Sport as metaphor for life can be a trite cliche. Especially when one considers that the vast majority of life does not necessarily point to clear winners or losers; that we sometimes do have draws and stalemates. Football, at least, points to that possibility.
But the aspect of reviewing or analyzing life through the lens of sport probably works finest when looking at football. Because unlike something like baseball in which so many instances exist in narrow moments that look 1-v-1 (ex: batter vs pitcher) or how the squad sizes in a sport like basketball can allow for the influence of a singular talent to assert itself over the whole proceedings, football really does hinge on a collective work.
We saw that on display on Sunday as Liverpool kept themselves in the title race by earning three points against Cardiff City to match Manchester City’s own haul against Tottenham earlier in the day. It was not the type of display that one might call hard-fought or scrappy; all metrics had Liverpool well-ahead in the match. And Liverpool created a few fair big chances that they managed to miss. It was, especially with that scoreline in hand, a dominant performance.
Entering the team rooms at halftime knotted at nil-nil, though, gave many fans reasons to pause. They found themselves against a team that was clearly overwhelmed by the attacking prowess in front of them and unable to cobble much of a threat moving forward, but there were no goals to the good. It had the makings of a frustrating day, one that might need a bit of that individual magic because the team grift looked to have come up wanting.
The thing about Liverpool’s politics as a team and a community is that it is very much rooted in a rejection of the conservative belief that the responsibility of the common welfare stops and starts with the individual. Liverpool the city were decimated by policies that saw the State abdicate their responsibility in caring for its most vulnerable - a people made and formed by the very policies enforced upon them.
Liverpool the football club also always rejected a footballing philosophy that privileged the individual over the team. One of Bill Shankly’s most famous quotes tips to this:
“A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
Essentially, you will always need to have skill in places. Some moments of magic. But that magic, that movement, is built on a team foundation.
Klopp’s iteration of Liverpool is a clear evolution of this. So much of the team interviews and statements center the entire unit. There are leaders across the pitch. The team unity is played up as a strength. No one ever feels the need to go it alone.
This is because Jurgen Klopp knows as Bill Shankly knew then that building something worth doing takes grit, heart, and helping hands.
I kept going back to that Shankly quote as I watched Georginio Wijnaldum smash a low, fizzed cross into the upper corner for the go-ahead goal. I kept thinking of it as I reviewed the photo of the team celebration, which I’ve used twice for write-ups related to this match now.
I still think of it when I think of who this win belongs to.
No one person can lay claim to the entire win. Joel Matip, Alisson Becker and the Liverpool defense were stout in turning away the few chances Cardiff were able to craft. Gini Wijanldum, Jordan Henderson, and The Admiral Naby Keita all looked good in their central midfield roles. And on a day where they misfired, the front three still made themselves a menace, with Mohamed Salah earning a penalty that was, aptly, tucked away by James Milner.
Nothing that took place on that pitch belonged to anyone man. What we saw were 11 men that belonged to each other. That belonged to the cause of Liverpool Football Club’s march to victory. To the cause of building something bigger and greater than themselves.
There are, over the course of this season thus far, more impressive displays of Liverpool football. Comprehensive victories against the biggest names in Europe. A thrilling festive season run that saw Liverpool announce themselves as true competitors for the Premier League Title. There were moments that will perhaps linger longer in the minds of many Liverpool fans.
But this late-season match against a struggling side, one that in the end reflected the gulf in class and may represent nothing more than a small step onward in the quest for Liverpool’s first Premier League title in 30 years, will remain with me.
It points to what a group can do: overcome our individual failings to crawl, climb, and finally arrive at future worth seeing.