Defining success is always a fraught issue within football circles.
Liverpool are fighting in three competitions and already have a League Cup trophy in the bag. So what would be considered a successful season for Jurgen Klopp’s reds?
A 2008 book can tell us a lot about what success means to a football team. Steven Kelly’s ‘Rotation, Rotation, Rotation: A Season at Anfield’ is from a time where definitions and expectations of success were a charged issue within the fanbase.
The book charts the 2007/08 season, where questions were being raised about whether Rafael Benítez was able of knocking Manchester United and Chelsea off their perch.
Supporters of Benítez could point to two major trophies, regular top four finishes and consistently reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.
More sceptical views pointed to a socially awkward manger obsessed by rotation. The club overall were said to be constantly outspent and outmuscled by the aforementioned English giants.
The blurb argues that expectations were a lot higher in their 1980s heyday.
“There was a time”, it states, “when finishing second and winning a single cup would have been regarded as a bad season.”
So what would be regarded as a good season here? What are the expectations?
This is a team with the best player in the world- namely, Mo Salah- one of the best managers around, and fantastic squad depth.
It’s also a team which, in comparative to how well they have performed, do not have the silverware to match.
Yes, they may have achieved a higher point tally than any other Liverpool team in history, but when you’re trying to compare yourself with the greats, it’s medals that count most.
This Liverpool team have not emulated other great teams in winning multiple trophies in a season. The glory years of Ferguson’s United, Wenger’s Arsenal, arguably even Mourinho’s Chelsea, saw multiple league titles and European/domestic cups over a sustained period.
As of yet, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have not achieved this. Of course, trophies do not always tell the whole story.
This is a Liverpool team that are competing with a Manchester City side with a lot more resources at their disposal and who many are considering the greatest of all time.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have achieved the highest ever points total to not win the league- 97 while terrible goalkeeping calamities cost them in two Champions League campaigns.
Measuring silverware in complete isolation is idiotic. Even though Kelly decried Benítez’s “Messianic status” amongst some, he still acknowledges this conundrum.
“It is a little known fact”, he says, “that Liverpool won 16 of their titles with less than what Benitez achieved in 2006.” Liverpool finished 3rd that season, with 82 points- more than some United title wins back in the 1990s.
Kelly would likely believe that Rafa’s team from 2007-09, which won nothing, was better than the team that won the Champions League and FA Cup from 2004-06.
He goes on to lament the money that Manchester United and Chelsea spend, labelling it as a “saddening display of naivety and greed”. Sound familiar?
In this league- and the game more generally- silverware is becoming a closed shop between a select few clubs, some of them bankrolled by nation states.
In the same way that Benítez competing in the late 2000s was a success of sorts, so is Klopp competing with Manchester City.
In spite of all that, it’s unarguable that Liverpool should win more than one trophy this season, ideally one of the Premier League or Champions League. Theoretically a quadruple is also not off the table, although I doubt many expect this to be the result.
They have lost just three times this season, and one of them saw them go through on aggregate anyway. They already have experience of winning trophies, so going the final mile is not new to them.
It is not possible to have bagged one trophy already and been in the running for three more without being half decent. Then add in the mix the aforementioned quality of players and coaches, Klopp is now able to make three or four changes per game without Liverpool looking noticeably poorer.
From that perspective, a solitary League Cup from this position would be considered disappointing for many.
Talk is already emerging in Liverpool circles about a willingness to sacrifice the FA Cup in return for a 7th Champions League win, or a 20th league title being paraded around the city.
Failing to win all four competitions should not be considered a failure. However, it is imperative that they make the most of an unprecedented opportunity.
Rafael Benítez’s constant squad rotation irritated so many supporters like Kelly. Now, it is Klopp’s rotation which may help eclipse the achievements of any of the great 80s sides he witnessed.
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