One Last Effort

"Steady Raheem. I don't feel we've reached that stage in our relationship yet..." - Michael Steele

Soon we will immerse ourselves in the unedifying morass of transfer season with its attendant self-loathing and baffling uncertainty but before that let's remember there is a chance that Liverpool might end the season as champions.

Today's offering, this scribbler's final one of the best season of Liverpool football in a quarter of a century, presented a real conundrum. Our primary function here is to supply you fine folk with the news or, at least, our take on it. However, after embarking upon the now familiar trawl of the best sources of Liverpool-related tales, it became apparent that most outlets have begun to wade into the dangerous waters of the transfer market, a place from which it can be difficult to reemerge. One is reminded of the Bard's Scottish tyrant, Macbeth, who has a moment of epiphanic clarity when he compares his descent into bellicose barbarism with crossing a river of blood and realising that "returning were as tedious as go o'er."

The media world has started to tell you, gentle reader, that this season is over for Liverpool Football Club. That is their news. We know this because in place of sundry pieces analysing the final game of the campaign against Newcastle United on Sunday, a match which could yet secure the Premier League title for the Redmen, we are instead afflicted with a deluge of specious 'stories' linking the club with football's brightest young things. By next week, all of our thoughts will have turned to a three-month angst-ridden conversation about how we feel others should spend their money on the club that we love. Until then, bear with me as I turn the focus one last time onto the events yet to occur on the Anfield turf before this glorious campaign concludes.

On Sunday, the streets of Liverpool will be full of supporters whose mood will be buoyant and hopeful but also grateful. Years of genuine heartbreak and despair will have placed the recent disappointments into stark perspective and the city will witness a heaving throng unified in their good will towards Brendan Rodgers' men, wanting their team to know how proud they have felt watching the club remain in the conversation for the title until the very last day. It is an achievement of Herculean proportions that surpasses even the most optimistic of pre-season predictions and will remain a source of eternal credit to the Antrim man and his group.

The most gratifying thing, for those of us whose obsession with the club is all-consuming, is that when we reflect on this season of football played with such creative élan, at such a high tempo and with such ferocity, we will find it difficult to single out just one player who has dragged the team by its bootstraps. Granted, the attacking panache and belligerent intensity of Luis Suarez has been the most notable feature, if not the key ingredient, but this was a new Liverpool, a team, a unit with a shared philosophy and work ethic based around the most basic of principles -- ball retention and ball recovery.

Rodgers arrived with a possession-based philosophy he labelled death by football, but all that has died in the interim is his inclination towards such grandiose declarations of intent and his slavish devotion to one system of play. He has shown a remarkable capacity to learn and adapt and the bravery to do so. Whilst the likes of André Villas Boas and others are characterised by their unwillingness to bend tactically, the 41 year old Liverpool coach is humble and intelligent enough to have seen the primacy of getting the three points on any given day -- now, if someone could just remind him to do a few extra defensive drills in pre-season, Liverpool may enter a new era of dominance.

The coach's talents have been evident in so many ways but the most pleasing piece of legerdemain worked by the soft-spoken Irishman has been his ability to bring out the latent ability in Liverpool's emergent stars. Over the course of this most gratifying of campaigns we have collectively cheered the comically uncompromising tackling and surprisingly adroit attacking play of Jon Flanagan, we have marveled at the indefatigable efforts and pleasing technique of Jordan Henderson and we have come to rely on the consistently impressive ball-carrying and goal-threat of 19 year old Raheem Sterling. Under Rodgers, Daniel Sturridge has gone from big-club misfit to England centre-forward and dual PFA award winner. The kids, it would appear, are alright.

Within the group, too, there seems to be a kind of mutual respect and admiration for each other's gifts. Sterling, with his highly idiosyncratic dribbling style and explosive shooting, could claim to be utterly unique and self-taught but there is no such hubris on display from the tonsorial terrorist. Instead, he speaks of a shared effort, his debt to the manager and the joy of learning from the stellar likes of Suarez and Sturridge.

"It's been a great season for us and I think everyone has worked really hard as a group," insisted the diminutive Tyrannosaurus of the team when accepting the club's Young Player of the Year Award. "There's a real togetherness in the squad and I'm just glad to be a part of this great football club. On a personal level, at the start of the season I wasn't playing much, but it's been a real learning curve for me. To be able to sit back and learn from the boys, people like Dan and Luis, has been important. To improve my game, I needed to get into the box and score some goals and there are no two better players to learn from than them. I really tried to learn my game and I want to thank Brendan and all the staff for helping me to get to where I am today."

When Liverpool take to the field against Newcastle United the atmosphere should be celebratory. We are witnessing the beginning of something, not some one-off thrill-ride. We will hope that the texts sent by Lucas Leiva and others imploring Andy Carroll to remember he's a decent footballer may have some effect. Of course we will. This group and their charismatic leader have taught us to dream again and already thoughts of next season's European adventures have begun to fill our imaginations. Maybe, just maybe, we can embark on those adventures as champions.

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