I remember the feeling distinctly: the floor falling out of my stomach, the feeling intense realization that I wasn’t the only one witnessing this , and the knowledge that I’d want to be anywhere but here. I was 18 years old, a senior in high school, and was just subbed off of after a disastrous performance at right back where I’d essentially watched my side get shredded for 3 goals in 3 minutes. My coach hauled me off and gave me the business. I felt alone despite being in the middle of a home match and surrounded by friends. I felt intensely ashamed and guilty. I felt a wreck.
It’s what I kept thinking while I watched Loris Karius’ world fold-in on itself on Sunday. I kept thinking what I felt like to be called a “disaster” by my coach in front of friends. I kept thinking about how it must be worse for a star athlete in today’s age. I kept thinking about how this was one of the few times I’d ever be grateful not to be living the dream of being a professional athlete. I kept thinking about how much Loris Karius must be hurting,
We’ve all had experiences, I’m sure, of being undressed by coaches or bosses or teachers for making mistakes. And each of us has had to wear the heaviness of those mistakes. But we’ve often worn it in private, without the scrutiny that someone like Karius has had to. More, the thing I always appreciated most is the comfort of a friend or family member to lift me up and remind me that I am not defined by those mistakes.
Immediately after the match, as Karius made his rounds apologizing to the traveling fans, I thought to myself that he must be feeling the same thing. That he most feel incredibly lonely - especially as the only person on the pitch that knows what it’s like to do his job - and I hoped he’d be surrounded by people that would remind him that he is more than his mistakes. All of this taking place in the living room with one of the guys that witnessed me massive screw up as a high school player, a man that’s gone on to be one of my longest-standing friends, and even a groomsman at my wedding, felt like no small coincidence. People like him helped me to lace my cleats up for the next match. People like him picked me up. And, sure, people like him still like to tell the story of the time I let in 3 goals in 3 minutes - which also happened on match day - but it’s done within the context of all of the other ways he’s shown me that I wasn’t walking alone in this moment.
This isn’t going to be a piece that tells you how to push past the hurt of the Final in search of a balm to soothe the ache. Everything’s the Best was never meant to be a place where we’d ignore the bad to serve narratives of the good - much like Everything’s the Worst was never the place to come for 24/7, ultra-dour coverage.
What we are going to be is a place that tries to live in earnest optimism. And having been through a period of fandom in which the team nearly went into administration and spent years building to get to a point where expectations of a title run are not wholly irrational, this is a time to lean into hope.
Because the truth of it all is that our team is in the most cohesive and stable positions it’s been in the post-Rafa era. Our most important pieces in Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, and Virgil Van Dijk are all content with their lives at Liverpool Football Club. Jurgen Klopp is moving things in the right direction. And we’ve got exciting reinforcements coming to Anfield in Naby Keita and Fabinho. For the first time in a while, we’re not facing an off season worried about holding onto our best players. It is a time of real hope.
Next season will bring us things to cheer and things to rue. Things to anxiously dissect and things to day dream about. But for now, it’s the time to process just how far we’ve come - even if we came just short of the top spot. We are a club in the ascendency with one of the best coaches in the modern game and a squad that’s shown they stand go toe-to-toe with any club in the world.
There is no way to avoid the disappointment from last Saturday, but there’s certainly a way to move forward. The way Dejan and Robbo both came out in support of Karius and each other in the days following is the main one. To paraphrase: this squad wins as a unit and loses as a unit. You’ll never walk alone made manifest.
Heads up, Reds. And shades on. The future is bright.