“This is our year.”
Every fan says it. Most fans believe it. Some fans even bet on it. For most teams, the excitement of a new season gives us fans that great sense of optimism – and rightly so. Football is so gloriously unpredictable. Any-one can beat anyone these days, so why not dream?
“The new signings will add great quality to that squad”, we proclaim smugly to our fellow fans. “The manager will definitely learn from those ridiculous mistakes he made last year”….”our best player is back from injury”…”We had a great pre-season- we’ll carry that momentum through to our league games..” And so, the season starts, with a loud cheer, and the butterflies in our bellies fluttering once again- one of football’s greatest feelings.
Unfortunately, for most teams, that optimism is usually cut short mid-September. After all, I should know – I’m a Liverpool fan.
It happened again this year.
With 2 days of the transfer window to go, everything was rosy.
Brendan Rodgers, who raised a lot of eyebrows to start with, was resolutely silencing his doubters as soon as he opened his mouth. We watched in awe as this “small fish, large pond” manager spoke about his new club with absolute authority and excitement. He didn’t coward away, or speak in order to appease. He spoke with passion, and assurance. He sounded like a Liverpool manager.
Our performances on the pitch looked decent. The “Tiki-taka” style of play was slowly but surely creeping its way into the team- even with a relatively weakened youth side throughout pre-season, and highlighted especially in our phenomenal performance vs Man City at Anfield.
We brought in the “welsh Xavi”, secured an exciting Italian striker, and were ready to be surprised by an unknown Moroccan winger that we got for peanuts. We even got a world class central midfielder from Real Madrid for the year. Not bad acquisitions.
But we weren’t finished there, oh goodness no. Andy Carroll was completing his move to West Ham, paving the way for us to bring in another striker. Or maybe 2. Or even 3. It was all so exciting. Dempsey, Sturridge and Damiao? Who knows! Brendan will have something planned!
Bang. As the transfer window slammed shut, and Jim White wiped the beady sweat off his brow, our hopes had been completely shattered. Our bubble had burst. A wave of pessimism swept through Liverpool like I’ve never seen before. Our optimism was punctured, as if a 10 year old child disconnected the bouncy castle from its pump, submerging us all in the rapidly deflating castle, which we had previously enjoyed for a little while.
The inquest started. ”Who allowed this to happen?”…”We only have 2 senior strikers in the whole squad”..”what IF Suarez gets injured?”…”FSG don’t care about our club, they’ve failed to put their money where their mouth is”..and so it continued. Two days later, a visibly dis-heartened Liverpool side got beaten well by Arsenal, and as the season has unfolded, we find ourselves here now, in a very strange position.
We’re not chuffed. But equally, we’re not disheartened. We are not where we want to be, but there is a feel that we’re well on the way.
You may say “Nathan, we’re 12th in the league by December, where’s the room for optimism?”
Well, if anyone has watched Liverpool like I have this season, they will share my optimism.
There are very few games we have not dominated. We’ve passed the ball superbly this year. It’s been crisp, with rhythm, and at times unplayable. Yes, I know possession means absolutely nothing when you aren’t winning games. But let’s remember, we’ve had one senior striker fit for most of the season- where are you expecting the goals to come from? To be honest, I totally expected Liverpool to struggle for goals as soon as the transfer window closed. But what I did not expect, was the way the team have courageously went about their work, and this, is what has given me my optimism. Look at the Manchester United game. We did not sit back, with the “oh crap, it Manchester United”, mind-set. We brought the game to them. We passed around them. We made them run. We had no fear of them- just ask Shelvey. Yes, we lost on the day, but this was a Liverpool performance.
Our problem is the draws. We all know it. We’ll dominate a game, but just fall short when it comes to getting the winner. But again, the fact that we are dominating shows us that the bare bones of a good team are there. We just need to build upon our skeleton of Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Lucas, Gerrard, Suarez. And that’s indeed what we will do. But it’s long term. We’re not going to throw millions upon millions at players anymore- Robbie Keane, Alberto Aquilani, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing have showed that that doesn’t necessarily work. Anyway, we cannot attract the very best players in the world without Champions League football, and that’s a fact. So stop the “WHY ARENT WE SIGNING MESSI AND FALCAO” comments all over twitter, because John Henry won’t even waste his time.
Ok, there’s plenty of fuel for the pessimists- We’re lying 12th in the league. We’re not scoring enough goals. Suarez is the sole member of our strike force and sometimes he’s too selfish. We’re conceding silly goals. We’re relying far too heavily on youth. Joe Allen just passes side wards. Stewart Downing isn’t a left back. Jose Reina looks wobbly.
But really, this is the situation:
We’ve a desperately thin squad- even thinner than in the Rafa era, when he exclaimed we needed “5 or 6” more players to push for the title, yet we are 7 points off fourth placed and inconsistent Spurs with more than half a season to play. We have one of the best strikers in the league, if not the world at the moment, and thank goodness he is selfish at times. We have one of the best centre back pairings, and fortunately, silly goals can be eradicated quite easily with good training, and a bit of time. Our manager has put faith in his youth players, and has reaped the rewards. We have some of the most exciting talents in Sterling, Suso, and Wisdom, and they’ve lit up their team’s performances with youthful courage, enthusiasm, energy, but most importantly quality- and for those who follow the academy’s progress will also know the supreme quality of the rest of our youth coming through our ranks in the form of Ibe (going to be insanely good), Yesil, Morgan, Ngoo, Sinclair, Adojan, and Coady.
Joe Allen may pass side wards, and I’m not arguing that he’s been fantastic in his first 6 months at Liverpool, but I can see his quality, and his importance to the team now, and especially in the future. If you want to play “pass-and-move” football, you need someone in the midfield who will keep everything ticking over. Allen is always there, always available, always wanting the ball, always keeping it moving. Stop the criticising him- instead sit back and watch him. Watch the job he does, watch him develop over the coming months, years, and soon, he’ll be one of the key members of our squad.
And the most positive thing about it all is that we can only improve. Just wait for the next few transfer windows, for Rodgers to get ‘his’ players. He’s building a team, and instead of criticising his every move and buy as being ‘over-priced’ and ‘not good enough’, realise that Rodgers desperately wants to get quality too, and will only buy who he thinks will fit in well, or is good enough for Liverpool. We have a manager who understands Liverpool. He has immersed himself in our rich history. He loves the passion of the supporters; he loves, and thrives under the responsibility of being in charge of such a great club. Let him do his work. Of course there is going to be times when we play rubbish and lose. Every team does. There will be times when Rodgers makes a bad team selection, or angers the crowd with a sub. There will be times where we’ll be frustrated with Suarez’s selfishness, or Joe Allen’s side wards passing, or Daniel Sturridge’s one-footedness (if the deal goes through of course). But these things do not warrant a ‘#RodgersOut’. It’s part of gaining experience, improving, and growing as a team.
To finish, there’s one thing I am sure of. We are moving forward. We are moving together- FSG believe we’re going forward, Rodgers believes we’re going forward, the players are willing to sign new long term deals because they believe we are going forward, and so us fans all have a reason to believe we are moving, too. It’s very exciting and I feel privileged to be part of it.
Fine, Call me stupid. Call me naïve. Call me crazy. Call me an eternal optimist.
Call me a dreamer. Call me a Liverpool Supporter.
“Aim for the sky and you’ll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you’ll stay on the floor.”