Every pre-season, and I do mean EVERY pre-season, I have this insane optimism that we’ve bought the right players and have the right manager and squad to truly challenge for the league title. Unfortunately, in most of the last 17 years, the bubble has been burst in the first half dozen games as we’ve spluttered on all cylinders. I know it as well as anyone ‘“ my optimism has been more to do with blind passion for Liverpool FC than it has been due to sensible logic and reason.
But this season, I believe my red-tinted optimism is finally more than blind faith. There is a hunger about Liverpool right now that I can’t remember seeing since the great old days of the 70s and 80s…. the days when Keegan, McDermott, Case, Jones, Dalglish, Rush, McMahon, Souness, Smith, Hughes, Kennedy, Aldridge, Barnes etc etc etc would give their heart and soul for the club. Money didn’t matter’¦ playing for Liverpool Football Club is what mattered!
So, after recovering from a close bout of heart failure on Saturday, I managed to sit down and watch the tape of the Villa game without the emotional trauma of watching it live 24 hours earlier. And what I saw on second viewing was very, very impressive.
First of all, we have a squad with the depth and talent not seen for the last 15 years. Of that I am convinced. But just as importantly, this squad has a passion and determination that sets the pulse racing.
Steven Gerrard has a look about him that suggests he’s quite willing (and able?) to win the title single handedly if he must. Watch his face immediately before he delivered the perfect free kick to rescue the points in a game that we should have had wrapped up long before the need for his brilliant intervention. It was a look rarely seen in football these days ‘“ one that said ‘œmoney is irrelevant..only one thing matters’¦ the Premiership title. I WILL win this game with this kick!’ The resultant free kick was a moment of footballing genius.
Then, look at the celebration! Not only was Stevie G on cloud 10, but he was chased by half the Liverpool team as if we’d just pulled off another Istanbul. Even my household, which consists of my American wife and stepdaughter, screamed and danced with joy as the net rippled. Yes folks, we’d won our opening game of the season! And it was an away game!!
I focused in on a couple of things I don’t normally focus on this early in the season. Normally I’m just happy to get a result, regardless of the performance, and it’s easy to justify. You know the old chestnuts.. ‘œthe lads are rusty,’ ‘œit takes times to gel with new players,’ ‘œthey’re tired due to the _____ cup,’ ‘œit’s early doors, plenty of time to make up ground.’
But there ISN’T time to make up ground, and points won in August count just as much as those won in April. We all know it’¦ we sometimes just refuse to admit it.
So I focused on two things’¦ talent and passion. And the verdict on both counts is a very, very positive ‘˜thumbs up’.
Every Liverpool player’¦ every one of them, regardless of performance, showed an appetite and hunger that had me purring. From minute one until minute 94, they were snapping at heels, hunting in packs, and showed a fitness level and dedication that is a credit to Rafa, to the ambition of the players, and to the overall determination within the squad Rafa has now assembled.
Jamie Carragher, of course, could never be accused of anything less than 150% commitment. Steven Gerrard in contrast, has had to tackle his own demons and insecurities to get to the fierce determination and commitment to the club that he clearly has right now. But others, in the past, (players who have long been dispensed of) have never seemed to be truly, TRULY committed to the cause the way this current squad is. Think back over the players in the last ten years, and I’m sure you could put together a laundry list of those players who seemed to be there for the wages and not for the honour of being called a ‘˜champion.’
And then there’s the second major factor’¦ talent – pure footballing skill, not just with the feet, but with the head. Great players have the perfect blend of both. The natural born ability to control a football combined with the cleverness of mind to know exactly what to do with it.. WHEN to pass, WHEN to make that crucial decision – things that are beyond the majority of footballers.
If there are a couple of themes to the 4 major signings we’ve made lately, it’s that all 4 of these players seem to have natural skill combined with real intelligence. Torres showed some lovely touches and presence of mind to bamboozle the Villa defence. Benayoun is renowned for his craft in midfield. Veronin always seems to find his man with deft touches and creative vision. Babel’s 15 minute cameo at the end of this game, showed him to seemingly have it all. Power, strength, creativity, an eye for the right pass and a ruthless shot. He realistically could have bagged two goals in that short spell on the field, and in both cases, he played a major part in the total execution of the move, as well as almost applying the blistering finishing touches. I predict we have an 11 million pound bargain on our hands!
In summary, I really believe we have the ‘˜look’ of Champions. The single minded determination of the likes of Carra, Stevie G, Kuyt, Vorinin, Finnan. The vision of Alonso, Torres, Babel, Pennant, Gerrard. The world class skill of now 4,5 maybe 6, not only 1-2 of the current squad. And they each have a look of fierce determination that bodes well for our challenge this season.
In a way, it’s absolutely perfect to have Chelsea up next. They’re scared of us. They can’t remember the last time they beat us, and we played them off the park at Anfield last season. What a way to start the season if we can beat them. If we do, of the ‘˜big 4’ (yawn) only Arsenal will be able to match our points total.
What a position to be in if we can successfully negotiate that game. The determination and skill will be supplemented by that most mysterious of qualities – a huge injection of confidence. Rafa know he’s built the best Liverpool squad for many years, and the body language of the players suggests they know it too.
Let the London/manc based media continue to write us off. Let them talk about the pending two-horse race. I have a feeling and belief about this Liverpool team that is finally based on observation rather than fascination.
We will be there or thereabouts this year, and even if the title proves to be one step too far for us this year, I’m certain’¦ absolutely certain’¦ that great times and manic celebrations lie ahead sooner rather than later.
Come on Reds’¦ let’s go out and go for the jugular in every game we play this season. We have nothing, and absolutely nobody to fear this season.
Let’s turn the ‘˜look’ of champions into the real thing. Of the only two real threats from down the East Lancs and down the Smoke, I genuinely wouldn’t swap either of their squads for ours.
Or in other words, talent wise, we have everything it takes to win it this season.
Maybe, just maybe, that also includes self-belief.
If it does, I believe there’s no stopping us.
Email: [email protected]