International breaks are just the worst. I don’t care how many I live in through in my life, I’ll never not find them a tedious waste of time. Obviously the fact that I couldn’t care less about England feeds into that. Perhaps if I was a passionate Wales supporter or didn’t find everything surrounding the national team to be little more than fake patriotic flag-waving jingoism, my take on the matter might be slightly different. Yet it is what it is. Combine that with the fact that I can’t remember the last International break when one our players didn’t come back from it with some sort of niggle or injury and you can see why I don’t engage in the process with anything like enthusiasm. I’ve been made up to see so many of our players come home without even kicking a ball. If Andy Robertson was likely to be on the NHS then the idea of him only being able to get one dentist appointment in the course of a fortnight would be more believable, but I’m fairly certainly he’ll have gone private.
I love how Andy Robertson didn’t fancy a trip to Kazakhstan so said he had a dentist appointment. It’s like a year 10 trying to get out of 5th period R.E. 😂
— James Wilson (@JamesGWilson91) March 22, 2019
Alex Ferguson was the master at getting his players to skip international duty with some ludicrous excuse or another. I’ve long wanted Liverpool’s hierarchy to get better at convincing its players to sack off moronic international friendlies or pointless qualifiers. FIFA and UEFA don’t help, of course. The more teams they add to the major tournaments the more convoluted the qualifying period will become and the more frustrated club managers will get the whole process. It’s all well and good Germany going up against Holland or Italy for a place at the European Championships, but do we really need to see these sides go head-to-head with Andorra to know which team is better? I think club football supporters are becoming more and more disillusioned with the international side of the game, not less. Another reason I hate these breaks, though, is because they give you a chance to take stock and look at what’s happening in the world. The Reds are in a brilliant place right now, so why are so many supporters so angry?
It Feels Like We’re Achingly Close To Glory
There’s an extent to which I do understand supporters who are feeling the frustration as the season goes on. In my adult life I’ve only seen Liverpool have two genuine title challenges, with the first coming in 2008-2009 and the second in 2013-2014. The latter was the more heart-breaking of the two because it felt as though it came out of nowhere and that it was a ‘then-or-never’ type scenario. The former, on the other hand, had the feeling of being the culmination of everything that Rafa Benitez had been working towards, with Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres working in tandem to give us some of the best nights of our lives. It never felt like a true title challenge, though, given that Manchester United were always in the driving seat.
Nothing new, Craven Cottage has always been a tough ground when Liverpool are competing for the title.
2008-2009: Benayoun wins it for LFC in the 90th minute.
2013-2014: Gerrard wins it for Liverpool in the 90th minute.
2018-2019: LFC beat Fulham through Milner’s 82’ penalty.
— Mahmud (@LebaneseScouser) March 17, 2019
One similarity between that year and this, however, is the amount of unfair stick being received by the manager. It was far more toxic in ’08-’09, with supporters who really should know better buying in to the tabloid press’s notion of Rafa being a ‘fat Spanish waiter’ and booing when we went top because we’d drawn instead of won the game. Why is that that sort of mindset sets in when we get close enough to compete for the title? It’s been nearly thirty years, so some Liverpool fans have run out of patience and genuinely seem to think that we should never lose or draw a game. That in spite of the fact that no football club has ever won every single game they’ve played. We’re closer than ever to reaching the holy grail this season, so some people are more on edge than ever.
It Will Hurt If We Don’t Win Something
Part of the reason for that tension is the knowledge that it will hurt immensely if we don’t actually win anything this season. Those of us that consider ourselves to be sensible Liverpool supporter need to work hard to fight against the sort of thinking that paints Jürgen Klopp or his players as a failure if they don’t land some silverware this season. What caused such pain in 2013-2014 was the knowledge, deep down, that that side wouldn’t come that close to glory again. Gerrard was in the twilight of his career and Luis Suarez had been persuaded to give it one more year so that he could earn his inevitable move to Barcelona, with the rest of the players being either too young or too mediocre to be looked at as a replacement talisman moving forward.
I always imagine LFC Twitter spends the international break picking fights with random strangers on the street, in order to get their fix.
It's all a bit serene on here when there isn't a player to needlessly lay into or a team selection to slaughter.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) March 21, 2019
This side feels different. Would any of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané or Virgil van Dijk feel that they need to leave the club to fulfil their ambitions if we ended this season without a trophy in the same way that the Uruguayan did? Would the manager believe that his future lies elsewhere? Not if we get close but fall a touch short, no. The only reason any of them will decide to plough their furrow elsewhere is if the Liverpool fans turn against them. If we don’t win the Premier League then it will be because we’ve had to go up against the most expensively assembled side in the history of the competition that have allegedly fiddled the books to afford their spending spree, so it’s no shame to lose out to them. If we don’t win the Champions League, it’s worth remembering that we’re going up agains the best sides from around Europe. Everyone just needs to take a breath and remember that context, as always, is key.