REAL MADRID attract major trophies just as Liverpool seem to court drama and controversy. There’s no denying the French police handled the event abysmally, clumsily responding to an incident that was partly their own making and treating Liverpool’s fans with disdain and strong-arm aggression. In the circumstances, it’s no surprise that these events overshadowed the triumph of the Spanish champions.
Likewise, if the problem was also caused by fake tickets, and there were allegedly ticket touts roaming around London St. Pancras, then greater control has to be exerted. I spoke to Liverpool fans at the station who were going to Paris without a ticket just to be there. Who can blame them?
If UEFA had any teeth, they would not consider the Stade de France for future finals, even though Paris is the spiritual home of the European Cup. Saint-Denis is not an ideal place to welcome 75,000 people, if only because the crime rate is far higher than the national average in France. Perhaps that’s why the local police were quick to introduce a chemical response.
The truth will emerge in the weeks ahead, but it was obvious that, given the easy accessibility of Paris, there was always going to be a mass movement of Liverpool fans for this game. Some people believe we are still in the 1980s, that all British football fans are violent. Unfortunately, the anarchy at the European Championship final undid a lot of the fine work over the previous two decades and once more, continental Europe perceived the English as feral hooligans. How much of that sentiment drove the behaviour of the French authorities?
There have been attempts to simply blame Liverpool fans for the debacle, but at St. Pancras the lengthy queues included the very old and very young, expectant, hopeful supporters waiting to board their train. Given the huge numbers, it was inevitable that some would be unruly, no matter which club they followed. I was in Stockholm in 2017 for the Europa Final and I witnessed some bad behaviour from Manchester United fans and in Paris a few years ago, Chelsea fans were filmed abusing locals. Big crowds have a higher percentage of those willing to step over the line.
Criticism of Liverpool fans invariably gets interpreted as criticism of Liverpool the city. Football is so vital to the city for its escapism and source of local pride, but the rest of the country doesn’t really understand so this intensity is often used as a stick to beat Liverpool on the head.
Did Liverpool really think the quadruple was on? Did they truly target four trophies? It would seem unlikely anyone was seriously contemplating winning the lot, mostly because to win everything, you have to beat teams who are similarly focused on those prizes, namely, Manchester City and Real Madrid. Jürgen Klopp is too professional to do anything but adopt the age-old cliché: “We take each game as it comes”. The pursuit of four cups made for a good “skysportsism” and helped the bookies cash-in on the run-in to the end of the campaign, and that was it.
Liverpool had a great season, but their margin of success was as narrow as any margin of defeat. Their two cup victories were achieved on penalties, that most unsatisfactory method of success. Two 0-0 draws against Chelsea that could so easily have gone the other way. They lost the league by one point and the Champions League by a single goal. Liverpool played with a flamboyance that has, arguably, exhausted them, but City still topped the table. Real Madrid, a team nobody really considered as potential champions, managed by a coach that was supposed to be past his best, controlled Liverpool like no other opponent in 2021-22. For all their pressure and possession, it never looked as though Klopp’s men would ever equalise.
Klopp was understandably distraught, the peak of his trademark cap pulled down to shield his eyes, but predicted Liverpool would be back, joking that fans should book their hotels for Istanbul in 2023. But was this season the peak of this Liverpool, indeed both teams? For Real this is more understandable as they have a host of key players at the veteran stage of their careers. For Liverpool, they have pushed Manchester City for four years, closing the gap between the two clubs, but with City already reinforcing their squad, the task will arguably get even harder. Between them, they have won over 70% of their league games over five years. They have scored over 900 league goals in that time.
Liverpool’s dynamic forward line of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané has arguably played its last game for the club. This trio have scored 58% of Liverpool’s Premier League goals over five years, although the ratio dropped significantly in 2021-22.
Salah has said he’s staying at Anfield for next season, but his contract expires in June 2023. In other words, unless he signs a new deal, Salah will be running-off his contract and Liverpool will not get a handsome fee. Firmino is also looking to leave and Mané seems bound for Bayern Munich. All three players are either 30 or a fortnight off that landmark. Admittedly, Liverpool have options in Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, but can they cope with losing Salah?
Real have been putting off their rebuilding, although there have been changes in recent years. But surely, this time, the team has achieved all that it can? Real have won five Champions Leagues since 2014 with teams that were not exactly trendsetters or great innovators. Some of their five victories, such as 2022 and 2016, were not especially convincing and generally, sceptics consider Real have come through the competition because of their wealth and size. It’s hard to be critical, because five is five after all, and Champions League winners come in different shapes and sizes and not always representative of the current hierarchy. It is, in its final stages, a knockout tournament.
You only need look at their path to glory and the opponents they have beaten: PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. If a team beats rivals of these quality, they are deserved winners. Ultimately, the reason there has been a collective shrug of the shoulder is because it feels like the same old song. Real Madrid, champions of Europe. It has happened 14 times.