Liverpool Life Lessons and Drunken Expectations

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On a different continent in what seems like a different lifetime now I was a frat guy at an American university. We drank a lot. Nothing remarkable about that, but one particular day those of us new to the fraternity decided we would show the older guys how frat we were and went after it. At some point I stepped outside to relieve myself and realised that I couldn’t stand anymore without the assistance of a nearby fencepost.

Two of the brothers walked by, saw me desperately clinging onto said fence and tried to help me out. After a few minutes of positive reinforcement they had convinced me that I could stand on my own. So I did… and then I immediately and cartoonishly fell straight on my face.

With the damage to my face added to the apparent alcohol poisoning they chose the most sober of the group and drove me to the hospital. Understand that rural universities don’t have hospitals on campus, so it was quite a drive and quite a risk for these guys given the local laws they were breaking but we all had the expectation that we’d need to bail each other out at times and by the end of four years we had.

Fast forward to a couple of years later when I was living in Manhattan and my friends took me to an East Village dive bar that would give you free drinks for the night if it was your birthday. Lucky me, it was in fact my birthday. We played a game that we are fairly sure we invented where the bartender would line up as many shots of vodka as people in our group; one shot per man with the trick being that one was water and the guy who downed the water shot dropped out of the following round. Eight rounds later, I was the “winner,” taking down eight shots in a few minutes after an already full night of imbibing.

Next thing I have any recollection of I’m in the bar’s keg room. Locked in there good. After a while of trying to drunk-McGuyver my way out I moved on to brute force. An empty keg was my weapon and the door was my target, but at the top of my back-swing a curious security guard opened the door, shook his head and let me out. Again I found myself unable to really stand without the assistance of sturdy, stationary objects. As my friends continued their night, not bothered by my disappearance into the keg room or the obvious state I was in, I staggered out and miraculously made it back to my apartment without any assistance aside from that which could be provided by the occasional wall or lamp-post along the way.

On both occasions I woke up bruised, battered, but relatively unscathed. Both are still stories that I laugh about with these friends now. Obviously in one case the frat bros really stepped up and saved to some extent while taking personal risk and my NYC finance friends texted me a picture of myself looking particularly shitty and called it a day.

A decade or so on and slightly more mature, both groups are equally great friends of mine. Why? Expectation. A frat guy is going to get you out of a bad situation because “brotherhood” while the NYC finance bro probably won’t give a shit, but you know that going in, so there’s no disappointment and you go on doing the same stuff the next weekend.

There’s a lot of talk around Liverpool about expectation these days. The supporters who believe that Liverpool’s sole purpose on earth is to win trophies are having daily battles with the supporters who think the Reds are “on the right track.”

I’ve heard a lot of “you would have taken that draw before kickoff,” and “we’re there or thereabouts,” lately and it’s really driving me crazy because, as long as I’ve followed this club I thought the goal was to win things and that the post Istanbul period was just an unfortunate accident, like falling on your face after one bottle too many.

So what is the target, what’s the expectation at this club? We’re in 6th place in the league and need a result to get through our Champions League group on the last day, which is not a disaster. It’s a position from which we can recover a top four position and a run in the Champions League, but is being in a position where you can possibly recover from a month long hangover good enough?

Listening to Klopp’s comments recently I’m wondering what camp he’s in. Is it getting too comfortable for players who have found their level at 6th in the Premier League to remain in the side? How are the few players who have shown an elite ability looking at that?

If Liverpool is a sort of relaxation spa for players of a certain level where the expectations aren’t actually that they have to produce or lose their position or their place in the squad even, then who can blame the Coutinho’s and Can’s for taking the first opportunity to move on. You have to assume they’re not comfortable with plateauing at the level where we’ve found ourselves.

Reluctantly delving back into the summer dealings, you just have to wonder what Klopp’s expectations were for the quality of the squad. Was he caught flat-footed by the Coutinho-to-Barcelona situation and the Can-to-Juve situation at the same time while also not having an alternative once the Virgil Van Dijk deal imploded.

We ended up with Salah, Chamberlain, Robertson, Solanke and Keita for next year, which would have been seen as positive most years, but again… expectations. It was supposed to be Van Dijk, Salah, Keita, Sessegnon and Chamberlain at the beginning of the summer according to most.

We’ve been over the scorekeeping from the summer a million times, but we were left with Lovren, Mignolet and Moreno as regular starters for Liverpool. We talk about expected goals from certain players, but with these three, because of their past three years of performances, there needs to be an “expected errors,” or “expected implosions” statistic. Let’s not overstate it. These are talented players, but while they’ve proven their quality, they’ve also proven a propensity to completely wreck a game every dozen or so. The thing is if you have three players capable of locking themselves in the keg room so to speak every 12 games then you can expect it to happen to Liverpool once every 4. And that’s more or less what it feels like, right?

Mignolet’s flap at Willian’s floating cross. Moreno’s Meltdown II against Sevilla. Lovren against Spurs. Those are three horrific performances in 7 games for Liverpool and no Liverpool supporter could say they’ve been surprised to see them.

To Klopp’s credit, he’s able to coach and coerce these players into strong performances in between falling off the wagon, but how much is that taking out of the team, taking out of the backroom staff and the manager himself to patch them up and get them back performing again?

Again, these three, and you might as well group Henderson in there as well, have been at the club for a while. We know who they are. Strong individually, but flawed to the point where they’d never start for any other top-six side.

A decade later, I know not to go on bar crawls with my NYC friends because I might end up navigating home by touch, feel and smell. Yet, Liverpool and Klopp seem not to have learned that lesson. They’ll just keep going on those benders every weekend. It seems massively immature to me. It looks like a club without serious ambitions.

Our manager had this to say after the Chelsea draw:

“We try to close games down, but we don’t do it in a cynical way.
We don’t do it like ‘oh sit down again’…you have seven minutes overtime then.
The day when somebody thinks like this [in my team], with not being a proper sportsman and being fair, then I stop. If it’s not OK any more that we try our best, then it is something wrong. Yes, you have to be smart, yes you have to be clever in different situations. [But I] didn’t see a lot where we had to stay down. If you don’t hear a whistle you have to stay up.”

While this sounds like something you’d love to hear your kid’s coach say, it probably doesn’t sound great to Liverpool supporters who would prefer that we bite, kick and scrape our way to get back to the pinnacle and then ask questions later.

Maybe Jurgen Klopp is doing us all a favour in the end. With these quotes he’s taking those of us who still naively believe that a title season is around the corner and slapped us back into sobriety and on some level you have to thank him for that.

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