At first it looked to be a foreign idea, literally. The idea of building a team with little resources, smoothing out the imperfections of one by meshing him with another and combining for something successful. At first it looked like the money-driven state of the Premier League wouldn’t allow it.
Liverpool don’t have to win the Premier League title this season for them to have made a statement. It’s a statement alongside what has been done in the recent past in Germany and what is currently happening in Spain. It happened in France, too, and to an extent, it’s currently happening in Italy.
It is possible to build a title-challenging team, seemingly from scratch, to compete with the financial might of others.
A curious debate has emerged this morning. Actually, it’s not really a debate, more of an irritation from some at having been told, apparently, how to think in these last few weeks of this season. Apparently there is some angst that journalists are telling neutral fans that they should support Liverpool in this title race, citing any number of things to support their argument.
That’s not the issue here. The issue is people’s selective nature in choosing when they’ll rebel, though quietly, to what’s being fed to them. People have an issue with being told who to support, yet little questioning will be had over the premise that Champions League football is the be all and end all; that good players can’t be bought without the icing of European football over the upcoming campaign; that title’s can’t be won without enormous investment; that every team must have a man-mountain in their midfield; and finally, the one that really irks, that the Premier League is king.
Liverpool are currently laying to rest at least two of those ideas. Actually make it three. The first is that enormous investment is needed to win a title. Far from it. Courage, the willingness to take risks, and smart management will win a team a league title. Ask Borussia Dortmund.
The second is that good players won’t go to clubs who aren’t competing in the Champions League. Luis Suarez is the obvious one. The Uruguayan has one season in the Champions League to his name, a season from his days at Ajax. Daniel Sturridge, one of the best goal scorers of this season, bettered only by teammate Suarez, moved to Liverpool when top European football was far from a talking point. The same goes for Coutinho.
Finally, Liverpool are showing that it is possible to be in the mix for a league title without a goliath in midfield. Another myth of the Premier League that has been lapped up.
It means that while Arsenal fans may be at war with one another over whether to celebrate fourth place or not, the real debate and subsequent regret should be that the club has failed to produce what it has long fought for, and now what another club may achieve within the span of a season.
Liverpool’s possible success highlights the failings of Arsenal over the years and adds further weight to the argument that the north London club have indeed been making do with what they have, with little aspiration to do better than important though ultimately unfulfilling qualification for Europe.
It highlights that throughout these past eight years since moving to the Emirates, while title challenges were possible, Arsenal have never had the courage to take risks as a means to counter their lack of spending ability.
Liverpool may not have had a great plan, but there is nothing lucky about where they are. Ok sure, every team who finds success has been lucky at some stage. Liverpool’s title charge shouldn’t be rubbished because they had the fortune of a clear run in the league without distractions from Europe. You could argue that Barcelona were lucky that the stars aligned and gave them Pep Guardiola at a time when Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes, and Carles Puyol were at their absolute best to achieve what they did. Hopefully that gives a sense of how silly the notion of luck is when discussing accomplishments in football.
As for Arsenal, there’s been something flimsy and half-hearted about the way they’ve done things, from top to bottom. On the topic of expiring contracts – an issue faced most notoriously with Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri – there can be only two explanations for allowing that situation to occur. Either the club knew about the contracts and chose not to act when they had a good amount of leverage in negotiations. Or, they simply forgot. Both are unforgiveable.
With transfers, there has been little consistency in Arsenal’s planning and ultimate acquisitions. It’s rarely been to make Arsenal better, just to keep the team where they are. Arsenal, through choice or not, have never been a club to spend big prior to the signing of Ozil, and that’s fine. But why not make better use of scouting networks and contacts? Why limit yourself in such a way that you’re bound to only get one good player in a handful?
It’s about the failure to branch out beyond French football up until recently. The idea of gathering young players is a smart one; others have done it to very good effect. But Arsenal were constantly hoarding middle of the road talents who wouldn’t really amount to much at the highest level. An extension of that is the failure of the youth academy to produce a consistent stream of players able to step in to the first team.
It shouldn’t be accepted that Arsenal’s position in English football is accurate of their resources. Big money isn’t a guarantee of anything, whether it be the signing of a £50 million striker, or the strongest and most talented squad in the league.
Smart planning, or planning or any nature, has been Arsenal’s failure. Both in getting the most out of their players – management, formation, tactics, preparation – and business in the market.
Liverpool are currently showing that it can be done. They’re not world beaters. At present, one of their players will be a topic of transfer discussion among clubs like Real Madrid, PSG, Chelsea, and those of that spending ability. Beyond that, they’re just a well-drilled group who are thriving under the management of an individual who knows how to get the most out of his players.
Not the impossibility it’s been portrayed as.