I realize it’s a big ask. I realize we should be “just happy to be here.” I realize that we’re relative minnows to Real Madrid, especially in recent decades.
I realize that we need to win.
Since our last European triumph on that improbable night in Istanbul, Liverpool have had just two triumphs, and relatively minor ones at that—the 2006 FA Cup, and the 2012 League Cup—and a litany of close calls where we just couldn’t get over the line.
Since then, we’ve lost a Champions League final. Finished second in the league twice, first 4 points behind Manchester United in 2008/09, and an agonizing 2 points behind Manchester City in 2013/14. We have lost an FA Cup final. We have lost a League Cup final. We have lost a Europa League final.
We need to get one over the line. We NEED it to be this one, the biggest of them all.
We need it for the health of the club, which has long been maligned as one that is not capable of competing for the biggest prizes. That narrative, pervasive in England and beyond, has made it far more difficult to recruit the players necessary to compete. And worse yet, it is a narrative that makes it harder to hold on to the gems that we manage to uncover, as we saw recently with Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez. It is a vicious cycle, and one that has been nearly impossible to break out of. Winning the Champions League would go a long way toward changing that narrative.
We need to win it for Klopp, who has been maligned for his sub-par record in finals (conveniently ignoring the fact that he has gotten to so many finals, often as the underdog, and often without the same resources as those he’s facing).
And we need it for the fans, who have had far too few things to celebrate over the last decade. Worse than that, we’ve had our hearts broken again and again. The slip. The second-half collapse against Sevilla. The missed penalties against City. We need a trophy and all the joy that comes with it. The commemorative shirts. The victory parade. The memories.
Big clubs win big prizes. Fans of other English clubs might mock Liverpool for their lengthy title drought, but one thing that they don’t have is the kind of success we’ve had in Europe. And while I won’t argue that league titles don’t matter—they do—they matter more to English football fans than the wider footballing world. But success in Europe? Every player, manager, and football fan the world over sits up and takes notice.
When we kick off against Real Madrid in Kiev, we will have played in as many European Cup finals as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal have combined. And we have a chance to double United’s three Champions League titles. Success in Europe, even more than success in England, has defined this club. We need to embrace it, and embrace this chance.
Of course, we can lose. Losing is a possibility, even a slight likelihood, according to Five Thirty Eight. And losing would not mean this season is a failure. But as we saw when we last bowed out of a Champions League final empty-handed, these opportunities do not come around often. For most clubs, they never come around, period. For others, like past English European Champions Aston Villa and Nottingham Forrest, they will likely never come around again.
For a club mocked for “living in the past,” we have a big opportunity to make history in the present. And we know from recent failures how once an opportunity is gone, any number of factors can prevent us from returning to that same spot in the near future. After 2013/14, there was every hope that Liverpool would kick on and become a consistent challenger. A Suarez transfer and a Daniel Sturridge injury later, and we haven’t been anywhere near it since.
It might be another 11 years, or more, before Liverpool are back here. We have to enjoy the moment, sure. But the only way to fully enjoy it is to win it.