Liverpool’s defeat in the Europa League Final left some fans welling up like John Terry giving an end of season speech while being poked in the eye by Mousa Dembele and watching the Notebook. But the comprehensive second-half trouser pull-down by Sevilla – who achieved a three-peat of wins in this competition – isn’t all doom and gloom.
Some especially optimistic fans have been suggesting it’s for the best that Jurgen Klopp suffered his second final defeat since taking over last October. The same people were presumably jumping for joy when Sevilla’s captain, Coke, doubled his tally for the night to put the Spaniards 3-1 up.
Although, in all fairness, it is football so someone has to lose and there is a silver lining to Liverpool’s failure to win their first trophy since the 2012 League Cup.
It’s always best to start with the bad news (only sadistic bastards offer it second) so here it is…don’t cry:
Unfortunately this isn’t tennis so supporters could only watch the Liverpool players receive a runners-up medal, with some choosing to take it off immediately after it was presented.
The lack of trophy extends the Anfield club’s wait to four years having gone close to winning a few competitions since.
A popular belief amongst players both past and present is that medals and not Champions League qualifications are the measure of a successful career. So at least they got one of some description on Wednesday, they just can’t send it to cash4gold when they become bankrupt.
No Champions League
Whilst the players might not look back on their professional careers and count how many times they qualified for Europe’s top tier club competition, their employers (and Arsene Wenger) will.
Under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool became a force to be reckoned in Europe, with a record of winners, last 16, runners-up, semi-final, quarter-final and group stage (then Europa League semi-final) from 2005-2010.
Those days seem a long time ago and will be at least another year away following the Reds loss in Basel.
Absence of Champions League or any European football means an absence of extra money. The competition, which has been falsely advertised since 1992 – it should be ‘Champions and not quite Champions League’ – is apparently worth at least £40m or one Alex Teixeira and a Trevor Francis.
Klopp might not be quite so concerned about the money but his future transfer dealings may be hampered by the club’s inability to fund the next big target man signing…wait this is a good thing.
At the moment, certain players will look at Liverpool like that person you’ve fancied from afar but on closer inspection you’ve realised they’ve got a really old looking neck and you can’t take your eyes off it.
According to Klopp, he will put the phone down as soon as a player he’s interested in mentions the lack of Champions League football. He didn’t say what he would do if they were talking face to face…
It may, however, be true that some players are willing to not play in that competition for a year or two in order to join one of the world’s most famous clubs with its rich history (money), fanatical support (money) and ambition to return to the glory days (more money).
But inevitably, there will be some players in the top bracket that won’t even entertain the idea of joining a team without European football. Luis Suarez was a rare exception as he signed from Ajax for a decent fee with the Premier League’s bigger platform proving both a contributing factor and beneficial to the player who now finds himself top of the goal scoring charts in Spain at Barcelona.
It might not be appealing to the spectators but Klopp will be starting a fire as he rubs his thighs at the thought of having more time to implement his ideas.
The charismatic German has overseen 52 games since he replaced Brendan Rodgers in October. That’s one less than Tottenham played all season and nine more than champions Leicester.
As a result, Klopp has bemoaned the lack of time available on the training field but a full preseason and a week between league matches should see a faster transition than already witnessed over the last seven months.
Coincidentally, Liverpool’s closest title challenge in 26 years came when the club had no European football (and Suarez). Meanwhile, there will be great interest in how Leicester deals with the extra commitments next season having enjoyed ample time between games and few injuries during their incredible title win.
Less strain on the squad
The final was Liverpool’s 63rd match of the season – over 15 more than 12 Premier League sides.
Given Liverpool finished sixth last year, their squad was about as equipped for that number of games as a scuba diver who can’t swim.
Of course, money was spent to improve the squad during last summer, but the squad depth only increased by two, and Klopp lost Danny Ings and Joe Gomez for the season during his first week in charge.
Following Southampton’s second half comeback in March, Liverpool’s top four hopes faded and the Europa League became the priority. This was evident as Klopp heavily rotated his side in five of the remaining nine league matches after that defeat at St. Mary’s. This shouldn’t be an issue next season.
Walking before running
This isn’t Yaya Toure’s approach to semi-finals (because running is involved) but a suggestion that aside from the depth, the quality of Liverpool’s squad might not yet be ready for Europe’s elite.
If Liverpool had qualified via the Europa League win then they could be seen as a year ahead of schedule. You only have to look at their league finish of 8th to reaffirm that thought.
The squad itself has only seven players (Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi) who joined when the Reds were in the Champions League that season, and Origi was immediately loaned back to Lille.
It is also a young squad with just five outfield players 28 or older (Kolo Toure, Skrtel, Lucas, Lallana and James Milner), three of which aren’t starters when everyone is available. So the players clearly still need to develop and gel before challenging the likes of Benfica and Zenit, let alone the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of this world.
Besides, the last two times Liverpool qualified for the Champions League, they failed to get further than the group stages anyway (2009/10 and 2014/15).
Is losing a good or bad experience?
With a glass half-empty, it is easy to conclude that this team is in danger of always being the bridesmaid but never the bride. Probably got an ageing neck.
Ten players from the current squad have experienced near misses in the last three seasons. The title challenge in 2013/14, League and FA Cup semi-final defeats in 2014/15 and now final defeats in the League Cup and Europa League will naturally have an impact on those players, making the next opportunity for silverware that little bit more difficult.
But the double rainbow enthusiasts would point to progress from losing semi-finalists to losing finalists. There’s only one step further a team can go so perhaps the idea that you must lose before you can win will see Liverpool enjoy glory next season. Or not.
What is clear is that like Viagra endorsed by Pele, Liverpool are on the up with the stadium expansion due to be finished before the new campaign and a young squad developing under the stewardship of an infectious and brilliant manager.
So save the tissues for now as we’ve still got England and the Euros to come…