With no Steven Gerrard to drag the club through the hard times next season, Liverpool face a defining summer, writes Danny Gallagher.
“With fighting spirit and passion, Liverpool pushed themselves over the line for what it is possible to achieve,” said Franz Beckenbauer in the aftermath of the greatest European final in football history.
This week marks the ten year anniversary of Istanbul.
TEN YEARS. I’m still struggling to let that completely sink in.
May 25 2005 certainly saw something truly great achieved. The greatest Champions League final of all time, commanded by a 24-year-old scouser from the bluebell estate in Huyton.
Steven Gerrard picked up a down-and-out Liverpool side by the scruff of its neck that night, dragging it to the finish line spilling every drop of blood, sweat and tears in the process.
Ten years on and the 2014/15 season comes to an end. The Britannia Stadium plays host to a 6-1 demolition. The Liverpool goal scorer – Steven Gerrard.
In his final ever appearance for the Reds the living heartbeat of the club hits the back of the net one last time, as his teammates around him, dismayed, despondent and dejected, let him down in spectacular fashion; an all too common occurrence.
A week after an emotionally charged 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace – it shouldn’t have been like this.
A vast portion of Liverpool fans, myself included, will have never known a Liverpool side without Steven Gerrard as a permanent fixture.
Those of a generation fortunate enough to have seen King Kenny grace the hallowed turf week-in week-out will have tasted the fruits of an all-dominant Liverpool. A side who commanded respect across the globe, revered on home soil as the number one team in English football.
The ‘Steven Gerrard’ era followed on from the ghosts of Liverpool’s near illustrious past. A frustrating period by all accounts, with moments of pure adulation and incomparable brilliance.
As from today a new era begins, the direction of the club more unclear than ever, shrouded in uncertainty on all levels. Liverpool haven’t just lost Steven Gerrard, they have lost a part of their very identity, their human embodiment, their soul.
The triumphs of Istanbul right now couldn’t be further away. Last season Liverpool almost did the unthinkable and stormed to the league title, a feat simply nobody predicted on the season’s opening day of August 17 2013.
That miraculous season happened to begin, just as this season has finished, against Stoke City. Perhaps a neat ribbon with which to tie together two polar opposite campaigns.
Just as Churchill took the war rooms beneath Whitehall to devise a battle strategy as the hostility intensified in mainland Europe during WW2, Liverpool must do the same, and quick.
Time to lock themselves away and not return until a clear plan is devised, a top-to-bottom cleanse which realises a transparent transfer system and a desire to truly reach the summit of world football again.
Over the past few years a belief seems to have wavered at Anfield. A steely determination synonymous with the football club has at times gone wandering, and this has to end.
The starting XIs of the two sides in Istanbul tell the clearest tale of all.
A back line comprising Djimi Traore stood up to the likes of Hernan Crespo and the then best striker in world football, Andriy Shevchenko.
Vladimir Smicer would take to the field to play an instrumental part; Djibril Cisse would come off the bench to convert an all-important shootout penalty; Antonio Nunez and Igor Biscan would comprise the matchday squad while Milan boasted Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Nesta and Maldini.
The Reds triumphed that night because of a determination to claw back the deficit, or die trying.
Carragher was a colossus, throwing himself across the dark green of the Ataturk turf, muscles devoid of all fluid and rigid with cramp.
Gerrard was superhuman; tackling, intercepting, heading, shooting, tracking the late substitute Serginho until his lungs verged on bursting.
Not only that, but everyone pulled together. Jerzy Dudek had the second half of his life, John Arne Riise was relentless, Sami Hyypia dug deep and Didi Hamann looked as though he invented football, broken foot and all.
Where is that never say die unity now? It couldn’t be found last season at Selhurst Park – it was non-existent this season as the Reds fell to Villa at Wembley – it disgracefully couldn’t even be called upon in Gerrard’s last Anfield game as Palace ran riot.
On paper, Liverpool shouldn’t have stood a chance in Istanbul. Run those two sides through a statistics simulator and Liverpool would have got a hiding, daresay even to the tune of 6 goals to 1.
Ten years on from Istanbul, getting turned over 6-1 by Stoke City and having won only four trophies since is not acceptable. Four trophies that is, if you’re generously counting the European Super Cup and the Community Shield.
As Gerrard leaves for Los Angeles and the number 8 shirt hangs ownerless in the Anfield changing room, Liverpool, and all those involved within, must realise this is one of the most important moments in the clubs history.
There is no Gerrard to single-handedly drag the club to the heights of world football again.
Unless Liverpool regroup and recapture the club spirit that burnt so brightly in Istanbul, the most successful team in English football history could slip into permanent mediocrity.
‘New Balance’ may be the name of the new kit manufacturer going into next season, but Liverpool Football Club are entering a new era, and they have to get it right.