WHERE’S the balance for this? Where is the tone? Because it is the rhetoric which tends to let these affairs down. For all the talk of the magic of the cup, and while acknowledging that tonight was a significant game for Plymouth Argyle and for two or three Liverpool players, it became a dreadful, drab game of football. It was little more than attritional.
There wasn’t much cup magic on show, instead there was a young Liverpool side scrapping with an opposition who managed one acrobatic effort off the post but which never truly threatened to dismiss The Reds.
It was no barrel of laughs.
It shouldn’t need to be. It’s a game of football, but more rhetoric: the Plymouth manager Derek Adams chatted some wham about showing Liverpool “the real world” after the game at Anfield, in that grizzled lower league tone which so many managers try to affect. It remains unclear what this real world is — Plymouth come across as a decent side across the two games but one which remained a smidgen too conservative to be able to impose reality onto The Reds. This isn’t unreasonable. It happens to football sides up and down the country. But it took the form of this dark notion, that what Liverpool do isn’t real, that what Plymouth do is. It insinuates that Liverpool’s footballers don’t have to work hard or that they can’t battle. They do work hard, every day they work hard, and they do battle. It’s the minimum requirement really, certainly for this manager.
What Liverpool actually lacked today wasn’t the real world, but the unreal one. What this cup game was short of was footballing magic. There was no strut, no swagger from Liverpool. There was tons and tons of real world graft, but nothing sublime. When the Liverpool manager came to Liverpool he said his side would come up against better sides and drag them down to their level and kill them. Today Liverpool dragged themselves down to Plymouth’s level and killed them oh so slowly. Liverpool were so determined to be real, to graft, they seemed to forget all the other stuff.
Entirely in keeping with this, Liverpool’s goal came from a set-piece, a bullet header from a footballer who embodies the very essence of reality. Lucas Leiva’s Liverpool career is one which is all about scrapping for everything. It’s stunning he remains at Anfield until you remember that football clubs are populated by real people, that dressing rooms have balances and that footballers themselves have families and expectations. Were football simply worked out on calculators he would almost certainly be long gone. The cynical calculation for Lucas should be around where he gets his game time. For Liverpool around where his level and usefulness is versus his wage. For Lucas what does his next contract look like — could he have secured something better for the next few years. For Liverpool what does he bring?
The man linked constantly to a move away never quite does it. He is a Liverpool lad now. He moved to Liverpool at the age of 20. He has spent most of his adult and professional life here, a third of his actual life. His children are Liverpudlian. His life revolves around this city. He’s a big presence for footballers from South America across the whole region and everyone who has dealings with him that I have ever spoken to only speak highly of his company and his values. He’s part of the furniture in the most mundane and simultaneously best possible way. There’s never quite enough reason to move him on, never quite enough reason for him to go. He has considerations beyond just the game. He has, frankly, a life. And he loves his adopted home.
There is something about Liverpudlianism at its best which welcomes adopted sons with open arms and loves them, holds them close. This city is a port city, a city which defines itself against English orthodoxy, which tells itself it loves the underdog. There’s a kissing-the-camera swagger about it too; you come and make your home here, son. You know how boss we are.
It’s easy to want the very best players to love the club you support, to call your city home. But his pride in leading Liverpool out will be as great, greater, than Luis Suarez’s. His joy in scoring that goal for Liverpool today will outstrip much of Fernando Torres’s. And he’ll go to sleep tonight in his Liverpool home with a smile that would match Steven Gerrard’s, had he scored the decider in a tie like this. Maybe wider because Steven scored so many goals. This a collector’s item.
Therefore the balance for this, the tone, is to talk of love and warmth and openness at a time when it seems in such desperately short supply in a national context, in so many of the national contexts around the world. To not be mean, small and parochial but to find that spark which reminds us what the purpose of this thing of ours and all human enterprises is. To hold the real world close and hold up a mirror against it. There are always stories to tell on the drabbest days; moments glisten, moist. Kaleidoscopic; catch them in a dreamcatcher’s net. Our pond water can always be someone’s frobscottle.
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night, he ain’t a beauty but hell he’s alright and that’s alright by me.
They are good at the magical realism, the Latin and South Americans, you know. Great set of lads.
Up Lucas Leiva’s Reds.