After the sun set on the Premier League season with Manchester City still top of the pile, the message from Jurgen Klopp on down was clear: congratulations to City for playing a fantastic season. The players, manager, and fans were disappointed of course, but at a certain point you have to tip your hat to the football team that was just slightly more fantastic than yours.
Of course, we all know how their players responded: choosing to mock red card challenges on Mohamed Salah, a Liverpool fan being beaten within an inch of his life, and the 96 victims—one as young as 10—who went to a football match 30 years ago and never came home because of gross criminal negligence.
And rival fans claimed that we’d be unbearable. Insufferable, even.
This has been the common refrain: we want Manchester City to win because Liverpool fans would insufferable champions.
However, I think the real reason has far more to do with the human psychology of wanting to keep the status quo—even a bad one—more than wanting to confront your own failures. It’s easy to say “Oh, I could never get that job, I’m not qualified.” It’s another altogether to watch that job go to someone with the same (or, as you see it, even fewer) qualifications as you. Their success highlights your failures.
After a decade of spending, spending, spending, City (the rich kids with loads of connections from their parents in this analogy) have built themselves into a behemoth (financially, if not their fanbase). They have enough depth to run out two title-challenging starting XIs. They’ll likely win the treble without really breaking a sweat. They have fantastic players and one of the world’s best managers. Of course they’ll be unstoppable.
City win stuff because they have a bottomless (oily) pit of resources that just cannot be matched by any other club. End of. Go home folks, nothing to see here.
And just how great is their financial advantage? Since 2014/15, they have a net spend of over £563 million. Just on transfers, mind you, not on their substantial wages. United, who have never been shy about spending money on new, shiny players have “only” spent £484 million, net. From there, the drop off is quite significant: £260 million from Arsenal, £224 million from Everton (lads, whatcha doing?), £205 million from Chelsea, and finally Liverpool coming in at £184 million.
Liverpool are closer to West Ham’s five-year net spend (£167 million) than Chelsea’s. Tottenham’s 5-year net spend, by the way, is a ridiculously low £28.25 million. Extremely impressive given the quality of their on-field product.
No matter the league—hell, no matter the sport—teams with the most money tend to win the most things.
Last season’s 100-point, double-winning season by City showed just how wide the gap had become between themselves and the rest. The Premier League, which had long prided itself on its competitiveness, which hadn’t had back-to-back league Champions in a decade, was suddenly on the verge of becoming Serie A, or Ligue 1, or the Bundesliga, or any number of other leagues that were dominated by one team, year-in and year-out. Last season it was no longer a “Top 6” fighting tooth and nail for titles and Champions League qualification, but rather a Top 1 + 5.
Then Liverpool, brimming with confidence from a 5-1 aggregate win over city in the Champions League en route to the final last season, looked up at City’s perch and said, “Yeah, I think we’ll have a go.” It is perhaps this confidence, even overconfidence, that annoys rival fans about Liverpool. But it is precisely this over confidence that gave us the belief to even try to dethrone them.
While Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham gradually dropped back in the pack (and while United remained in 6th), fighting for the last Champions League spots, they watched as Liverpool kept pace.
Rival fans were quick to point out Liverpool’s significant spending last summer (second only to Chelsea’s), but they must have known that Klopp was still getting far more out of his players than their managers were out of theirs. Because it wasn’t Liverpool’s spending in isolation that had created this 97-point, Champions League finalist side, but rather smart spending, and then getting the most out of players.
No other “Top 6” sides were banging down Hull City’s door after relegation to get Andy Robertson. The same could be said about Georginio Wijnaldum, Xherdan Shaqiri, Joel Matip, and James Milner. Likewise, none of the other sides have had such significant losses as having to sell Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling (to City, no less), and Philippe Coutinho along the way.
City were the safe choice. City winning doesn’t make anyone else look bad. It’s expected. They can point to their dominance, their business-like and dispassionate ways of dispatching team after team, and say, “See, no way to compete with those, they have too much money and they’re just too good.”
With Liverpool, there would have been questions. “Why don’t we have an identity?” “Why don’t we have a long-term vision for the club?” “What is our strategy for getting back up there and competing for titles?” “Why aren’t we bringing through our own Trent Alexander-Arnold?” “Why aren’t we finding our diamond in the rough like Andy Robertson?” “How do we dethrone City AND Liverpool?”
What Klopp and Liverpool have done these last few years is nothing short of miraculous. It breaks the status quo, and in doing so inherently highlights the failures of other teams. Klopp helped turn Anfield back into one of the loudest, most intimidating stadiums in Europe. And even when coming up just shy, Liverpool fans are happy about being able to watch one of the best teams in the world.
And when we sing out “Allez, Allez, Allez,” it’s about our own accomplishments, not mocking the dead, celebrating rival fans being beaten, or players being injured.