Liverpool will be ending a fourth successive season without a trophy. On top of the early Champions League exit there has been a colossal backward step taken in the league and now, given the semi final extra time (all the more painful) defeat to Atletico Madrid, this all means that the only optimist remaining at Anfield is Rafa Benitez. The Liverpool manager insisted before yesterday’s semi final second leg that, even in its current state, the club can maintain its pulling power for the world’s top players.
It is difficult to decipher whether Benitez was relieving pressure from his players ahead of the deciding fixture or indirectly preparing fans for the prospect of failure. Regardless of his intentions nothing can mask the fact the club finds itself in genuine turmoil. With the club’s net debt topping £350million, on field matters have officially and unequivocally aligned themselves with off field discord. Prior to kick off Benitez reminded the football world that the history of his club lasts longer than the previous ten months:
“This club is massive and players know that. It does not matter if there is one bad season. That can happen.”
This is absolutely true. The Spaniard is right to think that the stature of the club’s history warrants more circumspect judgment regarding their immediate future. With the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Pepe Reina part of the starting eleven the club still boasts four proven top calibre players. Gerrard and Torres would have many of the best players and coaches scrambling to join them. However, and this is an incendiary concession, there is not a lot of quality to supplement the aforementioned. Further to this is the bona fide intention of any top quality player to be competing in the Champions League. Quite simply; being out of the premier club competition in Europe undoubtedly affects Liverpool’s power to attract the top names.
“Being in a European final again would prove that this is a massive club. If not, we know that we are in a good position anyway.”
The truth is despite the bravado required to stay afloat in the media these days, Benitez cannot veritably stand by the assertion that Liverpool find their current station a ‘good position’. It is mediocre…at best. Finishing seventh remains a tangible finality and I find it remiss to think that the club’s FA Cup triumph in 2006, or the Champions League victory a half decade ago, is enough to lure the world’s finest talents if this season ends outside the top four. Much has been made of Arsenal being trophy-less for a fifth successive season but this will be Liverpool’s fourth straight without silverware and, with a disconcerting financial predicament symbiotic with the Merseyside team, it solders a degree of hopelessness to their immediate future.
Torres and Gerrard have publicly voiced the pressing need to sign players of comparable ability and if these transfers are not forthcoming then the talismanic duo could find themselves in want of a more genuine team to challenge for top honours with. Gerrard will be turning thirty and the consolation of the Europa League may prove a test of patience he is unwilling to conquer; there comes a point where being a one-club team proves to be in diametric opposition with the competitive instinct to measure one’s career with the number of trophies accumulated. But given the fickle nature of the game and the excessive scrutiny of the media, all of these difficulties will be overlooked if next season begins with positive momentum. Benitez is right to think Liverpool is still a ‘massive club’ – the historical weight of their achievements is not diminished – but the risk he is running is to relegate their more recent glory into a past era. Liverpool can paradoxically remain a club rich with historical stature but without the allure of any team that finishes in the Champions League places. This is a truth I’m certain Benitez understands but simply cannot articulate to a press insatiable for any signs of weakness.