First off all credit to the brilliant David Squires and his illustration.
After Istanbul 2005, I went to Anfield and the club felt different to me. It was harder to get tickets through the club channels and people who were passive fans before hand suddenly wanted to be part of everything.
Then again, I was probably that at one point as the lads from the old standing Kop would have had a much greater claim on how much things changed.
It’s not a bad thing I guess but it made me question if I’d fit in with this new era. After a bit of moaning and some adjustment I carried on going to the games and made my peace with it.
We all know what happened with those I’ll only refer to as G&H. The defiance and wanting to safeguard the club became what it was all about to go to the match then. It was a strange and not very enjoyable time to be a Liverpool fan and only got worse when Rafa left and Hodgson came in but we were fighting for our clubs soul.
That day when Sir Martin Broughton oversaw the sale of the club from G&H and to FSG was one of the happiest of my life. Being a fan of American sports, I knew the remit of FSG and it was – as has been proven – exactly what this club needed.
Then came that beautiful German legend, Jurgen Klopp. Him and FSG were a match made in heaven. A manager who didn’t just spend for spending’s sake and an ownership group that valued reasoned investment. What a team they made and what a team they gave us.
And yet, under their watchful eye Liverpool have won – to the great joy of our detractors – zero trophies. We are still the butt of many a joke but it’s not like in the majority of the past 30 years where you had to just hold your hands up and accept we weren’t good enough, we now clearly are.
What has stopped us? Manchester United stopped us at first and did so fairly. Yes they had more money but one team always has more money, it’s how it is. United earned their financial dominance through seeing the opportunity for business growth away from the field and performing on it and reaping the lucrative rewards of the Champions League.
I was a kid so I bitched and moaned at first and said it wasn’t fair but it was, as I grew older I realised this and while I still despised United as a club, I respected their achievements. I began to respect the rivalry. While Ferguson would do anything to beat Liverpool, he never once belittled our rivalry whether we were the better team or the worse team. It served his purpose of course, I’m not doubting that but it reminded me of a Mourinho quote that came later on: “We were the best of enemies” (said about Steven Gerrard a player Mourinho always coveted). There was a mutual hatred but a mutual respect.
Then came Wenger. Has anyone’s fall from grace in the public eye been greater in football management? Personally I’ll always have a love, respect and gratitude for the French maestro.
He came in from nowhere (Grampus 8 as they were) and transformed the entire Premier League. He was given Dennis Bergkamp, oh what a player he was. Bruce Rioch wasn’t at Arsenal long but it’s arguable if anyone made a more important and influential signing.
With the tail end of Arsenal’s “one nil to the Arsenal” defence comprising of Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Dixon and of course Seaman, he added a gaelic flair that saw them revolutionise English football. “Adams put through by Bould, would you believe it?”. No, I didn’t and I didn’t believe what came next with the unbeatens and with Kolo Toure coming from nowhere and Campbell crossing the divide and Henry a winger from Juventus becoming a world class striker, the “invincibles” and so much more.
Arsenal more so than any other side I’ve witnessed in my lifetime were the side you just could not help but respect and even maybe love if you were a true fan of the beautiful game. They weren’t buying up talent for obscene money, they were developing players that people either hadn’t heard of barely knew. Vieira was a perfect example, hardly anyone in this country knew him and yet he went on to be world class and one of the best midfielders this league ever saw.
I could go on about Arsenal all day. I owned (lost it) only one club DVD that was not from Liverpool and it was “The Centurions” 100 goals from Henry and Bergkamp, absolutely majestic.
Then came Chelsea and the first truly dark days of the Premier League. Roman wasn’t a man to strut, he seemed almost shy and reserved but his team and the manager he put in charge to oversee his Russian revolution, was not.
Jose Mourinho, an effervescent character when he first arrived in England had the media in the palm of his hand. The self proclaimed special one actually was pretty special, when he wasn’t acting like a pantomime villain.
His teams were nowhere near as defensive as some people would like to make out, they played some breathtaking counter attacking football which seems to be all but forgotten. The wing play of Robben and Duff, the emergence of Frank Lampard, this team has become extremely underrated over time.
They had a steel to them which is undeniable and can’t be bought.
What Roman did money wise, it tainted their success and the game in general. The talent needed to win a title could be bought now like never before. Where the money came from was highly suspicious to say the least and being mates with Putin never sat well with many.
This was the first time that politics had so blatantly reared its ugly head in the game in terms of “buying a title”.
And then we come to present day. Manchester City. Oh City, what have you done?
Your football is incredible. You don’t need the same steel that Chelsea had, you just blow teams away for the most part and yet, it would be wrong to suggest that there is not a mental fortitude to your play in a different manner which is needed to win the league.
I’ll say it again, you can’t buy a title in a real title race. To some degree it is earned, always. No matter who you have in your team, you will face adversity in a proper title race just as City did this year and you will have to overcome it.
What you can say is, it’s a lot easier to overcome said adversity if you have £50 million subs coming off the bench and the kind of squad depth the game has never seen.
As Ken Early pointed out in his fantastic piece on City for the Irish Times:
“Football has not seen anything like this before. The closest comparison is with Chelsea after the 2003 Abramovich takeover, but their spending was nowhere near as sustained or comprehensive. Yes, in the 11 seasons from 2003-4 to 2014-15 Chelsea were football’s biggest spenders, but their net outlay of £751 million was only 10 per cent more than City’s in the same period, even though City spent very little between 2003 and 2007. Chelsea’s net spend in those 11 seasons was 64 per cent of the total combined net outlay of Real Madrid and Barcelona, whereas City’s since 2008 is more than Real Madrid’s and Barcelona’s put together.”
These are facts, undeniable, unquestionable facts.
The saddest thing of all is, as a football fan I was able to respect Blackburn’s, Leicester’s (obviously an unbelievable achievement), Arsenal’s and Manchester United’s achievements.
While Chelsea as I’ve stated didn’t just “buy a title”, a far too simplistic way to look at things, they gave themselves a ridiculous financial advantage that they did not earn from money which was questionable to say the least.
City? They weren’t happy with Chelsea’s approach and took it to its logical conclusion when they accepted the price for their soul when they decided human rights violations didn’t matter, first with Shiniwatra and then with Abu Dhabi.
Their football is incredible, the purist in me is in love with the play of the likes of David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne especially but it’s built on a lie.
A hypocrite of a manager who cares about human rights abuses in his own country but not that of the country his employees are from.
The blood money that paid for these wonderful footballers are no different to any other proceeds of crime, the crimes of murder, intolerance and even child slavery.
I’ve already written about Ahmed Mansoor a political prisoner who until recently was on a hunger strike. His crime? Trying to tell the world of the real United Arab Emirates.
And yet, nothing I or anyone else writes will stop Manchester City fans being fine with being a public relations whitewash for these crimes. Manchester City have twice made it quite clear that it doesn’t matter what atrocities you’ve committed, you are welcome if you can deliver “success”.
I’ll leave you with a word for word chilling response I got on Social Media as to how easy it is to ignore:
“You can’t expect supporters who’ve supported Man City their whole life to walk away from the club because the owners commit human rights violations.”
This from the people who tell us we are “always the victims” and “ashamed of nothing”.
I’ve been told I should concentrate on the European Cup final. I’ll be attending, no tickets of course (thanks UEFA) and when the time comes I will, but now is the time for reflection as has always been the case and I really don’t like what I see from the game I love.
Oh, while we are on that matter, what the hell are you playing at holding a Europa League final in Baku? If Arsenal and Chelsea both walked away from that final, no one could blame them and what’s more it would be a greater victory than any mere trophy. Disgusting.
I’ve said time and again how proud I am of Liverpool this season and what we were up against but through no fault of theirs, this is the story of the season. All City’s feats on the pitch, Liverpool’s title challenge, none of it comes close to what the real story is and that’s the true legacy of Abu Dhabi and Manchester in the English League and that’s before we even get to Financial Fair Play.
Some will argue with me about whether you can and can’t buy a title and that’s expected and welcomed, it’s a game of opinions.
One thing you can’t argue with and remains universally true though, you can’t buy respect.