Opinion: The Ephemeral Nature of Football – A Liverpool in Turmoil

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By: Sean Mulryan

Reminiscing about the success of last season for Liverpool Football Club serves little more than reminding supporters how paltry this season is in comparison. From quadruple challengers, a feat achieved by none, to a side battling for the bare minimum the following season.
Juxtaposing with last year’s heroics, Liverpool have gone out with a whimper in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and now the Champions League. 

Jurgen Klopp’s ‘mentality monsters’ sought to create history at this stage of the season last year. Having dispatched Chelsea in both the Carabao and FA cup finals, supporters dared to dream. The 21/22 side sought pre-eminence, to be revered on the same pedestal as legendary Liverpool sides before them. Media expectance, coupled with fans’ delirium at every passing win over the course of nine months, heightened the pressure that the Reds had to endure. Ultimately, it proved too much. Liverpool’s historic quadruple challenge lasted for 282 days and fell apart in little less than six. A cruel ending of the Shakespeare variety.

The final day of the Premier League saw both Liverpool and Manchester City with a chance to win the Premier League. City facing an Aston Villa team managed by Anfield legend Steven Gerrard, with former player Philippe Coutinho under his stewardship; it was written in the stars they would have a say on the destination of the title.

Gerrard’s Aston Villa went 2-0 up, just to collapse into oblivion. Manchester City was victorious, winning the league by a solitary point despite Liverpool’s final-day victory. Klopp’s charges then faced the task of recuperating their spirits and preparing for the Champions League final against the ethereal Real Madrid. Defeat followed them to Paris, and quadruple hopes were crushed.

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The average age of the Liverpool team that started the final in Paris was 28.4 years of age. Key players of the Klopp era were now fast approaching or already in their early thirties, such as Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Jordan Henderson, to name but a few.

Coupled with a sullen end to the season, it was clear that this team that had just challenged on all four major fronts last campaign had seen its peak and had to undergo significant rejuvenation.

According to Transfermarkt, the club generated £71,619,636.00 in player sales that summer, with the most notable departure being Sadio Mané to Bayern Munich. The first real icon of the Klopp era leaving, even at the time, connoted to the fandom and the wider media that there was a transitional period encroaching for the Reds.

Liverpool’s transfer model is a point of contention for the majority of fans. In essence, it follows a sophisticated machination developed by Director of Research Ian Graham, under the tutelage of previous sporting director Michael Edwards and indeed the soon-to-be previous incumbent, Julian Ward. The system allows for the combination of raw data and performance metrics to help recruitment identify suitable candidates for Klopp’s team.

The success of this model is commonly known; it has directly identified players such as Mohammed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, and Georginio Wijnaldum. Modern-day legends in their own right. These are players otherwise overlooked by other clubs due to a variety of perceived flaws. The data allowed Liverpool to cut directly through human bias to unearth champions.

If the perfect transfer model is in place, where does the contention lie? Owners, Fenway Sports Group, operate on a stringent transfer policy. Essentially, for funds to be spent, there have to be funds generated. This generally translates into the selling of key members of the squad. This happened in 2017 when Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona for a total fee nearing the £120 million mark, again with reference to Transfermarkt. These funds were subsequently reinvested in signing Van Dijk and Alisson Becker.

Renowned Twitter statistician SwissRamble stated that Liverpool is significantly inferior to Manchester City in “…owner funding (share capital + owner loans)…with City’s £684m in the last 10 years being significantly more than Liverpool’s £110m.” This same issue of owner funding plagued Liverpool last summer as the funds generated from player sales were directly invested in signing Darwin Nunez. Outside of that, little investment was given to rejuvenate an aged midfield which Liverpool is now paying the full price.

Throughout the summer, passionate fans hammered the club for their lacking effort in finding a midfielder. An irritated Jurgen, back in July, reacted with comments, “Please tell me why? Please tell me why,” just for him to backtrack spectacularly with a public admission, “…you were all right, and I was wrong,” he said.

What was already going to be a transitional season was made harder by this apparent oversight. The ageing aspect of the squad needed to be addressed, and it wasn’t. An energetic midfield base behind the front three was always a staple of this team, allowing the front three of Firmino, Salah, and Mané to wreak havoc on the Premier League, pressing and suffocating opposition into surrendering the ball.

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This engine room no longer exists. The cylinders have worn out and are in need of a service that will have to wait until next summer. Liverpool sit in twelfth place when compared to other Premier League clubs in terms of tackles won per 90, sitting at just 9.69 tackles (fbref).

Furthermore, a combination of age and competing on all fronts last year has led to the capitulation of certain key members such as Fabinho and Henderson. What was once a midfield prided on tenacity and vitriolic tackling, in its current form, pales in comparison to previous years.
The whole season has consisted of waiting for this team to find form and kick on. Injuries have plagued the notion, with the eccentric Luis Diaz sidelined most of the season along with Diogo Jota only recently returning from a lengthy injury spell. New signings in the form of Nunez and more recently Cody Gakpo, whilst invigorating and a breath of fresh air, are still adapting to life in a new country. All of this serves to add further tumultuous qualities to this season, preventing any sort of cohesion.

The recent form suggested Liverpool was on the up with a dismantling of age-old rivals Manchester United seven-nil, whilst at the same time surmising their fifth clean sheet in a row in the Premier League.

Unfortunately, this was another in what is now a long list of false dawns this season. Examples of these are numerous, such as earlier in the season Liverpool trounced Bournemouth nine-nil just to get thumped by four goals to one at Napoli. Beating Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Rangers convincingly just to get embarrassed by Brighton, Wolves, and Nottingham Forest soon thereafter. Losing to Bournemouth in the reverse fixture and limping out of the champions league has further gravitated the issue.

The uncertainty that can be seen on the pitch is not made any easier by the unsettling reports that have emerged off the field. Edwards’ departure as sporting director was forecast a year before when he left, giving the club plenty of time to find a suitable successor.

Promoting from within gave Ward the opportunity to take over from Edwards, to oversee the rebuild alongside Klopp. However, just a matter of months into his tenure, Ward has declared he will be stepping away from his role, taking a break with the ambition to find another job elsewhere. This, coupled with numerous other departures behind the scenes, such as the previously eulogised Graham, has left a club once so magnanimously revered for how well it was run, in turmoil.

FSG tentatively put the club up for sale, under the guise of investment-seeking, making it appear that both FSG and key staff want nothing to do with the club in its current state. Rumours of any potential takeover have been few and far between, leaving FSG with the task of repairing the damage that has been done.

This upcoming summer is the most important one the club has entered into in a long time. There is a duty to carry out a rebuild to restore the team to be a consistent competitor. With the growing influence of teams such as Newcastle, Manchester United, and Arsenal, it will be a tough task to believe there is a seat left at the table.

A last-minute push for the top four is essential to achieve any sort of realistic rebuild, both in terms of financial power and appeal for players. Will Jude Bellingham want to play against Östersunds Fotbollsklubb on a Thursday night in the Europa League when he has the whole footballing world courting him? Highly unlikely.

This once-untouchable goliath needs TLC, from within the club hierarchy and on the pitch. However, through the gloom, there remains Klopp. With the German genius at the helm and recently extending his contract, he remains the one constant in a sea of uncertainty for Liverpool Football Club. A figurehead to whom you can entrust this rebuild. While everyone else seems to be rushing for the door, he stays seated with that enticingly sinister grin on his face, ready for the challenge. With him, there is hope. There is faith. He has done enough over the last five years to earn trust.



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