‘LIVERPOOL Football Club exists to win trophies’.
That’s the old adage, first espoused by Bill Shankly back in the 1960s. I completely agree. I also agree with a lot of what Phil Blundell wrote in his piece yesterday. Jürgen Klopp was right to go with a strong line-up last night and I’m keen to see us reach another final.
Yet, I want Liverpool to win the league title. It consumes me, eats away at me, dominates about 95 per cent of my thought processes. I think it’s one of football’s great injustices that the likes of Nani and John O’Shea have Premier League winners’ medals in their trophy cabinets but Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher don’t.
I want us to win so that supporters of other clubs have to stop saying we’ve never won it. I know that’s ridiculous, but it’s the one thing that hurts when other fans mock us for it. Never mind that I’ve watched us win every major trophy there is to win. I wouldn’t swap Istanbul for anything, but it’s still frustrating that Mancs, and Bluenoses, and even Stoke fans are able to say ‘you’ve never won the Premier League’.
I want us to overcome that mental block, too. It feels like it’s weighing down on us now in a serious way, an albatross around our necks. I’m convinced that if we can win one we’ll win a few. We just need to prove to ourselves and others that we can do it and then we’ll want to do it regularly.
I do think that the landscape of football has changed and I’m not convinced that one team will dominate in the same way that we did in the 1970s and 1980s, and United did in the 1990s. I think the money of clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City mean that they won’t allow themselves to go too long without winning it, but I also think rarities like Leicester’s win will happen more often as the volatility at the richer clubs takes hold from time to time.
I can easily envisage a world in which The Reds win two or three titles during Klopp’s reign and then win one or two every five years or so once they’ve finally broken their duck. When Brendan Rodgers talked of the ‘weight of the shirt’ he wasn’t just referring to the fact that we’re a massive club but also the pressure that continues to build to win the holy grail.
Just in case I haven’t made myself clear — I want us to win the league more than anything else.
That’s why I hope Klopp continues to play the kids in the FA Cup. It’s also why I can’t understand how some fans thought that was the wrong decision last weekend. This week we have a huge league game against Manchester United. Off the back of a punishing Christmas schedule it was exactly the right choice from Klopp.
He doesn’t seem the sort of manager to bow to public pressure but if I had the chance to speak to him about it I’d say: “Ignore the press. The kids go again at Home Park”.
Some people think he made a mistake with his line-up and that he should go strong in the replay. The extent to which I reckon that’s flawed thinking cannot be understated. The replay comes three days after our trip to Old Trafford. It’s three days before Swansea come to Anfield. If we win then we’ll also have to fit in a fourth round FA Cup tie in between the second leg of the League Cup semi-final and the small matter of a home tie against Chelsea.
If you asked me right now whether I’d prefer us to win the game against Chelsea or win the FA Cup outright it would be a no-brainer. Of course I want silverware, obviously I hope our trophy cabinet gets something else in it soon, but beating Chelsea will give us a better chance of winning the league. It’s that simple for me now.
It’s also worth noting that Klopp appears to be genuine when he speaks of his love of developing young players. He thinks that bringing through a local player trumps buying in a superstar and I believe him. Yet those players are only going to find out if they’re good enough if they play important games. That’s also how the manager will discover if they have what it takes.
In order for players to gain experience they need to actually play games, it really is that simple. I’d prefer to see Joe Gomez come into central defence if we have an injury crisis than Lucas Leiva, for example, but he needs to prove himself first. The same is true of Ovie Ejaria, Sheyi Ojo and Trent Alexander-Arnold. If Nathaniel Clyne got injured and Trent had to come in against United I wouldn’t be overly concerned, but I’d be a lot happier if I knew that he’d been learning on the job against the likes of Plymouth and Wolves.
If we play the kids again in the replay and they end up getting knocked out then heads will go everywhere. Mine will remain firmly in place, however, because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter as much as sending the first 11, seeing Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana pick up injuries, the game go to extra time and penalties and the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge be exhausted for the match against Swansea or miss the game against Chelsea.
Liverpool Football Club exists to win trophies. There’s a big one that’s eluded us for far too long, however. If we have to sacrifice some of the cups in order to bring the league title back to Anfield then so be it. If the kids gain some good experience along the way then all the better. Win the league, then we can win as many FA Cups as you want.