What a special moment it is to stare down the barrel of a league cup final. The good guys in Red, drawn together by the irresistible aura of a managerial messiah that--rightly or wrongly--carries with him all of Redkind's hopes and aspirations. A man with a triumphant history of season long chases for silverware, a twinkle in his eye that captures the 24 hour news cycle's good graces, and molds them in favor of his charges.
A man who understands the importance of rabble-rousing the home support as he attempts to smooth the jaggedly fitting and egregiously well-paid talents at his disposal into something resembling a unit. If not a well balanced, consistent unit, then at least one mercurial enough to bring a sharp edge against the mightiest foes. Trying to solve a riddle of how to fit £30m+ of big lug into a side that looks so much more fluid and incisive without it.
So much more fluid thanks in large part to the pure skill of a young South American forward finding his feet, spreading his wings, and arriving onto the world stage. Special moments indeed. But enough about Kenny Dalglish and his Carling Cup winning Liverpool side from the 2011-12 season.
You can't live in the past, as Jürgen Klopp would say, and we certainly aren't asking anyone to live in the past when considering Dalglish's last term as Liverpool manager. But we would ask for those joining with Klopp to mold this current edition of Red to learn from it.
See, regardless of who you blame for King Kenny's ultimate failure in 2012--and you would have our deepest sympathies if you blamed Damien Commolli--one thing that can't be denied is it occurred on the back of a lot of pricey chopping and changing. Seven transfers in and nine transfers out for the senior squad might not seem like so many on paper, but the summer leading up to that season was more than just a face lift.
Following on from the Winter splurge on a misfit in Andy Carroll and an all time great in Luis Suarez, that summer was a defining window for the recently (re)arrived manager. The Commolli-Dalglish stamp had been thoroughly smooshed in with this idea of building a new Liverpool. And it's tough to sell that new idea of Liverpool without swapping out the old standard players for new standard players.
And fair enough. Very few great moments were ever seen from the likes of Milan Jovanovic, David N'Gog, and He Who Shall Not Be Named after Liverpool replaced them. But then again, how many more great moments did we really by swapping those three for Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, and Charlie Adam? In fact, the real gains Liverpool made that year was in transfers made with an eye on the entire squad. Jordan Henderson. Sheyi Ojo. Jordon Ibe. Craig Bellamy. All inspired additions in terms of fit for the squad unit and structure of the club. None were that reach for starter quality or Liverpool standard. And therein lies the lesson.
Chopping and changing in the chase for a world class collection of talent wasn't a new idea in 2011-12, just as it's not a new one now. What is often overseen in that chase, though, is the inherent flaw of bringing in a transcendent talent to a group that lacks cohesion and direction.
You can spend seasons transferring players in and out until you dig up a Luis Suarez, and what a day that is when it comes. But the truth is Luis Suarez doesn't win trophies on his own. And unless you surround that talent with the right combination of chemistry, skills, and roles--and sharpish--you are merely spinning wheels during peak seasons of that player's career. Which is a problem, because players of that ilk don't much care for spinning wheels during their peak years. By and large, they will chase their own goals at all costs. Even if all costs mean leaving to play third wheel for a historically talented Barcelona squad.
It is smarter, more sustainable, more efficient, and more rewarding to build and grow from within until you have a setting worthy of that star. Churning waters until you randomly land that star, and then scrambling to build the setting out around him? For what? To pray for at least one trophy as the clock invariably ticks down to his departure? Why not build for more? Why not establish a unit worthy of the star, and capable of absorbing that star's departure or fall from form?
So look at Liverpool now. The easy read is that this team has trouble stopping goals, scoring goals, and staying healthy. Any team with problems in those areas is going to have trouble staying at the sharp end of the form table. The money is there, so what are we waiting for? Splash that cash! Filter that scouting list by players of the week, Germans, and Reus, and start throwing that television money around!
Goalkeepers, strikers, central defenders, wide defenders, wide attackers, central midfielders, defensive midfielders, more ball boys, a new announcer, and one of those cornucopia things that no one you know ever actually puts together. Above all, though: increase the standard of the players to Liverpool quality. You know you've said it. You know you've thought it. Don't even front.
And to make room for it all? Don't bother us with trifles. Put everything up for sale that isn't Brazilian, has been recently injured, or hasn't scored in the last six months. And especially sell that Martin Skrtel--who really needs Martin Skrtel? Martin Skrtel is pretty old, and makes way too much damn money, anyway.
And fair enough. Maybe you do splash some dough. Maybe no one really does need Martin Skrtel. But if we can all just pump our brakes for a moment and take a second to remember the lesson of Kenny Dalglish's 2011-12 side--what are we really trying to accomplish? What do Liverpool need to be in the business of building? We say it looks like a lot more than just hoping Luis Suarez had stuck around another season or two.
Look at this club from that angle and what might you see? Stable, understated ownership. Robust scouting. A youth academy that is as sorted as any club can reasonably expect. Yes that television money. And a managerial messiah literally telling you this is the way he enjoyed working when he won titles at his last gig. Working and developing the cohesive identity of the group.
The current product on the field does have the issues of scoring goals, stopping goals, and staying healthy. But how much of that is down to individual players versus the on and off field momentum running through this club since Stevie slipped and Suarez dipped? Address the latter from the ground up and you might be surprised at how quickly the former comes around.
It's not that we shouldn't be going for Alex Teixeira in this window. He is a helluva player, and that ilk of footballer should always be associated with Liverpool. It's that we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Not if we want to build an institution that is in the mix for silver in every competition it enters, year in and year out.
Sure, Stevie and Xabi had their say in that 2005 Champions League final, but so did Vladimir Smicer and Jerzy Dudek. The stars take on a lion's share of the burden, but no champion has ever won anything without an Eidur Gudjohnsen, Kiko Macheda, or Juliano Belletti.
Jürgen Klopp has a nice mix of burgeoning youth, veteran savvy, world class potential, and positional flexibility to fill needs in a pinch. He's not that far off establishing that cohesive setting he needs. Instead of selling and replacing players, the focus should continue to be on bringing along Ojo and Kent. On bringing Lazar back into the fold and up to speed. On seeing just how far this Firmino kid is willing to stretch his game. On figuring if this stable of young fullbacks are up for the long haul. And on seeing if Origi and Ings are more than just an excellent idea for a buddy cop show about two fiveheads from different sides of the tracks who share a courageous determination to seek justice, one sweet hood-slide at a time... And in adding a few key pieces.
26 goals in 26 games is a nice start. Maybe that fanciful, too-quickly eschewed idea of competition at the goalkeeping position. Pieces need to be brought in, of course. But those pieces should be brought in as cogs for a functioning machine, not as momentary fountains of hope doomed to be drained by their own adoring, parched masses.