Read this carefully Liverpool fans, as not one match report will tell you this: Good things happen, and you are allowed to enjoy it. You are allowed to add the theme song from Titanic to Mo Salah’s goal vs Man City, and not feel silly about it.
For the men who drink and the women of taste, I have a question:
What would be the very best drink when you are watching football?
Which drink would best combine with the qualities of your favourite team?
What comes first to your mental flip-card catalogue?
Okay, those are three questions – with one answer. Take your time to think, while I take my time to write my own version of the answer, which may or may not answer my own question at all.
On the twelfth of September, 1997, Mr. Davies, a fine football connoisseur of words and wine, answering this age-old question in The New Statesman wrote, ‘’Liverpool should require a rich Fleurie, something with great power and depth on the palate and an elegant structure.’’ But being a Spurs fan, he left a parting blow with, “but the Liverpool you taste today is not vintage Liverpool. No, best stick to basic Burgundy.”
Liverpool has, for the better part of a long time, indeed been basic Burgundy. Which is implying that our expectations have dropped. No denying that. But what is it now?
Let us travel back in time to our immediate yesterdays; to the City of Manchester stadium, to the night of the 10th of April. It is one of those venues where those who pay most for the privilege leave first when their team is losing. The travelling Liverpool fans who kept singing, while the home fans looked for taxis outside, do not fall into the category of the nouveau riche.
Therefore, two weeks ago Liverpool’s chances of progressing into the semi-finals were doubted against the war-chest riches of Manchester City. But football is a great leveller, which is to say it pisses on your grand plans. And no amount of cash could upturn their defeat in the naked theatre of football.
In the BT Sports studio, Steven Gerrard the pundit was seen shaking his head in disbelief. Steven Gerrard the footballer was Liverpool’s lightning rod for miracles and the last Liverpool captain to win the Champions League. He must have been mumbling to himself, “That Salah goal looked exactly like King Kenny’s at Wembley, ’78. The audacity of that chip….” But when the live cameras came back to him in the post-match show, he omitted the first part of his epiphany.
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City approached the match with quiet disdain. Pep’s tactics of all-out attack, with only three defenders at the back, threw an open challenge to the Liverpool front three (and a glove across the faces of Liverpool’s defenders).
Naturally, Mo Salah scored. Before and after the goal in the 55th minute and until the whistle blew, Mo dribbled and jinked around with the sure-footedness of a sub-Saharan viper on sand-powder dunes. The last time I remember seeing defenders being made to dance on tiptoes and heels was when Fernando Torres used to run at them.
In the man-of-the-match interview, Mo Salah was seen trying to direct the attention of the BT Sports camera to the travelling Liverpool fans in the far corner. I had a feeling that he’d much rather be as far away from the camera and as close to his team-mates as possible.
At full-time, Jurgen Klopp shook hands with Manchester City coach, Rodolfo Borrell. Borrell is an ex-Liverpool academy director lured away by richer and immediate prospects. On the same night, Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, players who abandoned the Liverpool ship, exited Europe with their respective teams.
A 26-year-old Sadio Mane, 6,200 kilometres and 72 hours away from Sedihou, Senegal, was blowing kisses to the camera hoping his mother was watching. Mane ran away from home aged 15 to pursue his football dream. He wanted to be the next George Weah – the auxiliary AC Milan attacker and Ballon d’Or winner 1995. Weah was the first in the line of a new kind of altruistic attacker, who set up his teammates more often than he’d score himself. A crying mother made Mane come back home and put off that plan for at least a few years. It took Sadio much more than 72 hours to reach here. And having got here, he’s making sure Liverpool fans don’t miss Coutinho.
This Liverpool squad has not been simply bought. Jurgen Klopp and co. have sampled, selected and brought in redeeming characters from all across Europe, and distilled each of their individual flavours into a unique blend. There is no waft of an individual carrying the entire team along anymore, something Liverpool teams of recent past have been embittered with. Unlike Tottenham and Harry Kane.
This Liverpool team, the way they play, has a familiar tinge of Wembley ’78. Kenny Dalglish, the man who scored the winner that year against Club Brugge, recognised this from the stands. Ian Rush saw it too, clapping on with a smile a big as his nose. All while a 19-year-old Liverpool local boy, Trent Alexander-Arnold, was spotted walking around the pitch with the look of absolute surprise.
Trent was selected by Jurgen Klopp to play on the right side of the defence in the second leg despite him having a yellow card to his name. “Trent has timed his run perfectly,” pundit Lampard noted in the post-match show, “to be in contention of a right-back spot for the World Cup.” Kyle Walker, England’s first choice right-back, was nutmegged by Trent’s team-mate, left-back Andrew Robertson in the same match.
But England doesn’t interest Trent all that much when he would be playing for his boyhood club in the semi-finals of the Champions League in a few weeks. He’s playing on turfs kissed by the blades of gentleman right-backs, Javier Zanetti and Steve Finnan.
Trent was coming into these run of matches on the back of two terrible league performances. Jurgen Klopp’s confidence propelled him into the league of the best young right-backs in the world, and the stand-out man of the match over the two legs.
But just 1 minute, 57 seconds into this game, that seemed slightly uncertain. Gabriel Jesus scored a tap in. 1-3 on aggregate. Liverpool’s tower of power, vigilant Virgil wasn’t going to let the comeback happen. His positional play was shadow-puppeted by the memories of Liverpool’s last most fashionable number 4, Sami Hyypia.
In the second half, the Liverpool defence stepped up and out with all the cool confidence of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. The second ball was being won by Liverpool, and their shape grew more compact. Manchester City’s moves were being put on ice. When Liverpool deployed a line as high as Ian Gillan’s notes, there was immediately a whiff of 1970s in the air. Big van Dijk exuded verve and confidence. He is one of those players who makes his team play better, look better. Which brings us to Roberto Firmino.
Kevin de Bruyne has to figure a way past Bobby Firmino before he contends with Mo Salah for the Ballon d’Or in the coming years. It’s little surprise why Bobby Firmino’s chant has the same tune to Kevin Keegan’s. We’ve seen Roberto Firmino play with the Liverpudlian guile of Robbie Fowler, and with the fierceness of a blurry-limbed Mighty Mouse.
I told my players at half-time, “If they want the ball from you, they will have to kill you!”
– Jurgen Klopp, post-match interview vs Man City, 10th April
In Jewish mythology, the Golem is a juggernaut-man made of clay, mud and stones, breathed into life and controlled by words of duty. Similarly, Bobby Firmino is the vehicle for Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy.
Der Bomber, King Kev, was asked to drop figurative grenades for Shankly’s and Paisley’s 70s Liverpool. In Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, Firmino is the black and white Ronin in Akira Kurosawa movies.
The cinematic treatment reserved for a Ronin in Japanese culture is usually what Russians get in Guy Ritchie movies – they are dutiful and indomitable. It was only a matter of time that Bobby would rob the ball on the left wing and score. In the 77th minute, Bobby plunged his katana, with a swift, sidefoot slash, and twisted it in.
In this team, we’ve seen the promises of potential being paid forward over the years. And now, I see Andrew Robertson cause the type of rumble in the wings Andrea Dossena, Fabio Aurelio, Jose Enrique, Jack Robinson, Lee Peltier, Chris Mavinga, Emiliano Insua, Brad Smith were expected to cause.
Before we know it, Liverpool is in the last 4 of the Champions League, for the first time in 10 years.
Liverpool now has a bold blend of belief and innovation. Exhibited in the stands, with new songs being churned out at the rate of knots; singing so loud that it may make a gull fly backwards in sheer terror. Hoarse voices gawking into the past. On the pitch, the haring limbs of Salah, Mane, Firmino and company are channelling the spirits of yesterday’s greats.
Listen carefully to the voice in your head reading this. Listen carefully as not one match report will tell you this: Good things happen, and you are allowed to enjoy it. You are allowed to be a backseat passenger sometimes and let life take you where it may. Like where the myrmidon-momentum of Liverpool’s current season has taken our collective hopes. You are allowed to add the theme song from Titanic to Mo Salah’s goal vs Man City, and not feel silly about it.
I believe you’re allowed to enjoy this despite what some hack/pundit says. I believe you are allowed to enjoy this even if your partner thinks it’s only a game or your mate is a pedantic arse. The clues are there.
Leroy Sane’s disallowed goal was onside. Bernie Silva’s wallop from the edge of the box to the far post took a bump off Dejan Lovren’s head. These are some of the moments fans forget but a team looks back to when fate itself is willing them to go on.
Swirl this very feeling of at last! around your head like the settling of a good drink in a glass. In expectation.
If we win the semi-finals against AS Roma, the drinks are on me. Anything but basic Burgundy, mind. This may be vintage Liverpool.