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The changing faces of Liverpool FC

Let me start this by telling you straight away; I am biased towards Liverpool. The club is my life. From an early age as a Liverpool fan, you have it drilled into you that you should expect the best. To us, any delusions of grandeur aren’t delusions. We expect to be up at the top of the table because our history says we should be.

I know how silly this sounds, considering the club haven’t won the league title since 1990. There is a generation of Liverpool fans (myself included) yet to see the club that won 13 titles in 27 years win a league title.

It’s not like we haven’t been close; in 2002, Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool, fresh from winning the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup treble the year before, finished 2nd to an Arsenal team that had superstars such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira. It didn’t work out for Houllier in the long run, and a series of poor choices in the transfer market mean he is the man remembered for signing El Hadji Diouf, Bruno ‘The Next Zidane’ Cheyrou and Salif Diao in the dark summer of 2002.

The title dream was shattered again in 2009, when Rafael Benitez, after two Champions League finals in three years, took the league seriously for what seemed like the only time during his tenure. Liverpool were unbelievable- the season saw Liverpool lose only twice in the league, do a double over Chelsea and even a double over the title winners Manchester United. Unfortunately, 11 draws took their toll, and the reds lost out to the mancs by a heartbreaking four points. Andrea Dossena’s chip past Van Der Sar to make it 4-1 at Old Trafford couldn’t even make up for that (It came close though).

Fast forward to the start of the 2013-2014 season. Liverpool have since sacked Benitez and dismantled his best XI from that 2009 heartbreak. Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher (since retired), Sami Hyypia (since retired), Emiliano Insua, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres (since probably should have retired) had all left the club, leaving Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel as the only first team players remaining from that squad. After languishing in the isn’t-quite-the-top-but-isn’t-quite-mid-table region for the last 3 seasons (albeit with two domestic finals thanks to King Kenny), Liverpool fans were finally gearing up for the season that saw us challenge for the holy land known as the top 4 and forget that Roy Hodgson once managed Liverpool.

And there was every right to feel ambitious. Simon Mignolet in goal had proven himself ‘alright’ at Sunderland; there were even murmurs of him being “decent”. Glen Johnson existed, albeit to wind me up more than anything else, but he existed. Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger remained a solid pair of centre backs, wanted by all the big clubs, and Man City too. Mahmadou Sakho arrived from PSG with Kolo Toure as a free transfer to provide competition. Left back had question marks all over it, but Jose Enrique was adequate.

In midfield we boasted the England captain and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, still expected to win games for Liverpool on his own (and will be until he’s at least 70). Jordan Henderson had finally started to show the ability Kenny Dalglish had paid £16-20 million for. Lucas Leiva was a ‘footballer’. So was Joe Allen.

In attack, Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling meant Liverpool had two of the most promising youngsters in European football. Daniel Sturridge had just signed in January beforehand and hadn’t stopped scoring since.

And then there was him. The little genius, the little b#?@!]/, Luis Suarez was Liverpool’s shining light, the real reason we could believe top 4 was in reach. He was to miss the first 5 league games due to suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic in what was the strangest event I’ve ever witnessed at a football match, but if he kept out of trouble then he could do great things, as could Liverpool with him up front.

And we did. Liverpool scored 101 goals in a season in which critics were silenced, and Liverpool looked ready to end that long wait for the elusive first Premier League title. Far too many scousers went to sleep dreaming of Steven Gerrard lifting that trophy aloft, only to have it fall away in the last three games of an otherwise incredible season. Ultimately, defensive issues cost the reds and the title was lost on the final day to Man City.

Luis Suarez was clearly key in Liverpool’s resurgence from Europa League hopefuls to title contenders. Iago Aspas was too, in a “look what happens if you sign someone because they’re decent on Football Manager” sort of way.

But Brendan Rodgers was the man who took that belief that we belong at the top and made everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club feel like they were the best again, whether it was the fans, players, coaches, tea ladies, or whatever category Victor Moses fell into. The flame that was threatening to go out was roaring again.

So what does the future hold in store for last year’s runners up? Does Brendan Rodgers have what Rafa and Houllier lacked? The summer transfer window saw Liverpool lose Suarez to Barcelona in what was a controversial saga to say the least. But in his place, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren, Emre Can, Rickie Lambert, Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo, Divock Origi and, last but definitely not least, Mario Balotelli have been brought in. The squad depth of Liverpool has went from ‘paddling pool in the back garden’ to ‘the River Mersey’. With Champions League football beckoning once more, Liverpool have got a squad capable of not only competing on several fronts, but doing well in the process. A slightly underwhelming start to the season against Southampton and Man City started looking promising as the reds blew Spurs away 3-0. Real Madrid lie in wait in the Champions League group stage, alongside Basel and Ludogorets. It’s an exciting time to be a Liverpool fan again.

In Rodgers, Liverpool have an inspiring, charismatic leader that brings belief to even the biggest of doubters. In a headache every manager would love to have last season, Brendan Rodgers had to find a way of playing Sturridge and Suarez up front whilst accomodating Raheem Sterling. The solution was the diamond in midfield, which has received plaudits from all corners. We’ve seen Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Phillipe Coutinho become very competent premier league midfielders, with Henderson becoming a key component in the Rodgers system. Steven Gerrard’s re-emergence as a holding midfield player has been heralded as another Rodgers masterstroke, and Sterling’s performances at the tip of the diamond have caused people from across the footballing world call for him to be made the centre of the England team.

Let me finish by telling you: I am biased towards Brendan Rodgers. I adore the man and I cannot see any wrong in him. Liverpool fans were in danger of having to forget their rightful place; In Rodgers, we have a man who will put us back there.

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