Tuesday 18 September 2018

Liverpool's exhilarating run shows how far club have come since bleak days of boardroom turmoil

Liverpool's Andrew Robertson and Dejan Lovren celebrate after the match. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Liverpool's Andrew Robertson and Dejan Lovren celebrate after the match. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Chris Bascombe

‘This is just the start.’ It is a familiar claim in the aftermath of a monumental result. Liverpool players and managers have often expressed it, particularly after landmark European performances.

Then you consider the prospect of Real Madrid. In a Champions League final.

Every player who struck a football would script a fantasy career to climax at that point, never mind make it the first chapter.

This Liverpool team is no longer at the beginning of its journey under Klopp. They are in the midst of one most exhilarating, their passports stamped at the most picturesque destinations.

There is a tendency, a psychological need perhaps, to not only assess success for its immediate emotional impact, but also long-term consequence.

What does it mean? What is the limit for these courageous side?

The trail of memories marked on Klopp’s map should be valued for what they are, ensuring the reflections of what it all means for the future defer to the here and the now.

If Liverpool’s more recent forays in Europe have taught anything it is that is wise to savour these moments for they are precious. Embrace and cherish them. It might not get any better than readying to take on the 12-time European Cup winners in Kiev – regardless of how flawed the second half in Rome that got them there.

That is not stated to sound unnecessarily cantankerous, nor defeatist about what is to come against Zinedine Zidane’s habitual winners. It is more to ensure this most monumental achievement of reaching the final is not diminished.

In the build-up to Rome, Klopp was asked whether such triumphs have any meaning unless there is a shiny cup at the end. As is often be the case, his answer was thoughtful but inevitably conflicting.

Of course they have meaning. Of course they will not mean so much if Liverpool do not ‘have something in the cupboard’.

But whatever happens from now, the two legged victories over Porto, Manchester City and Roma cannot be contaminated, only enhanced by ultimate success.

Prior to Liverpool’s last two Champions League appearances, there was an obsession with broader meaning prompted by the demand to build on the foundations. Both, it must be remembered, were played amid turbulent backgrounds.

The Liverpool team heading to Istanbul in 2005 did so in the knowledge it could be their captain’s final game for his club.

“How can I leave after this?” Steven Gerrard would declare in the immediate aftermath of victory over AC Milan.

Two months later he nearly did join Chelsea, the delay in a contract offer meaning the feel-good momentum of victory was short-lived.

Despite the resolution and subsequent Premier League improvement under Rafa Benitez, the expectation and ambition of Liverpool using their fifth European Cup to elevate to another level on and off the pitch was never realised.

The search for overseas investment was ongoing, as was a solution to stadium expansion. Commercially, the club did not have the infrastructure required to cash in. Over coming weeks you will again hear the famous story of Liverpool’s club store being closed as the open top bus toured the city, while the street sellers enjoyed their bonanza.

The miracle of Istanbul came to be perceived as a missed opportunity. In many aspects it was, but tell that to those who witnessed it, or the players whose legendary status was secure. As supporters, and certainly journalists, we swiftly move on in search for the next story, the latest drama. In simple terms, we crave the next signing and trophy. It is different for the protagonists. For Benitez and those on the pitch, a career was gloriously defined.

Istanbul was not the start of that era, but its highlight. How do you tell an artist who has just completed one of the finest masterpieces, ‘Well that was great, what are you going to do next?’

Benitez almost replicated it, of course. Two years later, Liverpool arrived for another final in Athens seemingly more equipped to cement their traditional place among the grandees of Europe.

Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett had just assumed control making lavish promises about team investment and a new stadium.

The facade was blown apart within 24 hours of the 2-1 defeat to AC Milan when Benitez held a press conference and complained about the lack of pace in moving for transfer targets.

So began three years of boardroom turmoil, at the end of which every senior figure at Anfield would be gone, from the owners down. You could argue, in terms of the overall psyche of the club and sense of distrust bred between club and supporter in that period, only now does it feel the debris is being thoroughly cleared.

Mercifully, Liverpool looks and feels like a different football club today.

Veterans of the club’s European campaigns can be comfortable pronouncing Anfield in healthier shape now than in 2005 and 2007.

It won’t make it any easier to repeat what Bob Paisley’s side achieved against Real Madrid in 1981, but it gives them a great chance.

Klopp spoke of Liverpool’s history forever poised to ‘kick you in the ass’.

Inside the Stadio Olimpico, only the Roma players seeking vengeance were left with bruised backsides, despite their heroic efforts.

Real Madrid waits, seeking payback for events in Paris, 1981. Alan Kennedy’s phone will not stop ringing for another month.

As Klopp said, at Liverpool the weight of the past hangs around every corner.

Online Editors

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