak occurrence, we all know that. Take nothing away from Vardy, Huth and the rest, but they benefitted from a season when most of the top teams were in disarray and Arsenal did an Arsenal.
Claudio Ranieri’s side thoroughly deserved to win the title and my best mate is a Leicester fan, so I was genuinely delighted for them, yet it came in a season where absolutely everything fell into place for them. For that reason I’m not inclined to say that Liverpool should take inspiration from their league triumph. After all, the Reds have finished with a higher points total than Leicester in the past and not won the league.
What I do think, however, is that they have made a nonsense of the notion that ‘finishing eighth’ means Liverpool have got absolutely no chance of winning the league next time out.
Of course everyone else will strengthen this summer. It goes without saying that Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United can’t be as poor in the next campaign as they have been in this one. But Liverpool will strengthen, too. Liverpool will buy players of a better calibre. And Liverpool have Jürgen Klopp.
I’m not suggesting that the manager is infallible, far from it. His decision to change nothing when Sevilla were on top on Wednesday night was mildly concerning, but I’m sure he had his reasons and he’s far more knowledgeable about the game than I will ever be.
What he’s got, though, is box office appeal. Players want to play for him and, judging by the response of our players this season, they will run through brick walls for him. He’s also now experienced life in the Premier League. If he was arriving this summer I wouldn’t be as confident. But he’s now played West Brom under Tony Pulis. He’s gone up against Big Sam’s Sunderland. He’s seen what Chelsea can do when players like Eden Hazard decide to show up. And he’s learning all the time.
Another question I’ve been asking myself is if we aren’t going to win it, who is? I’m loath to dismiss anyone out of hand, but which team is a more nailed on option than Liverpool next season? Which team is unquestionably the best around?
Presuming, as I am, that Jose Mourinho is going to rock up at Old Trafford, are the Manchester United fans who are begging for his appointment genuinely expecting to watch exciting, attacking football next season? Have they not watched, you know, any of his previous teams? Let’s also not forget that he’s spent more money than any manager in the history of football during his career. He’s not going to turn up at Carrington and say that he doesn’t need to make any changes or that victory will be down to nothing more than tweaks and incremental alterations.
Arsene Wenger hasn’t been able to get his Arsenal team firing on all cylinders for years now. Yes, they finished second this time out, but they did so on the last day of the season and were a full 10 points behind the champions. Are we honestly expecting him to take them to the title without any opposition? To do so flawlessly after years of being terribly, terribly flawed?
Chelsea are starting from scratch, too. There are likely to be wholesale changes at Stamford Bridge, with rumours that Hazard, Diego Costa and even Thibaut Courtois could be on their way out. Antonio Conte has done brilliantly during his career in Italy, but he has no experience of the Premier League and the bookies think he’s more likely to get sacked than win the league. The Blues finished two places and 10 points below us, so why is it realistic that they’ll be able to challenge and we won’t?
Then there’s Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. There’s no questioning his ability as a manager from those who have ever watched his teams play, despite recent failings in the Champions League. Yet he’s also got no experience of life in the Premier League and his brilliant title-winning sides have been Barcelona and Bayern Munich — teams that are expected to challenge at the top of two-horse race tables no matter who is in charge. He plays a specific type of football that will take time for the players to understand, just as it has taken Liverpool players a while to get to grips with how Klopp likes to play. Plus, of course, he’ll be bringing in some new players that will take time to settle.
Other teams need to be considered obviously. Leicester are unlikely to challenge for the title again, especially with Champions League football to consider, but it would be churlish to refuse to mention them at all. Spurs will also be part of a conversation, but we must remember that in this ‘amazing season’ under Mauricio Pochettino they’ve actually notched up less points than they did under the ‘disastrous’ reign of Andre Villas-Boas. That’s not to say they will definitely fall away, but they’ll also have to cope with the added demands of European football.
For better or for worse, Liverpool don’t have that to worry about next season. Those in the know reckon that Klopp needs two things to get his teams firing: a good pre-season and time on the training pitch.
His pre-season this summer might not be as long as he likes thanks to the Euros, but there are already plans in place for the Reds to do the best that they can. One thing that needs no sorting is time on the training pitch, with a week between matches likely to be the norm for the majority of the campaign.
Our squad is flawed, the Europa League final showed us that. But it’s also not as bad as some people make out, the journey to Basel showed us *that*.
It is young and inexperienced but getting older and more experienced with every game it plays. It doesn’t require extensive surgery so much as an acknowledgment of the flaws and a sprinkling of stardust to add to the likes of a reformed Dejan Lovren, a pacy and intelligent Divock Origi and a Roberto Firmino who has out-performed the ‘assist machine’ of Mesut Ozil.
The last time Liverpool had no European football and a manager who had had a chance to get his feet under the table we were three points off winning our first Premier League title. Some morons will tell you 2013-2014 was all about the genius of Luis Suarez and that the man in the dugout had nothing to do with it, despite the fact that the Uruguayan has himself said the very opposite of that today.
Even if you genuinely believe that Rodgers brought nothing to the table then the presence of Klopp in the dugout should get you excited. It takes nothing away from the Northern Irishman to suggest that the German is a more accomplished manager. If Rodgers can get us close to the promised land in spite of being a so-called “fraud” thanks to nothing more than the genius of Suarez, then why shouldn’t Kloppo take us one step further with a fully fit Daniel Sturridge and an all-round better team?
There will be more than a couple of people reading this and shaking their heads, saying I should wind my neck in and that it’s ‘cringeworthy’ to talk of titles after what has ultimately been a disappointing campaign. I’m not interested.
I’m 33. When Everton last won a trophy I was 12. That their fans think it’s “embarrassing” for me to talk of Liverpool winning the league next season is a big part of the reason why I’ve gone through puberty, had sex, become old enough to drink and learnt to drive in the years it’s taken them to even reach a cup final, let alone win one. If you think we shouldn’t dare to dream then you’re no better than a Bluenose taxi driver.
We haven’t won the league since 1990, yet when you look at the honours board we’re still the most successful club in England and in the intervening 26 years we’ve won everything else that there is to win. We haven’t done that by apologising and kowtowing to the status quo. Accepting the state we find ourselves in has never been the Liverpool Way.
So I’ll say right here, right now in no uncertain terms and without any sense of embarrassment or apology: Liverpool will be Premier League champions this time next year. If you’re not with me, what’s the point in even bothering. The Reds are coming up the hill. Get behind them or get out of the way.