Rob O'Connor says the Premier League title will be difficult to cherish for Liverpool, but their season must be remembered as a phenomenon.
It is not quite like they dreamt it in Liverpool now their team finally made it over the line.
The end of the most inevitable, yet at the same time most drawn-out and protracted, title charge that English football has ever known, was marked by fans in a hundred different, highly personal ways.
Some did throw caution and social distancing to the breeze and come together to try and create the community spirit that an achievement of this magnitude warrants. It will be a pared down, pale impression of what it should have been, what it deserved to be. But for scale there are few aspects of life that haven’t been similarly reduced in the months since Liverpool last played in front of their fans.
Others will mark it with quiet, tainted satisfaction. The sense of loss, that feeling that we all share of having been robbed of something by the present crisis, will be 2020’s lasting legacy, the pages of diaries filled with appointments left un-kept and plans that never came to life, like some mysterious document spirited over from a parallel universe into our own.
This week should have given us England’s final Euro 2020 group game against the Czech Republic. Maybe somewhere across the veil, Wembley is getting itself ready. But we must make do with the patched up, battened down end to a Premier League season that has come this far against the odds.
For Liverpool, this title will not be the one they’ve waited 30 years for. But it will be a title all the same, won at a canter, unprecedented in this era or any other. Don’t forget that at one stage in February Jurgen Klopp’s team held a lead at the top greater than any other side in English football history.
There may be an asterisk in the record books that haunts fans forever; there may even be some not-insubstantial truth to the charge that this season’s Premier League has been at best lacking its usual competitiveness, and at worst downright poor. Yet the fact remains, no one has ever won a title like this.
They may never do so again.
English football’s critics have for years sneered at the Premier League’s self-awarded title of The Best League in the World. While other countries may trump England’s top flight for technicality and tactical invention, it is far harder to dispute that ours is the most bullishly competitive, a double effect of its physical intensity and relative league-wide parity within its financial model. If that is not necessarily always reflected in the final table, it has always been readily apparent in the way football is played here. Without wishing to sound like a Premier League PR parody, points are hard won, principally because the game in England has been conditioned down the decades to reward stamina and physical capacity over technical finesse.
Liverpool’s relentlessness has come in the world’s most physically demanding football ecosystem. To have surged through to this point with only seven points dropped is little short of superhuman, regardless of whether, as now looks likely, they rather ease themselves over the line with a diminished intensity. After the pain of the last three months, they’ve earned the right to do things on their terms without their brilliance being brought into question.
It seems farcical that there are critics who would argue Liverpool’s record is all the more diminished for being close to flawless. Whether another handful of dropped points along the way would have been of particular testament to the strength of the league seems at this point rather moot. You can, of course, only beat what is in front of you. But to do so 27 times out of 30 in the world’s richest and most lucrative division speaks to an act of sporting genius.
There remains the matter of whether Klopp’s team have a had a tougher ride due to the coronavirus disruption. In the end, it will likely be remembered as a more influential factor than it ever really was. There may be lingering ‘what-ifs’, that the title could but for a draw at Old Trafford in October and that topsy-turvy collapse against Watford at Vicarage Road have been wrapped up in the proper way before the coronavirus laid waste to football in Europe.
Even for this Liverpool team, that would surely have been asking too much. The Covid-19 disruption has turned Liverpool’s title into something more prosaic and functional than it deserved to be. But it hasn’t rendered it less worthy.
Whether the Reds can build on a first title in three decades in the same way that Manchester United rewrote 26 years of hurt in the 90s to create a dynasty, could very well be a question of how quickly football recalibrates itself in the wake of the pandemic. The financial realities of the game are about to change.
It is perhaps the only thing in this time of approaching uncertainty that we can be sure of. Man United chief Ed Woodward has already spoken about an altered economic reality for those clubs used to dictating the ripples in the transfer market. If the world’s most profitable club is concerned, the shocks to the wider system are likely to be huge.
It would be a fool’s errand to predict the way the market will re-landscape, but it doesn’t seems fanciful to think that the spending advantage of the elite will be partially nullified in the seasons to come. It’s an equation that could benefit the Reds as much as hamper them. Whatever covetous glances might otherwise have been being made from Europe’s big hitters will be easier to deflect after football takes the coronavirus hint and gets its financial house in order.
So pop the champagne on Merseyside, by all means. Try to salvage some of what’s left of a triumph that will rightly take its place in history, but which will sadly not be remembered for the reasons this great Liverpool team deserve. Anfield will rock and roar again. Next season’s challenge will be to seal a title that can be truly shared with the fans.
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