An article by Ahmad Asyraf Bin Aziz
It certainly has been an interesting period for us all, specifically for soccer (of football, I don’t know which word this site prefers). Months were spent just waiting around, speculating whether seasons would be cancelled or voided. As a Liverpool fan, that would have been my greatest nightmare. Being born in 1996, I’ve never witnessed them win the EPL, and for a time, I thought I never would. Multiple close calls led me to believe that luck was simply against us. Even this season, with such a huge point lead after Christmas, I didn’t dare claim that the league was ours. Only recently in March did we all say, “Hey, maybe we do have a shot at this.” Alas, COVID-19 almost immediately crashed head-on into our dreams. With other leagues like Ligue 1 cancelled, our dreams of finally getting the trophy after 30 years seemed to have been thwarted once again. But perhaps God took pity on us, and our fortunes took a reversal as the EPL resumed, albeit with various restrictions. And as fast as the league resumed, it almost quickly ended for Liverpool, clinching the title just after 2 games after the restart. Yes, there are still various records Liverpool can achieve. But after 30 years of not seeing the trophy, and achieving it in record time, I think it’s fair to be satisfied with how the season has turned out. Records can always be broken, but achievements will stick with you forever.
It brings me great joy to see my Manchester united friends who own this page in great misery as they witness their greatest rivals lift the trophy. But since they are my friends, I know it brings them much pain even to attempt to praise Liverpool’s season. Hence as a courtesy, allow me to do the honours. Liverpool has been dominating for 2 seasons to a point where losing to Watford or getting kicked out of the UEFA Champion’s League this season counts as a victory for their bitter rivals, celebrating as if Liverpool got relegated. And while it’s easy to get triggered by such petty comments, fans should take this as a compliment, highlighting how far Liverpool has come. This used to be a team that lost 6-1 to Stoke City on the final day of the league. And in that spirit, I think it’s important to examine this Liverpool side and analyse the team that achieved it all.
What I find very impressive about this team is that it defies what was deemed to be commonplace for most top clubs. When you think of title-winning sides, you often see superstar level players who help them reach such heights. However, when you look at Liverpool, the formula is slightly different. Very few players entered Liverpool as superstars. One could perhaps make the argument for Alisson and van Dijk. But the former had only one season of European football prior, and many felt he would not be worth the 56 million pounds. Similarly, many felt van Dijk wasn’t worthy of being the most expensive defender, at 76 million pounds. He only played for mid-level teams such as Celtic and Southampton and has only 16 caps for the Netherlands. Don’t get me wrong; we all knew they were good players. But superstars that could carry a team to winning titles? I don’t think any of us thought that. These two could be the only reasonable argument for Liverpool having bought “superstar” players. That speaks a lot to the quality of the other purchases Liverpool have made.
Let’s look at the forwards. Sadio Mane was a gifted winger at Southampton and Firmino was bought just as he made his first cap for Brazil. Salah was always remembered as the Chelsea flop, no matter his prolific performances at Roma. When you look at them now, you see an intimidating front 3, capable of making defenders shiver in fear. But before they arrived? They weren’t really names that caused Liverpool fans to be jumping in joy upon their arrival.
Now to the midfield, which honestly, I find the weakest part of the current squad. Wijnaldum was a player who came from a Newcastle side that was just relegated. Fabinho played well in Monaco, yes. But he had only 4 caps to his name and didn’t have a good time at Real Madrid. Many didn’t think he could keep up with the pace of the EPL, and his first few games for Liverpool almost proved that right. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was someone who could barely make the Arsenal team sheet (although to his defence, some of it was due to his injuries). Naby Keita could perhaps be argued as a superstar signing as many fans eagerly anticipated his arrival. This was also due to the fact that we had to wait a year before his arrival. However, injuries limited his appearances this past 2 seasons, so the successes can’t really be attributed to him. Jordon Henderson, whom I used to berate many times, came as a promising winger from Sunderland and has never played in that position after the first season. James Milner arrived as a free signing who was well past his peak. Shaqiri was stuck at his “promising potential” stage for the longest of periods since his time at Bayern, and no one was really elated after it was announced that we would be signing him from Stoke.
How about the defence, which has been Liverpool’s greatest weakness prior to Alisson and van Dijk’s arrival? Matip, a free signing from Schalke. Joe Gomez was merely a teenager from Charlton. Promising potential yes, but far from being star quality. Robertson, an 8m signing that most fans didn’t have much hope for due to our poor luck with left-backs for some reason. Trent Alexander Arnold was a youth academy player who suddenly shot to greatness. Lovren, well let’s not get started on that.
You look at the Liverpool squad now and perhaps you see an immensely strong squad filled with stars. But when you take a step back and examine the players and before they arrived, they were all good players no doubt. But stars? I doubt so. Winning teams conventionally excel with superstar signings. People who would serve to be some sort of final key to unlock the puzzle. And with Liverpool, this wasn’t the case, which was what makes this past 2 seasons even more impressive.
Some may want to make comparisons to the Dortmund side, with Klopp having an even smaller budget back then, but still managing to create a team to dethrone Bayern for a short period of time. However, players who were stars at Dortmund struggled once they left. Gotze, Kagawa, Sahin, Mkhitaryan just to name a few. Could this be an example of the effect Klopp has on his players? That he makes good players seem great? This could all just be a coincidence and perhaps we can only tell if the current Liverpool stars get pulled away from Anfield, but it is an interesting question to ponder over.
To conclude, let me just say this. The start of a Liverpool era is upon us and I am looking forward to savoring ever moment of it.