Liverpool’s demise after 2009 and the long road recovery
The nineties were not kind to Liverpool. It’s an obvious statement but it’s true. Not only did the club cease to be consistent title winners, but we had to look on helplessly as Manchester United eroded our empire and became the best team in the land.
The decade wasn’t all bad though. The football played by Evan’s Reds was easy on the eye; we recovered from the Souness days and made it back into Europe and the top four. In 1998 a softly spoken Frenchman turned who revitalised the club and gave back some of the glory we’d all been longing for.
The good work done by Houllier sowed the seeds for the successful decade that followed. The noughties were a blessed relief for all Liverpool fans. On top of the trophies won, the club reached three major European finals and was once again at the top table of football on the continent. Benitez and Houllier understood the DNA of the club, and re-established its reputation as a powerhouse, with top signings and ruthless, efficient football.
End of the road
In the midst of that successful era, two American bandits were criminally allowed to purchase the club and run it into the ground. George Gillet and Tom Hicks proved to be an undermining, greedy, parasitical pair of pariahs. Their disregard for Benitez’s work and reputation as one of Europe’s best coaches led to severe lack of investment at a time when the club should have been cash rich and thriving.
The culmination of their, perhaps deliberate policy of under-funding Rafa, led to the shock of 2009 when things came to a terrible halt and the club began to tear at the seams. Perhaps the biggest symbol of how far the club had fallen came on the opening day of the 2009/10 campaign. Liverpool had just finished second in the league and reached the last eight of the Champions League with one of their best ever Premier League teams and despite the turmoil off the pitch some picked them as title favorites.
However, that summer was the third in a row in which the owners had failed to back the team with adequate reinforcements. Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid was a bitter pill to swallow, worse still, the club was left with a threadbare squad which was painfully highlighted in that 2-1 defeat to Spurs in August 2009.
The bench that day contained; three youngsters, a back-up keeper, reserve left back, the spectacularly bad Andriy Voronin and only one player you could turn to in Yossi Benayoun. It was a chilling and jolting moment and marked the beginning of the rot that set in which destroyed all of the great work done in the previous decade.
We all know the story that followed, beach balls, near administration, Hodgson and Konchesky to Dalglish and Rodgers, the failings were multiple and painful. Poor player after poor player was signed and the league results stagnated.
However bad those years were, it must never be forgotten how badly Liverpool were allowed to fall apart behind the scenes in the late noughties. The rot that set in, led to damage which has taken almost a decade to repair. The nucleus of a winning side was dismantled and replaced by inadequate players and youngsters still learning their trade.
In the firestorm of those years, it is actually difficult to know if good youngster’s progress was actually stunted or destroyed such was the malaise and toxic atmosphere at the club. Youngsters like Insua and Babel, who had showed flashes of quality and ability but were thrown in out of desperation and ultimately sank below the waves with poor performances and fan criticism. Their subsequent careers after leaving the club suggest they were never good enough in the first place. We will never know for sure, but had they have been allowed more time in a better team, learning from top players, one of two of the youngsters may have done a lot better in red.
The task to repair the club got bigger and more daunting as each season outside the top four added to Liverpool’s woes. Rodgers must get some credit for 13/14 campaign. That campaign was an oasis in those barren years of crap players and awful results. Yes Suarez was infinitely better than anyone else at the club at that time, but Rodgers released him, leaving the Uruguayan to his own devastating devices.
Jurgen Klopp was the ultimate remedy to our woes. For the first time since 2004 we had signed a manager with a relevant CV and with a huge personality, probably the biggest since Shankly.
However even the lovable German has grappled at times with the enormity of the body of work required at Liverpool. A defeatist attitude had set in and the defensive unit he inherited was the worst in the club’s modern history. He has slowly done away with some of the weaker elements of the side and built up a side in his own image, just lacking that extra bit of strength in depth.
Results have improved steadily as has the quality and tempo of football. Yes he has failed to win a trophy but when you scrutinize that assessment as a marker of Klopp’s success at Liverpool, it actually falls down.
We all love to see trophies and they will ultimately have to happen in order to keep players and sections of the fans from grumbling. However, Klopp has given the fans their enjoyment back. Watching Liverpool was painful at times as a bunch of overpaid and inadequately caring players would beat Chelsea one week and then not bother against West Brom at home the next. At times a confrontational air had set in amidst the crowd and everyone was desperate for Champions League football to return.
Klopp has remedied that. Results are more stable now than at any point since 08/09. Champions League football has returned and the last campaign will live forever in the collective memories of the fans.
The football and calibre of players have improved dramatically and Liverpool are now a team taken seriously again. You only need to look at the number of hateful messages toward the club on social media to see how fearful opposition fans have become. Yes, he hasn’t won a trophy at Liverpool, but his achievements are hugely impressive nonetheless.
2018-19 will mark a decade since Benitez’s wonderfully assembled side almost won number nineteen. The pain, damage and disappointment which followed that campaign have been tough for all supporters. However the squad is now finally in a much healthier place.
For those grumbling about the lack of activity since Fabinho’s signing, it is vitally important they remember their history. Things could be a lot worse. Yes we have a lot of injury prone squad players, but Klopp’s squad is as strong as any we have seen since 1990. Leaders are being molded and there are real options in reserve now.
His work is far from complete but at long last we can look at a Liverpool team containing the quality that we all hope and love to see. It’s all a far cry from that mid-august day in 2009 which brought about the end of an era and opened the door to decline and disappointment.