Half a day to go. T-minus 12 hours before Liverpool line up against the club’s two greatest enemies of the Premier League era, Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. It’s not the first time, of course. There was that meeting back in October, and that meeting ended up a disappointing nil-nil draw at Anfield.
This time, though, feels as though it could be different; could live up to expectation. Liverpool are five points ahead of United and five points behind Chelsea. And Mourinho will feel, just maybe, like he needs to do more at home than earn a point. However the game turns out, though, there is one certainty heading into it: nerves.
In an effort to assuage them, one might assert that there is nothing necessary about football. One would be wrong. Football is one of the few arenas in which humans can experience their existence simultaneously and without the mediation of rational thought, something long preached by the club’s greats.
Shankly made clear years ago that LFC have an animating ethos, saying, “Remind our lads who they’re playing for, and remind the opposition who they’re playing against.” The impulse behind that belief was simple, for Shankly “was only in the game for the love of football—and [to] bring back happiness to the people of Liverpool.”
We have often enough discussed football’s capability for producing moments of the sublime, moments in which a man of genius renders corporeal the Will and his or her genius short circuits your brain and provides you, the club, his teammates, and the world a moment of pure being.
These moments are not just universal, but necessary. They should not be discounted or ignored because of the sometimes problematic superstructure of football that they exist within, something once noted by one of the great football writers of the last century:
[Is football a] bit of insanity worthy of a better cause? A primitive and vulgar business? A bag of tricks manipulated by the owners? I’m one of those who believe that football might be all that, but it is also much more: a feast for the eyes that watch it and a joy for the body that plays it. A reporter once asked German theologian Dorothee Solle, ‘How would you explain happiness to a child?’
‘I wouldn’t explain it,’ she answered. ‘I’d toss him a ball and let him play.’
Professional football does everything to castrate that energy of happiness, but it survives in spite of all the spites. And maybe that’s why football never stops being astonishing. As my friend Angel Ruocco says, that’s the best thing about it – its stubborn capacity for surprise. The more the technocrats program it down to the smallest detail, the more the powerful manipulate it, football continues to be the art of the unforeseeable. When you least expect it, the impossible occurs, the dwarf teaches the giant a lesson, and a runty, bowlegged black man makes an athlete sculpted in Greece look ridiculous.
—Galeano, Eduardo, Soccer in the Sun and Shadow, “The End of the Match”, pp. 242-243 (Nation Books, 2013)
Football is and can be special, often in spite of its own best efforts not to be. And there are few people who understand football’s potential and possibility as well as Jurgen Norbert Klopp. Even before last season’s galvanizing Dortmund victory, he preached the gospel of Shankly’s holy trinity: supporters, players, and manager.
Before that historic comeback, he pressed the players to give their grandchildren something to remember. Klopp will know what this Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford could mean. And while some might see an insipid display against Southampton as a harbinger of doom, one might rather suggest it be viewed as a threshold moment: one where Liverpool are poised at a precipice—and by Liverpool, I mean the players, the manager, and the supporters.
To be clear, it is “a” rather than “the” for a good reason: this next fixture could prove a seminal moment in our journey together, as Reds, but it will not be the seminal moment. Not if the game ends the way so many Liverpool fans are hoping dreaming. On Sunday, the stage will be set to create a transcendental moment that—if seized—will remain with us. At the least there is the chance for that, and that chance contains within it the essence of what joy there is to be found in the game.
Jurgen Klopp knows all of this, of course, and if for no other reason, that is why you should believe; why you should bury nerves and embrace the possibility for joy and brilliance and insanity. For happiness. Despite knowing that José Mourinho, like so much in the wider world of professional football, will be seeking to steal it away. T-minus 12 hours. Get ready.