This morning I began listening to what seems to be a hugely promising podcast series called S-Town. The character around whom the opening show circles, John B McLemore, is a bit of a misfit in his community, a man whose verbal eloquence and mental dexterity contrast pleasingly with his redneck accent. At one point, noting how critical his interviewee is about his place of birth – the Shit Town of the title – the host refers to John’s “virtuosic negativity.”
As the news broke earlier, in a series of increasingly bleak tweets from those in the know, that Sadio Mané was far more seriously injured than initially thought, a worst-case-scenario later confirmed by Jürgen Klopp in his Tuesday press conference, your columnist was suffused with the darkness that is all too familiar to Liverpool fans. Given the daily hardships with which the world honours me, I tend towards a positive, optimistic demeanour – I mean, you have to to maintain sanity – but occasionally the ugliness of the world is just too much, and in the hours since Klopp’s confirmation, I could give Mr. McLemore a run for his money.
Referring to the serious damage to Mané’s knee, the gaffer was very downbeat in his assessment. He lamented, “losing Sadio on Saturday was like, ‘Oh my God. Can’t we have one day where everything is perfect?'” But that was not the worst of it. The question was asked. The dreaded question. Was it possible the Senegalese flyer might miss the rest of the season?
“Unfortunately that’s possible but why should I say it now?” he offered, pretty much breaking the blackened husk of a heart in this writer’s chest “I don’t know. It’s possible when a knee is swollen. You have to wait for a final assessment when the knee is not swollen anymore. It’s not often that I heard afterwards, ‘it’s nothing, it was a bee or whatever’. It’s swollen for different reasons, that’s it. It’s possible.
“But the more difficult a situation, the better it is to handle it. It feels better afterwards when I look back. Obviously, our way is not the easy way, look at the club history. That’s no problem. My job is only to find solutions and that’s what we’ll do this time.”
Well, you’ve said a mouthful there, chief. You have to wonder – is there a more ‘not the easy way’ club in the entire game? The manager is doing a better job than most of us at hiding his exasperation at the never-ending run of misfortune. The attainment of Champions League football now, in the wake of the latest and worst setback, will certainly qualify as doing it the hard way. As ever, though, there are only two choices. We can throw up our hands and submit to the vicissitudes of life or, and this is the less popular option, we can keep the faith.
There is certainly some joy to be found in thinking about a Ben Woodburn appearance or two. Apparently, Harry Wilson is also in contention for the squad, and that must bring a smile to the face of even the most world-weary fan. Emre Can will look to continue his renaissance, Philippe Coutinho can win games on his own when in the type of form he displayed on Saturday and Gini Wijnaldum can link them all together. Roberto Firmino must be due a goal or two, surely? There is even some talk of the lesser-spotted Daniel Sturridge being in the match day squad for the Bournemouth clash.
There is, however, one man who must see the absence of Mané as his time to shine. Having come on to such terrific effect during the derby victory, Divock Origi is champing at the bit for an opportunity to show the world what he can offer. It has been a frustrating season for the young Belgian, whose opportunities have been very much curtailed, but one senses that he will relish the chance to be the main man and he certainly seems to have the confidence to seize his chance now that it has come.
“I’m ready,” confirmed the Toffee-buster. “I always said that I’m ready to be an important player for the team. I really believe it. I’m not just an option for the future, I’m an option for now. I want to do everything to get in the team. The coach has several choices and that is only good for the team. The team is most important and we have to finish strong. I hope I can play a big part in the end of the season. I’m very ambitious and I believe in my qualities. Like I say, I’m ready and ready now to do whatever. But you have to put everything in and show it on the pitch.
“I always respect the decision of the coach and, for me, the most important thing is to stay cool in the head and enjoy the game every time, play a part and help the team. I’m very good, I’m very fit. I feel even better than last year. For me, it is just giving everything for every minute that I get. Then at the end of the season we will see. Like coming on against Everton and putting everything in. We just wanted to win at all costs. We showed after the international break that we are ready to finish the season strongly.”
There is something seductive and infectious about the confidence of a young man in a hurry. The thought of Divock and the few squad members that remain unbroken rallying and achieving something great under Klopp’s guidance will surely lift some of the clouds that had begun to gather over fans. There will be no gloomy vaticination in these paragraphs, while hope remains. No “virtuosic negativity.” Onwards Red brethren and, um, sistren. There’s a job to do and the completion of it will be all the more worthy of celebration if it is done in defiance of ill fortune.