European Champions

It’s over, then. This long, incredible, inspiring season has finally reached its glorious climax. The most important thing of that is the word ‘glorious’. The campaign has been crowned with a European Cup that makes the Reds the Champions of Europe for the sixth time. Only AC Milan and Real Madrid sit clear of us with seven and thirteen trophy wins respectively, but Real played teams they could pretty much definitely beat at the start of the tournament’s history so most of their wins don’t really count. The potential disappointment of this season, of missing out on any silverware at all, was very real when we lost the first leg of the semi-final against Barcelona 3-0. Yet the resulting victory made things even sweeter and a big shiny cup is no more than this Liverpool team deserves after a truly stunning campaign. In pretty much any other season, ninety-seven points in the league and a European Cup would have resulted in the players winning a double, but we came up against the riches of Manchester City and so will have to make do with just one of the biggest trophies in football.

The match itself wasn’t a classic by any means. It was the definition of the notion that winning teams are better in both boxes than their opponents. Tottenham generally controlled the match, dominating possession and asking questions of us time and again. Yet the reality is that we had the answers to those questions, with Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip standout performers in keeping Harry Kane and pals at bay. At the other end, the penalty was a stonewall one and the only question I’d have asked if I’d seen that given against us would have been what on earth the player was doing sticking their arm out like that. Mo Salah’s penalty was a little bit like the match itself: unconvincing but ultimately ending in victory. The let-off for Divock Origi’s goal was incredible, with sheer relief flooding through everyone where I was and, doubtless, throughout the world. Origi, like most of the players, was pretty poor when he came on but, just like everyone else, did what needed to be done to get us over the line. It was just one of many stories from a night that will live long in the memory for the result rather than the performance.

What Do Things Look Like From Here?

My biggest fear leading up to the game was that I had no idea what life looked like if we lost. It was easy for my to convince myself that the manager would be able to tell the players the story of why 97 points was just the beginning, why it was proof that they were on the right tracks and just needed to keep going. I was also just about able to see a manner in which he’d have been able to pick them up off the canvas if we’d lost to Barcelona in a manner that he referred to before the match as ‘glorious failure’. Yet I had no clue how he’d have been able to tell any kind of tale that would have seen him explain how he’d lost seven finals as a manager, nor been the manager of the losing team in the Champions League three times out of three. How does he tell players he knows how to win if he seems to have become a serial loser? That was what I feared the most and that fear went up a notch when we scored so early. Losing a final is one thing, but losing after taking the lead? It may well have broken him and his team.

It was a question that didn’t need to be asked in the end. Instead, the manager got his decisions right and Liverpool Football Club are once again Champions of Europe. The big question now becomes ‘what happens next?’ It feels as though the answer should be that this team takes off. So many people in the world of football say that getting that first trophy is the most important thing, with more tending to follow suit soon after. Having got the taste for it, the players will want to do that again and again and again. In 2006, having won the Champions League the year before, the Reds went on to win the FA Cup. A step down, of course, but proof that silverware often begets silverware. Who knows what Rafa Benitez would’ve achieved if he hadn’t had to deal with the war in the boardroom at the time. Who knows what Jürgen Klopp can achieve because he doesn’t have to. A title tilt next season feels like the crucial next step, but would anyone rule us out of returning to the Atatürk, considering Klopp has yet to lose a two-legged European tie with the club?

The Supporters Deserved It

It goes without saying that the players deserved to lift that trophy. From the likes of Alisson and van Dijk, who turned down the chance to go to ‘surer things’ such as Real Madrid and Manchester City to come to Liverpool, through to Jordan Henderson, who has spent his career on Merseyside being told that he’s not good enough by some people and even offered as a makeweight for part of a deal for Clint Dempsey, the captain has come through so much to mean that he’s earned that trophy. Yet so have the supporters. The men, women and children on Merseyside, up and down the country and throughout the world that have had to deal with so much footballing heartbreak in recent times have very much earned their day in the sun.

We all know that social media isn’t real. We’re aware that opposition supporters will always be on the wind-up because we do the same thing. Yet it’s also hurt to be nearly men so many times. From League Cup and Europa League disappointment to missing out on the Champions League title last season and the Premier League this, it was beginning to feel like we were cursed. Fourteen years is too long a period of time for a club like our to wait for major silverware, with all of the banter that is attached to that. Since Jürgen Klopp’s arrived at Anfield, though, the supporters haven’t let that burden drag him or his players down. He wanted us to turn from doubters to believers and we did, even when it felt impossible to do so. We kept on believing and now we’ve been given our rich rewards. Liverpool Football Club are European Champions. Soak it up.

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