Following the long awaited end to their trophy drought, a sense of optimism surrounding Liverpool Football Club is inevitable, with fans predictably praying that the team can use the result as a springboard for the rest of the season. They are still in the FA Cup and the fight for fourth, so their fate is still largely in their own hands. But, looking towards the future, do they have the credentials to once again become a team capable of challenging for top English and European competitions?
Since his arrival, Kenny Dalglish has strived to bring the winning mentality back to Liverpool and, by winning a trophy in his first full season in charge, has done just that. It has relieved the pressure off the Liverpool players, and they will now genuinely consider the plausibility of winning every competition they enter. Winning a cup competition is sure to have a positive impact on the morale of a team, leading to improved performances and therefore results, which can prove pivotal for a team such as Liverpool, whose future is still undecided this season. It was important to win, by whatever means possible, as the price of defeat in a cup final is huge, evidently shown by Arsenal’s reaction last year to their last minute loss to Birmingham. Although the Gunners do have a tendency to react badly to upsets, the effects were horrific, even by Arsenal’s standards. Inconsistency, instability and inadequacy developed over the following months, and the anxiety, tension and pressure surrounding the lack of recent success at the club became apparent. This negative outlook of the club clearly affected the team off the pitch also, with key players like Fabregas and Nasri looking for that winning spark elsewhere, with Robin van Persie likely to follow suit if the club fail to end their drought sooner rather than later. Liverpool’s response to their cup win in their remaining fixtures this season may become crucial for their long-term ambitions; obviously securing Champions League football next season is the main objective, but even narrowly missing out will not be a disaster, providing they are still in the hunt come May. Finishing in a distant 6th or 7th position will be unacceptable however, and could severely damage Liverpool’s aims for the next few years.
The cup win is sure to inspire some confidence, but can only act as a catalyst for an upturn in performances, not a creator. Last year’s victorious Birmingham side emphasise this point effectively. The winning of silverware was always going to be the highlight of their season, and so they may have started to relax and become complacent that, no matter how catastrophic their performances proceeding the final, it would always be deemed a successful season. However, Liverpool, after spending over £100 million in the last 12 months, are starting to develop into a well-rounded team. Although there are clearly some players that have yet to merit their hefty transfer fee, the team do look a better outfit than a year or so ago, with strength in depth playing a key role. Towards the end of Benitez’s tenure at Liverpool, it was clear that the Reds relied solely on their top two men, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. Dalglish’s decision to sell Torres and replace him with two, relatively young strikers was a wise one, even though both forwards have struggled for goals since their moves. Since selling Torres, the team’s mentality has shifted away from a one (or two)-man team, towards a team playing for each other – a better team ethic to have. Similarly to Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, qualifying for the Champions League is desirable not only financially but also for the calibre of players they can then attract, but failure to finish within the top four in the EPL is unlikely to severely dent Liverpool’s long-term future, due to their philosophy of buying young, predominately British prospects. Although the very top British stars may evade Liverpool, such as Phil Jones, the inflated costs of the majority of these players deter other clubs from even thinking of a transfer, and so Dalglish faces little competition for these players.
Stability is needed for a club to progress, and the Liverpool owners appear to have brought this. John Henry and the Fenway Sports Group have not only provided funds for transfers, but clearly also have a strategy for where they want the club to go and the way they go about reaching this destination. Long-term progression appears to be the plan, opting to buy younger players more often than not despite the excessive prices, providing it ensures a positive team chemistry and good atmosphere around the club, as well as these players actually possessing the required quality for a club of Liverpool’s stature. When necessary, the owners have intervened in affairs, such as encouraging Suarez and Dalglish to apologize for their actions surrounding the racism case, but have generally trusted Dalglish to make his own decisions. They have understood how important the fans are at the football club, establishing that in order for the club to progress, the majority of fans must be onside; their decision to appoint Dalglish reflects this, and so far he has proved a worthy choice. He has all the capabilities to be Liverpool’s manager for the long haul, and this stability provided will help the club to build towards a brighter future. Actual efforts to convert proposals of a new stadium into reality eluded Hicks and Gillett, but the FSG have made it clear they don’t want to replicate the previous owners’ false promises about a new stadium. Financially, the new stadium is needed for Liverpool to once again become one of the powerhouses of not only English, but also European, football and so the sooner it is built, the better. The transition from Anfield to the new stadium will be tough for some fans, but it is crucial for the sustainment of Liverpool as a top Premier League club.
Liverpool will be equipped to challenge for Premier League titles in a few years time, but only if they continue to move forward in the right direction. Their failure to be clinical this season, mainly at home, has caused the club to be sitting in an unsatisfactory 7th place. Although it would be rash to think that the cup win will dramatically change Liverpool’s season, their remaining fixtures appear to be relatively easy in comparison to other clubs, and so cause for optimism is acceptable. Liverpool must show that they truly do deserve to be categorized with the top clubs of English football and that, in a few years time, they will be right up there with them, competing not only for England’s but also Europe’s greatest prizes.