What could help is a talismanic figure similar to what Liverpool had with Suarez. He not only brought the best out of Sturridge but Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling too.
It was already a bad weekend before Liverpool’s abysmal 3-1 defeat at struggling Leicester on Monday night.
The club lost sole ownership of its “most successful club in England” tag as Manchester United won their 41st major honour on Sunday.
Ten years ago the trophy count was 40-32 in Liverpool’s favour. That was the year the club was taken over, first by Tom Hicks and George Gillett then by Fenway Sports Group. The spectre of how the owners operate and how much transfer money they’d given Jurgen Klopp so far arose again.
The whole team’s performance at King Power on Monday evening was atrocious; breathtakingly bad even by Liverpool’s 2017 standards. There was nobody on the pitch the fans could look to and truly believe in rescuing a precarious situation. Too many are in the “on their day” category.
It may have been a knee-jerk reaction but there was much talk about overhauling the squad. Every argument returns to money in the end, when ironically their bitter rivals’ revival has depended largely upon a free transfer, albeit a spectacular one. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been the star man at United and unsurprisingly scored their winning goal at Wembley on Sunday.
They may have been improved by Jose Mourinho and spent £89.3 million on Paul Pogba but it is the Swede who has ignited a season which at one stage looked to be heading for disappointment. Liverpool haven’t had a player like that since Luis Suarez left for Barcelona in 2014; one that made the whole team play better because he refused to settle for less and led by example.
As Liverpool fell three goals behind a team in the relegation places, they looked to Roberto Firmino — a forward who’s scored in six matches so far this season. Sadio Mane has been good so far but was the focus of some fierce Leicester attention. Had this been done to Suarez, you shudder to think of the Uruguayan’s response. It would certainly not have been as submissive.
Fans complain about money and transfers but it becomes clearer, as this season limps painfully on, that character is equally important. Klopp inherited most of these players and is fighting a losing battle trying to turn base metals into gold.
Social media was awash with a spurious statistic that predecessor Brendan Rodgers won more points than Klopp in his first 55 league games. He also had Suarez, a fit and firing Daniel Sturridge and an incredible captain in Steven Gerrard. Such things make a difference, once you’ve scratched through the surface mockery.
Liverpool fans tend to lionise their managers too early, making their fall all the swifter as a result. Players are more important. Klopp can’t perform miracles, and it’s the absence of a giant figure on the field that is most telling. As United have proven, it does not necessarily have to stem from a massive transfer outlay.
Liverpool are a peculiar club. They were extremely successful in the past and remain one of the most popular clubs in the world, but each successive manager must build largely on what’s gone — and failed — before. It was only Gerard Houllier who triggered the kind of overhaul some fans now demand. This was in a different era, when neither Chelsea nor Manchester City had their unnatural wealth — adding to the competition for places at the top of the English game.
There is so little time for Klopp and even less patience. It’s far easier for the owners to keep plodding along, make a few changes every summer and hope fans keep spending and believing. It’s like putting plasters on gunshot wounds.
Minutes after the Leicester defeat, the club announced a new chief executive poached from a computer company. It was bewilderingly timed. It screamed “business before football” at the top of its lungs. So much needs to change but dismissing most of the playing staff simply will not happen.
What could help is a talismanic figure similar to what Liverpool had with Suarez. He not only brought the best out of Sturridge but Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling too. The club must go all out to make a statement this summer. Pie in the sky perhaps, desperate even, but Liverpool are at a crossroads with a massive decision to make.
Arsenal are the visitors this Saturday and thoughts inevitably turn to their 5-1 thrashing on Feb. 9 2014. As the game drifted to its long-inevitable conclusion, Suarez reacted with anger merely because he didn’t receive an accurate pass. It was one example of how a standout individual makes his presence felt and drags a club up by the scruff of the neck, negating the need for drastic wholesale changes.
For all the focus on Klopp, Liverpool do not have such a player. It’s what separates them from other challengers and needs to be rectified if they are ever to be successful again.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.