The whistle blew to signify the end of Liverpool’s 2017-18 season and fans felt drained. The Champions League final in many ways was indicative of an exciting and turbulent season that promised so much but ultimately failed to deliver a major trophy that Reds fans so desperately craved; but despite this disappointment that felt like a gut punch, there was also optimism albeit tempered with frustration.
Klopp’s Liverpool team felt like a team, and for the first time in many seasons, fans felt a kinship with their heroes in red. Whether it is Andy Robertson’s many endeavours with food banks or Trent Alexander Arnold’s interactions with young fans, the team and the players felt like ours. They felt more relatable and the old cliché of we win together and we lose together felt less of a cliché and more of a fact with this Liverpool team.
Make no mistake, losing that final hurt the players and the team. You can question player’s abilities and whether they are good enough, but you couldn’t question their commitment for most of this past season. Even players who divided opinions such as Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, and Simon Mignolet gave every impression that they were trying their best in every game even if there could be a debate as to whether some of the players who wore the red shirt were good enough to do so.
You can link a lot of these feelings of togetherness to the atmosphere that Jurgen Klopp has engendered within the club, but that is over-simplifying what has actually happened. Whisper it quietly, but there is a growing feeling around the club that finally FSG are beginning to understand what it takes to be effective owners of Liverpool football club and their fans. The club seems to be making better decisions, whether it is in appointing people like Tony Barrett to a supporter liaison position, or the hiring of Peter Moore as CEO of the club, or allowing Michael Edwards to be de-facto Director of Football. No longer are there the talks to civil war between the famed transfer committee and the manager. Although, as the ill advised comments regarding local fans from Peter Moore show this week, there is still work to be done.
FSG also seem more willing to put their hands in their pockets when it comes to transfers. There was often the feeling, even from the most moderate of Reds fans that often FSG thought they could out think other clubs and Moneyball their way to success without spending the type of money that was required to bring long-term success to Liverpool Football Club. Perhaps early in their custodianship of the club when the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing etc were purchased for fees well above their actual value had made FSG hesitate when it came to giving the Liverpool manager enough backing in the transfer market. This now seems to have changed.
With the appointment of Klopp, a man who FSG had long pursued to be Liverpool manager the club now seems a much better place with a united fan base. Make no mistake there is and will always be naysayers and doubters rather than believers, but the overall feeling amongst the supporters is one of unity and cautious optimism.
It feels so close, that next title, that first trophy for Klopp and the closer that Liverpool gets to claiming that first trophy, the more it hurts each time they fail. In the Champions League final, the players and the manager came up short. It appeared like it was one game too much for tired legs hearts and minds. While fans would struggle to criticise the commitment of the players who wore the red shirt this season there is definitely room for improvement. The midfield has already been strengthened with the arrival of Fabinho and Naby Keita. Both look to be intelligent signings who should strengthen the Reds midfield and give it more energy and aggression for next season. A goalkeeper is an obvious point of concern and should be top of a list for improvement. A centre back to partner Virgil Van Dijk, a Coutinho replacement, and another player to play across the top three positions also seem a must. Recognising that is the easy part. What isn’t so easy is finding the players and getting the deals over the line. There has never been more aware of different leagues and players across the world. With the multiple stats sites, scouting software and websites, and the video coverage of nearly every single league it is harder to uncover that bargain or that hidden gem. What instead is the key is trying to work out how well a certain player would fit into this Liverpool team in terms of personality and playing style. Then there is the Premier League tax. Ask about a particular player and mention that you are from a Premier League club and the price increases by a few million as clubs around the world want part of the wealth that the Premier League clubs seem to have in droves. This is why there is a drive to invest in academies. For a Premier League club to bring through their own players will save them a fortune, but in this ever pressurised game, managers are wary blooding young players as often they are only a few games away from the sack.
So what is the answer? Money more than ever seems to be a driver for success particularly when it comes to wages. However, a look across to Old Trafford, for example, shows that without a coherent strategy when it comes to buying players success is far from guaranteed. There has to be a mix of investment of money and how the player will fit into a club’s system. Leicester City winning the Premier League was a fluke. I doubt it will ever happen again in any of our life with the current Premier League model that we have.
Liverpool are looking more like a top four club than they have since Rafa Benitez’s tenure. This has to just be the start, a foundation for the club to build on. Performing well in the Champions League as well as being seen as a club in the conversation for the Premier League title should hopefully see the club attract better and better players to Liverpool, but success will be needed to keep the quality players that they already have. The onus is on the owners to invest and ensure that the manager has a quality pool of players to choose from. Signs are good, but only time will tell if the club will take the ultimate step to success with the winning of trophies and titles. Only when this happens, will fans really believe that FSG have saved their club and brought them back to the Promised Land. Fans live in hope. I live in hope. We are Liverpool Football Club, we exist to win trophies. It is time we got back to where we belong. Hopefully, with Jurgen Klopp and FSG, we are on our way.