It seems fitting testament to a wonderful career that the significance of the number twenty-three to Liverpool supporters this summer isn’t in the annual lamenting of years passed since the league title was last celebrated on Merseyside. Graham Carter, the Club’s kit-coordinator for most of those years, laid out no “23” printed training gear this summer for the first time since his Melwood arrival and, following the first day back, the absence of the usual pair of plain black football boots was as conspicuous as the absence of that throaty Bootle drawl out on the pitch earlier in the day. In the relentless pursuit of league silverware, it can be easy to lose sight of true ideological virtues amidst the hysteria – football seems unlikely to see many more like Jamie Carragher.
Views on Liverpool differ depending upon standpoint. Some commend supporters for their proud commitment to the Club’s glittering history. Others ridicule supporters for their dedicated obsession to the Club’s distant past. There’s been little counting of years this summer, however, as a sense of progression and direction, lost during a turbulent few years, welcomed in the pre-season. Fresh-faces with wide-eyes characterised this mood – Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto, and Simon Mignolet joined the experienced Kolo Toure as newcomers representing desirable additions to established foundations, rather than necessary replacements for departing vital cogs. Returnees Martin Kelly, Joe Allen, Raheem Sterling, and Fabio Borini will feel like new signings, whilst Brendan Rodgers’project will no doubt benefit from a rehabilitated and rejuvenated core of Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva, and Steven Gerrard.
Having begun preparations at Melwood on July 2nd, Liverpool visited Deepdale, one of football’s most historically respected homes, for their first warm-up game on July 13th. A near-capacity crowd bathed in north-west sunshine as the Reds strolled to a comfortable victory – former-Red John Welsh conceded an early penalty, converted by Philippe Coutinho, before youngsters Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling both added to the lead. All new arrivals made an appearance, with Iago Aspas finding the net with a left-footed strike to seal a 4-0 away win. The travelling Kopites were in fine voice at Shankly’s former home, welcoming new heroes and acknowledging former greats amidst the once-again common red haze of pyrotechnics.
Preparations stepped up a gear during the following week as the Club embarked upon a tour of South-East Asia and Australia. Scenes reminiscent of ‘Beatlemania’, a by-product of another Scouse export, greeted the players’ every move and served to remind everyone of the global stature of Liverpool Football Club – defiantly effervescent despite the harrowing half-decade that the Club has endured. The scenes can be described no better in words than by the faces of the Club’s Captain and Manager – both apparently grinning endlessly for over a week as they moved between masses of overwhelming support.
On the pitch, Liverpool’s build-up to the 2013-14 campaign continued smoothly – the tour resulted in three clean-sheet victories as an Indonesia XI, Melbourne Victory, and Thailand were defeated 2-0, 2-0, and 3-0. Coutinho, Sterling, and Aspas all added to their pre-season tallies, with Gerrard also opening his account. Off the pitch, the Australian leg of the tour was notable for Luis Suarez flying in to join his team-mates – after a summer of distant sound bites http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/may/31/luis-suarez-wants-leave-liverpoolfrom South America, the footballing world looked on to catch a glimpse of the Uruguayan’s demeanour and attempt to decode to just what extent those earlier words could threaten to disrupt the squad and Rodgers’ plans ahead of the season. A side-stepped celebration in Melbourne got many tongues wagging and it implied that off-pitch issues may be ready to affect on-pitch events.
The authoritative conviction with which Rodgers is approaching his Anfield exercise was underlined as pre-season moved into August– the Club is famed for its sentimentality and its respect for tradition but Steven Gerrard’s testimonial game was an affair taken seriously, with what appeared to be a potential opening-day team selection deployed. Allowances were made however, and Jamie Carragher made a swift return to Anfield action to commemorate the career of his long-time club-mate and friend – Robbie Fowler also made an appearance, completing the trio of legendary home-grown players whose careers have glittered between the Paisley and Shankly Gates during the last two decades. A day of celebration for the Club Captain, pitting the Reds against Olympiacos of course, ended in 2-0 victory with goals from midfielders Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson. Pre-match, representatives of both clubs exchanged tokens of respect for the Hillsborough Disaster and the Karaiskakis Stadium Disasterhttp://www.olympiacos.org/en/article/25678/tragedies-united-two-%E2%80%9Clegends%E2%80%9D. Ticket-revenue, generated by Anfield’s largest testimonial crowd since that which gathered for Roger Hunt in 1972, was donated to the Steven Gerrard Foundation http://www.stevengerrardfoundation.org .
Liverpool’s biennial pre-season trip to Oslo, to face Vålarenga, was largely overshadowed by the continuing Luis Suarez saga – the Club had remained silent over his absence from Steven Gerrard’s commemorative dinner and many were sceptical over the nature of the foot injury preventing last season’s top-scorer from travelling to Norway. Following two rejected bids from Arsenal, Luis Suarez gave an interview http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/06/luis-suarez-liverpool-arsenal-transfer to UK broadsheets – published on August 7th, the morning of the Vålarenga match, Suarez confirmed his desire to leave Anfield and accused the Club of having broken season-long promises permitting him to make his departure. Norway represents a real hotbed of support for Liverpool Football Club and, despite the controversy back home, Rodgers’men produced a professional performance and a 4-1 victory – Luis Alberto scoring his first for Liverpool with a fine volley before Aspas, Kelly, and Sterling added the winning goals.
Post-match, attention immediately returned to Luis Suarez’s statements and Liverpool’s Boston-based owner, John W Henry, described talk of a sale to North London as “ludicrous” http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/08/luis-suarez-liverpool-john-w-henry, adding “I’m unequivocal that we won’t sell to Arsenal, whatever the bid”. Rodgers, having already ordered Suarez to train alone indefinitely, defiantly expressed http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/07/luis-suarez-liverpool-outcast his commitment to taking “strong, decisive action, absolutely. There has been total disrespect of the club – this is a lack of respect of a club that has given him everything, absolutely everything”. Transfer (or indeed non-transfer) talk would have done well to dampen spirits in Dublin on Saturday, though – Celtic and Liverpool remain great footballing friends and a meeting on the Emerald Isle warrants consideration as a regular pre-season meeting going forward. Liverpool appeared lacklustre against Neil Lennon’s young team, lacking cutting edge in a 1-0 defeat that provided the only blip in an otherwise encouraging pre-season campaign.
Unfortunately, an air of optimism and a smooth build-up does not guarantee a successful season and all associated with Liverpool Football Club recognise the hard work that will be necessary in the weeks and months ahead. Initial transfer activity pleased supporters – Mignolet, Toure, and Alberto look to be sound replacements for the departing Pepe Reina, Carragher, and Jonjo Shelvey, whilst Iago Aspas appears an exciting addition to Rodgers’ attacking options. Defensive resolve and offensive ruthlessness remain areas of concern, however, with much-publicised front-running targets including Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Thiago Ilori, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Diego Costa as yet amounting to nothing. At the time of writing, the Club appears likely to complete the signing of left-back Guilherme Sequeira from Granada, following the sale of Stewart Downing to West Ham, and reportshttp://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/14/luis-suarez-liverpool from the Uruguayan camp suggest that Luis Suarez is set to end his Anfield dispute and potentially even extend his stay. The term ‘net spend’ is now commonplace in pubs and on online forums and, despite today’s appeasing reports, Liverpool supporters will be hoping that the deficit increases and that their concerns are addressed during the final two weeks of the transfer window.
Bill Shankly’s assertion that “’if you are first you are first [but] if you are second you are nothing” weighs heavy at Anfield but, in the modern context, most appreciate the importance of regular Champions League football as the key platform for sustained pressure and eventual success. Supporters identify Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal as the key rivals for the final ‘Top Four’ position – admittedly unable to compete financially with Manchester City and Chelsea, and respecting the strong position from which Manchester United begin David Moyes’ tenure. Spurs, though seeming likely to lose Gareth Bale, appear to have made a number of impressive acquisitions and, for all their false bravado and often-spineless outside appearance, Arsenal inevitably always maintain a claim on a Champions League qualification spot come May. Rodgers has spoken about his conviction in Liverpool being “part of the conversation” http://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/04/luis-suarez-arsenal-liverpool-rodgersfor the coveted fourth spot, but he may yet be required to oversee a comprehensive rehabilitation of his controversial Uruguayan asset and the acquisition of further new faces before optimism amongst the supporters turns to genuine belief. Recent seasons have seen slow starts from the Reds, and staff and supporters alike will hope that a positive opening run against Stoke City, Aston Villa, and Manchester United provides the springboard necessary to mount the challenge that represents a minimum expectation for the Anfield Club.
Another famous Shankly quote, in what is a year of celebration of the Great Scot, has found reason to be contradicted by his Anfield Club – football is indeed considered greatly important to supporters, but so too are his ideals of community, solidarity, and the values and virtues that have been derived from Liverpool Football Club. Anfield pauses in April each year to remember the 96 football supporters who were unable to return safely home from their big day in Sheffield in 1989. The 24th year of remembrance stands as a landmark, with the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel making great strides in revealing the truth about the Hillsborough Disaster. Anne Williams, who lost her 15-year old son Kevin at Hillsborough, passed away shortly after the 24thAnniversary of the Disaster – amidst football chatter about wantaway forwards,‘net spend’, and targets unattainable, the most poignant moment of the pre-season campaign came in distant Indonesia when supporters unfurled a banner in tribute to Merseyside’s ‘Iron Lady’. Now in the 25th year, this show of support from members of Liverpool’s global community reminds everybody of the continuing pursuit of truth and justice, and the various campaigns run by the Hillsborough Family Support Group and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
Originally published by The Redmen TV: http://www.theredmentv.com/blog/p/14627