The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots. In this fin de siècle world, professional soccer condemns all that is useless, and the useless means not profitable.
Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, soccer for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized not to facilitate play but to impede it.
-Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow
The ouroboros bids you hello and welcome. We regret to inform you Real Madrid have won three successive Champions Leagues. Bayern Munich have won 6 successive league titles in Germany. Sheik Mansour’s ill-omened billions would seek to impose that same crushing monotony upon the Premier League.
Elsewhere we turn our eyes to Russia, 2018; Qatar, 2022; the new UEFA Nations League; USA, 2026, and 48 teams; a third UEFA tournament. Football has become a never-ending schedule of club and country commitments for the players, with the international TV rights worth more $250 billion and, just off screen, the soft-power-peddling of the oil sheikhs.
It can be hard at times not to wonder if there is anything real left in the modern game or if we have been left to partake in a Huysmans-esque facsimile. The uncertainty and, with it, some of the joy is gone, replaced by a new status quo, wrought in England by Manchester United when they seized upon the worldwide commercial potential of the Premier League, made manifest by Roman Abramovich, and now the ideal aspired to by every league and country and governing body.
In the Premier League, only a handful of teams have won the EPL in its 26 years—outside an early triumph by Blackburn and Leicester’s more recent inconceivable run, there have been four winners. Liverpool have not been one of them. But now, for the first time in a decade and despite the looming threat of City’s dominating oil billions, perhaps there is some small reason for hope. And so here we are again. Watching. Hoping. Talking.
Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.
We could talk about Roberto Firmino. Is there any way to talk about this Liverpool side and not talk about him? Our mad genius, hell-bent on pressing the opposition into schoolboy errors, flanked by two transcendent offensive talents; a team that plays as if unmoored, despite being reinforced, for perhaps the first time in a decade, by a world-class spine.
One can point to a keeper’s recent error, but at the back it is hard not to derive succour from both Alisson’s and Virgil van Djik’s passing stats. To discuss Henderson’s adequacy in midfield is an academic exercise, and despite that, Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards have gone and bought a true six, one we have yet to even deploy. Liverpool seem a team poised and coiled, with twelve points from twelve and 34 league games still to go to upset the new status quo.
Perhaps, then, a bit of faith is in order for a city deprived of its voice for too long; a global fan-base relying on the dusty memories decades old; a sleeping giant animated in stuttering fashion these past two years; a club Klopp has revitalized in a way not seen in three odd decades. Do you believe? It is our time now; we have a unified club: one where finally Shankly’s vision that the ownership has no input—that it is only the team, the manager, and the players—holds sway.
The machinery of spectacle grinds up everything in its path, nothing lasts very long, and the manager is as disposable as any other product of consumer society. Today the crowd screams, “Never die!” and next Sunday they invite him to kill himself.
To be sure, it is the default of modern football. And yet try to imagine, in the here and now, being a Liverpool fan and not believing in the power of this manager—and of this team with Anfield behind it. Of not believing that sometimes, maybe, it doesn’t have to just be about the money. Because for this Liverpool side and this Liverpool manager, for every costly acquisition, every Virgil van Dijk or Alisson, there is an Andy Robertson or Trent Alexander-Arnold.
This is part of Liverpool’s identity, as a club. It was before everything in the game changed and it has to be still if there’s to be any connection between the Liverpool of today and the one of past glories. And Jürgen Klopp knows this. It is why any talk of what he must do or win or achieve this season is facile. For the first time in decades we are one. For the first time in decades it feels as though it can be our time now and, at least for now, that we are still distinctly Liverpool.
FIFA, which holds court in Zurich, the International Olympic Committee, which rules from Lausanne, and the company ISL Marketing, whose orders issue from Lucerne, manage the World Cup and the Olympics. All three of these powerful organizations maintain their head offices in Switzerland, a country famous for William Tell’s marksmanship, precision, watches, and religious devotion to bank secrecy.
The game has changed, subject to extraction by those who would deign to profit from the appearances of football heroes past, and while Liverpool are today owned by hedge fund billionaires, at least they support a kind of left-leaning politics that—even if inadequate—stand them closer to those of the club’s roots than any conceivable alternative. They may not be the perfect Liverpool owners, but then perfect owners don’t exist, not in football as it exists in 2018.
And, of course, they did hire Jürgen Klopp and have backed him to do things his way, a man to lead a team and a city and fandom that in its optimism can feel almost a heresy in these times—and everything about that is beautiful. In the midst of everything wrong in the world today, we have Liverpool, with a midfield comprised of a Guinean, Brazilian, Dutchman, and an Englishman; a front-line of two Africans and a Brazilian; and a backline of an unheralded Scottsman, a Dutchman, and a pair of English youths. All led by a man who has said, “Our mission is to make our own tiny piece of land a little more beautiful. [Life is] about leaving better places behind. About not taking yourself too seriously. About giving your all. About loving and being loved.”
Some might shrug it off, wave it away as nothing more than just football. But it’s Liverpool football—still, in spite of all the darkness in the world and everything that has changed in the game around it. It’s still here, and it’s still good.
T-minus 42 hours until Tottenham—and then seven more games in twenty-two days and the rest of the season spread out in front of it with hope and promise. It’s time; believe.