Si Steers explains why we as supporters need to look to the future rather than having expectations based on our past.
Sometimes it is difficult to be a Liverpool fan. We are weighed down by our illustrious history; we are the most successful English team in European football of all time. Our heritage demands success; failure is unacceptable at Liverpool Football Club.
It is a source of huge embarrassment to us that we have failed to win the Premier League. When we last lifted the title in 1990 who would have thought that would have been our last championship for over 20 years? We are Liverpool Football Club. ‘The league is our bread and butter’: wherever you go at Liverpool the Spirit of Shankly is shouting out at you.
Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish transformed Liverpool into a footballing superpower. Anfield was a ‘Bastion of invincibility’. But times change; and we have spent too long looking back at past glories. The reason that Benitez is mentioned in the same breath as our four legendary managers is because his achievements in Istanbul put us back on the map, albeit briefly.
Winning our fifth European Cup against all the odds attracted a new breed of supporter; despite not winning the Premier League, or even coming close to it (until 08/09) Liverpool fans finally had something to shout about in the midst of Mancunian (well, maybe Essex!) voices. It raised expectations, and a further European Cup final in 2007 sent them through the roof.
The harsh truth is though that Benitez over achieved with Liverpool. When you look at it rationally it is difficult to understand how we won the CL in 2005. Dudek, Biscan, Le Tallec, Traore, Mellor, Smicer, Baros are all legends of that CL run; something happened in 2005 that transformed ordinary players into the best in Europe. Perhaps it was Shankly looking down on us: but that is taking nothing away from the tactical genius of Benitez or the impact of Steven Gerrard.
Winning the CL in 2005 changed the game for Benitez. The signings of Reina, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Alonso, Torres and Mascherano gave us a first XI that was the best in the league. Had Dudek not made that miraculous save in Istanbul then it may well have been very different. Gerrard would probably have left the club; and progress under Benitez may have been less evident.
That is why football is a game of details. Benitez used to deal in two currencies: detail and fact. And he was spot on. Football comes down to the tiniest details: despite the vast gap in financial muscle the Premier League is unique in the fact that every game is competitive. The reason that United, City and Chelsea have had such success is purely economic. They have spent more money than any other side.
The elephant in the room is Wegner, who whilst attracts his critics, is probably the best manager the Premier League has ever seen. He can be arrogant, irritating, and condescending: but to do what he has done at Arsenal; whilst making money is a sensational achievement. He is a pioneer: he changed the landscape of football in this country.
So what does this mean about the Liverpool of today? Anybody that has seen the film ‘Moneyball’ will understand a little bit about what FSG are trying to achieve. There is a real misconception in the Liverpool fan base about what constitutes a ‘good’ signing. Buying players is the most unpredictable element to football: fact.
The model that Liverpool is currently using deals in facts. When we sign a player it is based on solid research and statistical data of what each player can contribute. It isn’t about individual genius; it is about the sum of all parts.
So far, it doesn’t look like it is working. I think everybody will accept that given our current league form. But we have to look beyond that, what we are trying to do is change the way football works.
John.W.Henry recognised early on when he acquired the Red Sox that he couldn’t compete financially with the Yankees. But, somehow he found a way to match them, and to beat them. He did that not by following the norm, but by doing something new. Henry is an innovator: and innovation will always mean that failure is a risk, but failure makes success possible.
Looking forwards, not backwards
That is why it is now time to stop looking back at past glories for Liverpool. If we want to succeed in the future, we cannot let our past dictate us. The achievements of Shankly and Paisley will forever be part of our history and our heritage, but they cannot continue to ‘haunt’ us.
I said at the beginning of this piece that the weight of expectation makes being a Liverpool supporter difficult at times. Each loss is greeted with despair. If it is difficult for supporters, imagine being a Liverpool player? The burden of expectation means that instead of trying something difficult, they will take the easy option. Fear of failure hangs over everyone at Liverpool FC.
We have a unique culture at Liverpool: but Henry, Comolli and Dalglish are all trying to change the way we do things to give us a better future. Under Benitez we had a taste: but sustainability was always going to be difficult given our resources v’s our rivals.
If we can keep faith in this regime the rewards could be amazing. But it will mean we have to change our attitudes as supporters. It will mean we have to stand tall ‘in the wind and rain’.
If this experiment does fail; it is better to have failed and tried than to have not have tried at all. We will never have the resources of a City; but if UEFA stick to Financial Fair Play we do stand a chance.
I honestly believe in the FSG vision: the methods they use aren’t always obvious, but they all have a reason. If we want to succeed in the future, we cannot be afraid of failure now. We have a past we can be proud of, but no longer can we let it affect our future.