Liverpool’s 30-year dream again in limbo after agonising heartbreaksUpdated: Mar 31, 2020 23:24 IST
Storied football club Liverpool — seemingly locked forever in a Sisyphean quest for premiership glory — appear to have been dealt another cruel hand by destiny; if it was their god who slipped six years ago, all of humanity has been struck by a deadly pandemic this time.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought the game to its knees, with league competitions left unfinished around the world. As authorities prepare for a crucial meeting to decide the season’s fate on Friday, Liverpool, sitting on a staggering 25-point lead, face the prospect of not being awarded the title as mathematically it was still possible for them to lose it.
As opposed to knockout tournaments, leagues operate on the principle that everyone plays all the other contenders twice and the team with the highest points tally at the end of it takes home the prize. A yet to be completed league therefore cannot, theoretically, be awarded to the table topper at the time of stoppage in case of an emergency. And even if it is decided to award the premiership to Liverpool, the extraordinary move will always be accompanied by an asterisk next to it — and that is what is bound to rankle fans the most.
Host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, a self-confessed Liverpool tragic, summed up how the club’s fans around the world must be feeling during his final show on the coronavirus outbreak. “Jurgen Klopp [the first-team coach] deserves this, and I know he’s pointed out in a beautiful essay that we should not worry about the league right now, we should keep things in perspective. But the very fact that he wrote something like that just makes me want him to win the title even more,” said Oliver. “They should really give Liverpool the league title because they’ve basically already won it... OK, OK, you’re right, you are right. Sports are not important now, especially not right now.”
He’s right. As Klopp said, “If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s a no contest. Really, it isn’t.”
The club with a rich history in the pre-modern era have never won the Premier League since its inception in 1992-93, an agonising fact that subjects Liverpool loyalists to cruel put-downs every time they, legitimately, brag about past glory — distant past glory.
All of Liverpool’s 18 titles came before 1992-93 and a whole generation of fans has waited for them to be champions of England since. This time, when they were closer than they have ever been, something outside of football, something bigger than sport, is set to take it all away.
This, just after the Reds’ glorious year had hit a rough patch: In the space of four days towards the end of February, they lost their chance to emulate Arsenal’s “invincible” 2003-04 team, with a defeat to Watford, were shunted out of the FA Cup, and lost their first leg Last 16 match against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Yet, Liverpool had an astounding 25-point lead over second placed Manchester City — the reigning champions, who could even extend that reign by default — with nine games left (City have 10 games left).
Despite the heavy lead, there remained a mathematical chance, however improbable, that Liverpool could still lose out if all their remaining matches were lost while City won all of theirs.
For the club’s supporters, the league title is the holy grail, the one thing that they want over everything else. For the Liverpool player, management and fan (all of whom would’ve expected the 30-year drought to end this summer), a likely announcement of the season being void will be a gut-wrenching one.
During these past three decades, the Reds have come excruciatingly close to glory on a few occasions. Perhaps none more so than in the 2018-19 season, when Manchester City won each of their last 14 games to pip Liverpool from the top spot by one point — Liverpool’s 97 points, the third highest seasonal tally of all time, went in vain.
The 2013-14 campaign too was a case of so-close-and-yet-so-far for Liverpool. That slip-up was a literal one, with Liverpool’s captain and all-time great, Steven Gerrard, slipping on his backside at Anfield and allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to score en route to a 2-0 win for the Blues. It would cause irreparable damage to Liverpool’s title challenge with just two games to come, and the great Liverpool hero had turned villain in a flash.
“I felt numb, like I had lost someone in my family,” Gerrard later wrote in his autobiography My Story. “I hadn’t cried for years but, on the way home, I couldn’t stop. The tears kept coming. I can’t even tell you if the streets were thick with traffic or as empty as I was on the inside.”
“Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he slipped on his f***ing a*se; He gave it to Demba Ba; Steve Gerrard, Gerrard,” would soon become a regular chant (in the tune of Que Sera Sera) among city-rivals Everton, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs every time Liverpool played in their stadiums.That slip-up and the heartbreak of the previous Premier League season were somewhat soothed when Jurgen Klopp took Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title last year, before the Reds went on an era-defining, near invincible run this season, claiming 82 out of the 87 points on offer till the season was suspended.
Many, including current and former rivals, have suggested that a humane approach be adopted and Liverpool be awarded the title. Among them is Wayne Rooney, the former Manchester United and England star, who said the Reds deserve the title and it would only be fair to let the season finish, even if it eats into time from the next one. Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan also offered his support to the scenario of Liverpool being awarded the title if it is no longer possible to finish the season. But such a triumph, with an asterisk next to it, may still leave a bitter taste in the Reds’ mouths.