The Title that Never Was

Final whistle.  Full time.  Man City win the league.  Liverpool FC get nothing.

That’s all I was left with around 6 pm (SAST) on Sunday, April 12th. Nothing but the icy cold facts. After all the anticipation, the build-up, the hype, the ‘MAKE US DREAM’s and the ‘WE’RE GONNA WIN THE LEAGUE’s, simply: nothing. The Liverpool Dream teased us for all of ten months. It had us moaning and groaning, screaming and shouting – bringing us right to the edge, only to stop suddenly, roll over and light a smoke.

‘But surely there’s no denying the season was a massive success. You can’t say you wouldn’t have taken second place right at the start.’

Of course I would have. I would have taken it with both hands and ran way laughing like a mad man. But we’re not right at the start. We’re right at the end of a season that quite literally made Liverpool supporters believe. And we had every reason to, didn’t we? The savagery of SAS, which developed into SASAS and even SASASAS; the blossoming of Hendo; the reformation of the colossus that is Stevie G; the goals – oh, all the glorious goals that led to the absolute hammerings of well, just about everyone.

 The Dream

I’ll admit, it took me a long time to buy in to The Dream. At the outset, people (not just the haters but neutral observers too) were saying things like ‘Sure they’ve had a good start but that’s all it end up being.’ What right did I have to challenge them? The squad was thin and the others’ seemed inevitably stronger.  But I challenged them anyway. Based on my love for my team and a glimmer of hope garnered from the previous season’s post-January performance, I came to the defence of LFC’s title challenge. But I didn’t do it with confidence. I said they would win the league but I didn’t quite yet believe it. I hadn’t yet dared to dream.

Fast-forward to 13 April: Liverpool vs. Man City. The ref blew it up, I threw my hands up, spilling my beer all over the red-faced, red-clad lads around me, and I most certainly did believe. At that stage it was in our hands: win the rest of our games and we win the league. What a magical statement that was. Could we do it? We had just beaten Manchester f#@!ing City, hadn’t we!? Of course we could do it.

Image source: Flickr. Author: James Russo
Image source: Flickr. Author: James Russo

Of course we could.

Where did it all go wrong?

Forget what came before that Man City game. Any mistakes made previous to that day, for me, are simply irrelevant. And forget the idea that Man City’s squad was simply too big, too strong.  After April 13 the league was Liverpool’s to lose. The trailing pack could only hope we’d slip up.

And boy, did we.

I have to apologise to my fellow Liverpool supporters for that video. And, Stevie G, if by some minuscule chance you watched that video because you were reading this, I give you full license to punch me in the face. In fact, I’d be honoured.

So do we blame it all on That Slip? Perhaps that and the horrific last 10 minutes against Palace? Well, yes and no. Those individual incidents are part of a bigger picture – a big, beautiful picture. One where style of play is paramount; where aimless long balls are banned and wasting possession is sin. What other Liverpool manager of the modern era has ever been disappointed with a win because the manner in which that victory was achieved was not up to his standard, not true to his footballing ideology?

“I am not the type of coach who only wants the win.” – Brendan Rodgers

 

Source: Flickr. Author: Nicolas Connault
Source: Flickr. Author: Nicolas Connault

‘Say what?’

Take a moment to really think about that statement.  If it sounds crazy, perhaps that’s because there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Maybe the straddling of that line is what cost Liverpool in the end – the same way it cost Suarez the season before. Would Gerrard have slipped had he opted to simply bang it down the line into an area instead of looking to go square? Probably not. Would Liverpool have conceded three late goals to Crystal Palace if they had shut up shop and put everyone behind the ball? Probably not.

The Rodgers Way is responsible

Rodgers’ football philosophy is at the root of everything for Liverpool this season, good and bad. Gerrard goes square because he’s playing the Rodgers Way. Liverpool concede to Palace because they’re playing the Rodgers Way. Were they forced to play that way? Maybe at first. But I like to think that by the end of the season, the players had bought into it, that they revelled in it – the same way I did.

The Rodgers Way is also what had Liverpool FC tearing teams apart. It’s why opposition teams were afraid of us. It’s what brought pride back to Anfield. Sure the defence was shaky but so what? You don’t watch a cricket game to see a series of technically-sound forward defensive blocks. You might appreciate them, admire them even. But you watch to see batters smash sixes out of the ground. And you watch football games to see goals. Liverpool scored a hundred of them (101 to be exact).

I know, Man City scored 102 and conceded even less. Good for them. The main difference between Man City and Liverpool? Man City’s playing style was produced by a brilliant team. Liverpool’s brilliant team was produced by their playing style.

What am I on about? Well, at the start of the season, Pellegrini had a brilliant squad capable of anything. Rodgers had a star striker, an ageing legend, a couple of clever acquisitions and not much else: sub-spectacular to say the least. But he went about squeezing the very best out of that squad. And when he was done doing that, he squeezed even more out of it. Of course the players deserve a truck-load of credit but there’s a reason Brendan Rodgers was crowned LMA Manager of the Year.

No doubt Rodgers and the team will work at bettering their defensive efforts. But if it comes at the cost of losing that vicious attacking threat, I don’t want it. I want another thrilling season. I want to plan things around match day again, confident that Liverpool aren’t likely to be short on entertainment value.

Would I swap the Rodger’s Way for a 38-game string of 1-0 wins that resulted in a Premiership title?

No.

Maybe that makes me a little crazy. But maybe, under Rodgers, every Liverpool supporter needs to be.

 

Feel free to share your thoughts on Liverpool’s season in the comments section below.

 Image by Shaun Wong via Flickr under the Creative Commons license.

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5 thoughts on “The Title that Never Was

  1. Yeah
    Brilliant article Niall…..Gave Neil here the link and said he loved it and the hairs were up on the back of his neck reading through it……nice one well done……….we need a franz beckabauer………attack minding sweeper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bittersweet revenge for who? Are you a milan fan? You’re obviously a Zlatan fan and I couldn’t agree more. That guy is a legend. My friend refers to him as ‘God’ when we play FIFA.

      Like

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