Liverpool have won their first league title in 30 years. At a time of pure joy for Liverpool fans across the world, one can only smile as they look back across the last three decades at the struggles the club has faced in its hunt for domestic glory.
The club have found it difficult to compete for the league title consistently in that time period, with runners up finishes in 2002, 2009 and 2014 all preceding seasons where the club failed to finish inside the top 4. Integral players from these 2nd place finishes have been sold to European giants and not properly replaced for the following season. In the case of the selling of Luis Suarez to Barcelona in 2014, his replacement Mario Balotelli scored just a single league goal. When Xabi Alonso was sold to Real Madrid after the team finishing 4 points behind champions Manchester United in 2008/09, he was replaced by Alberto Aquilani, who failed to make his debut until late October due to an ankle injury sustained prior to signing for Liverpool. After a season in and out of the team, he would spend two seasons on loan in Serie A with Juventus and AC Milan before permanently moving back to his home country with Fiorentina. Both signings of intent backfired seriously and represented the prevailing worry for Liverpool fans that it would be impossible for them to win the league as they were not competitive enough in the transfer market as their rivals.
It seemed as though the club had found the correct ingredient when they were sold to American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in 2007. Following a second champions league final appearance in three years, the club spent big on striker Fernando Torres. Though a resounding success, he would never win a trophy with the club before his high profile move to Chelsea. Hicks and Gillet, who had promised to build a new stadium for the club became pariahs, as it was revealed that they had not used any of their own funds to purchase the club. Their investors at the Royal Bank of Scotland called in their loan which saw Liverpool amass a debt of over £300 million, bringing the club to the brink of administration before John W Henry and New England Sports Ventures (NESV) intervened, wiping out the club’s debt. Despite the club now safe from financial ruin, the team’s performance remained inconsistent. With the exception of 2013-14, the club failed to qualify for the Champions League in 5 of the first 6 seasons under the new owners.
There were of course successes in this period away from the league itself. After a bleak period in the decade following their 1990 title win, the arrival of Gerard Houllier saw Liverpool pick up three trophies in the 2000-01 season. The most notable success however came in 2005. Whilst the arrival of Rafael Benitez from Valencia did not have the desired impact domestically, in his first season with the club they knocked out Juventus and Chelsea on their way to the Champions League Final in Istanbul. 3-0 down at half time to an imperious AC Milan side, the game was all but over. What happened next will remain ingrained in Liverpool folklore for all eternity. 3 goals in a six minute spell saw Liverpool draw level. As the game moved to extra time and penalties, it seemed as though the team were destined to win it. Jerzy Dudek’s save from Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko made it happen.
European glory aside, the domestic title still eluded the Reds, and eluded their skipper Steven Gerrard too following his costly slip in 2014/14, which saw Liverpool finish as runners behind Manchester City. The arrival of Jurgen Klopp on October 8 2015 saw a change in the mood on Merseyside. Klopp arrived at Anfield urging his players to ‘turn doubters into believers’. A 2-2 draw at home to West Brom a few months into his reign – the team paraded by Klopp in front of the Kop in the aftermath – was ridiculed by rival fans as a sign as to how far the club had fallen. However, the fight shown under the new management was the true intent of such a display. Klopp’s first three seasons would see Liverpool reach the Europa League final and the Champions League final, all the while ushering in a new era of talent. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah won the golden boot in his first two seasons at the club whilst the signing of Virgil Van Dijk saw the club sign a player many now consider to be the best centre-back in world football.
In 2018/19 the club finished on 97 points, 1 point behind champions Manchester City. They overturned a three goal deficit in the Champions League semi-final against a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona team. It was the comeback of all comebacks. The final, against Tottenham in Madrid, was a tight affair until semi-final hero Divock Origi scored to double Liverpool’s advantage with only minutes to play. Liverpool returned home with their sixth European Cup to a crowd of over 750,000 people. The next target was to end that 30-year hoodoo and win the title.
And so that is what the club – after years of torment, disappointment, thrilling highs and lows – achieved on Thursday night. Only one defeat all season has seen them amass an unassailable lead of 23 points over Manchester City. They have beaten every team in the league at least once this season, and will go to the Etihad next week as champions. The postponement of the season to the coronavirus pandemic could not stop them. No team has won the league with more games remaining than this Liverpool side. The team that was languishing near the relegation zone 10 years ago has now returned to the top. Jurgen Klopp has launched a new dynasty, looking to rival Liverpool teams of the past, as well as Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. Future success is vital to ensure this happens. But as Liverpool emerge from the storm of the last 30 years and emerge under a golden sky nothing seems impossible. The words of You’ll Never Walk Alone ring true for the millions of people who are now celebrating as Liverpool are finally champions of England again.