Progress vs Results. It’s an age-old tension that, in sports fandom, often brings to bear what feels like divergent paths: slow-and-steady improvement over the immediacy of winning now, future be damned. On fan blogs and across Twitter, it’s easy to use these two items as cudgels against the other. Those that hold to a measured approach do not want success enough or are not willing to lay it all on the line to win now. Those that want to win now, often don’t look towards tomorrow and chafe at words like “sustainability.”
There isn’t a wrong way to success, but a path that ensures the project doesn’t go under during turnover is important. And in an industry that is built on turnover, implementing systems that will survive beyond one manager or one key player are necessary.
To that end, we may now, finally, be seeing a new dawn at Liverpool Football Club with the Reds not only seeing improvement in key areas on the pitch, but seeing it off it as well. Following a solid run of results in the past three weeks, all of which have taken place after the departure of club talisman, Philippe Coutinho, the club now stand to both advance in this year’s Champions League competition while also securing a berth in next year’s tournament. And they currently sit second in the league to boot.
Now, this may all seem a bit premature, but other, smarter folks have already made the case for the mathematical prospects of us finishing Top 4, and we all know that Porto faces very steep odds in the name of needing to score 6 at Anfield after the dominant performance by the Reds in the first leg of their tie. We are, for the first time since Rafa’s stint at the helm, looking at back-to-back years of Champions League play.
And all of that would be a small accomplishment when you consider a club with the history and stature of Liverpool, but as a fan that came in right after Benitez’s departure and under the specter of administration (not to mention the Hodgepodge and Christian Fucking Poulsen), well, the present feels leagues away from those dark days. If you were with us back on the old iteration of The Liverpool Offside, you might remember a pattern to some of the articles that often ran in this fashion: things are bad, then they’re ok, then we realize things are bad and it’ll never get better. It was the time of the false dawn.
It was easy to see how it could, as well. While Fenway Sports Group managed to save the squad from administration, the pre-Klopp era reads very much like two steps forward and three steps back: lose Fernando Torres, but sign Suarez; win the League Cup, but fail to qualify for Europe; qualify for Europe, but be toothless. All the while, emerging talents like Suarez and Sterling were unearthed only to have the club’s inability to retain them push the club back. It was a treadmill of sorts.
But what we may have failed to see is how FSG and the club’s hierarchy have quietly grown over that time. While it was painful (for some) lose talents like Suarez or Coutinho, maintaining a sensible wage structure has meant that the club has not been in danger of going into administration, avoiding becoming The Next Leeds as many feared at the time. Further, the transfer committee/personnel evaluators have learned from their mistakes. No longer are we signing the likes of Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, and even Christian Benteke. Some of the variance is certainly owed to the club needing to fill multiple holes and take gambles. Some of which have panned out - Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, and Philippe Coutinho being great examples of that. But as the club has shortened their transfer lists, aimed solely for upgrades to the starting XI, we’ve moved into an era where the bench now features the quality of Adam Lallana, James Milner, Danny Ings, Alberto Moreno, and Nathaniel Clyne. Competition at nearly all positions and with a young and healthy core of superstars to boot, there is no reason to believe the good times can’t keep coming - even with the likes of Philippe Coutinho having left the club. Gone are the days of variance both in the transfer market and in the standings. We are settling into an era of real expectation. An era of hope.
And that brings us to now. It is a strange thing to see a squad this good and not be more excited. It is also understandable, though, considering the unlikely circumstance of Manchester City having trotted out to such a commanding lead in the title race early. But we are supporting a club that is alive in Europe’s top competition, looks all-but-certain to qualify for next year’s edition, is sitting at second place surrounded by clubs whose spending dwarfs the club, coached by a charismatic and lovable manager, and filled with footballers that clearly love their football, their club, and each other.
This is not a coronation; we don’t have titles yet. But that it looks like a real distinct possibility over the next few years is cause for celebration after years in the wilderness. We are living at the edge of a bright future. Enjoy the run-in, Reds. It’s been a long time coming.