The Dance, by Neil Devlin.
‘I told you so’. A simple phrase that can provoke such emotion when used. To the person who utters it, it is usually a moment of triumph, achievement or superiority. To the recipient, it denotes defeat, embarrassment or despair.
Regrettably however, when it comes to Liverpool FC, none of these positive emotions need apply.
Today, like every year for the last three decades, I find myself uttering the phrase ‘I told you so’, but as with each year that has gone before I do not find any triumph in it.
I write this today, on the day Liverpool have lost 2-0 to nineteenth placed Hull City, and I am saying I told you so, because like many seasons past, Liverpool are unravelling before our eyes.
Each season begins with such optimism, a clean slate, a chance to correct the mistakes of the years that have gone before. At least for those with a more positive outlook than myself. Many fans often brand my form of support as negative, pessimistic or even downright gloomy. I affirm it, however, to be an outlook more akin to realism.
For many years now, as long as Twitter has been around, I seem to have the same debate with the fans of our club. Many of them will point to new signings, a new manager, tactics or a run of results to argue that this will in fact be our year. I, on the other hand, take the stance that this is not our year, point to what I perceive to be our deficiencies, and so the dance plays out as it has so many times before.
Stats will be used, infographics galore, comparisons to the failings of the past to show that we are in fact rebuilding to something more befitting our illustrious history. But in the end, it always seems to amount to nothing.
A season of transition, a summer clear out, the search for a new spine and the dreaded uttering of ‘I told you so’
Just like before, in the summer of 2016, we were in need of yet another clear out and a rebuild. Spirits this time were high as Jurgen Klopp would be getting his first stab at the transfer window. Universal calls for a new goalkeeper were met with the signing of Loris Karius from Mainz 05 in May, and with it what seemed the intention to finally address the glaring flaws in the Liverpool side.
We were still short however at left-back and in need of a commanding in central-midfielder, but there was a whole summer to address these positions. Sadio Mané, Ragner Klavan and Georgino Wijnaldum would all follow Karius along with the earlier confirmed signings of Joel Matip and Marko Grujic. Roughly sixty million in outlays and eighty million recouped; a net profit in the window and everything was rosy. Or so fans of the positive variety would claim.
In a tough run of fixtures, the season started brilliantly for us. Liverpool took ten points from a possible fifteen while playing the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea away from home. A loss to Burnley in that sequence was cited as a blip and optimism remained high.
Further results against usual bogey teams like Hull City and West Bromwich Albion, saw Liverpool reach the summit of the Premier League for the first time since the memorable season of 13/14 under Brendan Rodgers. The same defensive frailties of that season were evident but our attacking prowess was still second to none.
Liverpool were the league leaders and, in addition, the highest scorers. Optimistic fans were in dreamland at this stage and talk of winning the league was starting to be heard. But I, the pessimistic fan, could not look past the Burnley result.
Twenty-six years of hurt would not allow me to find positivity in what we had achieved because the deficiencies still seemed evident. I could not partake in the hope or dream of perhaps ending almost three decades of hurt. I still longed for that commanding central-midfielder and, although it was working, I did not see the James Milner experiment at left back working out in the long term.
Despite the fantastic start, signs that things were not perfect would hit us like a ton of bricks on December 4th when, after being 3-1 up against Bournemouth, Liverpool contrived to lose the game 4-3 in the dying minutes.
Loris Karius was blamed and hung out to dry in the aftermath and after drawing 2-2 with West Ham, would be dropped indefinitely in favour of the error-prone goalkeeper he was supposed to replace, Simon Mignolet. Much to the satisfaction of many of the same fans who had called for the latter’s head only the season before.
Alarm bells were now ringing loud and clear for me. In my mind, we needed additions because this squad was not ready for the challenges that lay ahead. The aforementioned dance would continue on social media and Whatsapp groups alike.
I was being pessimistic it was claimed; ‘look how far we have come’, they would say. I wasn’t buying. There was that sinking feeling in my gut, much the same feeling resulting from years of disappointment. I hoped I was wrong.
Middling results in December would make way for the new year and would apparently be the run in to ultimate glory. January, however, had other ideas.
Liverpool started the month with a paltry 2-2 draw with relegation fodder Sunderland, along with an even more worrying draw with Plymouth in the FA Cup. The ever optimistic fan would cite the loss to Plymouth as a game only involving the kids. These kids being the same players who were being lauded as the fantastic squad depth Klopp could coach to infamy just a few weeks previously.
The hypocrisy of this idea was now leading to that familiar feeling of dread that I have become accustomed to during this repetitive dance.
At this stage, the need for additions was glaring. The mounting games were starting to take their toll on an already thin squad.
This was January so the opportunity to strengthen was there. Make a few additions, namely a central midfielder, and we could build on the progress we had made.
The games kept coming and with them ever declining performances. Losses to the likes of Swansea, Southampton and Wolves saw Liverpool win only one game in a run of ten, and with it the opportunity to both strengthen and build upon our early season success evaporated.
And here we are now at the beginning of February 2017, the transfer window is closed and Liverpool have lost to Hull City.
Fans on both sides of the debate are now in agreement that the side is spent, confidence is low and the chance to win the league has gone for another year, and with it the dance met its conclusion.
At this point, you may be reading this thinking this is nothing more than self gratification, but I assure you this could not be further from the truth. As stated earlier, I take no triumph from being right and I want desperately to be wrong.
This article comes from a place of frustration and confusion. It’s an attempt to offer a different perspective to the optimism of some fans and glimpse into the mind of a fan who, after years of hurt, cannot muster the enthusiasm to hope for that ever elusive league win.
A fan who has grown tired of the dance and wonders if he will ever hear those other fans utter their own triumphant I told you so…