Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWill Liverpool ever be kings of England again? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Will Liverpool ever be kings of England again? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Will Liverpool ever be kings of England again?

Back in May 1990 when I was a mere 19 year old Liverpool FC fanatic addicted to a regular fix of John Barnes magic tricks, if someone would have said to me that my beloved club would not lift the English league championship again for the next 21 seasons I would have been so overcome with laughter that I would not have been able to offer a coherent verbal retort. At the time Liverpool Football Club carried such a preeminent mystic that such a suggestion was as inconceivable as it was ridiculous. Back then, their closest rivals were George Graham’s ‘boring, boring’ Arsenal, who at the time were nothing more than an occasional nuisance and the great pretenders to their crown. As for Manchester United, well in that same season they were purportedly just one game away from sacking a certain uncompromising Glaswegian named Alex Ferguson. At the time they had just gone a 23rd year without a league title and Fergie’s bold claim that he would knock Liverpool off their perch when he arrived from Aberdeen four years earlier, seemed more pathetic than prophetic. Thanks to Mark Robbins’ winning goal in the 3rd round of the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest, Fergie lived to fight another day and twenty-one years and 12 league titles later Sir Alex Ferguson’s prediction now seems something of an understatement.

Liverpool for their part have struggled to even get close to United or the league title in the ensuing years. Since Kenny Dalglish left his post as manager the year after Liverpool’s last league triumph, the club have recruited four managers before ending up with Dalglish back as its present incumbent. In that time the closest the club has come to winning the league was in 2002 and in 2009 when they finished as runners-up. On each occasion it was during the club’s two experiments with foreign managers. But to come second place on two occasions over a twenty-one year period puts into context the scale of Liverpool’s dramatic fall from grace. Of course, Rafael Benitez could argue that he went one better by delivering the trophy with the big ears that all of Europe craves so badly. He could also rightly claim that his Liverpool side were (from the mid to late naughties), probably the most feared and respected side in Europe and the team no-one wanted to draw come the knock out stages of the Champions League competition. However, domestically it was only in the 2008-09 season that they ever looked like genuine title winning contenders.

That team and those heady days in Europe are now a distant memory and Dalglish’s re-building job is clearly still work in progress. Liverpool can no longer take for granted a place in the top four and half-way through the 2011-12 season they currently lie in sixth place. This is where they finished the previous season and where most observers believe they will finish at the end of this season.

Should that be the case, it will result in a third successive season without Champions League football. Worse still, if either Tottenham or Arsenal were to claim a Champions League place ahead of them it will surely push them further down the pecking order. For it must be remembered that the likes of the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea have the financial muscle to attract top players to their respective clubs with or without the added attraction of Champions League football.

At the end of 2010, Liverpool had just survived possibly the worst year in its recent history.  Having endured the disastrous Hicks/Gillette era and a marked decline in results on the pitch, particularly given such high expectations at the start of the 2009-10 season, things seemed to go from bad to worse.  Once the club had finally seen off the ‘Dallas Cowboys’ and welcomed the Boston Red Sox the fans quickly switched their anger towards Roy Hodgson, under whom the team’s results and performances seemed to hit an all time low. By the end of the year, their wishes was granted and in came fans favourite Kenny Dalglish, initially as caretaker manager.

When Dalglish first arrived many doubted that he would do anymore than stablise a beleaguered team that were still battered and bruised by the effects of the previous regime. He had been out of the game for a decade and his last venture into management at Celtic was hardly spectacular. However, his positive impact on the team and the club as a whole was almost immediate. In addition to a very strong second half of the season, he earned a lot of praise for his handling of the Fernando Torres departure. He duly restored the feel good factor to the club, which led to the club’s new owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) offering him a three-year contract before the end of the season. They backed him during the summer transfer window splashing out £69.1m on seven new signings.

One suspects that given the team’s difficulties regularly finding the net and with Luis Suarez impending 8 match ban looming, FSG will be forced to put their hands in their pockets once again. In return for their significant investment to date, FSG will surely expect Champions League revenue on the balance sheet next season. But can Liverpool really become a top four side again, let alone one that can seriously challenge for or indeed win the league title any time soon?

The emergence of Manchester City as the new financial power-house in England to go alongside their ‘oil-firm derby’ rivals Chelsea and the well established old guard of United and Arsenal has left the top-four market-place a little crowded. To add to it we have Harry Redknapp’s flamboyant Tottenham team, who look every bit as good as anyone else at this present moment.

There is also no doubt that the Premier League has become more competitive in recent seasons. Since Manchester United won it in 2008-09 with 90 points, subsequent titles have been won by Chelsea the following year with 86 points and United last year with just 80 points. Indeed, the 86 points Liverpool accumulated in the 2008-09 campaign would have seen them emerge as champions in either of the past two seasons. But such is the importance of preserving Premier League status that clubs are willing to invest more in better quality players and if necessary adopt more defensive tactics. As a consequence, the league has become more and more unpredictable and points are at a premium. There are no more whipping boys and teams that come up from the Championship seem to be placing a higher emphasis on capitalising on the momentum gathered from the previous season’s promotion to the Premier League, particularly in the first half of the season. Liverpool have often found this to their detriment. All too regularly they have fallen foul to teams that come to Anfield with a clear game plan and have ‘parked the bus’ in front of the Kop and their goal. Indeed, Liverpool have played all three promoted teams at Anfield already this season, but have only managed one narrow victory against QPR. Disappointing draws against Norwich and Swansea demonstrate the newfound difficulty all teams face in seeing off the so-called Premier League minnows. Liverpool suffered a similar fate back in 2008-09, when dropped points at home against a number of bottom half of the table sides undermined their title challenge. Despite only losing two games all season and taking a staggering 14 points from a possible 18 against the other top four teams, they still came up short to Manchester United. This new ‘points-dropping’ phenomenon makes it particularly harder for clubs like Liverpool who are now on the periphery of the Champions League places.  Even though Liverpool have continued to do well in the ‘big games’ in recent years, persistent inconsistent results against teams below them has become something of an Achilles heel for them. However, it is not something that the other title contenders tend to suffer from in the same manner. Although they are still firmly in touch with a Champions League place Liverpool are 11 points behind joint leaders City and United. Furthermore, Liverpool have won just four of their 10 games at home despite the fact that they are unbeaten at Anfield thus far. Had they converted the six home draws into wins they would currently be sitting top of the table, two points clear of the two Manchester clubs.

For Liverpool to address their inconsistent form in the short to medium term they will need a combination of time, continued investment in better players and the adoption of a winning mentality. In order to facilitate and accelerate this they may even need Champions League football. Thus a vicious cycle prevails. For it is Champions League football above anything else that will enable them to attract the world’s best players and compete with their rivals for silverware. In the last two seasons we have seen how the aforementioned formula has benefitted Manchester City and Tottenham and has suddenly catapulted them both into the mix with the Premier League elite. Tottenham are not in the financial league of Man City or even Chelsea but have embraced the concept of speculating to accumulate and have tasted the splendors of Champions League football. The momentum gained from their credible Champions League adventure last season has enabled the team to grow in confidence and develop the type of winning mentality required to maintain their new found elevated status. They are regularly producing champagne football and are starting to achieve the results to match. This model is one that Liverpool may have to replicate in order to reassert themselves both at home and in Europe as they did at the height of the Benitez era.

There is no doubt that 2011 has seen a massive improvement for Liverpool under Dalglish’s tutelage. During the calendar year, the team have played 37 leagues games and have amassed a total of 67 points, which one game short of a full season of fixtures is potentially Champions League place form. Under Dalglish the team has a win percentage of 52.17, almost identical to what he achieved throughout his time as manager of Blackburn Rovers. He has shrewdly appointed Steve Clarke and more recently Kevin Keen as part of his backroom staff at the expense of Sammy Lee, who was Benitez and Hodgson’s Assistant. The new look Anfield bootroom is distinctly British but in Clarke and Keen, Dalglish has two of the brightest young tactical brains in a tracksuit at his disposal. Only time will tell whether they have enough nouce between them to put an end to the continuous cycle of underachievement and deliver the trophy the fans want most of all.

So, will Liverpool ever return to the summit of English football? Of course they will. Football dominance is never built to last forever and will always be shared in cycles. United had to wait 26 years for their turn and of course it is completely reliant on a combination of the right manager, a patient and supportive board, the right players peaking at the right time and that slice of good fortune to provide the catalyst to get you on your way. The more pertinent question is, how long will it be before Liverpool can look forward again to theirs?

Wayne Wiggins @Wayne_Wiggins

Football Friends bring you the latest football news and opinion from football fans around the world.
Football News