No title for Liverpool FC, but great performance brings plenty of goodwill
Published on May 12, 2014 12:36 PM
Yet another season ends without a trophy for Liverpool. Worse still, fans like me had to endure taunts of "collapse" and "slip-up" from rival supporters.
So why are all the Reds fans thanking the team in their Facebook posts, tweets and online blogs, defiantly supporting the club despite failing to end that 24-year domestic league title drought?
It all has to do with expectations.
For example, Manchester United fans expected their team to still be challenging for trophies, despite the retirement of Alex Ferguson coupled with an ageing squad. When that did not materialise, they bayed for blood, and David Moyes took the fall.
Unsavoury, but that's the reality in modern football. Fans hold plenty of power; approval ratings often define a manager's success instead of rate of development on the football pitch.
Brendan Rodgers had a poor start to his tenure as Liverpool manager two seasons ago. He could not get a win for the Reds until nearly two months into the 2012/13 season, testing every fan's patience to the limit.
Yet, here is where patience and cool heads in the Liverpool organisation prevailed, and gave the Northern Irishman time to carry out his strategy of attacking football. Gradually Liverpool's fortunes picked up. Wins came more frequently, giving fans confidence that progress was being made..
Yet, no one thought of a title charge at the start of this season. The squad were still thought of as too thin to sustain excellence thoughout a nine-month EPL season. Which is why the Reds have far exceeded fans' expectations this season, despite missing out on the elusive title by a mere two points.
Even more invigorating for Reds fans: the team overachieved via a scintillating attack, and not by stifling better opponents with defensive football.
Jose Mourinho may argue otherwise, but attractive football is a sort of "get out of jail" card. If you play defensive, sterile football, you'd better win or you'll not get plaudits. But if you play adventurous and entertaining football, you'll still get praise and support even if you lose.
And Liverpool were magnificent when going forward. Luis Suarez deservingly won all the accolades, but so many of his team-mates captured the fans' imagination as well. Daniel Sturridge's clinical finishing, Raheem Sterling's blinding sprints, Philippe Coutinho's eye for defence-splitting passes, and Steven Gerrard calmly directing traffic from midfield - fans do remember such enterprise.
They can even ignore that one glaring weakness - a brittle defence that struggled to cope with even the lesser teams. Composure is also lacking, not surprisingly among the youthful squad.
And so Sunday's season finale against Newcastle, to me, was more an occasion for appreciation of the team rather than a tense climax of a title chase which fans knew was out of the Reds' hands since a couple of weeks ago.
Songs, cheers and chants filled the Anfield stadium were as loud and spontaneous as ever. When Rodgers and the players took a lap of honour after the game, the stadium was still packed to the gills, singing lustily as they waved back their appreciation. Rodgers even thumped his chest a few times, and fans saw it as a sign of solidarity, especially with a contract extension about to happen.
So expectations were exceeded this season. What about next? Herein lies the big challenge. Fans do not have good memory; a new season means a renewed assault for every trophy on hand.
This is a little dangerous, because the squad will be stretched to breaking point with the introduction of midweek Champions League football. If no reinforcement comes in the pre-season, fans will worry.
So bigger fan expectations next season are guaranteed, and Liverpool will run the risk of failure if they don't improve on this season. It is almost unfair to this bunch of likeable players, not to mention the astute manager.
Yet, this season of overachievement has built up so much goodwill between the club and fans that next season's struggles will likely be tolerated. Anfield on Sunday showed that fans all over the world continue to be enthralled by the spellbinding atmosphere. With such strong fan support, this current generation of Reds players will probably be given time to develop into a more well-rounded team.
For me, my second trip to Anfield has brought me a first Liverpool win (they lost 1-2 to Wigan in my first trip in 2012), so I'm pretty elated. For fans living halfway across the world, such "pilgrimages" to football clubs has become increasingly popular. More often than not, the experience is unforgettable.
So long Anfield. We'll meet again, I'm sure.