As football supporters, it’s only natural to crave success. We want the club we adore to achieve great things, to challenge for honours and ultimately be a consistent force both domestically and within Europe. Deep down we all want this, but strangely I don’t necessarily want it just yet. Now that may sound like a contradiction, but I’ve learnt long ago not to underestimate the importance of building strong foundations, in order to build sustained success.
For far too long Liverpool Football Club has been a nail biting rollercoaster ride for anyone who has been crazy enough to buy a ticket. The highs have been some of the most exhilarating of my life, but the lows have not only tested my deepest reserves, but also made me question if I’d want my son to even follow football. In recent years, my fondest footballing memories have slowly been fading, with very few new ones created to fill the void, replaced by those lost.
Let’s be honest this constant negativity isn’t the reason why we became football fans in the first place. The majority of supporters become football fans simply because of their love of playing the game. For me it was the bonds and ultimately friendships I made whilst on the pitch, or in the playground trying to emulate my favourite players, which truly inspired my love for the game and for Liverpool Football Club. That passion still burns deep, but it needed reigniting. My love for the game was lost, it’s slowly began to return.
The 2013/14 season falsely raised my own expectations, but also reminded me why I became a football supporter in the first place. Those electric nerves before each match, that roar of the crowd when the players stepped onto the pitch and that pure adrenaline when Luis Suarez had the ball at his feet. I was completely swept up with it all, as we all were as supporters. The fanbase was completely united in our support; willing, hoping, even praying for the team to keep picking up three points and drive on. That passion just kept being rewarded with victory after victory and goal after goal; with world class, dynamic attacking football, until that one game. The key however in all of this is the word false! False hopes, false expectations, even false promises. It’s rarely said, but we threw away that title that the club so desperately needed.
As exhilarating as that season was and I’ll honestly never forget it, what followed meant that all that hard work, all those goals and world class performances, were completely and utterly wasted. It was the ultimate false dawn. Watching the side I loved being embarrassed in the Champions League, whilst playing dour lifeless football, after what arguably was the finest football I’d seen played in my lifetime, was heartbreaking. Something I’m yet to honestly admit that I’ve recovered from. How could we throw away that opportunity to build on a top three finish, to develop that style, which was so clinical and dangerous?
Our true issues were masked in that season, by the best number 9 in world football. It’s not that he wasn’t surrounded by talent, he just raised the level of those around him, to the point that we were imperious. Goals don’t just win games, but change the entire complexion of them. If you have a real goal threat, it changes the mindset of the opposition players, manager, even supporters. Without that goal scoring edge, teams don’t have any fear, so expect to win, or certainly not lose. We’ve lost that fear factor, to the point where rival supporters, players and managers look forward to playing at Anfield. They look forward to the match, but never fear it.
Our defensive frailties, still very much evident in the current Liverpool side, were just as evident then. But without goals, the weaknesses are magnified.The pressure and fear begins to mount on such fragile minds, which is why the players look so nervous at set pieces, crosses, hell anytime the ball is in our half. The physiological damage done by the former management has clearly taken its toll. The players look devout of any real confidence and even a man manager of Jürgen Klopp’s standard, has his work clearly cut out.
As each year passes, and that elusive Premier League title continues to be out of reach, we grow ever restless as a fanbase and as a club. It seems crazy to declare that I’m happy to wait as long as it takes under Klopp, for another shot at the title. I just don’t trust that if we were to challenge next season, perhaps even the one after, that we’d become a consistent force both domestically and in Europe, without the right squad and mentality. Klopp is a world class manager that isn’t in doubt, but the job at hand is much harder than I ever appreciated it would be, even for him.
Jürgen Klopp is first and foremost a football appreciator. He loves the game, like very few others. He is passion personified, incredibly infectious and contagious. He has such a strong faith in his footballing philosophies that are so vital to become an elite manager. But not only that, he knows he has limitations. He knows there are others who have strengths in areas he lacks, so he looks to their wisdom and guidance. The best managers, understand they must do this, he has strength and support off the field, he just needs to add ability on it.
In such a short space of time, he’s already instilled a level of competitiveness and determination, so severely lacking in this side. However, there are weaknesses that even he can’t control. A lack of genuine leadership, fight and self belief, are evident throughout the team. The players are a soft touch, too many nice guys, not willing to strategically foul, force the issue or make their presence felt. A lack of experience and game intelligence is desperately lacking, even just some of the basic elements of decision-making are devout from many of these players.
It’s clear to me that supporters love Klopp, however what they don’t love is the squad, the scouting and the famed transfer committee. After the defeat vs Leicester I questioned not whether Klopp will fail the club, but whether the club will fail him. I said that in the heat of the moment, honestly and candidly. What I failed to consider, is that Klopp is happy to play the long game, even if supporters aren’t. He knew coming into the job that it wasn’t ever going to be a quick fix, but took it anyway, with undoubtably more lucrative offers to come. He came, because he felt it was the right club for him and that’s hugely significant.
Having spent seven years at Mainz and seven at Dortmund, Jürgen showed he’s willing to play the long game, to naturally develop a team that can make their mark. In his first two seasons at Dortmund he finished 6th, then followed that up with 5th, before back to back titles. Now that’s not guaranteed in England, by any stretch. But given the right tools, he can build a team that out-thinks, out-runs and out-fights the opposition. He’s shown he can build a team to his style, his tenacity, his winning mentality, but it’ll take time.
Hand on heart, did I expect Klopp to have a greater impact at Liverpool straight away, yes! Why, well firstly because I overestimated the ability and adaptability of the squad. Secondly because I didn’t expect the squad to be this injury ravaged. Thirdly, I falsely expected miracles. I underestimated the rebuild required, not just in the quality of player at the club, but also the mentality. However given the adversities, we’re still in the League Cup Final and competing in two others. The league may be gone, but that doesn’t mean to say all is lost.
All supporters need to give is time, for me it’s the very least Jürgen Klopp deserves. He’ll bring you the right players, the passion, the fight and the goals you crave. But for now he needs patience and trust, to build his legacy at the club. Then, maybe, we’ll get the accolades we all dream of, and perhaps finally as a club and fanbase we can move forward and stop worrying about all the nearly moments.