Liverpool must think last season was a dream
Liverpool fans find themselves lost in the oldest of soap opera plotlines. If all else fails, pretend it was a dream. Brendan Rodgers must feel like Bobby Ewing’s wife.
For younger readers, Bobby Ewing has been a character in American TV series Dallas for decades. Back in the 1980s, Bobby Ewing died. The actor wanted to stretch himself elsewhere. He soon discovered he wasn’t particularly wanted elsewhere so he returned, cap in hand, to his old TV show.
Jose Mourinho knows the feeling.
Scriptwriters overcame the minor narrative setback of Ewing’s on-screen death by dismissing the entire, subsequent season as a dream. With Ewing very much alive, the show crafted itself the opportunity to continue on a road towards artistic mediocrity and creative decline.
Liverpool supporters know the feeling.
They are adamant that the previous season was real. They were there. They literally bought the T-shirt. But memories are notoriously fickle and anarchic, capable of producing a sudden, obfuscating fog like an over-eager cockroach killer.
Images blur. Faces fade. Recollections rebel. Maybe the Reds didn’t finish second after all. Based on the campaign before and the ongoing farce today, how could they? Through the fuzziness of those fading memories comes a buck-toothed assassin who killed contests but bit opponents. He actually chomped on another man’s flesh, more than once, like a horrifying hybrid of an uncivilized toddler and a Tasmanian devil.
He’s a cartoon creation of a fertile imagination, surely, along with a swashbuckling skipper convinced he had the football brain of Andrea Pirlo and the legs of Red Rum to take on a defensive-midfield role in the frenetic English Premier League.
As the dreamy sepia-tainted images flick past, another pops up in last season’s scrapbook: a well-thumbed grainy photo of Rodgers. But he looks plumper and polished (his teeth certainly were). And he’s talking differently, too, referring to seven, overlapping lines of counterattacking play and bringing Barcelona’s philosophy to Anfield. And people believe him. They’re buying into his rhetoric. Previously, he was David Brent in a dugout, a mildly entertaining champion of self-help sound-bites and motivational slogans. But in the dream, he’s a revolutionary Red, talking domestic domination and European dynasties.
He isn’t the guy who bought Iago Aspas, or Tiago Ilori, or Mamadou Sakho. Nor is he the guy who spent a club record $200 million in pre-season without really acquiring anyone to rival Chelsea’s astute purchases (instead he bought a reputation in Mario Balotelli; a talented ticking time-bomb who scores fewer goals and is less mobile than a modern centre-forward. But give him a box of fireworks and a lighter and he just explodes.)
Surely we're all going to wake up soon...
In that purple haze of last season, the sun always shone on Merseyside and Luis Suarez overcompensated for Liverpool’s slapstick defenders, whose priceless movement veered from Frankenstein’s Monster to Benny Hill chasing half-naked blondes across a TV studio floor. It was all part of Rodgers’ master plan. He had a vision. He was a beacon of hope for both the Bostonian owners and the long-suffering supporters. He was wise, profound and knew exactly what he was doing. He achieved the goal of Champions League qualification and almost lived the title dream, didn’t he? … Didn’t he?
Confused Reds are rubbing their eyes, staring at the current standings and Liverpool’s 14th position and questioning their sanity, their grasp on reality. From a Magical Mystery Tour, it’s all gone a bit Strawberry Fields. Nothing is real. At the very least, they seek solace in the fact that Manchester United are a bit crap, but they were also a bit crap last season. That makes sense. There’s a degree of continuity, a crumb of comfort in the consistent inconsistency. But Anfield’s blundering boys have gone through a metamorphosis extreme enough to have the Kafka estate investigating a breach of copyright.
Last season, Rodgers was positioning himself as a respected statesman of the Scousers; a man for all seasons with his templates and transfer policies. Now he looks like a jittery househusband holding a shopping list in a supermarket. Vast sums of money affect his judgment. If he glimpses stacks of cash he turns into Al Pacino with a shotgun in Dog Day Afternoon, all shouty and wide-eyed, insisting that if his demands are not met he’s going to do something really horrifying, like spend £20 million on Lazar Markovic.
Or he could spend £16m on Sakho, last seen going AWOL at the Merseyside derby after finally being found guilty of impersonating a Liverpool defender. That leaves Rodgers with an angry, underperforming centre-back. He’s also got an injury-prone Daniel Sturridge missing his old strike partner, an anonymous new signing in Markovic, a bustling Balotelli who doesn’t score often enough, a laboring club legend and a dial-up defence in a fibre-optic world.
This is Anfield. This is the reality.
That’s why Liverpool fans can be forgiven for thinking they are Bobby Ewing’s wife stumbling bleary-eyed into her dead husband taking a shower. Did last season happen? Was Suarez a real person? Was £25 million really spent on Adam Lallana?
But then, that’s the fascinating dichotomy of dreams. They linger to both immortalize the past and gloss over the present. Liverpool’s romantic run for the title, along with the enduring nightmare at Old Trafford, earned the Reds breathing space.
But it’s probably time to wake up and read the Premier League table.
Neil Humphreys is the best-selling author of football novels Match Fixer and Premier Leech, which was the FourFourTwo Football Novel of the Year. You can find his website right here.