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Can strange times inspire Liverpool dominance?

Ryan Paton wonders if the strange circumstances surrounding the recent Premier League victory will inspire an era of Liverpool dominance.

It’s what we’ve been waiting for our whole lives. As a Liverpool fan, it’s always been quite simple if anyone ever asked the classic question of what you’d request if you, for some reason, ever stumbled upon a genie with the generosity to grant you 3 wishes. Before the clichéd responses for fame and fortune, the first request would have always been, without a second’s thought, to please, please, please just let me experience what it’s like to see Liverpool win the league.

This is surely true for any Liverpool fan born, say post-1970, who has never been able to properly celebrate Liverpool winning the league. And yes. By ‘properly’ celebrate, we do of course mean being legally able to get drunk celebrating the most joyous of highs that comes when a lifelong dream comes true.

But it’s not just Liverpool fans from a particular generation who pined for this moment. The quest to reclaim the title also became the Holy Grail for those Reds who celebrated so many title wins throughout the glory days of the 70s and 80s – as they were eager for a new generation of fans to witness what they previously considered to be the Club’s bread and butter.

The rich period of success followed by a relative barren period in the 90s meant the quest for the league title become unwantedly ingrained within the fabric of the Club’s identity, with opposition supporters regularly taunting Liverpool fans’ annual assertion how the upcoming season would be ‘our year.’

Well, the false dawns are firmly in the past and Liverpool fans can now safely proclaim, “It’s our year,” as the elusive number 19 was confirmed when Chelsea swept aside Manchester City. But, despite this massive hoodoo being lifted, and our lifelong desires finally being fulfilled, the triumph is tinged with an odd feeling. The current landscape of the world has had a far greater impact on the way we live than just football, but it goes without saying that it’s also affected how we’re consuming the game. And the current circumstances in which we have to watch the match seem a little like our wishes were granted from a ‘Monkey Paw’ rather than a generous genie. We’ve been given what we wanted, but not quite how we always envisioned.

When I’ve dreamed of the moment *it* finally happens, I always imagined I was at Anfield, applauding the heroes in red from my place in The Kop – before embarking on a wonderfully drunken odyssey through actual open bars celebrating with my dad and two brothers, those people I’ve always experienced the story of Liverpool Football Club with. The fact it was confirmed in an away ground when Liverpool weren’t playing meant the first half of the fantasy would never have been the case anyway, but it still feels strange how our celebrations have had to be adapted to make the best of the current climate. In our countless daydreams when the mind has drifted into imagining just what we’d do when Liverpool won the league, I doubt there were too many fantasies where we had to be concerned about the concept of ‘social distance.’

This is not to detract from the incredible sporting achievement of this side. Despite the desperate tactic from some opposition fans to use an asterisk to belittle what Liverpool have achieved, there is, of course, no bad way to ever win a league title – and we will absolutely celebrate properly with a parade when it is safe to do so. But, one thing I always feel Klopp really understands about football is how he interprets the game as a series of moments.  We follow football for the moments, and these are what we remember. Mane’s late header against Villa, Allison to Salah against Manchester United, simply Trent Alexander-Arnold against Leicester. The season has been littered with these great moments, and we all have our own individual stories how we commemorated these euphoric releases. But, it’s slightly strange that this season is going to lack a finale moment where there is that Holy Communion between players and fans on the pitch. A domestic version of the scenes we witnessed in Madrid last year – when the players, still in their kits, still bearing the battle scars from playing 90 minutes of intense football, are receiving the adulation from a group of fans who just found out what it was like to win the Premier League. Perhaps this is just me coming to terms with winning a first league title – and the scenes I’m imagining are the sort of moments more common after winning a cup final, a feeling Liverpool fans of my generation are more used to. I don’t know, I’m still getting used to this whole thing of supporting the League Champions.

The old adage of the Liverpool Red Machine in the 80s was that the most important cup was the next one. And, while we shouldn’t quickly move on from this incredible milestone just yet, the manner of the situation means the club find themselves in a unique limbo situation that may actually bode well in the pursuit of the next trophy – and going for the league title again in the upcoming season.

Liverpool captain Graeme Souness (l) celebrates with team mates from left to right, Michael Robinson,John Wark (obscured by trophy) Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Steve Nicol and Bruce Grobbelaar pictured with the Canon League Division One trophy for the 1983/84 season before their match against Norwich City at Anfield on May 15th, 1984 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images)

Once Liverpool win the Premier League, the motivation of the team for the next campaign turns from chasing an unrealised dream into replicating that unforgettable achievement. This is a completely different challenge – and you only need to look at how many teams have ever retained the title to see how difficult it is to manage the shift in identity from chasers to chased.

The Liverpool identity has become entwined with the quest to reclaim the league – and, as sporting institutions across the world have shown, it’s incredibly difficult to manage a shift in identity while still remaining to be equally successful. Liverpool’s glory days have certainly been reignited and the next step is to once again become the Red Machine, where title wins are the bread and butter of a league campaign as they were in the 70s and 80s, commemorated by your Captain casually tossing the trophy to another player.

The unprecedented circumstances that surround the triumph this season may actually help Liverpool in this quest to transform from the Romantic Red Dreamers into the Ruthless Red Machine. The situation we find ourselves in means that Liverpool have won the league title in emphatic fashion, while there is still that grand finale moment to chase between the players and fans. Somehow the World, European and Premier League Champions still have something left to chase, another stop to aim for on their journey. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are characterised by their relentless appetite to win football matches and the fact there is a new moment still to aim for, rather than replicating something they have already achieved, means the motivation that drives our ‘Mentality Monsters’ doesn’t need to change so much.  And – if the heartache of Kiev and the 2018/19 Premier League campaign proved anything – it’s that there is no one out there more capable of pursuing the chase than this current batch of Liverpool players. It’s what we’ve been waiting for our whole lives. The strangeness of the situation may mean we don’t have to wait much longer to see it again.

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