IT feels a bit strange to say that a club with 18 domestic league titles is defined by their European success, but that’s the case for Liverpool. It’s also the case for a whole host of top clubs. Off the top of your head, think about how many European Cups Real Madrid have won. You know the answer. How many league titles have they won? You haven’t got a clue, have you? Neither have I.
It’s the same case for Bayern Munich, isn’t it? Barcelona too, and probably even the now lesser sighted AC Milan fit into this category as well. You know who these clubs are because of their European history and Liverpool is a club that fits right into that bracket. It’s good to be back.
Since Rafa Benitez left Liverpool a little less than seven years ago, this club has played once in Europe’s premier club competition and that ended in an embarrassing group stage exit with Rickie Lambert trying to score goals. How did that happen? Liverpool were playing Champions League footie with a domestic appliance from Kirkby upfront. I think we can all be thankful that that won’t be repeated this time.
That was the first season back in after a four-year break that was preceded by what really was a European golden age for Liverpool. The name Liverpool was synonymous across Europe with being a real power. It didn’t matter that we could get knocked out of the FA Cup at home to Barnsley on a Saturday because on the Tuesday Internazionale would come to Anfield and be sent back to where they came from with their tails between their legs. Europe would see it happen, they’d see the power of Anfield, and they’d collectively be cowering behind their sofas with no desire to come and put themselves through it.
People look back on that period — well, bar those anti-Benitez weirdos anyway — and remember what we were capable of. It didn’t matter that Liverpool would only mount one title challenge under Benitez, or that there would only be one domestic trophy, you look back at that period as genuinely being a special time to support Liverpool.
European football defines this club, you see. Anyone who’s my age (30) and a little bit older can’t say that they’ve seen a league title carried around Anfield and that it’s what we want to see, but deep down I think we all know what this club is really all about. It’s Tommy Smith’s header to put Liverpool 2-1 up against Gladbach, it’s Graeme Souness’s slide rule ball to Kenny Dalglish at Wembley, it’s Alan Kennedy breaking through in Paris to slam it past Agustin Rodriguez (I googled the name but the point stands), it’s Bruce Grobbelaar’s mad legs in Rome, and then it is of course the magic of Istanbul.
They’re the moments in this club’s past that stand out. They’re the most poignant, famous, footballing times that have come in the last 125 years.
I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of the history of Liverpool, without blowing my own trumpet I’d say it’s above average for someone of my age, but I couldn’t tell you how Liverpool sealed a single title win with the exception of Dalglish at Stamford Bridge in 1986. 17 league titles and I’ve no idea how they were won. How many did we win on the last day of the season? Not a clue. How many were sealed at Anfield? I couldn’t tell you. I know there was one won at Molineux but I couldn’t tell you when.
It isn’t that these things aren’t important, they just don’t feel anywhere near as iconic as Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson, Souness and Steven Gerrard lifting that trophy above their head.
If I think about the games I really remember at Anfield as standing out I’ve got Barcelona in 2001 (granted it wasn’t Champions League, but it really was the start of something amazing thinking back), Roma in 2002 when Gerard Houllier walked out after being ill, Olympiakos, Juventus and Chelsea in 2005, the 2007 semi-final, and then even the bad times like John Arne Riise heading the ball into his own net in 2008. I think that one affects me more than a certain slip.
We all want the league title, but it doesn’t have the same romanticism about it, if we’re being honest. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen a title winning season and there isn’t anything to truly remember, but then not all of the great European nights have yielded a trophy at the end of the season.
I would be absolutely staggered if trophy lifting moments like those mentioned above were to be created next season, but this is hopefully the start of that journey. A false dawn would be an appropriate way of describing the previous season in the Champions League but it isn’t one that you can see being repeated this time around. I like Brendan Rodgers but we have a better manager that also won’t lose confidence in himself, it doesn’t look in the slightest bit likely that our best player will be sold, or that the next man up who we were to rely on would never be the same footballer and it looks unlikely that there will be a game of one-upmanship between a manager and transfer committee who don’t see eye to eye.
With hindsight, between May and August 2014 everything that could possibly go wrong did. But now we have everything in our favour to really kick on and try and get back towards where exactly where we want to be as a club. I want us striking fear back in Europe, teams turning up at Anfield and taking 25 minutes to figure out where they are.
There was an argument about Benitez not caring about the league and prioritising Europe, I’m not here to debate the wrongs of that argument, but if Klopp did get this side to a point where we’re challenging for European Cups then, by definition, league titles should follow. You can’t challenge for the European Cup now without being an excellent side, after all.
I want us to be competitive next season, but I don’t want qualification to be seen as being something we consider an achievement, it should be a minimum. The achievement should be winning it or having a good crack at it, not qualifying for it and setting yourself the goal of getting back in it as opposed to actually winning it. In the short term, getting in it is a success that we can be happy with, in the future if we don’t achieve it then it shouldn’t feel like anything other than failure.
I don’t know why I’m getting excited though, I’ll just get sent to Switzerland once a year by some fella who pulls balls out of a hat. It’s got nothing to it bar crippling expense, Feldschlösschen for £7 a pint, a panic that involves booking a flight to Geneva and expensive trains that no one really understands. It does look nice though.
The best bit though, is if you think about how long ago Arsenal at home was then that amount of time is roughly when it all starts again. Not that long, is it?
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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*Coughs. Swiss trains are easy
Completely agree with this and if we have another underwhelming transfer window (£100m isn’t a ‘war-chest’, tabloids, it’s a mediocre United midfielder with shit hair) then I think we should prioritise the CL over the title cos a) we don’t have the caliber of player to overtake the clubs with world class players over the course of a 38 game season and b) on our day we are capable of beating any team that doesn’t put 11 men behind the ball – which the big hitters in Europe don’t do.
Obviously we need to do as well as possible domestically to keep qualifying for the CL in case we don’t win it, but given a straight choice between the title or CL I’d take the CL.
I’m 32 this year and couldn’t tell you anything about our last league win.
I don’t remember a thing!
I can however tell you how amazing the champions league nights home and away are and I for one live for Europe away now days, that doesn’t mean the league isn’t the holy grail (I now live outside Merseyside) but bring on the mental European reds and sleeping in my car in Germany or a Macdonalds car park in France :)
Isn’t it 18 league titles?
d’oh, sorry my bad. 17 other than Kenny at Stamford Bridge. Apologies.
As much as we’ve been haunted by desperate disappointment at the end of the last several seasons, I continue to be haunted the summer of 2014. Here’s Rodgers a few days after the end of the season. It sounds like it could have been said yesterday:
“For me, it’s about planning. We have the core of the squad now…this summer we have the principles bedded in place and the players that come in will be the profile we want. It should be better for us this summer.
“I don’t want to put a figure on how many but I would rather have one or two absolute top players than seven that might not help us.
“It’s about the quality. We can’t be going into the Champions League this year with doubts about players. We have to be going in knowing what the players’ capacity to play is and their capabilities.”
We all know how that turned out. I can’t seem to shake the thought of how things could have been different if we had stood firm on a Suarez/Sanchez deal. Instead, we brought in a player not only unsuited for our squad, but actually undermined the strengths of our two most influential players, Coutinho and Gerrard.
We go again. Hopefully not destined to repeat ourselves.
Remember when Madrid rolled into town and Brendan gave Ancelotti the crazy eyes in all the wrong ways? Kinell.
100% Disagree with you Phil. 100%.
“We all want the league title, but it doesn’t have the same romanticism about it, if we’re being honest. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen a title winning season and there isn’t anything to truly remember, but then not all of the great European nights have yielded a trophy at the end of the season.”
Romanticism? You want memories? Then we must do what Shanks started. Perfect the league form and the team’s quality will perfect European form consistently after that.
I don’t want a memory of CL victory and PL runners up (great though ’05 was, miserable as ’07 was). Your Priorities are wrong. You’re looking for Global bragging rights without owning the National bragging rights.
“but if Klopp did get this side to a point where we’re challenging for European Cups then, by definition, league titles should follow. You can’t challenge for the European Cup now without being an excellent side, after all.” Benitez did just that and that’s a ‘cup’ team definition- plus his priority did seem to be Europe (and recognition to get the Real job?..who knows)
For me, getting to 4th gives us the chance to attract the players required to supplement an excellent, though threadbare quality squad.
Objective: win the bloody league, European success can more easily follow with the right players, confidence and ambitions (something Leicesters of this world don’t have).
PL first- CL second.