Joseph Copeland reflects on Liverpool’s Champions League exit and laments what could have been upon The Reds’ return to Europe’s elite.
Is that it? Is that what we waited all these years for? Following Liverpool’s exit from the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League it was hoped that one of the most decorated clubs in continental history would be back with a vengeance. However, as we all know, that was not the case. Several years of unabashed mediocrity found its way to Anfield.
Liverpool has been blessed with tremendous success in European competition. Whenever they qualify, they are considered among the favourites. Through the years, the Reds have shown the innate ability to get the results they need, regardless of how incredulous it might leave the rest of us. Famous wins over prestigious clubs such as AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid were mixed with heart pounding survival acts against the likes the Chelsea and Olympiakos.
It was these pulsating moments that endeared Liverpool to this competition. Success in the Champions League wasn’t a hope, it was an expectation.
As a result of our rousing 2013-14 campaign, we were once again among the elites of European football. We owned arguably the best player in the world based on that form. He was forming a voracious partnership with perhaps the best young forward in England. Things seemed to be trending up on the red half of Merseyside. We had paid our dues over the last four years and now we were heading back to the top.
Alas, one fateful day during this summer’s World Cup would alter the path of this club. Once Luis Suarez took a bite of yet another opponent, this time on a global stage, he was destined to leave. It is a shame the mercurial Uruguayan wasn’t able to experience the European nights he fought so hard to bring back to Anfield.
The Suarez money was invested on a handful of players that were supposed to bring depth and balance to a side that was without its talisman. One glaring issue among these new arrivals was the obvious lack of experience at the highest level of competition. We neatly brushed this aside with visions of grandeur and the fluid style of play we’d witnessed the season prior. All we had to do was wait for the team to mesh together and we would be contending for the top honour.
Now, after watching this befuddled side stumble into a porous record of 5 points from 6 games, it’s clear that the stage was too much for this team to handle. Brendan Rodgers hasn’t had his finger on the pulse of this team all season, and the tumultuous Champions League showing will do nothing to ease the pressure on the Northern Irishman.
We can’t put this all on the boss though. The players on the pitch have been underwhelming – to say the least. During Tuesday’s match against Basel, with our Champions League lives on the line, we witnessed 75 minutes of abysmal stuff. This was a team that lacked the fire and passion of Liverpool squads from the past.
It wasn’t until the old war hero stepped up with a stunning free kick that brought back memories of another must win group match a decade ago that you thought the Reds might do it yet again. Unfortunately, there was nothing more to offer this time. Having waited so long to return to this tournament, it is fair to say that the fans and members of this proud club deserved so much more.
It’s not merely the fact that we went out so early, it’s how we went out. If we’d put our best foot forward and pushed until the end, this might not have been so hard to handle. I had no misguided notions of Liverpool topping this group ahead of Real Madrid. Was I so out of line to expect us to garner the necessary points against FC Basel and a Ludogrets side that got in because of a defender stopping penalties? It would appear I was.
Now, with the struggles in the Premier League, it is looking more and more unlikely that Liverpool can reach the top four and get back here next year. Winning the Europa League would accomplish that, but who really thinks we will do so on current form? I most certainly am not getting my hopes up.
The Champions League failure runs much deeper at Liverpool than it would at a multitude of other clubs. A lot of teams would just be happy to qualify. While I was ecstatic when our berth was clinched last spring, I expected a little more success.
Yes, things have changed dramatically from last year’s team. No Suarez, an injured Daniel Sturridge and the lack of cohesion for a side that doesn’t know its own identity. But, this is a no excuse club, so I am positive all of those views will fall on deaf ears.
It was nice to be back after a long hiatus, but I’m not alone in lamenting what could have been. Such a long wait for such a disappointing performance will be tough to overcome. Something must change quickly, or else we could be in for another long absence.
I for one do not want this result to be my last memory of the Champions League for the next five years. It will be captivating to found out if there is any magic left at Anfield. If there is, someone better find it, and before it’s too late.