How it feels to be a Liverpool fan this summer
When Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona four years ago, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli were among the players signed to replace the outgoing Uruguayan.
After Philippe Coutinho’s January departure to the same side, Jurgen Klopp bided his time, waiting for the summer to bring in Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson, along with the already-signed Naby Keita.
Combined, they are four more high-quality signings that add to the arrivals of Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah in the last year. Such a run of transfers is almost unprecedented at Anfield.
Klopp, aided by sporting director Michael Edwards, has completely rebuilt Liverpool’s spine inside 12 months - and supporters are right to feel extremely optimistic about the team that the German has assembled.
Change of tune
Indeed, Liverpool’s transfer business this summer has led to accusations of hypocrisy towards Klopp – fans haven't forgotten his reaction to Manchester United's signing of Paul Pogba. "I want to do it differently," he said two years ago. ”I would even do it differently if I could spend that money.”
On face value, it does seem hypocritical given that Klopp and Liverpool have spent £170 million on their four arrivals alone this summer, and now boast the world's most expensive goalkeeper and defender.
But that overlooks several factors: firstly, that Coutinho was sold for £142 million, and secondly that the Neymar transfer and many others last summer have completely skewed the transfer market since Klopp made those comments. The German may have wanted to do it differently, but it’s not possible in such a competitive league.
The manager has been forced to change, to adapt out of necessity. The alternative would mean Loris Karius continuing in goal, and while rivals may want that, no Liverpool fan does.
That rivals are getting upset about the Reds' business means one thing: they’re worried. Liverpool are a genuine threat again. Adding four players of the quality that Klopp has, following a season in which they reached an unexpected Champions League final in swashbuckling and entertaining fashion, has put the Merseysiders back among Europe’s elite.
Given that Liverpool fans once sat through a transfer window where Roy Hodgson oversaw the signings of Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic, Paul Konchesky, Brad Jones and Christian Poulsen - then looked on in horror as rivals repeatedly beat the Reds to signings such as Willian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez and Dele Alli - they feel they’ve earned this time.
Liverpool now are being marked by many as the biggest threat to Manchester City this coming season; as proper title challengers. If the Premier League trophy were to arrive at Anfield, it would end a 29-year exile from the Reds’ trophy cabinet.
During that time, Liverpool have finished second four times - each occasion going on to finish outside the top four the following season. Near misses have been followed by complete capitulations; Kenny Dalglish (1991), Gerard Houllier (2002), Rafa Benitez (2009) and Brendan Rodgers (2014) all ended up gone within two years of finishing as runners-up.
The '90s had the Spice Boys and their Armani suits, David James chucking the ball in his own net, and Manchester United’s imperious rise. The noughties brought the Abramovich era. Then Manchester City spent even more and pushed Liverpool further out the picture.
In more recent times, Reds fans have seen their side lose the last three cup finals they've competed in - plus an FA Cup semi-final to a Tim Sherwood-managed Aston Villa - and spent the last four years being mocked about Steven Gerrard’s slip and ‘Crystanbul’. There was a 6-1 defeat to Stoke. Alberto Moreno in the Europa League final. Dare we remind of Karius in the Champions League final?
Liverpool have repeatedly threatened to ‘win the league next year’, but never have - much to the amusement of some media and rival fans. Gallant losers, like Tim Henman at Wimbledon.
“It’s our year”
But no, really: next year actually could be our year. Unlike previous strong seasons, 2008/09 and 2013/14 being the most recent examples, Liverpool now enter the new season with a squad that can challenge, and not just a first XI.
Where Nabil El Zhar (2009) and Iago Aspas (2014) once trod is Xherdan Shaqiri today. The quality outside of Liverpool’s best XI is abundant, and that’s why they can challenge Manchester City. There is, of course, the Klopp factor. The 51-year-old has united the fanbase, demanded plenty from the owners and overseen a complete overhaul of the playing style and squad at his disposal.
The World Cup and a shorter transfer window means this summer will see some clubs struggle to get business done, and while Klopp wanted a No.10 – specifically, Lyon's Nabil Fekir – he wouldn't grumble too much if the window closed tomorrow. Liverpool have already done their best business.
The same can't be said of their rivals at the moment, who are working against the clock to get business done. Manchester City surely can’t reproduce last season’s unprecedented league form, Manchester United could struggle to win a title for as long as Jose Mourinho remains at Old Trafford, Spurs will have new stadium and could struggle early with most their squad playing in the World Cup’s latter stages, while Arsenal and Chelsea are both in transition and will require a period of adaptation. Chelsea could really struggle if they lose Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante, plus goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Reasons for optimism
Pre-season always breeds optimistic about the season ahead, but this really does feel different for Liverpool supporters - and with good reason.
Last season Anfield witnessed some of the finest attacking football it has seen in decades, while Mo Salah took the league by storm in a way no new signing has ever done. That the club have tied him and Roberto Firmino to new contracts this summer is further evidence of the progress and positivity not just among the fanbase, but among the playing staff and at Melwood on a daily basis.
No longer is Steven Gerrard messaging players like Toni Kroos in a vain attempt to persuade him to Merseyside (did he even reply to that text?). Instead, players are lining up to join Klopp’s side. They watched what happened in Europe last season; they see the crowd, the players, the manager all united as one.
All of that means Liverpool are no longer settling for second best in the transfer market. They have signed every player - bar Fekir, but that’s a medical issue - that they have targeted in the last year. Players have turned down Chelsea and Manchester United to join Liverpool instead. That’s a huge turning of the tables, and why fans are daring to dream.
For Liverpool fans, this summer feels different for all the right reasons.