Why the League Should Trump All for Liverpool

I couldn’t get up for the 2:30am Champions League semifinal between Barcelona and Chelsea last night.

Not that I didn’t want to, but after getting out of work at 10pm, I couldn’t muster the physical stamina to wake up in the middle of the night to watch a clash between neutrals.

I’ve just watched the match highlights.

Before I continue, let me just preface this by saying that, if Chelsea do go on and win the Champions League, thereby securing Champions League football for next season irrespective of where they finish in the Premier League, I will fully retract everything I’ve said about Fernando Torres making a bad decision to leave Liverpool.

Because let’s face it – finishing as champions of the (footballing) world’s most difficult competition, getting another shot at it next season, and a major pay raise: how is that in any way a bad decision?

It’s not nice being on the receiving end of a “I told you so,” but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say that you got it wrong.

Now. As I was saying, I just watched the match highlights.

The first thing I noticed was the Champions League anthem playing in the background as the camera did its customary panning of the players from both teams and throughout the pre-match handshake.

I grew up on that anthem.

There was a time when I’d first gotten into Liverpool, when Liverpool, during the early 2000s, weren’t a fixture in the upper echelons of European football, just as Liverpool aren’t now.

But I grew up, as a fan, watching Liverpool in the Champions League.

During all my years abroad in Boston, Champions League action featuring Liverpool in September and February weekday afternoons on ESPN2 was a staple. I proudly strutted my Liverpool jerseys around campus and wore my heart on my sleeve. I left class early and ran back to the dorms to turn on the TV, door open, and crank up the sound.

When Liverpool scored – and boy, did Liverpool score – I ran up and down the hallways, and my hallmates all came to check out the tiny TV screen out of curiosity. I didn’t have to persuade them to stay; they stayed for the rest of the game out of their own accord.

I remember the days when I was proud, so proud to be a Liverpool fan.

Call it glory-hunting if you will – and I will gladly admit that, yes, I do like supporting a team that wins. One that, if it’s not winning, is showing enough resolve and consistency year on year to earn the chance of competing for the top prize in its profession. Is that such a big fault?

For overseas fans like us, who sadly don’t have a strong local club (or league, for that matter) to follow, it’s not any romantic sentiment of a local club for the community, not any family values in the stands, not any domestic and continental domination before our time – though, having grown into Liverpool’s club culture over the years, I have to say that I have gained a massive appreciation for the unique Kop culture. (But it had to start somewhere.)

No – it’s the idea that I’m rooting for an institution that believes in its right to compete at the highest level. That strives to match its opposition, no matter how financially, technically or physically superior. That, in the words of Clive Tyldesley in the aftermath of the 2005 Champions League final, “have been the most wonderful underdogs.”

And for a time, for that period when I became a fanatic, when I fell in love with Liverpool Red, when I exhibited such extreme emotions that I rarely muster, the Champions League became synonymous with my team.

That is of course failing to mention the rich financial windfalls that come with Champions League placings and performances. In both the short and long run, the extra income does wonders in terms of player recruitment amongst other things – but in a reflection of the emotions and the passions that the beautiful game brings about, those come in a distant second.

Sure, Liverpool this season have won a first piece of domestic silverware in six years, and might secure a domestic Cup Double with an FA Cup win over a considerably improved Chelsea side – but Liverpool, even in this season of wretched league results, have always proved to be wonderful underdogs, capable of cranking out a performance when they most need to.

The real challenge is to be able to maintain that consistency and high level of performance in an ever-competitive Premier League – to finish in those much-coveted Champions League spots.

It’s no surprise that Liverpool fans still hold up five fingers when it matters most.

Because once you maintain your game at that level, you earn the right to compete with the very best. And then, only when you get to compete with the very best in the world, your ability to come up with the most extraordinary triumphs become a prized asset, the reason why people become so attached with an institution boasting a never-say-die attitude.

So my overwhelming thought when I watched Torres skip around the keeper like his old days in Liverpool red wasn’t about his decision to leave Liverpool.

It was – and stayed with – that Champions League anthem.

If it was Liverpool standing there with that anthem roaring in the background – preferably barely audible beneath the stirring renditions of You’ll Never Walk Alone – you bet your backside I’d be tuned in at any time of the day to witness the occasion.

Because it’d mean that Liverpool will have returned to the Liverpool I know best.

On Damien Comolli’s Departure

So Liverpool’s Director of Football Strategy, Damien Comolli, has left Anfield.

Let’s take a look at what this means for Liverpool:

1. This Season Has Not Been Good Enough

In the past weeks, Reds fans have been starting to voice their concerns about this season’s performances, and rightly so.

With a dismal record since the turn of the year, Liverpool have clearly underperformed, and a Carling Cup victory—which was achieved on the back of an unconvincing 120 minutes and required several strokes of luck in the ensuing penalty shootout—requires FA Cup success to be added onto it for 2011-2012 to be considered even slightly successful.

Because Liverpool currently find themselves in the worst position in the Premier League in recent memory.

And Damien Comolli seems to have been the first to pay the price.

2. New Signings Should Feel the Pinch

Whatever the claims of who makes the final decision on player transfers, Liverpool’s signings under the tenure of Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli, generously bankrolled by John Henry and FSG, have not delivered.

While Dalglish might still be staunchly backing his charges in press conferences and interviews, even the most blinded supporters would have to recognize that the majority of Liverpool’s signings since 2011 began have been vastly subpar.

Comolli’s departure seems to be an official confirmation of FSG’s realization.

Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll would do well to take note of recent proceedings.

3. Kenny Dalglish Is Under Increasing Pressure

Now that one half of the transfer team has had to leave Anfield, the spotlight will turn unequivocally to the other half—manager Kenny Dalglish.

Everyone will know by now that Dalglish’s return to the Liverpool hotseat hasn’t turned out to be the fairytale that so many envisioned—and Dalglish’s backers, who have been quick to point the finger at Comolli for the poor transfer record recently, have now had their main target for criticism removed.

Kenny Dalglish himself knows this as well. The pressure is well and truly on.

4. Cup Success Is Not Enough

Comolli’s departure also signals loudly to the backroom staff that a Cup Double—even if it can be attained—is not enough.

Way back in August last year, before the current season even started, John Henry sounded out his requirements for a Top Four finish in the Premier League this season, saying that it would be a “huge disappointment” if Liverpool didn’t qualify for the Champions League next season.

Six months later, Liverpool are further from that spot than they could possibly imagine.

Considering that players are signed to perform over the course of a season rather than merely in knockout competitions, Comolli’s exit shows that while silverware is important, league placing is ultimately more important for the competitiveness of the Club in Europe—and for the Club’s coffers.

5. Moneyball Is on the Verge of Failing

When FSG first arrived back in 2010, John Henry brought with him the famed Moneyball strategy that had served him so well in Major League Baseball with the Boston Red Sox, and Damien Comolli was supposed to spearhead a new transfer policy with this in mind.

Signing and picking players based on statistics and numbers seemed to be a perfect strategy in football—except it hasn’t proved so.

Selling players in case of bids over their supposed worth—as seen in Fernando Torres’ whirlwind departure for Chelsea in January 2011—and overpaying for deficient areas—as seen in Andy Carroll’s last-minute arrival as Torres’ replacement—are both seen as important components in Moneyball.

But, as a Sabotage Times article has put it nicely, “perhaps the chalkboard should always come first; the spreadsheet comes second.”

6. There’s More Behind the Scenes Than Meets the Eye

John Henry and his boardroom team have often said that they are still getting to grips with English football.

But, as seen in the sudden turnaround of events during the Luis Suarez racism scandal, when both Suarez and Kenny Dalglish apologized for their controversial contributions in the aftermath of the visit to Manchester United’s Old Trafford, FSG have played their hand in subtle ways.

Some supporters might have been querying the thoughts of Henry across the Atlantic on Liverpool’s current plight.

It seems that FSG have always been paying attention—just that they prefer to go about their business behind the scenes.

7. FSG Mean Business

Which is a good sign for all those involved at Liverpool.

Especially after the tumultuous reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the fans want to see an owner who cares about the immediate fortunes of the Club.

The players want to see a Club who has a clear direction from the top.Dispensing of Comolli might have been a ruthless decision, but it might prove to be an inspired one—a decision that will have been taken for the good of the Club.

FSG mean business—and Comolli found out the hard way.

8. Kenny Dalglish Must Deliver This Summer

With Comolli out of the way, the sole decision-maker in Liverpool’s transfers will presumably be Kenny Dalglish.

Another summer of extravagant spending to no avail will be absolutely not tolerated by either his employers or Reds fans.

If he is still trusted with the Club’s money.

9. Another Revolution Might Be on the Horizon

Will a Cup Double be Dalglish’s only saving grace this season? Or will he ultimately pay the price for failing to lead Liverpool to a Champions League finish?

Only time will tell if Dalglish is still in the job come next season—but regardless of his job status, another revolution might be coming for Liverpool.

Transfer-wise, this summer might be the one where FSG abandon their Moneyball principles and allow signings to be made on a “chalkboard,” rather than “spreadsheet,” basis.

According to the Telegraph, Comolli claimed just a few weeks ago that Liverpool fans should not expect a great deal of summer activity this year—but perhaps we’re in for a ride yet.

10. Liverpool’s Future Might Be Bright After All

One thing’s for certain—John Henry and FSG have shown that they are willing to make big decisions when the situation calls for it.

The players—especially the underperformers—would do well to take heed of this message.

The coaching staff would do well to notice that no one’s job is ever safe. (The Telegraph reports that FSG have already requested an end-of-season explanation of this season’s travails.)

All of which means that, with owners willing to take decisive and calculated action, Liverpool fans should be confident of having a sound team backing their beloved Reds.

Liverpool’s present might be in all sorts of trouble, but Liverpool’s future might just turn out to be bright after all.

 

Original article from Bleacher Report