In hindsight, the 2008-09 season turned out to be a real tease for Liverpool supporters. Perhaps, we could have even done without it. That season gave us, for whatever little time, false hopes of dethroning the tyrants, only to rediscover our places in a suppressed, minutely-influential corner of the Devils’ kingdom.
Yes, we do influence important matters, and yes, we do cast our votes from time to time. However, we do this in the most reluctant of fashions. Our major contribution is to endure a loss to one cash-greedy tyrant, in order to displace a success-hungry one.
Either way, we don’t win.
This Sunday, the eternal enemies headed by the despised dictator are visiting town again, to stamp their authority on their dormant rivals and remind us of the destructive consequences of any attempts at a revolt.
The despised dictator
Manchester United’s visit to Anfield is always a special occasion and one that is separately encircled in red when the fixture list is revealed before the start of the campaign. However, on most occasions over the last few years, it has become a story of depressing defeats or hollow victories for the Reds from Merseyside.
After every hard-fought victory barring perhaps, the 1-4 at Old Trafford, there is always a harsh reality facing Liverpool supporters. On snapping out of the brief celebration, we see the bigger picture and realise the huge gap between United and Liverpool, today.
We realise the huge difference in the quality of the players, the difference in the strength of the bench and the enormous gap in the league table. We realise that apart from our captain and perhaps, our keeper, no player is capable of being selected in the opponent’s starting eleven.
This is what a Liverpool supporter has to face after every such game, irrespective of the result. This inferior feeling is reflected in the pre-match talks.
The most staggering part, and a source of embarrassment, is often the build-up to this fixture. It portrays an increasing similarity to a cup tie; Liverpool being a lower division side hosting the might of first division leaders Manchester United. Pundits shower their expertise on how Liverpool will find it hard to find ways to stop United, on how Lucas and Gerrard will need to be ‘on their game’ and on multiple ways to cramp ‘Boy Wayne’.
They will also debate on whether Nani is stronger on his left foot or his right and emphasise the need for the Kop to be the 12th man, clearly indicating that we need an extra man to level the playing field.
And if time permits, they will talk about Gerrard’s loneliness and the potential, unseen threat of Liverpool’s new signings. They will paint a comical picture of Steven Gerrard carrying his little Liverpool teammates on his shoulders, on his arms, while some sit in his pocket and some reside on his head. This is not far from reality, either, except Gerrard’s legs are now slowly giving way.
Last season, this fixture came after a run of four defeats for Liverpool. Yet, we ended up winning 2-0 and saving the manager’s job; only for the worse.
After a season of struggles, the United game offers players and the manager another opportunity for redemption. Let’s be clear about one thing – most fans are fickle. A derby win leads to forgiveness, which in turn leads to complacency, which in turn leads back to the routine mediocre performances in the following weeks; and players exploit this.
So, it won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with English football to see seventh-placed Liverpool beat leaders United on Sunday. The chances are that the way it is achieved is both, heroic and dampening, in the same breath.
We’ll call it heroic because the likes of hero Kuyt and hero Rodriguez will be defending their socks off most of the game, rather than flooding forward. They will be running around the field displaying extreme passion for the club, masking their lack of ability and skill.
We’ll call it heroic because hero Carragher and his defence will be seen putting in last-ditch tackles and desperate clearances, characteristic of the way relegation-threatened teams attempt to desperately hang on.
And finally, phrases like “grind out a win”, “gave 110%, today”, “sheer grit and determination”, “true gladiators” will be thrown around after the match.
Although these are causes for joy in the short-term, this becomes a source of harsh truth in the long run.
How long will we outrun, or outfight, them in smaller battles, yet be completely outclassed in the bigger wars? When will the sheer quality and ability of our players, rather than just ‘grit and determination’ become major factors in a Liverpool win? And when will phrases like “classy”, “magnificent” be consistently used after a Liverpool win against United?
When United come knocking at Anfield, the Liverpool players raise their game and ‘give it their all’, and suddenly the world starts wondering – why can’t Liverpool play like this all season? The answer is pretty simple – the players are simply not good enough.
Return fixture: Berbatov 3-2 Liverpool
They may compensate their lack of ability over ninety minutes when half the world is watching, but they can’t do it over the entire season. The fact that Dirk Kuyt, an intelligent player who chips-in with important goals, and Lucas, a largely mediocre but consistently mediocre midfielder, have become cult heroes at Liverpool football club in itself answers a lot of questions. Compare this to a club that boasts of world-class players like Rooney, Berbatov, Nani and Chicharito and the vast difference is there for all to see.
However, A new owner followed by the arrival of King Kenny and his two new strikers has, for the umpteenth time in Liverpool’s history, started the process of rebuilding an army under the nose of the devil dictator; the first test of which comes when part of Fergie’s ruthless cavalry visits town on Sunday.
We may grind-out a win and we may rejoice. But come Monday, the supporters will still be waiting for that special day; a day when an under-performing, nonchalant Liverpool, effortlessly buries its fiercest foes.
A day that is, perhaps, decades away.