“Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost
Don’t go jumping to any conclusions. Liverpool Football Club still has work to do. However, the light is becoming clearer and stronger for the faithful supporters of the Anfield club.
It has been ages since Liverpool FC were under the leadership of chairman David Moores. Prior to Moores’ tenure, Liverpool was the most successful club in the history of English football. They had won the Football League First Division eighteen times, the FA Cup four times and the European Cup four times. They were the shining example of English football across Europe.
Since then, Manchester United have surpassed Liverpool’s domestic cup haul by winning 20 top flight titles while also becoming the global symbol of English football.
Over the past 22 years, Liverpool has failed to win the league and has won the FA Cup three times and the EFA Champions League trophy once. Liverpool has won a host of other competitions. But the dominance they once had over English and European football has been non-existent recently.
The club’s fall from grace started under the leadership of Graeme Souness. In April 1991, Moores appointed Souness who took over a Liverpool side that sat top of the First Division and hadn’t finished outside the top two places in ten seasons. But in his first full season in charge the following year Liverpool finished 6th – the club’s lowest finish in 28 years.
The downfall increased in severity after Moores sold the club to American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks in 2007. Moores later admitted that he “hugely regretted” selling the club to the Americans, but the damage had already been done. The new owners saddled the club with huge debts that were incurred during its purchase.
Liverpool needed to increase the capacity of Anfield to compete with other top clubs, but weren’t able to make the necessary changes due to the club’s poor finances. The new owners proclaimed that a new stadium was their priority and that work would begin immediately. However the pair failed to secure funding and plans for a new home ground. The plans for the ground at Stanley Park were shelved.
Despite the financial concerns, Liverpool were able to capture their fifth Champions League title in 2005 when they battled from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Italian giant, AC Milan. They made another Champions League final appearance in 2007 and finished second in the Premier League to Manchester United in 2009. But in 2010, the club lost in the group stages of the Champions League and hasn’t made a return to the competition.
In the new Premier League environment of billionaire owners, huge modernized stadiums, and global marketing, Liverpool had fallen far behind clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. The club just couldn’t compete for the top players in the world and had to sell their marquee stars. Xavi Alonso was sold to Real Madrid in 2009 for £30m ($48m). Javier Mascherano went to Barcelona in 2010 for £17.3m ($27.7m). And Fernando Torres was sold to rival Chelsea for £50m ($80m) in 2011.
The sale of Torres allowed Liverpool to bring in two players: Andy Carroll from Newcastle United for £35m ($56.1m) and Luis Suárez from AFC Ajax for £23m ($36.9m). Although Suárez has turned into Liverpool’s star player next to veteran Steven Gerrard, Carroll never quite panned out and was sent to West Ham United in 2012.
During the 2009-10 season, Liverpool fell completely out of the “Top Four” and has since to return. Years of financial strain, average managers, bad signings, and commercial ineptitude have combined to hold Liverpool back.
In October 2010, Liverpool was sold to John W. Henry and the Fenway Sports Group (formerly New England Sports Ventures). The club’s fortunes were not immediately solved by the new ownership. But since the start of the 2012-13 season, Liverpool has shown signs of a club moving out of the dark.
Mr. Henry and the Fenway Sports Group are moving forward with the planned renovation of Anfield. The project is expected to cost the club £154m ($244.5m).
Although the club is still in debt, its commercial revenues have been increasing and the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) has continued to strengthen Liverpool’s already global brand. Managing Director, Ian Ayre recently stated: “And as we approach things like Financial Fair Play and that type of environment, we will be in a very strong position.” He went on to say, “What we have to do is match our football performance with our business performance. Everybody throughout the club is working towards that; creating the right sustainable business performance to feed the football business and then the football business can deliver on its side.”
The football side is now in good hands under the leadership of Brendan Rodgers. Despite finishing in seventh place in 2012-13, Rodgers was able to bring stability and direction to the club. Rodger’s footballing philosophy is consistent with Spain and Barcelona; it is one that hails possession of the ball above all other aspects of the game.
Liverpool suffered some growing pains early in Rodgers’ tenure. Goals were conceded because of defenders ill-advised passes in their own half. But over the course of Rodgers’ first season, the players began to look more comfortable. And as of today, it seems that Liverpool has been able to combine the fluid and silky style of passing football that Rodgers desires with a steely determination to defend when needed. Liverpool have expanded their style to show (early in the season) that they can absorb opponents’ pressure and then hit them on the counter-attack.
Due to the club’s tentative financial state, they have had to invest wisely during the transfer windows. Liverpool have not only done that, they have signed some of the brighter young talent in the league.
The biggest turning point for the club has been the addition of five young players: forwards Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and defender Mamadou Sakho.
The partnership of Suárez and Sturridge has the potential to be one of the best in the Premier League. Last season, all the talk was of the Rooney/Van Perise pairing at Manchester United. But with United currently stumbling and Liverpool holding a higher position in the league table, “SAS” (Suarez and Sturridge) has taken top billing.
Regarding SAS, Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler commented earlier this week: “There has been a trend to play one up front with a man floating in behind but that can make things difficult for the man at the head of the team. He will often find himself with two men, possibly even three, keeping him under wraps.”
“Once you have two strikers working in tandem, though, the dynamics completely change and doubts begin to creep into defenders’ minds.”
“That’s when a partnership really works. When it is two against two, the odds are in favor of the strikers, especially if they are top players like Liverpool’s pairing.”
Luis Suárez (regardless what most football fans outside of Liverpool think) is one of the best players in the world. He plays with boundless energy, constantly runs at opposing defenders, shares the ball and literally fights to win every possession. If anyone has any questions about his effort, they need look no further than his opening goal against Crystal Palace this weekend. Suárez has tallied 54 goals and 16 assists during all competitions since his arrival in 2011.
In January 2013, Liverpool added Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea Football Club. The goal scoring forward had previously proven himself as a Premier League threat during his loan spell at Bolton Wanderers. Although he continued to have a hard time finding steady first-team matches with his parent club, Chelsea. Sturridge was eventually sold to Liverpool.
While he struggled to find his way during his half season with the club, he showed signs of being the perfect complement to Suárez. Towards the end of 2013 (with Suárez suspended), Sturridge was able to assert himself as a scoring option for the club. More recently, Sturridge’s decision making – when to pass and when to shoot – has vastly improved.
Although he recently suffered an injury blow, Philippe Coutinho’s arrival at Anfield has been an instant success. Coutinho scored a goal in his full debut against Swansea City. He is a prototypical Brazilian number 10, playing with an attacking flair, vision, and an eye for goal. He was quickly able to unlock opposing defenses and provide fantastic build up to Liverpool’s attack.
Coutinho should return from injury to the Liverpool lineup shortly after the international break.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was bought from Sunderland during the summer of 2013. Mignolet was widely sought after by top Premier League clubs. His efforts literally prevented Sunderland from relegation in 2012-13. Mignolet is the starting goalkeeper for the Belgian national team which is currently ranked sixth in the FIFA World Rankings.
Liverpool’s latest signing was 6’2 defender Mamadou Sakho from French champions Paris Saint-Germain. Sakho is a physically imposing centre back with fantastic anticipation. The French international and boyhood PSG fan, Sakho came through the ranks at PSG and has hinted at a future return to the club. But since his arrival in the northwest of England, he has pledged his loyalty to Liverpool and promised to help return them to their glory days.
A return to European competition is in sight for the club. With both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, and even Swansea City competing in Europe, Liverpool have time to focus on the Premier League table. While the other top clubs are seeing their squads physically wear down due to an overwhelming amount of games, Liverpool’s squad should be prepared and fresh.
Liverpool are currently on top of the Premier League after seven matches (prior to the West Bromwich-Arsenal match). Big games are soon to follow and the club will need to prove themselves against the league’s most recent threats. But Liverpool’s climb from darkness is nearly complete. For the club’s supporters, it can’t come soon enough.