Liverpool head into the final straight of a season that has been full of twists and turns with a home match tonight against Manchester City.
The reverse fixture was the Reds’ first away game of the season and then-manager Roy Hodgson saw his side well beaten in a depressing 3-0 embarrassment. It was one of a number of results, before and after a change of ownership at the club, that would see genuine concerns raised about Liverpool facing relegation.
Relegation! That idea would have been unthinkable during the 2009 season, even the small pockets of supporters calling for that manager’s head back then were doing so because they thought he had thrown away any hope of winning the league after criticising Alex Ferguson. Their anger was that the club was heading for no silverware for the third season in a row, now it was looking like dropping out of the top flight.
The threat of relegation became a distraction from reasons why – according to claims from people at the club – the last manager had been replaced. He’d overseen a seventh-place finish, outside of the Champions League places, and this wasn’t good enough. Now some were saying safety from relegation would be an achievement for his replacement.
Supporters felt increasingly distanced from their own club.
In January the new owners finally decided enough was enough and paid the inherited problem of Hodgson off, installing Kenny Dalglish in his place as manager until the end of the season.
Changing the manager wasn’t ever going to be the magic solution to all of Liverpool’s problems, just as it hadn’t been the answer in summer 2010. But by installing Dalglish the owners also found someone who could address one major part of Liverpool’s problems in recent times – too much infighting, too many people putting their own self-interest ahead of the club.
What Kenny has also overseen is a return of respect for the club’s supporters.
Roy Hodgson questioned if Liverpool fans could call themselves supporters, but that was just one of the many spoken gaffes he made as he proved beyond any doubt that he wasn’t suited to the job at Anfield. The true lack of respect for supporters came from others at the club, many of whom have now left.
The last owners clearly had no respect for supporters; they weren’t even very good at pretending to have respect.
The people they bought the club from had a little more respect – until it came to holding their own hands up about the ease with which they dumped the family silver. Even now they try to justify their mistake.
In the end the banks got worried about their money.
The first man they sent in showed his lack of respect for fans when he expected them to believe the club had spent £20m on players when it had clearly spent nothing. Spin was his one of his best skills, self-preservation his best – and he fought dirty to keep his little empire alive. He was one the first to lose his power when the club finally did get new owners.
The next man sent in by the banks was given six months to find a buyer. His respect was for the agreements between the banks and the outgoing owners that had seen him get the job. He ensured they were, after a fight, honoured and in turn ensured the club was sold. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t respect the supporters, he wasn’t here for that. His priority was to sell the club and get out, and he did that – just in the nick of time.
Now the club is run by people who obviously want to make money out of it – but seem to genuinely realise that keeping supporters happy is the best way of doing so.
They’ve promoted a man brought in by the last owners and given him the job of running the club day-to-day. Before his promotion his job was to make more money for the club. Some of his methods haven’t been popular; some of them are a compromise because sometimes it’s impossible to make everyone happy. But on the whole his changes were for the good of the supporters and in turn for the good of the club.
Running the team now is a man who probably has more respect for supporters than any other living person. It’s easy to blame the previously rumoured unrest in the dressing room on now-departed players or individuals. Name someone who’s gone and he’s probably been blamed for it. And one or two still here were blamed as the other half of the battle.
But if the whole squad were happy with life under the previous owners, the last MD and the previous manager chances are they aren’t the kind of players Liverpool FC want anyway.
What Dalglish seems to have done is find out why players were unhappy, deal with any outstanding issues or show them the issues are in the past – and as a result he has them working together as a team. It makes a massive difference, as does the smile everyone seems to wear at the club these days.
Chances are the issues in the dressing room weren’t as great as it seemed to people outside the dressing room – but by dealing with the issues he ensures the people outside can’t blow a minor complaint all out of proportion.
Not only that but this is all done quietly and behind closed doors. It’s best to hold back from referring to this as “the Liverpool way”. That saying has been hijacked far too often for it to be clear what it really means these days.
But one change that is likely to become apparent as time goes on is that any damaging rumours that get spread are almost certainly going to turn out to be false. A lot of rumours are false anyway, but in recent times the club has had far too many people willing to let something leak out.
Only a handful of people would know the sort of wages a player was signed for, or what his signing-on-fee was – yet those amounts are frequently quoted as a way of criticising those who made the deal happen or of throwing more dirt at the player himself. And often they’re wrong anyway.
No matter how justified we felt it was to take a side in one of those many battles it goes without saying that we shouldn’t have had to make that choice.
We shouldn’t have to pick sides; we should all be on Liverpool’s side.
Already the usual suspects who seem to exist only to create or worsen conflict have started to sew their seeds of doubt about the new owners, the current manager or the biggest signing in the club’s history.
It’s fair game for them to do that if they’re not Liverpool supporters. But when it comes from so-called Liverpool supporters – and when it’s been a recurring theme down the years – we’ve got to question their motives.
Or we can just ignore them. And by and large that seems to work best of all. Their venom is only dangerous if it comes into contact with anyone else. Leave them to it; don’t give them that attention they seem so desperate to find.
There’s no harm in reserving judgement rather than declaring all our troubles are over. Clearly they aren’t all over, and only time will tell if they’re about to be resolved.
It’s time to be patient again – and those in power now can’t be blamed for the ways that their predecessors tried our patience beyond any reasonable limits.
Tonight an injury-ravaged squad faces a squad created by probably the wealthiest club in the world.
We’re confident, we know we can win, but we also know it would be wrong to expect to win. And that doesn’t mean we’d accept defeat. But for this last handful of games what’s more important is that we don’t use any bad games as an excuse to lay into the manager best equipped to guide us out of the ruins of the last regime.
We’re not as good as we should be, but we’re not as bad as some seem desperate to prove we are. And we’ve got a whole summer to get ourselves closer to where we should be, a whole summer for that desperate few to pick holes in everything being done.
Ignore the desperate few because for the first time in years it really is acceptable to get fully behind your club.
Whatever happens tonight, there is no need for the despair we felt after losing the reverse fixture that soggy night in August.