The beginning of Liverpool campaigns over my tenure as a fan (eternal shoutout to survivors of the Hodgepocalypse!) have been quite the roller coaster ride. Often, they’ve been the entry point to campaigns that barely resemble the one that preceded it.
The ones that loom large in my mind are the way Kenny’s full season at the helm after taking over for Hodgson felt like a downer in comparison to how he’d rallied that depleted squad to a League Cup trophy. I also think about how Brendan’s follow-up to that magic and electric 13-14 campaign was an anemic 14-15 drudgery.
So, the wild swings in form from season to season were a thing that has marked my tenure as a fan. Season to season, you simply couldn’t count on the previous year being a great indicator for what to expect.
Not even merely in terms of results either: the playing style of each squad season-to-season bore very little resemblance to the one that came before. What was once a thriving and rampant attack would suddenly be stuttering going forward.
Liverpool fans, especially those that hopped aboard what felt like a sinking ship at the time, were left supporting a squad that looked not only hard pressed to find results, but bereft of ideas when it came to playing a consistent brand of football. Never mind playing football beautifully. There was a lack of identity on the pitch. There was a sense that Liverpool had lost its sense of self.
Liverpool’s fortunes changed, obviously, when they signed Jurgen Klopp to take over FSG’s reclamation project in the Fall of 2015. Liverpool suddenly became adept at its play, making a European Cup final that year.
And each ensuing year, new benchmarks were hit: qualification for the Champions League, making a Champions League Final, winning Ol’ Big Ears and pushing Manchester City in a season-long duel for the Premier League title. The results are pretty evident.
But more than the consistency of results, there was evidently a change in the way Liverpool played. They adopted a playing style that is evident and has remained with the team season too season. There isn’t a wonder season to season what the team will generally try to do on and off the ball. Tweaks here, flourishes there, but we know what to expect from Klopp’s charges season to season. And that is absolutely a gift.
Nostalgia is a currency in this modern media moment - or, if you buy Don Draper, it’s always ever been thus - and because of that, I’ve been confronting a lot of ghosts from my past. Sometimes it’s how the musical artists I obsessed over as a high schooler are suddenly big news again. Sometimes it’s how TV shows I loved as a kid are suddenly being re-booted. Sometimes it’s weird and niche fashion trends that suddenly make their way back to the fore. Regardless, I’m constantly being reminded of the poor decisions I made in my youth.
Mostly, just bad fashion choices. Sometimes cosplaying as AJ McLean from the Backstreet Boys. Always, wearing a sweater in So Cal’s 80 degree weather just to appease the fashion gods. I was a conundrum.
And that’s because I was in that age where I was still trying to figure out exactly who I was and how I wanted to present that to the world. A poor kid that was brand conscious. Yikes. A kid that wanted to be both ethically conscious while also wearing the brands and designers that my friends adored. And, again, being not wealthy.
I was a mess. One of my friends’ favorite stories to tell is that I once wore a break dancing outfit that consisted of a pair of yellow, windbreaker pants and a long sleeve red shirt. I did that so that I could pay homage to two rival crews I’d been part of; to split the middle as it were. I ended up looking like the Filipino Ronald McDonald, instead.
And the lesson here, which, thankfully, Liverpool have clearly learned thanks to the baptism by sputtering starts over the bulk of this decade, is that one can’t really live in a sense of wholeness with a split identity. Or, at least, without finally acknowledging their true nature and learning to live comfortable in that truth.
Hodgson had no clue. Kenny was always viewed as a caretaker. Rodgers tried to get too cute. Jurgen Klopp knew how to make the pieces work.
When I decided to dress up like a walking Happy Meal, I obviously didn’t have a clue (good as my intentions were). But the underrated thing in aging is that you eventually learn to appreciate the skin that you’re in. The scars carry stories. The blemishes carry memories. And, what’s more, they carry all of me.
The beautiful thing about now is that we’re seeing a Liverpool squad that’s finally matured under Jurgen Klopp. Once that knows itself and, presumably, will carry on this season confident in that truth. Less clown shoes, more classic wingtips. More and more like the Liverpool I’d always been told existed.