ROY Keane has never been shy of courting controversy.
Furthermore, it seems his inadequacies as a manager – in contrast to a decorated playing career – convince him of the need to pipe up every now and then to stay relevant. However, his recent observations on the struggle for Champions League places, and the teams involved, will chime with older supporters’ views of modern football. The Glory Game has well and truly made way for Sky’s “Race for Fourth”.
“When I see clubs like Liverpool and Man United celebrating getting into the top four, I cringe at it, I really do. Do you think that Real Madrid and Barcelona would be celebrating getting fourth? Come on, get a grip.”
Keane has a point. Having been present to witness Liverpool parade seven of their 18 titles in front of The Kop, I wince a little at the prospect of the Reds – if they make the top four – milking applause for extending what feels like an unbreakable eternity between league championships. I chill some more at the notion of players lapping up cheers and congratulation thinking they have achieved success when all they will have realised is access to a competition synonymous with the club’s history.
Those of us who can remember the days when Liverpool reigned supreme, and many brought up later on tales of glory, still observe by Bill Shankly’s mantra, “First is first. If you are second you are nothing.” More recently, when Gerard Houllier was manager, Rick Parry claimed fourth place was the “minimum acceptable requirement” and later, Rafa Benitez was held to account by the same standard.
If the club still aspires to an equally competitive ethos, this season’s potential qualification should only be viewed as par for the course; a measure of progress, a necessary stepping stone but most importantly a central foothold from which to aim much higher. Jürgen Klopp was hired and is lauded for a track record founded on winning league titles and reaching a Champions League final and his Liverpool ambitions should continue to tally with his Borussia Dortmund achievements.
In recent years, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have cemented their growing might on the European football landscape. Potential winners of the European Cup, just like in the Premier League – the still-remarkable Leicester anomaly aside – come from a narrowing financial power base. But the efforts of Klopp’s Dortmund a few years back, and this season Monaco, Atletico Madrid and Juventus suggest a club of Liverpool’s similar clout should always retain the prime objective of winning a sixth European crown.
If there is cause for celebration then it should be that Liverpool once again have a shot at glory. Each summer, hope springs eternal that the Reds can muster the signings and the stars align to end the long, painful domestic wait. The same view must be taken of any assault on Europe, to give qualification a currency meaningful to more than just the Fenway Sports Group bean counters.
The modern view is that there are only two trophies worth their salt. Therefore, it has to be the club’s stated aim to win them both without the threat of the guillotine for the manager. If Liverpool manage to secure qualification for the Champions League on the last day of the season, Klopp should be at liberty to play down the achievement but declare that the real intention is to be in it to win it. That in itself would be worthy of rejoicing; that the manager isn’t afraid to put his neck on the line to challenge an increasingly negative mindset; of attachment to near misses and failure, presently pervading the club.
As supporters we have had no choice but to accept, especially for a club morphing into a business like Liverpool – with financial aims at the core of its operation – that game has changed radically over the last 20 years.
We lament that the former lustre of the FA Cup has been consumed by the importance attached to the Premier League and Champions League. We know the EFL Cup is so firmly ensconced in Mickey Mouse territory that the final might as well be played in Disneyland. We acknowledge that the Europa League is the palest imitation of its monstrous relative; a poisoned chalice with none of the kudos of its predecessor.
We know the drill and reluctantly therefore accept the relevance – and critical importance – of the race for fourth. Audible groans, shredded nerves and bitten fingernails over the past few weeks are evidence that Liverpool fans too have bought into a more manufactured, intangible reward than parading a trophy.
Mere qualification might lack the sheen of silverware, but we can still pore over a draw in August and enthuse over the prospect of entertaining the continent’s big boys. Perhaps there isn’t the same mystique attached to the biggest European names as once was the case but Juve’s stripes are preferable to those of Newcastle and Sevilla still hold more appeal than Stoke.
The clichés about the fabled Anfield European nights under the lights abound but the stories, as was the challenge for Houllier and Benitez, need refreshing, exotic tales retelling for a new Liverpool generation not so worldly wise.
Featuring in Europe’s premier competition brings essential revenues and attracts stellar players. In recent years, we’ve been absent from the tournament too often and we need to remind ourselves, and the rest of Europe, that we can have the right and expectation to joust on an equal footing with our former peers. The most recent memory; the boil of our last showing – the cap doffing to Real Madrid – needs an emphatic lancing.
Being truly competitive though is the key. If we qualify, are we there just to pay lip service to a more ambitious recruitment policy and turn a nice profit? Will we be there just to make up the numbers and see how far we go? Do we really believe we can win another European Cup or will “being competitive” and accepting financial rewards towards another staging point on an endless journey represent the limit of our ambitions?
Klopp is intuitive enough, and has the awareness and self belief to embrace the club’s European Cup tradition and aim higher than Brendan Rodgers. The rich culture surrounding European football at Anfield should be a gift to any Liverpool manager and last season’s Europa League odyssey will have already whetted Klopp’s appetite.
Klopp should draw inspiration from his predecessors. Houllier harnessed the novelty of a return to competing with Europe’s big names by winning a UEFA Cup and bettering the likes of Barcelona and AS Roma while Benitez went one better by claiming the game’s greatest prize almost from nowhere. When Houllier’s team limped home in fourth place in May 2004, there was little cause for celebration. Twelve months later the city partied the whole summer.
As we approach the final two matches of a long hard season, there’s no need for talk of achievement and winning bogus “cup finals” but instead to harness a sense of ambition and of what real success might lie ahead. Whether player, manager or supporter unless you can see or dream of the path to glory, then what is the point?
Keane, an inveterate winner, should understand that more than most.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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4th this season is a stepping stone to where we need to be. A winning culture is what’s been missing at Liverpool for a long time. A refusal to accept that anything less than winning is good enough. Perhaps Klopp can slowly build that culture up again given time.
But ultimately you have to win trophies to develop a winning culture at a club. Under FSG, Liverpool like Atletico Madrid and Dortmund are fighting against the odds to achieve things. Sustained trophies won’t be possible without the financial muscle to keep the squad replenished with elite quality, expensive players.
Much as I like Keane he’s talking nonsense. Why would Barca celebrate 4th when they’re used to winning the league. I don’t necessarily think Arsenal should celebrate 4th (although I think they would now). 4th is progress for us though. I won’t be on a 3 day bender if we clinch top 4 but I’ll be on more than a 3 day downer if we don’t. Leicester means anything we say needs a caveat but you don’t go from 7th /8th to winning the league and Champions League the following year. We have to keep stepping in the right direction and it’ll come. So, would I take 4th place next season at this time? Absolutely no chance. Would I take it now our season is over except the battle for 4th? Ten right I would.
4th isn’t success it’s progress, we should be happy with the latter for now considering the squad we have.
Top 4 represents progress and a big stepping stone to actual sustainable success.
Top 4 on its own is not success but as in everything in life progress should be praised.
If we do make top 4 this season then progress next season has to mean top 4 AND a trophy.
Think Keane is forgetting that barca Madrid juve Munich all don’t have to worry about qualifying for the champions league. Look at hard it is for teams to come top 4 in the premier league.
Back between 2006-2010 English teams – or the big 4 – ruled the later stages of Europe. The best players wanted to play for them as they were in the latter stages but also always qualified for the CL. Not one of the now top 6 can “guarantee” CL footy – so to attract the best players they have to pay massive wages.
Of course we should. Think about it, it’s like saying we should only celebrate a goal if it wins us a trophy or the league. The winner against Dortmund didn’t win us the Europa Cup, or even get us to the final. To say it shouldn’t be celebrated is Grinchian of Epic proportions.
Champions League qualification is an achievement, and every red has a right to celebrate.
What it shouldn’t be is thought of as the pinnacle that this club can now achieve.
Keane is being over dramatic, probably for affect.
Top 4 is important as it means we can attract a better quality of player. As it can be seen as a milestone on our way to achieving the ultimate goal i.e. the league, then it should be celebrated to some extent.
I have been saying this before in my comments that we need to get the top 4 spot if anything for positive end to the season that has been rife with the way we fell off the top spot.
Yes this is bunch of overachievers that Jurgen somehow mustered to get up there, but I think he himself got caught up in the surprise first half of the season, hence maybe why he thought he could sail through with no replacements or reinforcements in the last TW.
Now Jurgen’s limitations as a manager and as well as the teams’ has us hoping that Stoke stop Arsenal, and after watching United’s parity of our Dortmund comeback in the Europa, against Celta Vigo, it’s LFC once again looking to bottle it no doubt with the usual suspects like West Ham and some relegation fodder.
Arsenal beat Southampton as well and there was no mention of pitch being dry or the air being cold, etc. They went and beat Southampton because they smell blood now thanks to us.
Man City will have a tougher time maybe, but not by much. All their players are in full effect.
So achieving Top 4 is important to get over the past two finals we lost under Jurgen and maybe help him get some momentum to build a squad he needs to challenge for the holy grail and CL (being overly optimistic here).
Come Jurgen, please don’t make us support Everton and their alumni to get us over the line.
Up the Reds!!!
I haven’t read the comments. I believe most genuine Liverpool fans would be happy if we qualified for the CL. I don’t see us celebrating it though, it’s more a mark of progression.
yeah – maybe we celebrate for half an hour if/when we secure 4th or (hold breath) 3rd. But it’s just a means to an end. I don’t want to be in the European Cup to make up the numbers. I want to be in it to win it. Arsenal’s 20 years of competing with 1 final to show for it are nothing compared to our 5 finals in the same time (2 UEFA wins, 1 EC & R/U once in each). I’d rather win the UEFA than not win the EC (in hindsight obviously)
Let’s be pragmatic. If we get into the Champions league it allows us to buy better players and keep up with the clubs with more money than us. If we don’t, we risk falling further behind and never catching up. It’s that simple.
One aspect that’s been overlooked is there are 6 teams fighting for 4 places. If Arsenal and Utd don’t get top 4 it will effect them. Players will think twice about joining them. There could be a changing of the guard about to happen where the current top 4 become the 4 teams fighting for the league in years to come. It’s vital we get it and Ajax beat the Mancs or we risk being the team that goes backwards or stands still. Top 4 feels massive to me and worth celebrating.
Agree completely with Tom Nichols – there is only one reason why 4th is important. To ensure that Klopp gets the players he wants – period. We have been out manouevered at every turn to secure players in the last 12 months and our spiralling form in last 13 months has been a squad depth and quality issue. That cycle must be broken.
That should say 3 not 13 obviously
This article and the above comments confirm the unanimous view of the precarious situation in which Liverpool Football Club is positioned right now. And regardless of whether we finish 4th 5th or 6th, the Owners should be fully aware of their duty and obligation to this Club and properly strengthen this squad which already has more than a sprinkling of the Quality which is required if we aspire to achieve the great successes of former glories. However in order to bolster this squad’s, win at all cost mental approach to ALL games, and to eradicate the obvious lack of mental resilience, we need to recruit experienced winners, experienced winners and more experienced winners.
If John Henry and the boys at FSG boys are reading, is that clear ? You need to keep this existing group of players together and add to it, a d not in replace or in lieu of.
AND this is the main point, surely after several years of ownership of this iconic Club you are now fully aware of the responsibility and obligation that goes with the kudos and status attached to owning Liverpool Football Club. This means whatever it takes levels of investment in our Globally iconic Footballing institution and dynasty, with Jurgen Klopp at the helm, this will surely result in giving the Club the final leg-up it needs to enable us to compete, and remain at the highest level of European Club football.
BECAUSE surely, if FSG grasp the true meaning of Iconic Brands or Franchises, or whatever you wish to call us, then as with the Boston Red Socks, surely you guys recognise how high the European or even Global stakes are indeed when being tagged the owners of LFC. And enjoying the inevitable trials and tribulations which naturally accompany such a go privilege.