Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, the Premier League. Are they the greatest team in the League's history?
In early 2010, Liverpool fans group, Spirit of Shankly, had launched a billboard campaign against their American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The posters read: “Tom and George, Debt, Lies, Cowboys. Not welcome here.”
Liverpool were going deeper in the mire, both on football and financial sides, during the tumultuous reign of Hicks and Gillett. Falling out with the very popular the then manager of the first-team, Rafael Benitez, had started. The Spaniard would eventually depart at the end of the season.
Around the same time, This Is Anfield, a web portal, had come up with an article about Hicks and Gillett. It went like this: “According to former Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks, a man with a track record of telling lies, Liverpool’s net spend under his and George Gillett’s reign was £150m… Well, here’s the facts, Liverpool’s net spend was in fact £27m over the tenure of Hicks and Gillett’s reign. So the Texan was only £122m out with his claims. “Since Hicks and Gillett took charge in February 2007, Liverpool spent £172m on players, but recouped £144m. Hicks claims to have spent £300m in his interview.”
Liverpool were in bad shape on and off the pitch and a change in ownership became the need of the hour, which happened in October 2010, when Fenway Sports Group (FSG), with John Henry as its principal owner, agreed to buy Liverpool after the club board voted 3-2 to oust Hicks and Gillett. FSG started to pick up the pieces. Liverpool won the League Cup in 2011-12, reached the FA Cup final same season and came very close to winning the Premier League title in 2013-14. Steven Gerrard’s Anfield slip against Chelsea cost them the title. Liverpool, however, failed to build on that. With Luis Suarez shifting base to Barcelona, things started to fall apart. Actually, what the club needed to start a winning process was leadership at the top, not individual brilliance on the pitch.
Jurgen Klopp’s appointment as the manager in October 2015 proved to be pivotal. Liverpool eventually brought in a leader, a mentor and a top manager. Klopp knew he had to make a radical overhaul to turn the second-most famous English football club — after Manchester United — into a winning side again. Over the past five years, he built it brick by brick, eventually ending Liverpool’s 30-year league title drought this term. Klopp bought the right players, developed them, gave them confidence and mixed resolve with flair. Liverpool had missed out on the title by one point last season. They won it with seven games to spare this term. Such was their dominance. Over the past 12-odd months, Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and now the Premier League. Klopp’s Reds have ignited a debate if they are the greatest team in the Premier League’s history.
“Name me a better one. Show me a side with more consistency than Jurgen Klopp’s warriors. Yes, Chelsea lost just one game in the 2004-5 season when they were champions under Jose Mourinho. But Liverpool have done that, losing only once this season and once last year too. They’ve been to two Champions League finals, winning one. They play outstanding football. You can give me Arsenal’s Invincibles and I’d give you Liverpool’s Irreplaceables. I don’t see, off the top of my head, who you’d sign that would go straight into that side,” former Wales international Robbie Savage wrote in his Mirror column.
It’s unfair to compare different eras. Alex Ferguson’s 1998-99 treble-winning United side went unbeaten in the Champions League and the FA Cup, and lost just three matches in the league. To put things in perspective, only one player from this Liverpool team — Virgil van Dijk — will walk into that United starting XI. Apologies to Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, but they can’t replace David Beckham and Ryan Giggs on the right and left flanks respectively.
Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ went undefeated in the world’s most competitive league in the 2003-04 season. Again, player to player, in the majority of positions, Arsenal were better. Keeping hyperbole at arm’s length, this Liverpool squad doesn’t yet have players who can match Ashley Cole, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry’s class. Yes, Wenger’s Arsenal drew 12 of their matches but Liverpool have already lost twice in the league.
Also, this has been a poor Premier League season. Manchester City have been plagued by injuries throughout, Chelsea had a transfer ban in the first half of the season, United are rebuilding under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mauricio Pochettino reportedly lost the power struggle against Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy as the club’s season unravelled. During their 4-0 rout of the champions, City showed what they could do on a good day. Both United and Chelsea will be stronger next term. Liverpool are back on their perch, but Klopp’s challenge will be to stay put.