HOW apt that this latest defeat occurred just after Groundhog Day in the United States, writes DAVID TULLY.
The Reds, it’s fair to say, have been hiding in their own burrow ever since December 31. Here we are, just a little over a month since George blared out “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” over the tannoy after the Reds defeated Manchester City to go within six points of Chelsea and clear in second place, and the feel-good factor has well and truly eroded. A quick glance on social media after a poor result will tell you that a lot of Liverpool supporters have, not so much thrown, but positively launched the baby from the bathwater and its landed squarely in front of two banks of four playing a low block.
To many a neutral, it’s an overreaction. Liverpool are only four points away from second place. Only one point away from fourth place. Most of us would have taken this situation back in August. But there’s a strong feeling among those that have been here before. A strong feeling that a malaise has set in. A strong feeling that Champions League qualification, something a lot of us talked about as clear cut back in November, looks to be slipping away.
So, why has the mood among the fanbase sunk so low? Well, one is recent history. We’ve become conditioned to finishing behind the teams currently occupying the other positions in the top six. One almost glorious season apart, we’ve been absolutely hopeless in the league since 2009. Considering our recent diabolical form, it’s not going to be a tremendous surprise if we were to slump to sixth place again. In fairness, sixth is where the realists among us believed we were heading once we checked out of the transfer market with a negative net spend back in August.
Say what you want, but clubs that aspire to win the division do not come into the season showing a tidy profit from transfers. When you consider that this team is coming off of an eighth place finish the season before, then this would suggest bigger surgery was required than was actually performed. The wildcard in all of this was Jürgen Klopp. Only a fool would suggest that he’s not a world class manager, and the very best Liverpool could hope to get. Klopp made us all believe that we could do the impossible with this squad of players. After the initial heart palpitations rescinded, we got behind James Milner as a left-back. We got behind Jordan Henderson at the base of the midfield. And it worked for a while.
The first murmurings of discontent with Klopp have now begun. It’s not reflected in the ground as yet, though it was disconcerting to see Klopp arguing with a fan the other week, but social media, as it’s want to do, is tearing him apart after every defeat. The frustration is beginning to rise and the voices are getting louder. Some well-known voices in the media are beginning to question the wonder of giving him a six-year contract back in the summer.
It’s not fair. Klopp is doing the best that he can with the players he has at his disposal. Like everyone who’s reading this article, I’m frustrated by our recent blunt instrument approach to games and I’m in the corner of those that want Klopp to shake things up, either by personnel or tactical means. But I have no doubt that he’s the right man for the job.
However, the real problem at this club is not on the training pitch. The problem is found on the other side of the Atlantic. Nothing will truly change at this club while Fenway Sports Group have the reins. Fenway invokes a shrug of the shoulders to many supporters. They’re not a divisive ownership group and strong voices for and against them are pretty rare. They’re middle of the road owners who like to run a steady ship. A steady ship is sixth place. A steady ship is one £30 million player every summer, while your nearest rivals spend double on the next grade of player.
We, the supporters, are ambitious. A lot more ambitious than those in Boston. I’m 33 years old and I do not remember Liverpool winning the league. I’ve seen just three serious title challenges in my 27 years watching the team. But I’m ambitious because I know that this was once a club that was used to winning. And I’m fed up because I want ambition at the very top of this club.
Deep down we all know that FSG have decent intentions, but will not do what is necessary to bring back number 19. The latest domestic and overseas television deals are so huge that owners have zero need to speculate to accumulate. I can imagine what their business instincts are telling them; why spend big going for the title when the current status quo is doing just fine? The ground sells out every week. The line is only going up in revenue streams across the football club. They’re managing the club logically and sensibly.
But football supporters don’t want logic all the time. Football supporters want to dream. We want to feel as though our club is doing everything possible to win on AND off the field. Everybody at the club, from the cooks in the canteen to the board of directors should be doing everything in their power to get this club challenging for the league. And for that to happen, we need to behave a little less than sensibly when it comes to recruitment. Look, every transfer carries a risk element to it. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be successful by spending big money, but it does carry with it the increased likelihood that you have a stronger chance with what, in theory, should be a better standard of player in your first 11. Some will tell you that for every John Stones, there’s a Joel Matip. That’s a good point, but also bear in mind that for every Alexis Sanchez, there’s also a Mario Balotelli.
FSG are a sports investment company. They don’t need to take any risks when the guaranteed television deals are reward enough. Their asset, purchased for just £300m back in 2010, is now being talked about at being worth £1 billion just seven years later. It’s appreciating nicely, and all FSG has to do is just about enough to keep the club where it’s already at. The Premier League financial juggernaut doesn’t show signs of slowing down, and now there’s serious players from the Far East getting involved. FSG can quite easily walk away with a £700m profit from a rather modest investment. As luck would have it for John Henry and co., it’s the raised profile of the Premier League and the mammoth revenue that television provides, rather than Liverpool’s on-pitch performances, which have been mediocre, which is what accounts for their potential windfall.
Football clubs are becoming globalised. Liverpool are fortunate to have passionate fans around the globe, but there’s a growing problem; there’s not enough of them. Football watchers in the United States and Far East want to support winning teams. Winning teams are what sells. Take a look around any college campus in the United States and you might see the odd Liverpool shirt, but you’ll see a lot more wearing the shirts of the teams currently fighting it out for the Premier League title. Ultimately that support leads to revenue by way of overseas tours, sponsorship, and merchandise.
So, while we try to find this mythic different way of winning, and look down our noses at our rivals spending mega money to attract the best, bear in mind that their fan bases will continue to grow and grow, and their revenue streams will get larger, and ultimately the gap between them and us will get wider. That is unless we finally get our act together.
Now, what was Antoine Griezmann’s release clause again?