I remember: A Liverpool Thirty-Year Title Chase

I remember: A Liverpool Thirty-Year Title Chase

I remember 1990, but I cannot remember a single thing about Liverpool’s 18th title win.

It’s not that I was too young – I’ll age myself: I was just starting national service at the time. Football did not have the same wall to wall coverage it enjoys today of course – short wave radio on Saturdays was all the rage – but it wasn’t just that. It’s more that, frankly, there was nothing remarkable about Liverpool winning yet another league title in 1990.

This was after all Liverpool’s 11th title in 17 years, their 7th of the last 10 years. If anything at all, the one noteworthy thing about this season was that Liverpool hadn’t started the season as defending champions. In particular, the manner of their capitulation 12 months earlier – a dramatic 0-2 home loss to Arsenal on the final day – perhaps meant that this one wasn’t quite completely taken for granted.

   (Courtesy The Athletic)

Still, another title was just a reset to normal. King Kenny Dalglish was still in charge. What could possibly wrong? About a month later, in Sunderland, 160 miles away from Anfield, Mr. and Mrs. Henderson named their new born son Jordan…..

I remember 1992. Dalglish was gone but a wafer thin youngster named Steve McManaman lit up Wembley as Liverpool beat Sunderland 2-0 to win the FA Cup. It was Liverpool’s first laurel in the two years since that last league title, although the team that Graeme Souness led – 6th in the league – might well have been light years away from the all-conquering Liverpool sides of the previous decade. Still, it was surely only a matter of time before Liverpool returned to its place of pride atop English football…..wasn’t it?

I remember 1996. Souness was gone by now, replaced by long time Boot Room guy Roy Evans. A return to the old Liverpool ways of pass and move football and the emergence of a young core – McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp – guided by the last of Dalglish’s golden era – John Barnes, Ian Rush – produced superb, easy-on-the-eye football. They couldn’t quite get past the team of the time though; Manchester United were just that much better – a point they drove home in a close FA Cup final, settled by Eric Cantona’s late goal.

That one stung…..still, it had only been six years and this was only the beginning for this lot, no? No.

I remember 2001…who could forget? A remarkable cup treble – no, not the treble – and a resilient, obdurate, team under Gerard Houllier. The Frenchman dragged Liverpool into modern times, adding astute foreign imports – Sami Hyypia, Didi Hamman – to some special youngsters – Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard – to make Liverpool strong again.

Sure, they weren’t as fun as Evans’ “Spice Boys” but there’s something about winning that makes fun seem an indulgence. We were smiling again, winning things again. They even topped Man United the following season – for the first time in a decade – but Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal took the title. Still, an opportunity to build on – surely next year – but Houllier plumped for El Hadji Diouf over Nicolas Anelka, and he was gone in two years.

I remember 2005. What’s not to remember? Olympiakos, Chelsea and the miracle of Istanbul. Rafa Benitez wielded his magic wand and somehow conquered Europe. A mish-mash team finished 5th, 35 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League, a team they lost to home and away as well as in the League Cup final, yet somehow overcame over two legs in the Champions League semis.

That was nothing compared to the final though; Milan led 1-0 after one minute, and 3-0 after 45. Liverpool were level 3-3 after 60…and then won on penalties after 120. Cue pandemonium, cue joy. This was something to build on, surely, and build Rafa did. Another incredible final followed a year later, Gerrard leaving his imprint as Liverpool came back again – this time from two down – to see off West Ham in the FA Cup. Two seasons of Rafa, two Cups. But still, 15 years and no “holy grail”.

I remember 2009. It’s the pinnacle of Benitez’s five-year build and a team worthy of the championship. A team far better than the European champions of 2005. Gerrard’s team, for sure, but with Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres, a team in the real sense of the word.

A credible title chase at long last, the double over Man Utd – as well as Chelsea – two defeats all season. Still, not enough to break a now 19-year drought – where did the time go? United claim their 18th title and things begin to fall apart – again. Rafa is gone within 12 months.

I remember 2010. The lowest of lows; Terrible owners take the club to the brink of bankruptcy and performances on the field aren’t any better – home losses to Wolves and Blackpool – under Roy Hodgson, and Liverpool flirt with the relegation zone. New owners arrive and Dalglish returns to the helm, but it’s been a long 20 years since his last title. Torres heads out and Luis Suarez arrives – but so do a load of lightweight flotsam. Another title is but a pipe dream now – heck, a top four finish would be really nice. The Reds do well to finish 6th.

I remember 2014. And how! Brendan Rodgers in his second season, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, guides Liverpool to the brink of the title. Suarez leads the way, his genius and will dragging others along. Gerrard rolls back the years; Daniel Sturridge has his healthiest, most productive season, and Rodgers’ team win 12 straight in the run in. Then comes the slip…and “Crystanbul”…and City take the spoils. A 24-year wait rolls into its 25th year…

I remember 2015. Rodgers third season can’t match his second – 1-6 at Stoke, 7th place and all that – and his fourth lasts just 8 games before FSG pull the plug. A 1-1 draw at Goodison is his last song – who can forget Thierry Henry grabbing Carragher’s thigh as the news comes in on Sky? I’m not sure it’s the right call – until I hear the name of the new guy.

“The Normal One” he says he is, talking doubters and believers in his first presser. Jurgen Klopp settles right in and a team that looked rudderless and disjointed under Rodgers are soon winning at Chelsea and City. Two Cup finals follow – a pointer to what’s to come – but two defeats and an eighth-place finish in the Prem show they aren’t quite there yet.

It’s been hard to forget anything since. Klopp’s first summer brings in Sadio Mané, Gini Wijnaldum and Joël Matip. Liverpool attack fluently and fervently and are top of the table in November, but fall away in the winter as fatigue sets in. There’ll be no title tilt but a 4th place finish brings Champions League qualification and means progress is made.

Klopp’s second summer brings in Mo Salah, Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They stumble out of the blocks – big defeats at City and Spurs – and Coutinho sulks off to Barcelona in mid-season. But Salah can’t stop scoring and Virgil van Dijk arrives in January to steady the ship. It’s a wild ride in the Champions League, past Man City and Roma, all the way to Kiev, where Ramos does Salah, and Karius does his own team. “We’ll go again” promises Klopp; another 4th place finish means they can.

Klopp’s third summer brings in Fabinho, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Brazil ‘keeper Alisson. Gegenpressing gives way to a more varied, more controlled approach. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson become the most creative full backs in the game and Klopp’s team go on the hunt. It’s a season for the ages: 97 points, one defeat in 38 games and still….still the title drought stretches beyond 29 years.

Unbelievable! City go one point better, 10mm of the ball proving decisive in the end. “We’ll go again” promises Klopp. Meanwhile, another wild ride in the Champions League takes Liverpool all the way to another final in Madrid – after the glorious Barcelona remontada at Anfield – and victory over Spurs brings home Klopp’s first Liverpool trophy. As promised, they “went again”.

   (Courtesy The Athletic)

And that’s exactly what they do again after Klopp’s fourth summer. The only arrivals this time are back-up ‘keeper Adrián and youngsters Harvey Elliot and Sepp van Berg. No matter. Klopp’s team start with a eight-game winning streak, pause to draw at Old Trafford, and then carry on with a record equalling run of 18 straight wins. City cannot keep up, no one can.

It’s a 25 point gap by March, when the COVID-19 pandemic strikes and delays matters some. But no more; seven games to go, the wait is over. It’s all over, but for Jordan Henderson’s trophy lift at home. Thirty years on, he calls Anfield home now. The thirty year chase is over.

Liverpool are champions of England.

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