Liverpool's EPL victory: End of a 30-year exile

Last Updated 26 June 2020, 11:19 IST

“It needs time. Nobody wants to hear it, but that’s the truth: If you want to have success in the future, you have to be ready to work now.”
- Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager

Liverpool took its time. The team waited and waited for years and witnessed bitter rivals being crowned the champions of England. Liverpool was standing on the ruins of a dilapidated kingdom whose long reign over the island nation's football domain had come to an abysmal halt. It seemed like someone had pushed the pause button and the team was left stranded in the nightmare of a lifetime. They were, as former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once said, knocked off their perch.

A team that was crowned First Division champions 19 times till 1990, a record at the time, was suddenly left without a crown. Astonishingly, in the 1980s alone, Liverpool won the trophy six times, which was a testament to its domination of English football. From 1975 to 1984, they conquered the European arena five times, which was again a record among English clubs. For a club so decorated, the fall was jarring. It took Liverpool 14 years to return to the fold of superpowers in world football. It was on a night in Istanbul in 2005 when the team pulled off a miracle.

Was the slump predictable? It is said that Liverpool showed no signs of trouble before the downward spiral began. The club had faced its worst phases in history and none had seemed insurmountable over a prolonged period. The team suffered the ignominy of relegation to the second division in the 1953-54 season. For years, the club lived away from the top flight. Even after the arrival of Bill Shankly, it took Liverpool three years to finally rejoin the First Division in 1962. Two years later, the team won the league. And from that moment on, the floodgates were open.

The relegation period hardened them, made them strive for success with greater vigour. The juggernaut first started under Bob Paisley, who was Bill Shankly's assistant. The team was an unstoppable force that won the First Divison six times in nine years and had 20 trophies overall, including three European Cups and three consecutive victories in the then prestigious League Cup. It was unprecedented domination and the tempo was maintained when Joe Fagan took over. In 1983, Liverpool became the first English side to win three major trophies in a season: The First Division league, the European Cup, and the League Cup.

The Hillsborough disaster stopped its European ambitions. The purple patch in the league, however, continued and the team won it thrice. This took its tally to 19, the then highest in England.

When the English Premier League was founded in 1992, England's football circuit was dreaming of a revolution in the sport. The old Football League First Division was pushed into the background. The new Premier League marked the beginning of an age in which football was more commercialised than ever, with lucrative television deals pouring in money and glamour. Liverpool, the champions of England and the country's most successful club, was poised to take advantage of the changing scenario. In a sudden turn of events, however, the team began to fall behind in the race, while the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and later Chelsea gained ground with each passing season.

The team had to wait 20 years to win the Champions League under Rafael Benitez. The EPL misery continued unabated. There was one season in which Liverpool looked like breaking the jinx but its talisman Steven Gerrard faltered. When Klopp arrived from Borussia Dortmund, he found a struggling club burdened with years of unsatiated hunger. He harnessed the hunger and moulded it into a strong current of passion. Liverpool, under his guidance, emerged as a side that believes in never taking the foot off the pedal.

Mohamed Salah, the wizard from Egypt, began to compose poetry on the field. Sadio Mane showed what Liverpool was missing since the departures of Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez - a deadly forward adept in link-up play and lethal inside the D-box.

During the initial period of Klopp's Liverpool tenure, the side was accused of relying heavily on its forward line, while its defence was vulnerable and easily penetrable in crunch situations. Klopp plugged the holes with Virgil van Dijk, whose Dutch flair and defensive solidity propelled him to the position of one of the best defenders in the world. Alisson Becker from Brazil took the goalkeeper position. He, along with Virgil, formed a formidable defensive line that stopped even the Lionel Messi-led Barcelona in the Champions League and scripted a famous comeback win of 4-0 after being outclassed 0-3 in the first leg at Camp Nou.

In front, Roberto Firmino with his bags of trickery and the industrious captain Jordan Henderson formed the core of a devastating attack led by Salah and Mane. Liverpool became a team that drew admiration even from arch-rivals with a mesmerising playing style. Attacks were laced with breathtaking creativity and flair and the defence was forged with impenetrable barriers. When the team lost to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final, the despair among supporters and players was mixed with a sense of great expectations, for the excellence bore with it an assurance that Liverpool was on the threshold of reclaiming the glory of old.

And Liverpool achieved it in 2019, on a magical night at Metropolitano Stadium, Madrid, by outsmarting Tottenham Hotspur to clinch its sixth Champions League title, the most among English clubs. The team finished the 2018-19 EPL season in an agonising second position as they were just one point shy of eventual champion Manchester City. The conquest of the domestic league seemed at this point to be only a matter of time.

Liverpool has now ended its domestic drought in style, racing ahead of others with a pace that nobody else was able to match. A team that has waited too long has hurried to claim the prize without waiting for the formalities.

It is only fitting that Liverpool finally won the EPL in a lop-sided battle, outclassing its opponents with an excellent display of football coupled with grit and determination. The desire to touch the coveted trophy grew in strength over the decades and it was inevitable that the final burst would sweep aside every hurdle.

The time in exile has ended. After 30 years, Liverpool has ascended the throne that had been usurped. The supporters who stood with the team during the many years in the wilderness will rejoice for days and weeks to come. And then, the Anfield will reverberate again with a familiar chant that's rejuvenated with renewed energy: "You'll never walk alone."

(Published 26 June 2020, 10:37 IST)

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