2018 was a year. I mean, like, it was A YEAR. It somehow simultaneously sped by and dragged on for what felt like, to this humble scribe at least, a decade. Maybe more.
It was a year that saw hardship across the globe as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees notes that 68.5 million people have been displaced from their homes. An unprecedented number in human history and one detailing the broadspectrum of human struggle in this current age.
As I write this in America, we’ve seen that the unfortunate response to this deep need among so many members of our human family has been met with xenophobia and racism weaponized in the unconscionable action of ripping children from the arms of parents and detaining them. While some argue over the semantics over whether words like fascism are appropriate, many are already feeling the burden of this yoke on their very bodies. 2018, for far too many, has been cruel and unrelenting.
The paradox for me, as a Liverpool supporter, is that 2018 was, by and large, a joyous ride. The club are currently the league leaders, holding a robust 54 points in this league campaign. More, they hold both a 7 point lead and the tie-breaker in terms of goal difference over presumed title favorites and current title holders Manchester City.
This is all a mere 7 months following Liverpool’s surprise and swashbuckling run to the Champions League Final against Real Madrid. Sure, the team may have lost their grip on adding a potential Sixth European title to their trophy chase, but the team played scintillating and increasingly confident football.
The most important bit of this time is that it feels very much like the final piece in an 8 year transformation for the Reds under FSG. Complete with a few false dawns of this time - looking at the steps back after Kenny Dalglish and under Brendan Rodgers - there was a sense that this was the era that would see Liverpool climb fully out of the muck that was the collapse under the Hicks & Gillette Era. We could finally move past the Hodgepocalypse.
Yet even for the most optimistic of us, this era stands as brighter somehow and to have come even faster than we could have ever hoped. We expected that Jurgen Klopp, even with all of his obvious talent, would need a lot of time to right the ship. And yet, in his first half season+ in charge, he lead the club to two Cup finals. In his first full season, he secured Champions League qualification. In his second, he made it the Champions League final and entrenched Liverpool in the Top Four. And in the first half of his third, he’s guided them to the top of the table with a historic pace that sees them in front of that impervious machine down the M6.
It feels earned and real and solid because this squad has talent that are committed to their inimitable manager. Mohamed Salah. Sadio Mane. Virgil Van Dijk. And the most Klopp-like of them all: Roberto Firmino.
Following the absolute evisceration of Arsenal on Saturday, one man stood ahead of everyone else in my mind. The Brazilian striker that isn’t quite a striker. The Brazilian 10 that puts in a shift like a particular Dutch 7. A unique player for a unique coach who values hardworking as much as skill.
Roberto Firmino doesn’t always possess the highlight reel of other playmakers like that other Brazilian we won’t mention, but the things he brings to the club tactically are invaluable. His movement, positioning, defensive ability, and eye for a pass are all world class. His selflessness as a striker - seen in him taking a backseat to Mohamed Salah for the penalty kick despite being on a hat trick, or on his many layoffs to Mané and Salah throughout this season - make him perfect to operate as the chaotically beautiful hub in Liverpool’s attack.
Liverpool’s positioning as true title rivals to Manchester City and distanced from the rest of the Premier League feels real and earned because of world class players like Roberto Firmino.
So, sitting here in my living room while I watch my wife encouraging my 1 year old daughter to walk across our floor, I know I have many things to be grateful for. Even in the midst of the darkness that was this most brutal and crushing of years. Even in the midst of a society that does not yet see justice as being something to extend to all people. Even in a fandom that fails its own. There is joy.
I found joy in my family. I found joy in my work, as difficult as it can be. I found joy in my people rising up as though in minor rebellions and in great defiance to a society and a nation that has tried to disavow them through the mere act of existing. There is joy.
And in 2018, as I look forward to the first title race that Liverpool have been in during my time as a supporter that, well, feels truly earned and real, that joy all too often came from this team.
As we await expectantly for 2019 and what should be an undoubtedly entertaining campaign, I invite y’all to take a moment to list the things that have brought you joy and hope and love over this past year as well as the things that you are looking forward to. Because, in all honesty, this community brought me a lot of joy as well and one of the delights I am carrying with me into this new year is the most tender and fragile of dreams that I will get to celebrate this Liverpool squad and this Liverpool manager and this incredible moment in Liverpool history with, hopefully, a coronation come the end of the season. And, most of all, I look forward to doing all of that with you.
May cheer and joy and blessings rain upon you all in this coming term. Up the Reds.