Liverpool’s Kop faces long wait for glory days to return to Anfield
How the Reds could do with the likes of Luis Suarez as they struggle to challenge the top teams yet again
Should he ever return to the Premier League, Luis Suarez said the only team he would ever play for is his former club, Liverpool.
The prolific Barcelona striker said since his £75-million (HK$835 million) move to La Liga, he had missed the Anfield faithful and the “incredible” atmosphere they created. “Everyone that has played for Liverpool knows how important the supporters are. They know that they are in my heart,” cooed the Uruguayan international this week.
Though his sentiment was genuine and meant as a mark of respect, it offered mere cold comfort for Liverpool supporters.
How they could do with him now to add weight to Anfield’s thin red line. The atmosphere Suarez spoke of with such fondness was in evidence midweek, when a much-maligned Liverpool team scraped past Stoke in a penalty shoot-out to book a League Cup final berth next month.
Liverpool fans have endured many edge-of-the-seat nights over the years, from Rome to Istanbul, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to Wembley.
But even by their standards, the desperate, stuttering performance and lucky escape from humiliation at the hands of Mark Hughes’ impressive Potters was excruciating.
The conversion of Joe Allen’s winning penalty saw Anfield erupt into gasping relief usually reserved for a death-row inmate granted an eleventh-hour pardon. To show how far Liverpool have slumped in supporters’ expectation, Tuesday night’s nail-biter in an otherwise token competition was up there with that famous heart-pumping Champions League final night in Turkey in 2005.
True, reaching the League Cup final is more than most managers can hope to achieve in their first season in EPL high office, so hats off to Juergen Klopp for his achievement on his 111th day in charge.
But the klutzy manner in which his team booked a showdown with Manchester City at the end of February underscored not only the set of weak players he has inherited, but also the miracles needed to turn the current ham-fisted Anfield cast into an award-winning production.
The former Borussia Dortmund boss does as is expected of him, picking the strongest team available and relaying his proven game plan to secure victory from one game to the next.
So far, so good. What happens after the players leave the dressing room, however, makes the mind boggle: you never know which team will turn up on the pitch – the one with a killer’s instinct or the one bent on committing defensive howlers.
Liverpool were involved in a sensational 5-4 win at Norwich last Saturday in what will go down as one of the games of the season.
But despite the dramatic late victory and the wild celebrations that broke his designer glasses, Klopp knows all too well the seriousness of what he witnessed.
The lack of a free-scoring striker and midfielders combined with a back-line so flimsy cling-film would make a stronger barrier are issues that can only be solved by a full-scale replacement of the current moribund team unsure of their responsibility when wearing the famous red shirts.
Reaching the League Cup final is undoubtedly a much-needed shot of confidence for Klopp’s current nervous, cowed, inhibited squad, and on reaching Wembley you have to assume they can only kick on.
Liverpool are the most decorated League Cup club, after all. They’ve reached 12 finals and won eight times a competition that many too often dismiss as an unwanted sideshow.
Kopp knows the psychological value of playing on a hallowed turf many wistful Liverpool fans claim to be “Anfield South”, such was once the regularity of appearances at the national stadium.
This season’s final will at the very least make others sit up and take notice at the painful regime change taking place at Anfield under Klopp.
The iconic arena is also undergoing structural expansion with a shiny multi-tier stand rapidly taking shape.
It will need to be filled by fans willing to pay to see the best players take on mighty opposition from home and abroad and win the most coveted silverware on offer.
The League Cup would be a welcom first addition under the Klopp banner, proving his intent for next season and so helping to attract Europe’s best over the summer, even the possible the return of Suarez.
That Klopp is the man to turn Liverpool back to a title-winning, all-European conquering club who once boasted loyal servants such as Dalglish, Hansen, Souness, Rush, Kennedy and Whelan is not up for debate.
Nor is the fact the overhaul job is bigger and harder and will take longer than he and many fans first imagined.
The League Cup can signal the renaissance of a once great club. But history shows the season’s first Wembley showpiece has also become a graveyard for some of the game’s brightest managers.
Since 2007 five managers – Juande Ramos (Tottenham), Alex McLeish (Birmingham), Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool), Michael Laudrup (Swansea City) and Jose Mourinho (Chelsea) have all found themselves out of work after claiming the trophy.
Cold comfort, indeed.