A Reason for Optimism

Just last week I arrived at a friend’s house for an evening of poker only to walk into a conversation between him and his girlfriend on what he’d rather have – £5,000 in his pocket or Sheffield United getting promoted to the premiership. He chose his team, good man, so the conversation continued along the lines of ‘how much’ he’d need before he’d take the money. The respective girlfriends were flabberghasted that any bloke would choose his team over any amount of cash, “what are you gaining in your life by your team doing well that would be better than money?” was the question. Of course at this point I cast my mind back (it’s never very far to go) to our Champions League victory in Istanbul.

Undoubtedly the fans that nearly brought a tear to my eye with a moving rendition of YNWA after Benfica scored their second were doing the same thing. I had a hell of a job coming up with any figure that would make me sacrifice that. It was the best night of my life, even if I was only watching it in a bar, and something that’ll make me smile regardless of anything else that’s happening in my life every time I relive the magical moment.

Those are the sort of memories money can’t buy, winning that trophy, apart from the nature of the comeback and the team we came back against, was probably all the sweeter because we weren’t (let’s face it) the best team in the competition. We had to battle past teams better than us to jump each of the last three hurdles before lifting that trophy, and the sheer Euphoria that resulted is something that will live with me for the rest of my life.

Sad though it was getting knocked out by Benfica during the week these things have to be put into perspective. Our recent form in front of goal has been shocking to say the least, there’s no way a collection of strikers with a history and pedigree such as ours should be misfiring so consistently. At half time against Benfica (I was in a cynical mood, and possibly playing the ‘don’t tempt fate’ card) I said to my girlfriend that the match would end in one of two ways. Either we’d score two but not quite enough (see 1997’s semi-final against PSG), or we wouldn’t score any and they’d catch us on the break for two-nil. Annoyingly I was correct with my latter prediction, but you just got a feeling about the Benfica game that we’d never be able to pull off another Olympiacos, our strikers are off form, we can’t buy a goal and the team just doesn’t feel quite right. If we as fans can think like this, the players undoubtedly can, I thought Ronald Koeman’s observation that it’s perhaps a ‘mental’ problem was on the money.

It feels like Robbie’s had more goals disallowed in the last few games than Moro or Cisse have had shots on target. Until God scores one with his arse (I still can’t believe he didn’t take the penalty against the Gunners) and we start putting a few in the net I can’t see it getting better either. This is where the luck factor comes in with footy – an inch to the left and Carragher’s header would have gone in against Benfica, if the keeper hadn’t tied his ankles together with his bootlaces Crouch’s goal may have snuck through – all of the sorts of things that can go a team’s way and ultimately influence the result aren’t falling for us right now.

In terms’ of panicking and fearing that Rafa will leave, I don’t think there’s reason for too much despondence. We’ve got a world-class manager at the helm and if there was ever a time to dig deep in the coffers and splash some cash it’s with Benitez doing the spending. We’ve made clear progress under Rafa, and if it weren’t for Chelsea‘s millions buying them the title every season we’d probably be pushing for the league this year. I’m convinced the board will find the money the gaffer needs by the end of the season and with a few tweaks here and there, the squad we have could get us on a winning run that’ll really push Chelsea next season.

Until then, there’s always Istanbul. How much would you need to have never heard the words “And Liverpool, like Lazarus, back from the dead!!”

Paul Lester

  • Paul is a new contributor to This Is Anfield, a freelance journalist and an editor for various magazines over the last five years.

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