Anfield’s atmosphere was understandably tense this evening as fans waited to see how the team would react to the recent events that had shook the club to its foundations. Dalglish chose to experiment with a perplexing selection and as the players tried to find their feet the match opened slowly, the team looking sluggish in the wake of the numerous transfer sagas that had dominated the headlines over the past few days.
It was telling that the highest point of the first half was the ovation new signing Luis Suarez received as he ran towards the Kop to warm up.
The fans were brimming with excitement as they anticipated his arrival, but a more immediate worry lodged itself into the collective mindset as the half time interval approached; unless Liverpool got their act together, their blunt finishing meant they were in danger of letting Stoke take something from the game, in the process undermining Dalglish’s revolution and allowing confidence around the club to sink to new depths after the departure of a certain player.
These worries were alleviated almost immediately after the second half began, however, as Raúl Meireles produced yet another great finish to give the reds the lead. It was the perfect remedy to lighten the mood around the ground and it was perfect timing. Just when Stoke thought they had gotten through a good portion of the game unscathed, Liverpool struck.
If the plan from that point onwards was to hold onto the lead, Dalglish had other ideas. The manager ensured that the fans didn’t have to wait too long to get a glimpse of their new signing, and the introduction of Luis Suarez brought the stadium to its feet. The team were in need of a lift to see the game out and once Suarez came into the game they were flying.
Suarez capped a bright start with a well taken – if somewhat lucky, in the end – goal. Just when the fans needed a new hero most, he stepped up to the plate, announcing his arrival in style.
Timing is everything.
Just seven days ago, the landscape of the transfer window painted such a vastly different picture for Liverpool fans. It was a simpler time, one where the only concern was whether the deal to bring Luis Suarez to Anfield would materialise. In the background, rumours of incorporating Charlie Adam to the squad were welcomed. Expectations were low but hopes were high, and more importantly, the timing was perfect. On the back of a wretched first half of the season the change of mentality brought about by Dalglish’s appointment seemed to have righted all wrongs; Liverpool had begun turning the corner, and with the backing of the owners, the signs for the future were positive.
But no one could have foreseen what was to come next.
The Suarez deal was, of course, completed successfully. However, its thunder was well and truly stolen as his move became swiftly overshadowed by the transfer request of a player who had become an iconic figurehead of Liverpool; a player who seemed to understand the club and its fans perfectly; a player who appeared to embody the traits of loyalty and passion that the history of the club radiates. Fernando Torres, once the darling of the Kop, a player who was on the path to legendary status, turned his back on the team that had been built around him.
In handing in his transfer request – and subsequently forcing through his move to Chelsea – the facade that Torres had so successfully built for himself at Anfield has crumbled in an instant. A far cry from the heroism he initially portrayed, his true nature comprises nothing more than deceit and disloyalty.
And that’s what hurts the most. When the fans bounced and sang his name, his actions were never entirely sincere. His deception was always there, lying dormant, waiting.
It’s not the fact that Torres desired a move away that has incensed Liverpool fans; rather, it is a combination of the methods he used and his preferred destination. The values held by Chelsea are so far removed from those Liverpool upholds; in terms of tradition, history and heritage they are polar opposites. It’s understandable that he may have felt frustrated with the way the club had been progressing, and if he had looked to join the ranks of Barcelona, for example, no Liverpool fan would deny him such an opportunity. His contribution to the club would be celebrated and revered, and he may well have done enough to gain that legendary status he seemed destined for. However, to switch to one of the club’s biggest rivals in modern times, a club with such inherently contrasting support and morals, was a step too far.
And then, of course, comes the other reason Liverpool fans feel so disappointed by Torres’ behaviour. His lies in the media – claiming he was fully committed to the team – only stole time from the club in its pursuit of a replacement. By leaving it until the very last moments of the transfer window he forced the club into a desperate situation where any potential transfer would be subjected to the whims of the selling club. Torres’ delay backed the club into a corner and left them at the mercy of financial mercenaries. Timing is everything indeed.
But for Liverpool fans it’s time to move on. They needn’t let the fallout from Torres’ departure stain the beginnings of Dalglish’s new era, nor should they allow the season to continue with an aura of disappointment and betrayal.
Instead, there’s every reason to be optimistic.
Liverpool’s desperation to put Torres’ insanely large transfer fee to swift use may have led to them spending over the odds, but the club has brought in an excellent player with extremely high potential in Andy Carroll. There is always the possibility that the signing won’t work out exactly as the club hopes, but without risk there is no reward – and the potential payoff for Liverpool’s investment is massive. If, after returning from his injury, Carroll can continue with the form that has seen him thrust into the spotlight over the first half of the season, then nobody will complain about the size of the transfer fee. What’s more, our new number nine will leave the fans scratching their heads trying to remember the name of the man who used to wear the prized shirt.
Speaking of prized shirts, this leads us back to Luis Suarez, who has assumed the old number of none other than Kenny Dalglish himself. It is considered that Liverpool’s number seven shirt is somehow cursed in recent times after a variety of players have failed to live up to their potential after wearing it, perhaps overcome by the burden of Dalglish’s legacy.
But this sort of superstition is hardly the way for Suarez’ Liverpool career to begin. Instead, the signs surrounding Suarez’ arrival are positive, especially if he continues the way he began tonight. Indeed, one would anticipate that he will be eager to create his own legacy whilst wearing the famous shirt. If he can come anywhere near to replicating what Dalglish achieved for the club, he will certainly be on his way.
It must be mentioned that Suarez’ introduction to the club saw him pause for a moment to reflect on his time at Ajax, thanking them for the progress they helped him make, as well as thanking the fans for their support. This touch of class draws attention to his principles (the debate surrounding his infamous handball at the World Cup notwithstanding) and shows that he looks to be a player suited to Liverpool’s own values, at the same time highlighting the absence of a similar message from the man who has just walked through Anfield’s exit.
After the capture of two of the brightest young starlets in world football, then, time appears to be well and truly on Liverpool’s side. But the root of Liverpool’s present optimism runs deeper than these two players alone, for they are simply the physical manifestations of the presence that has Anfield buzzing once more.
NESV’s takeover of the club was always going to be a breath of fresh air after the torment of the previous regime, but some fans remained cautious, arguing that they could yet be all talk and no walk. Indeed, some felt that the new owners’ media-savvy approach to their introduction on Merseyside only served to hide their true agenda: on the surface they appeared committed, but it meant nothing until they proved it through their actions.
After the lies Liverpool fans have been fed by owners, managers and players alike in the recent future, they have every reason to be sceptical. But not anymore.
If timing is everything, then the hectic turn of events at the end of January provided NESV with the perfect opportunity to make a statement of intent. Certainly, any doubts the fans had surrounding their commitment and investment in the club should be dampened after their swift manoeuvring at the close of the transfer window. It is to their credit that they allowed such a vast quantity of the money from Torres’ transfer to be reinvested in the squad, and it should be remembered that the money for the Suarez transfer came from their own pockets in advance of the megadeal that ensued. People may point to the fact that Liverpool’s net spend is virtually even over the course of the window – thus proving that the owners haven’t made any real investment – but this clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.
In a sense, whilst everyone watched events unfold with horror over the final days of the transfer window, NESV may have been quietly pleased with the way things turned out. The club lost a massive asset in Torres, but they have brought in two replacements that seem more than adequate on paper. The timing was perfect for the owners, who were presented with the perfect chance to make their mark.
Fittingly, Liverpool’s next match sees them head to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea, where it’s assumed a certainty that Torres will start against the reds. Liverpool’s former icon has gone so far as to say it’s his destiny to score against his old side, his sense of self-worth having been magnified by his inflated transfer fee. His comments about finally being at a ‘top club’, too, will have riled up Liverpool fans and players alike.
In this sense, the timing is excellent for Liverpool as it presents them with a swift opportunity to prove that life goes on without him. Suarez, stepping into his boots as the new hero of the Kop, has the chance to make a huge impact.
The clash may come a little too soon for the rebuilding reds, but if Liverpool are able to pull off an admittedly unlikely victory this weekend, then the timing won’t just be perfect – it will be priceless.