The failure to secure Virgil van Dijk’s signature in the summer transfer window a year ago, along with the postponed arrival of Naby Keita and persistent rumours about Philippe Coutinho refusing to play amidst interest from Barcelona, meant that the predominant view was that Liverpool had failed to act decisively enough in the transfer market and would once again be left to rue settling for a squad which simply did not have the quality to compete at the highest level.
How wrong we all were.
An excellent European Cup run, a number of top class purchases, and a thoroughly enjoyable pre-season later, and the atmosphere going into this season’s first Premier League game against West Ham at Anfield is one of buoyancy, confidence, and impatient anticipation.
First and foremost, football is supposed to be fun. It’s an escape from day-to-day existence and something to simply enjoy every weekend. The combination of the manager’s style and personality, the quality of the attacking players, and the positivity radiating around Anfield, makes Liverpool the most fun football team in Europe right now.
The Champions League final defeat has not been allowed to mark the culmination of something. Instead, the Reds have used it to push on further again. The signing of Fabinho out of the blue just a couple of days after the final, plus the addition of another of the continent’s most sought-after players in Alisson, shows a willingness to harness the energy and determination surrounding the club and to grow it even further. The Liverpool manager and ownership are not resting on their laurels, they’ve experienced one incredible season now and are doing their best to ensure another is just around the corner.
The ambiance surrounding the Reds’ pre-season campaign is interesting in that regard, too. Of course, the primary focus of the summer’s endeavours has been to ensure each player is match fit, but Liverpool have also used the period to truly engage with supporters and earn some goodwill before the real action kicks off.
One only has to look at the faces of the children in Dublin and at Anfield who were able to have photographs with members of the squad who stuck around long after full-time, as well as Jamie Webster’s expression when Jurgen Klopp surprised him by joining in with a sing-along on the club’s tour of the USA, to recognise just how much those games did to keep the positive vibe from last season going.
Jürgen Klopp surprises Jamie Webster in Michigan…
…then sings 'Allez Allez Allez' with the fans! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/aJo50b9iTi
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) July 28, 2018
Those are things which don’t take much effort on the club’s part, but which go an awful long way to ensure that the cynicism and self-doubt which has ensconced Liverpool supporters for the majority of the last decade is increasingly subdued.
The Reds’ enjoyment of pre-season is in stark contrast to their rivals.
José Mourinho spent the majority of the time telling anybody who would listen that his Manchester United faces a “difficult season” due to a weak squad, while Chelsea’s new boss Maurizio Sarri says that it could take “two or three months” for his team to be “potentially good.”
Tottenham supporters, meanwhile, have been dismayed by the club’s complete lack of transfer activity, while Arsenal remain cautious as they enter a period of recovery under Unai Emery’s tutelage.
Many onlookers will say Klopp “needs” to win a trophy this time around — that his way of doing things, his process, his philosophy, will be only be validated by the capture of something silver during the course of the season.
But the team does not need to set itself targets like that. Sure, the squad, staff, and supporters all have hopes and expectations for things to come. Everybody wants to win the biggest prizes the game has to offer. But Liverpool’s success last season was not based on targeting individual competitions, sacrificing some games for others, or grinding their way to results. It was based on everybody having fun week in, week out, and seeing where it all ended up.
So, let’s all settle in for another campaign of insane football. I for one can’t wait to see where it takes us.