THERE’S this line in a Lennon track – ‘Life is something that happens to you while you’re busy making plans’ – that is too often apposite. Usually in an entirely dispiriting and negative way. Another ‘meme’ in a similar vein would be the adage – ‘the story of your life has yet to be written’. I don’t know where it originates from and is usually presented as a cheesy ‘truism’ on crap motivational posters or on social media. I think it’s meant to imply mainly positive sets of outcomes, but again, I’ve intuitively always found it a bit depressing.
It reminds me of a man I once knew during the course of my work. He was a nice man who appeared to have a nice life. A good job, a good home, a partner and young child he both loved dearly. Then the young child died, and I never got to speak to him again.
I hadn’t known this man terribly well, but well enough. Well enough to be knocked sideways upon hearing of the fate that had befallen him. His pain seemed unimaginable. I thought about that maxim – ‘the story of your life has yet to be written’. It suddenly, with blinding clarity, meant something. I thought about the story of this man’s life. About his life before the death of his child. I thought about the life he would have after that point. The story of his life had now very definitely been written.
Football is not life and death. It does a passable job at times, though, of mimicking life and death. Of providing an alternate reality. One in which you have no control, and yet simultaneously feel as though you have total control. The latter is the control of the parameters. You can decide how much everything that happens to you within the alternate world matters. Fate may dictate events, but the individual is the arbiter of the length and breadth of emotions he/she will feel. It can only hurt you because you let it.
I choose that Liverpool FC beating United is the most important thing that can possibly happen during the next week of my life. I have contrived this world and within it, what takes place at Anfield on Monday night, is everything. I choose to suspend all else in the actual universe. Reality. My demons. Life’s wider and relentless challenges – they can all go hang. They cannot permeate football world. At least, if they are to, they are going to have to shake my planet earth with a meteorite as big as the moon.
We people of Liverpool FC are busy making plans. We have been percolating some big ideas for the past 12 months. The year that has seen us work with our year old manager Jürgen Klopp on a cocoon of a project. We’ve been readying, incubating, progressing. When Klopp’s new Liverpool blasted last year’s second-placed Arsenal with three goals in a breath taking 11 minutes during the second half at the Emirates on August 14th, it looked like our butterfly was bursting through. The cocoon was breached. We could see only daylight ahead of us.
We paused briefly, feigning to retrench, at Burnley a week later. A seeming setback. It was an illusion though as the red butterfly spread its fresh red wings to a full and awe-inspiring span. We battered all opponents in a run that saw six victories secured in the following seven games. Goals were raining down. Title odds were tumbling, challengers being written off. Only (admittedly) relentless Manchester City to pass on the horizon. No problem, though. We were making plans. League-winning plans.
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United were making plans too. They opened this campaign with three straight wins. They’d spent circa £200m pimping their ride. United began to resemble United again.
Then City came to their’s and booted them full in the bollocks. Oooff! Feyenoord next. Then mediocre Watford trashed them. Three defeats in seven days. A bounce back of sorts against Leicester, but then more unconvincingness in a scrappy Europa League game against Ukrainians and, a fortnight ago, points dropped at home to a desperate Stoke side. The best laid plans not exactly in ruins, but certainly back closer to the drawing board stage.
Let’s pass on the odes to Liverpool v United being the greatest sporting rivalry of all. Now is not the time to be indulging in wanting such ephemerals as ‘bragging rights’. Liverpool need to beat Manchester United on a floodlit Monday night at Anfield to keep the master plan on track. Manchester United need to beat Liverpool to show that they are far from bowed. Teams need points here. There’s no room for vain distractions such as pride.
The story of this season is yet to be written.
I’m talking about complacency. Football teaches you endlessly about the folly of complacency. It writes it large on your forehead. Backwards, so that you can see it in the mirror. COMPLACENCY.
‘Complacency’ became a football word. Intrinsic to its lexicon. Probably sometime in the 1970s, I’d imagine. I can’t see it being used in the context of football in the 1920s for instance. I’m not entirely sure why this is so, but there it is.
No manager or pseudo sage has ever been able to quantify, bottle, or ever see complacency. It is invisible. Its spectre is omnipresent though. Its an evil spirit that robs players, teams, supporters of their dreams. A thief in the night, while glorious plans were being filed and dreamt about.
Jürgen Klopp is busy making plans to ward off complacency.
He’ll have had over a fortnight to hatch them given the extended break for international football. Jürgen is a preparation junkie. He likes and needs time to do his best work. He will have mulled over the tactical challenges United might pose and the threats that his team can bring. Above all, perhaps, he will have thought long and hard about what he must say to his boys. How does he maintain them being the runaway train that they have morphed into? First butterflies, now trains. Everything is moving so fast in Liverpool FC world.
Klopp is experienced enough to know the dance from here-on in. We should trust that he’ll do his job correctly. That Liverpool will be ready. The opponents, though, are another matter. They may yield to the force of conviction of our plan. Flinch in the face of our naked angry teeth baring ambition. They could run bawling and screaming from all of that. Who could blame them?
They could show up. Paul Pogba could show up. All £100m worth of him. Zlatan could show up. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial could get on the pitch and show their true identities. That new lad at the back could become an immovable rock. David De Gea may be protected and spared from being tested. Marcus Rashford could score. Jesse Lingard could enter Liverpool/United derby folklore. Jose Mourinho may end up on his knees, slicing and sliding across the Anfield turf in celebration. Pumping and pistoning fists and elbows in front of a baying Kop. He wouldn’t give a fuck. We’d be broken.
The Liverpool line-up may be shrouded in secrecy up until kick-off for the first time in weeks. Injuries to midfield movers and shakers Adam Lallana and Gini Wijnaldum have cast doubt. Our Brazilians, Roberto Firmino and Phil Coutinho, may have jet lag issues having turned out for their countries days before this game. Klopp could be looking to unhinge Mourinho with an 11 he wouldn’t have seen coming. It’s hard to call. It’s a contest that promises familiar actors but none can be sure of performances.
This football match is a mighty, big football match. There’s no point making plans that take place in its wake. You don’t know what sort of a person you’ll be on the other side of it. You’ve chosen this. I’ve chosen this.
There are more important things than Liverpool v United. I just can’t see them right now. Carlo Ancelotti said: “Football is the most important of the less important things in the world.”
That feels about right Carlo.
Win, draw or lose on Monday life will go on. Hard to imagine how, just right now. We want this season’s league title. We’ve chosen to need it more than anything else in the world. We’ve planned for it. We will drive ourselves insane in its quest.
Let’s close this with a direct lift from ‘Annie Hall’ – A Woody Allen joke that transcends time and space – a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs.
Football. Blood hell, eh. Crazy, irrational, absurd – but we need the eggs.
The story of our lives – my life – your life – the Red life – is yet to be written.
The scheming Red 11 to re-write history:
Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Can, Henderson, Coutinho; Mane, Firmino, Sturridge.