Dispelling the notion that Liverpool football club are now a mid-table team in the English Premier League (by Max Rhodes)
Liverpool are, contrary to a certain myth that is currently spreading like wildfire, not a mid table team (not yet at least). The 2009/2010 season marks Liverpool’s lowest finish since 1999, 11 years ago. 3 years on from that, the famous treble winning side of 2001 emerged. However, that side started to fall apart and things got progressively worse until it the end of the 03/04 season when Gerard Houllier was sacked. Rafael Benitez was subsequently appointed and the club only finished 5th in the league but, of course, spectacularly overachieved in winning the Champions League and, indeed, from there on, it was steady annual progress in both the League and the Champions League, as well as domestic cups. It was a slow process - with Rafa only able to spend a small amount of money each year, which made it harder to buy the right players and, since Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought the club in 2007, that process was made even more difficult, due to the manager having to sell to buy which has meant losing good players to risk getting better ones and is also the reason behind a squad that is frighteningly shallow in depth. However, with a side significantly weaker than the one of today Liverpool still managed to finish at least 4th for every subsequent year up until this one, as well as finishing 3rd on two occasions prior to their 86-point, 2nd place finish the year before last. Now it could be argued that it was easier then – the team weren't good enough to seriously challenge for the league but were good enough to ensure they at least maintained their top 4 status. This year has seen the real rise of Tottenham, Man City and Aston Villa (and Everton to a lesser degree, who had been hovering around for some years) to the fore. All sides that have spent vast, vast sums in recent years the former two dwarfing Liverpool's spending out of proportion. And, thus, Tottenham have claimed 4th place, at the Anfield club’s expense. But whilst the London club have spent £80 million on transfers, and Man City more than twice as much, in those years; Liverpool and Benitez – thanks to the American duo – have had to spend their transfer windows actually making a profit, where, in reality, what was really needed was raw investment in the playing staff just to stand still with the clubs above and around them. As many have insisted, this actually means 7th place isn't, in real terms, as bad as it seems. However whilst those 3 have all endured amazing campaigns, Liverpool have not just endured a bad one but a pathetically bad one. In any other year, even if we were half as good as last year (assuming said season was one of overachievement) we would have wrapped up 4th ages ago. Writing them off in such a lazy fashion would be akin to dismissing Steven Gerrard as an inconsistent, disinterested, largely decent but not great player because, for most of last season, that is how he appeared in the eyes of many. In reality, though, even the most committed Manchester United fan, would begrudgingly admit that none of those descriptions accurately apply to a man who has dedicated years and years of service to a club and to fans that hold him in the highest possible regard, playing some really exceptional football along the way, all at a time when he could, instead, have been playing for a team that was, realistically, far better equipped to consistently challenge for major honours than the one he was currently at. But he loved and continues to love Liverpool football club and they, likewise, loved and continue to love him, in return. Would that relationship be anything like as powerful as it is today if every season Gerrard had played for Liverpool had been like that one? A better question is probably whether he would still be at the club or not. A bit of an extreme view, it might be argued and the answer to the question would probably be yes (a bad season for the Liverpool captain, after all, would probably be seen as a highly impressive one were it someone else, and not Gerrard, that had been responsible for it.). However, what we could probably say for certain is that ‘Stevie G’, as he is affectionately known by the Anfield faithful, would probably not have merited this nickname, and all the genuine adoration that comes with it from the fans, if every season at the club had gone the way this past one has. He may still have had a special relationship with the fans but you can be sure it wouldn’t have been anything like as strong as it is in reality. The reason being that Steven Gerrard does not perform in an average campaign as badly – by his very high standards – as he did in 09/10. Far from it, he usually fares infinitely better and that is why he is regarded as such a legend, not just by Liverpool fans but by football fans spanning the entire globe. Inconsistent, disinterested and a good but not great player? More like consistently brilliant, incredibly passionate and a player that genuinely does fits the modern day cliché of ‘world class’. Yet he and, countless others along with him, under-performed last season and it was this that was largely responsible for the team’s failings on the pitch during that year (and that’s before you even take into account everything that was going on behind the scenes). And, ultimately, it would be unfair to judge Gerrard, Benayoun, Kuyt etc because the reality is they can all play so much better than what they have demonstrated this season. This links into Liverpool collectively and the fact it would be irrational or, at the very least, premature to write them off as a mid table team because of one bad season, just as you wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – write Steven Gerrard off as ‘overrated’ or ‘past it’ because of one bad season. Most players were playing not at what their own normal level but far, far below that and it is, largely for that reason, I believe, that Liverpool finished in 7th place.
So, for that reason, I believe Liverpool are much more than a mere mid table club as I sincerely hope will be proven, to some degree at least, next year. With Torres, Reina, Agger, Carragher, Gerrard, Mascherano, Aquilani, Johnson, Maxi, etc all fit and on their A or even B games the team surely has much more to offer (assuming they’re all still at the club by the time next season gets underway). This season has been terrible, even an average one would have merited significantly better rewards. However, a combination of naive tactics, player underachievement, injuries, off the pitch internal fighting, the constant glare of the media, over expectation and, most of all, the incompetence of the club’s owners, contributed to the club’s downfall this season, which left them finishing 7th in the table. Despite this, 09/10 must be put into context as being one season, for now at least.
At the same time, a season is nine whole, long months and Liverpool fans – as most of those that actually have any remaining optimism for the future are well aware – cannot afford to get complacent in such a way (admittedly a strange thing to be saying on the back of such a dismal year) and shrug this season off, consigning it to history as one bad year where everything that could possibly have gone against the club did, a mere ‘blip’ (as George Gillett ignorantly described it, conveniently failing to acknowledge the part he and his co-owner Hicks played in preventing this ‘blip’ from being exactly that). As Dirk Kuyt said, lessons do need to be learnt – 09/10 was a terrible headache for all those who do genuinely love Liverpool football club, but the reasons for that headache can’t go unaddressed, it may have passed for now but we need to understand why it occurred in order to prevent it from returning to haunt us again. Liverpool do need stability, they do need new players (the number of which is debatable), they do need new investment, they do need a new stadium, they do need to trust their manager (whoever that may be, come the start of next season) and, most of all, they do need new owners. Unfortunately, however, it is doubtful any of the above is going to be fully realised any time soon and so, whilst they are a not a mid table team yet, if the issues of political in-fighting, the whole debt situation and the continued presence of Tom Hicks and George Gillett as ‘custodians’ of the club are not very promptly addressed, then Liverpool football club might soon well be exactly that.
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