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A Decade of Liverpool Football Club: Champions of Europe

Of all the moments that defined Liverpool’s decade, none has felt as pivotal as the club lifting their sixth European Cup.

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

There are moments that have defined Liverpool’s decade. Fenway Sports Group’s takeover of the club, saving them from the threat of administration. Kenny Dalglish’s downfall as manager and then dismissal after having been the right man to help steady the club. Steven Gerrard’s slip, The Slip, the painful dramatic climax of the Brendan Rodgers era. And then the arrival of Jürgen Klopp, a world class manager promising to turn doubters into believers.

Those doubting Liverpool fans. The ones who had struggled through not just a decade of false dawns, of moments when it appeared the club might just have found a way back up onto its perch as English and European footballing royalty, but had been rather struggling with Liverpool being rather less than its storied history for the entirety of the Premier League era.

There had been countless false dawns. Before Gerrard’s slip and before the promise of Dalglish’s first half-season back in charge there had been Rafa Benitez’ league push in 08-09 following a Champions League win and second finals appearance. There had been Gerard Houllier’s treble and another title challenge—a challenge made in the midst of a season when the French manager ended up hospitalised due to heart issues. Each time Liverpool had come close, the fans had convinced themselves that this time, this time, close would be the starting point.

And each time, close wasn’t the starting point. Close was just, well, close. Each time, it was followed by a falling back, by regression, by struggle on the pitch and far too often struggle off it to match. Fighting with the owners, fighting over recruitment, fighting to replace the players who wanted out because Liverpool weren’t really a destination club—weren’t really as close as all the fans so desperately wanted to believe.

So Jürgen Klopp arrived on Merseyside, saying he would turn doubters into believers, saying he had only come to Anfield because he believed he could do what others in the past had failed at for any number of reasons. That he could push Liverpool Football Club past close. And he had a track record with both Mainz and Dortmund to back it up.

That attitude, that belief he had, was contagious. Yet any hope that Liverpool fans felt was tempered, thin, and more than a little fragile. Because there was a largely unspoken fear beneath it all, a fear that if Jürgen Klopp—widely regarded as one of the game’s best, a man with a history of success who believed he could in fact succeed at Liverpool working with a stable ownership group that had convinced him he would get the support he needed—couldn’t do the job, perhaps nobody could.

That perhaps if Klopp couldn’t do it, it was time to once and for all pack away the club’s history and with it leave behind any aspirations of ever being back on top. Time to admit that Liverpool were Nottingham Forest, were Ajax, were a side that for all their past glories simply could not hope to compete at the absolute pinnacle of the modern game.

That doubt, that fear, took a long time to go away. It was there, for many at least, until the night of June 1st, 2019, when the players jumped and shouted and cried in celebration and the fans sang themselves hoarse and captain Jordan Henderson tapped and shimmied his way centre stage holding the Champions League trophy. The European Cup. Old Big Ears. Liverpool’s sixth.

That game, that win, that moment. It was a clear defining moment of the decade for Liverpool. Perhaps the defining moment of the decade. Maybe of the century, so far at least. Of the entire Premier League era to date for the Reds, even. It was the moment all those fears were finally and fully put to rest. It was the moment when, for the first time in a long, long time, it felt as though Liverpool had finally pushed past close.

Speaking of moments, there were countless little ones on the road to Madrid and number six, stretching back all the way to Klopp’s arrival at the club. From the sloppy but heartfelt attempts by his players to gegenpress their way to a point against Tottenham in his first match to ushering the team over to celebrate a late 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion with the fans—not because of the result, as some on the outside mockingly suggested, but because of the role those fans played in earning even a point. Because those fans had done what Klopp had asked and believed and shouted and sang and stayed until the end when things hadn’t been going their way.

There was a thrilling comeback victory over Klopp’s old club Dortmund in the Europa League, a Dejan Lovren header that shook all of Anfield and secured a 5-4 aggregate win that put the Reds in the semi-finals. There was Liverpool fighting off the nerves to secure a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough on the final day of the following season and earn a place in the top four. There was the club then managing to hold it together to start the next season, a season when they once again seemed agonizingly close and a key player was pushing his way out.

There was the comfortable dispatching of Hoffenheim in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League in 2017-18, as despite the distractions Liverpool held their focus and their nerve. There was the club advancing from their group and then hammering Porto and beating Manchester City and surviving Roma’s late comeback attempt to make it to their first Champions League final under Klopp.

There was Liverpool’s high-flying attack, the unlocking of Roberto Firmino and the signing of Sadio Mané and of Mohamed Salah. There was the arrival of Virgil van Dijk, and then of Fabinho and Alisson Becker, giving the Reds a defence to equal that attack. There was the development of Trent Alexander-Arnold and the discovery of Andrew Robertson, the steady leadership of Jordan Henderson and the determination of James Milner.

There were moments, and Liverpool were again close. Only this time, unlike all those past times, they didn’t stumble or falter or fade. This time, they pushed past close, to a corner taken quickly and another Champions League final and a sixth European Cup. To 97 points in the league and now, half way through the next season, a show of the kind of domestic dominance the likes of which Liverpool fans have never seen—at the very least not since the formation of the Premier League.

In the Champions League last season, Premier League sides made up four of the quarter-finalists, two of the semi-finalists, and both of the finalists. In the Europa League, both finalists were English. Again this season, all four Premier League sides are through to the knockout rounds—seven clubs in total between the two competitions. The year before, five English clubs were in the Champions League and all made it into the knockout rounds. In Europe, these past few years represent a high water mark for the league.

During a time when England and the Premier League have been dominating Europe, during this final year of the decade, Liverpool have lost just one league game, something no other English side has done over a full calendar year. In 2019, they’ve taken 98 of a possible 111 points, and so far in this 2019-20 season they’ve drawn just once and won every other Premier League game they’ve played. In the league they’re 13 points clear, and with a game in hand. They end the decade as the Premier League’s dominant, inevitable, unstoppable side at a time when the league has never been richer or stronger or stocked with more talent.

They’re also, of course, Champions League winners. Again. For the sixth time, having appeared in back-to-back finals these past two season and again one of the favourites to go all the way this year. They’re even, for the first time, officially champions of the world. It’s not being hyperbolic to suggest that given where the Reds are now, given the level of their competition, and given what this group of players has already won, we are witnessing one of the all time great Premier League sides, one of the all time great European sides, and just maybe—if they can maintain something like their current domestic pace—the greatest ever Liverpool side.

That’s where Liverpool are today, a decade on from it all going wrong under Tom Hicks and George Gillett. A decade on from the decision to replace Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson. A decade on from being sat in the relegation zone and there being a genuine risk of the club entering into administration. Now, Liverpool are back on their perch. Now, Liverpool are again European royalty. Now, and ever since Liverpool won number six on the night of June 1st, 2019, we all believe.

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