IN the week of Gerard Houllier’s 70th birthday, it would have been delinquent of me not to indulge in the nostalgia of my coming of age as a Liverpool supporter.
As an impressionable 14-year-old with a yearning for identity and realisation of values, the education bestowed upon me in the treble-winning 2000-1 season instilled a lot of the fundamental traits and beliefs I took forward and still hold to this day.
It was a season that had everything and more. From learning that the art of revenge was a dish served in stoppage time in the form of Leeds away in the FA Cup, to the gallant nature of the underdog at Old Trafford and the sheer force of momentum in people embodied by the galvanised figure of the versed Gary McAllister in the season’s run in, I was on an educational journey with The Reds that I still hold the dear memories of and always will.
One thing that strikes me more prominently now looking back was just how much we as fans adored the players Liverpool had. I’ve pondered this a great deal due to recent events, was it just me in my adolescent naivety? In a permanent state of adulation, constantly thinking of a chant that rhymes with Litmanen, while simultaneously being youthfully blind to the same realities of football that now slightly blight my own adult match-day experience.
There are Liverpool teams of past held in as much reverence with fans of different ages. Grown men will still rightly adulate over that late ‘80s side or just the mere mention of Kenny Dalglish. This was of course a different time. A time of fantastic footballers and teams but with a core home-grown makeup along with more modest lifestyles, this led to an inevitable feeling of attachment. It is fact that Liverpool supporters have always adored local players, and Houllier’s treble winners had what seemed an embarrassment of them. In the FA Cup quarter-final tie against Tranmere that year, the manager masterfully fielded eight British players in the lineup. This always helps with the identity and relatable notion. The feeling that they “get it” a bit more is open to discussion in itself. However generally, this was a time, maybe the end of the time, when love and affection for players was a proud quality of the match-going Liverpool fan. It was part of the Liverpool way.
This showed itself in forms that simply don’t exist any longer. As a fan I would always make sure I got in the ground before the game so I could join in with the songbook of individual player chants that would circulate prior to kick off eagerly awaiting a couple of claps or a thumbs up from said player when they were going through their pre-game routine.
That season, the thought of anybody leaving that squad would have devastated me. I’d have sat outside Melwood all night in a one-boy protest had I found out Bernard Diomede was being shipped out for being the underwhelming footballer he inevitably was. When, around the Christmas period of the 2000-1 season rumours were rife that Robbie Fowler was to be sold to Chelsea, the mood around the fan base was notably sombre. Around this period The Reds ran out 4-0 winners over Arsenal, however Anfield was amass with a feeling of impending mourning that was only heightened when a somewhat muted Fowler came on and scored the fourth.
Fowler may be a different case for numerous emotional reasons, I get that. But fast forward some 17 years and it feels as though we have, by attrition, become more battle hardened to the business nature of the game and it’s players. As a fan base, we have endured the pain and disappointment of the Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and now Phillipe Coutinho ordeals which have arguably left us all feeling somewhat neutralised to the whole enterprise. I’m not ignorant enough to think that there isn’t an abundance of wide-eyed youth who aren’t absolutely devastated that their hero Phil wants to leave as I would have been in 2000-1. However, in terms of a general mood, there is significantly more acceptance and indifference to these situations now.
The reasons can be pointed in several directions. As I’ve mentioned, past experience in any form will always make you more cautious, more apprehensive to the idea of loving again. We have all had collective pain from the aforementioned departures at different levels and for different reasons. The once-touted notion of a player showing the unmannerliness to wish to leave Liverpool will always be felt by us because we use our own sense of emotion and affection to the club as a measuring stick for situations, which mainly involve individuals who have no real cultural or personal affinity to the club or city enough to hold sway over their own personal goals or ambitions.
History also tells us we can’t have this both ways. Compare the colossal 2005-6 figure of Steven Gerrard holding all the cards to his career, and his eventual decision to stay with his boyhood club, to the mid-30s Gerrard who is left dangling regards a new contract and gets the feeling he is no longer wanted around the place. A player of Gerrard’s standing at Liverpool should have had more input into how and when he eventually departed. The point is that it is actually quite rare for a player and a club to be equally as important to each other at the same time. One will always inevitably need the other more to quench their relative needs at a given moment. This flat circle evolving around the process of ageing that we all, as people but particularly in the case of footballers, must face is more increasingly at odds with the ageless immortality of football clubs. Therefore, it is more likely that the player is left needing the organisation of which he serves rather than vice versa. On the rare occasion this process is reversed, the sudden sense of objectification felt is slightly contradictory when pondered.
In addition, the modern-day access and intrusiveness via social media and other portals must be considered. There is now a constant requirement for the internet to provide answers to the inextricable nature of things like transfers, which meddle in everything from a player’s ambition to his wife’s unhappiness with regular bin collections where they live.
The effect this has on the perception of the player can vary. In the case of Sterling, the notion he was greedy were countered by the opinion he had been badly advised and exploited by his pantomime villain agent. Either way, it allows fans more insight into the cold-hearted business dealings of a transfer. The seedy and underhanded tactics used by players, clubs and representatives that after a prolonged period leave you feeling completely ingrained in the whole repugnant process and in desperate need of cleansing.
The interest now will inevitably turn to Coutinho and how he reacts to not getting his summer wish. His every expression and trait in body language will be over analysed to the point of saturation for the first few weeks at the very least. However, as a fan base, we now know how this game is played. We’ve seen the bigger picture in varied formats times before. We’ve moved with the times, there is no longer an unconditional love. As long as Coutinho is going to work and do his bit then the rest can be temporarily patched up until the inevitable parting of ways takes place.
Liverpool’s pursuit of Virgil van Dijk and his subsequent position with Southampton is evidence that we’re all a bit guilty of double standards at times. However, we are also a lot more versed in the graphic nature of the very beast we all know and love. Therefore finding the right balance will never lay with Coutinho or any other player. It will come from above all else our love of the club and what it stands for. It will come from upholding the values of the club and adhering to them and the passing on of those values to younger generations so future custodians can come and go but still uphold them, because if they don’t there is no measuring stick, no Liverpool way. The idea of no player being bigger than the club will always be fundamental to those values.
The modern-day player detachment we all feel may not be a bad thing. We know their job, as do they, as does the manager. One job, return Liverpool to the top of the summit and everything else can be worked out in the wash. Do that job, that ultimate job in this small moment in time we will share together, and you will have a place within our weathered hearts. You will be loved even from a distance, in our own unique way.
Crack on, Phil. No hard feelings, we’re already over it. Let’s enjoy each other for however long it may last.
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The mourning of Sterling took all of zero seconds. Still miss Torres though.
As yet I don’t know the full details of what happened with Van Dijk. I’ve not read absolute confirmation the tapping up meeting between Klopp and the defender occurred, but it seems likely. What may be more important to this story is what happened between Van Dijk and Southhampton. Was there an agreement when he signed his new contract that he would be allowed to move on if a champions league club came calling, a verbal agreement the club reneged on, as Van Dijk suggested in his transfer request letter? And if there was a Klopp/Van Dijk meeting, was it the player who inadvertently confirmed the meeting took place as he was arguing for a release?
Liverpool failing to even submit a bid for Van Dijk before the close of the window suggests there is some proof of an improper approach.
As a Liverpool fan I both wanted Coutinho to be unsuccessful in his bid to move, while at the same time I wanted Van Dijk to be successful. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve allowed my irrational support of a sports team to rationalize a bit of hypocrisy on my part. Yet the situations aren’t exactly the same either. Van Dijk was clearly seeking a step up, from a team that sought to be the best of the other 13 and a perpetual Europa League squad to one seeking a league title and a regular spot in the champions league. Coutinho on the other hand, has helped turn Liverpool into a top club again. Coutinho has at Liverpool what Van Dijk will never have if he stays at Southampton.
As a fan I will accept Coutinho back in my good graces assuming he rededicates himself to the team. I hope Van Dijk gets the chance to ply his trade on a higher level at Liverpool come January. I don’t resent either for trying to make advance their careers, and hope they both come to see Anfield is the best place to realize those dreams.
Excellent, Rob! (Btw, also “Rob” on TIA? There is a guy with that nick there, I highly rate)
Thanks SK. I’m a different Rob.
Beautifully written Danny.
Kinda understand him, but didn’t like that he wasn’t frank about it but that’s his character and culture. In Brasil everything is a drama and you just have to remember That Germany-Brasil match and the tears of the players prior(!) to the match to get the soap-opera level.
Not to forget, the two Spanish clubs Barca and Real have the number one pulling power as in the combination of language, weather, money and pedigree. So such an offer can turn one’s head.
But when again, either cheeky or naive to sign a 6 year deal w/o any exit clause.
As usual Ronnie Moran sums it up best:
@Richard Williams Thanks for that link. Great documentary on of the greatest strikers.
Agree RM sums it up best…
“We never dwell on anybody leaving. Once they’ve left, they’ve left. Thanks very much you’ve done your job, you’ve done a good job, we don’t want you to go, but they’ve made their mind up to go…”
Nice piece. There’s no question in my mind that social media here – and in pretty much every other sphere of life – is a negative factor. There’s a kind of hysteria around it. Suarez leaves so Phil is elevated to the status of a god as a replacement. When it turns sour a different type of hysteria kicks in. Arsenal fans a fortnight ago were declaring love for the Ox. Now they show a clip of one errant shot over the bar (on England duty) and declare that “this is what £40m gets you”. And it feeds into the idea of the transfer window as being of almost greater importance than the actual football – “*We* got him which means *you* didn’t get him. well, he was never that good anyway, we didn’t want him. why didn’t we get him?? FSG OUT!!!” It’s a competition few clubs actually win.
At all times we would do well to remember that it is the club, rather than individual players, that we are attached to, for life. Great players and favourite players are typically there for a short time but if it goes well the fondness stays for life. And if they blot their copybook and it works out in a negative way, well, move on. It’s why I can never get these types who even now froth at the mouth whenever Brendan says anything in the press about us. He and others gave us great times. Appreciate those times but keep an eye on the bigger picture. There’s more fun in that.
A great analysis and well written piece. Yes 14 is a very formative age for falling in love with a football team and the players. I did exactly the same but in my case it was 1961/62 and Shankly set expectations of commitment from players that now seem unrealistic hence our acceptance now that it is a job with lots of benefits If you show pride in your job, your team-mates and the fans such reciprocal feelings we know stretch beyond your playing career if you maintain the respect. I remember us selling players like Jimmy Melia which shocked everyone. He wasn’t confident he would get as much game time[or money] as bonuses were based on this and he was aware of young players coming through. Alf Arowsmith exploded on to the scene and we won the league. Players come and eventually go and we have to be relaxed with it. Your times with the club and your leaving will always reflect on you in the future. Times have changed a lot but as your article illustrates it is an unwritten contract between players and fans that will dictate how you are remembered. Phil now has to face that. Klopp will always let a player move on if his ambitions and family needs are such. But we can let Phil go with the best of memories if he shows us respect by giving what we have always expected. Commitment and best skills and effort in every game.
Well put Danny. Made for a nice read.
The only thing in common with Coutinho when I see Suarez’s name mentioned or Torres in fact, is that Coutinho just wants away from the Reds.
For him to reach the same heights of Suarez, maybe not as much as Torres for the way Suarez turned up in 13/14 is to do just that – turn up and give it his best.
Otherwise he risks being more than forgotten at best as I think the new boys will shine through as well and also score their share of worldies in the long term.
Either way I don’t care about Coutinho’s Barca or whatever club-future, I just want to see him play again in the red shirt and help the team and Klopp out the best he can.