The story of Liverpool's first-ever European trophy is one every fan of England's most decorated club should be familiar with. For those who pin their allegiances to alternative masts, there can be lessons from the success of Bill Shankly along with many other managers.
Irrespective of Liverpool's status and history as a club, this decade has been one of mediocrity in the Premier League and irrelevance in Europe. Finishing second in 2013/14 under Brendan Rodgers was an exception to a rule that dictates Merseyside's finest finish no higher than sixth in England's top division. In this period, Liverpool have slumped to lowest-ever Premier League finishes of eighth twice, matching the struggles of 1993/94 even though that season was contested over 42 games.
Jürgen Klopp might not be taking over a side in the old second division as Bill Shankly did at the end of 1959 but he has taken charge of a club that has consistently struggled to match what the Premier League's best has to offer. Shankly needed two-and-a-half seasons to secure promotion, another two seasons to win the league, and a further nine seasons after being crowned champions of England to taste European glory. From there, Liverpool became England's most successful side in Europe by some distance. Good things do not always land in the laps of those who wait too long, but haste is not a prerequisite for success, especially for those seeking something altogether more sustainable.
There are fine examples within the confines of the English game. Sean Dyche has repeated the feat of getting his Burnley side promoted as once again after being relegated last season, winning the Championship title in the process. Steve Bruce is one game away from restoring Hull City's place among England's elite, a reward for the club's owners for sticking with a manager who has been in charge since 2012. Mauricio Pochettino had to spend a season finishing fifth and losing a League Cup final with Tottenham Hotspur before leading English football's most exciting young side to a surprise title challenge and automatic Champions League qualification.
Sometimes failure begets failure, which in turn, begets more failure. This period of Liverpool's history has provided sufficient examples for those willing to take even a cursory glance, but with the right leadership and squad building, progress can be built upon for next season and beyond.Take a few moments to revisit the last game of the previous campaign after Liverpool lost 6-1 to Stoke City, a game that effectively ended Rodgers' tenure at the club. Not only were Liverpool predictably overrun in midfield and incapable of displaying any defensive stability with any semblance of regularity, they were now being savagely beaten.
Steven Gerrard's last game at Anfield? No fight. Last game of the season? Destroyed at the Britannia Stadium. One nil up at half time to the defending champions in the Europa League final roughly 12 months later? Surrender. Whatever needs to be exorcised from the club will take more than seven months, but getting to two finals where Liverpool fans can be disappointed with the manager's in-game management and response of the players is an achievement that cannot be discounted nor dismissed.
There are players in this squad that various Liverpool and rival fans disagree on, but the consensus appears to be that there needs to be activity in the summer transfer window. There's also the issue of Liverpool's mental strength in seeing out games. How, then, do we explain or attempt to understand Liverpool's run to the Europa League final by knocking out Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, and Villarreal in successive rounds? What to make of defeating the club's fiercest rivals in a first-ever European meeting, coming behind from two goals down against a fantastic Dortmund side at Anfield, and overturning a first-leg deficit to dismantle Villarreal on Merseyside? There weren't any signs of psychological torpor in those games, only impressive resilience and a sense that Anfield had been truly restored.
Liverpool will be without European competition next season, making the Premier League the primary focus of a first full season under Klopp. How to reconcile the victories over Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton with three seemingly unforgivable instances of throwing away two-goal leads in successive months? Absolutes are perhaps slightly dangerous when the seven months spent under the 48-year-old Swabian abounds with conflicting evidence. Liverpool failed in two semi-finals under Rodgers last season, and now Klopp has gone one step further in just over half a year. Cause for celebration? Perhaps not, but for those still tender after Wednesday's reverse, despair shouldn't be the prevailing emotion with triple sessions and a transfer window ahead.
Jürgen Klopp has earned our trust in such a short time, and combined with the work he oversaw at Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund, there should only be believers in what is to come. For those who are still uncertain, remember who started what Liverpool are all about in Europe: Bill Shankly and 1966. Borussia Dortmund denied Shankly from securing a European trophy in the 1966 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final, losing a semi-final in the European Cup against Internazionale in the previous season. Semi-final heartache one season followed by a silver medal in the next campaign.
Six years of struggle in Europe followed 1966 before a seventh with glory finally arrived. In those six years, Liverpool never won the league either. The FA Cup? The League Cup? Only an appearance in the 1971 FA Cup final, no more than that. 1966 may have been the year when England won the World Cup, but Liverpool won England's top division for the second time in three seasons. Europe would have to wait, but when it came in the 1973 UEFA Cup, the league was secured in the same season. What followed in the next 15 to 16 years was a period of domestic and continental domination that no English club had ever achieved and has yet to match.
Sevilla responded like champions while Liverpool are still learning what it takes to become one. To be champions, though, mental strength needs to be shown repeatedly when required. Finishing in the top four next season, let alone winning the Premier League, will demand consistency in displaying physical and mental durability. Despite all the reflection and perspective genuinely on offer, Liverpool ended a season of progress raggedly when a seemingly precious opportunity was forged through a stirring cup run and solid first half in a first European final for nearly a decade.
Jürgen Klopp, an individual who has by all accounts had a successful managerial career, lost in a cup final for the fifth time in a row. What he has shown, however, is an ability to put his side in a position to contend for trophies. After all, Claudio Ranieri had the opportunity to manage Leicester City after being sacked by Greece! The absence of European football will provide an opportunity for gegenpressing to truly sink into the minds and bodies of Klopp's players, which may be the fortune that flows from Wednesday's self-inflicted misfortune. Lessons and progress are made in victory as well as defeat, but the best ones often come from the ashes of failure.