Liverpool FC: A Case For Number 19

Not AvailableCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2008

Nelson Mandela is freed from prison after 27 years behind bars. East Germany holds free elections for the first time. Phil Collins, Sinead O'Connor, and Michael Bolton are all still famous. Liverpool F.C. wins their sixth domestic title in the past decade, extending their record total to 18 championships.

It's been a full 18 years since England's most successful club last claimed the top prize in domestic play. Back then, Juventus set the world transfer record with the £8 million signing of Roberto Baggio. Today, that would buy you one Younes Kaboul or half of a Darren Bent (sorry Tottenham fans!).

Yet despite almost two decades of underachievement in the league, year after year, faithful Kopites are convinced that their wait is finally over. It's not as if their hope has always been misguided, though.

The decade that followed Liverpool's last league victory was filled with disappointment and an overall departure from "The Liverpool Way", however the 2000's have seen some of the Reds' most famous triumphs (the 2001 treble, Istanbul 2005, the FA Cup a year later) and a near-triumph or two along the way as well (AC Milan's Athens revenge).

Add to that some of the most iconic players to ever put on the famous red shirt in the likes of Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, and Steven Gerrard, and it's quite surprising that Liverpool has found it so difficult to bring home that elusive 19th league title.

After so many false dawns, is it finally time for the Anfield faithful to reclaim what they believe to be rightfully theirs? This year, more than any other in recent history, the time could be right.

The Reds have their strongest squad in years. At age 28, club captain Steven Gerrard is reaching what should be the peak of the playing days of his career, and over the past season, he has formed a frightening partnership with Fernando Torres, who in his own right is arguably the world's premier striker.

In fact, El Niño seems to have solved the one issue that Kopites have bemoaned since the departure of Michael Owen—the need for a world-class striker. When Javier Mascherano, Jamie Carragher, and Pepe Reina are added to the mix, it's easy to see that Liverpool boasts one of the most solid backbones in the entirety of world football, let alone the English Premier League.

So, if the Reds are such a dominant force, what's kept them from toppling the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea over the past few years? The answer seems to lie in strength in depth.

Only now, with the final departure of Anthonly Le Tallec, can Rafael Benitez say he's rid himself of the legion of "New Zidanes" that the well-meaning Gérard Houllier claimed to have filled the squad with.

Benitez has brought in a few flops of his own; they've come at a far less substantial price than those that Monsieur Houllier signed. Benitez seems to be constantly berated by his detractors for the signings of players such as Nuñez, Kromkamp, and Voronin, but it must be remembered that all of these players were essential free transfers.

That's not to say that Rafa hasn't had a misstep here and there—certainly the signings of Bolo Zenden and Mark González did little to fill the gaping hole on the left side of the pitch. However it must be remembered that Rafa has never had the kind of funds that Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho (and his successors), and now even Jol and Ramos have enjoyed.

When you look at the list of successful signings Liverpool have made since the start of Rafa's tenure: Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso,  Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres,  Javier Mascherano, Daniel Agger, and Ryan Babel among others, you'd have to agree that Mr. Benitez has been a shrewd operator during the always chaotic transfer windows.

Add to that the raft of young talent that is constantly being added to the Academy and Reserves (don't be surprised to see the names Nemeth, Pacheco, Insua, and Plessis plying their trade at the top level some day), and the future seems to be bright for the Reds.

Despite the fact that Rafael Benitez has built a strong base with a solid support system of talented young players, there is work yet to do before Liverpool can add the Premier League Trophy to their cabinet. However, it seems that the club's choice of transfer targets has it moving—mostly—in the right direction.

While the signing of Gareth Barry from Aston Villa may seem a bit redundant considering Liverpool's current central midfield options, especially at the price of £18 million, the addition of players like Robbie Keane and David Silva would be a huge step in the right direction.

Keane is a leader who has proven his mettle in the Premiership by continuously relegating a host of big-money striker signings to the bench at Tottenham over the years. Now entering the prime of his career, Keane would certainly be sure to grab hold of the chance to produce his best form for the club that he supported as a child.

David Silva, on the other hand, is a relative newcomer to the limelight in international football. After displacing the glass-ankled Vicente first at Valencia, and then in the Spanish national squad, Silva has courted his fair share of attention from Europe's elite clubs.

Liverpool, however, seem to have the advantage with their army of Spanish players and staff proving to be a strong drawing point for any player wishing to leave La Liga in search of a new challenge. There are, of course, questions about whether Silva is too lightweight for the physical English game, but then again those same questions were asked when Luis Garcia and Fernando Torres joined Liverpool.

If their ability to adapt is any indication of what the young Valencia winger could be capable of, David Silva could prove to be one of the final pieces of the puzzle in Liverpool's quest for their 19th title.

Overall, Liverpool's prospects look promising for the 2008-2009 season. While many of their main rivals are undergoing a period of turmoil and massive change, Reds fans have been afforded the luxury of a summer of relative stability.  

If players like Torres, Babel, and Skrtel can replicate the form that they showed throughout the second half of last season, important first-teamers like Daniel Agger can stay fit, and Rafa Benitez can add a few more key players in the right positions before the transfer window slams shut on August 31, Liverpool can win their 19th league title.

It may not be that unreasonable to think that the long wait for number 19 may finally be over on Merseyside.

If not, at least you can be sure that Michael Bolton won't be topping the charts.