“Anyhow, anywhere.” In the end, Jurgen Klopp was not fussed about the way Liverpool’s 30-year English League title drought would end.
And that it came courtesy of another team beating their only rivals 300km away, showed why: he still burst into tears at the enormity of it all.
Had it been at a packed Anfield, you wonder how he would have coped.
Crowning this season of all seasons, it would surely have been the mother of all celebrations – and perhaps personal meltdowns.
But once Covid-19 had taken hold, no ground was going to be anything but empty, so Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Manchester City at Stamford Bridge had to do.
The sense of anti-climax feels cruel on two counts. First, because it followed such a long and agonising wait: the false dawns and near-misses, Houllier’s “10 games from greatness” and Rafa’s “facts”, Gerrard’s slip, and Suarez’s tears.
And all while Fergie was gloating, rubbing their noses in it, and commandeering their “perch”.
But that this team should be denied the chance to milk the adulation of their fans almost flouts the Geneva Convention. For this is a special blend of players and no fans do adulation better than the Kop.
Klopp has assembled a side fit to rank among the greats of the Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish eras.
Just in case we forget, they are European champions, European Super Cup champions, World Club champions and now, by a country mile, English champions.
With seven games to go, it’s the earliest the title has ever been decided and they overhauled Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, themselves considered one of the great club sides of all time, to do so. In fact, they disappeared from Liverpool’s rear-view mirrors.
By a quirk of fate, they meet next week at the Etihad where Liverpool could receive a guard of honour from the hosts. It will be a convenient handover from former champions to their successors, yet it could have been vastly different.
When a rusty Liverpool stuttered in their first game back at Everton, there were fears the wait might become even longer. But a stunning return to form in the 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace changed the mood. And Chelsea did the rest.
Otherwise, Liverpool would have faced a City in less hospitable mood and the prospect of another delay to the coronation would only have added to the sense of frustration and anti-climax.
And how ironic that Chelsea, of all people, so long pilloried by Reds’ fans for being a “plastic club” and with whom bitter battles have been fought, should do Liverpool such a favour.
Being crowned in this fashion should in no way diminish the magnitude of the achievement.
To rank among the immortals, though, Liverpool still have work to do – they must win again and again to establish a dynasty – but the portents are favourable.
All the players are signed on long contracts as is Klopp himself; the club is superbly run, financially sound and has some exciting young talents coming through such as Curtis Jones, Neco Williams and Harvey Elliott.
The only threat may come from the benefactor clubs whose spending is not constrained by the tanking of the world economy.
A prime example being Chelsea’s £53m capture of German star Timo Werner, whom Liverpool seemed to have in their back pocket until the new economic reality caused them to pull out of the deal.
Like their illustrious predecessors, Liverpool are above all a team without an out and out headline grabber – probably because their superstars are in defence.
Centre-back Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker were respectively recognised as UEFA player and goalkeeper of the year in 2019.
But few would deny that their real star and greatest asset is their manager who has taken to the blue-collar, people’s club as if to the manor born.
His judgment of a player – he’s hardly bought a dud – and man-management are brilliant, but it is his rapport with the fans and embracing of the club ethos that makes him special.
He “gets” Liverpool, the city, and the people who, in turn, have awarded him the supreme accolade of comparison with the legendary Bill Shankly. The great man would surely have approved.
Football should be grateful the job is done
Fans of both Manchester clubs will disagree, but the game needed that. Something to take us away from phrases like “eerie emptiness” and causing us to consider watching something else… like paint drying.
Until Liverpool’s overpowering of Crystal Palace the day before, the EPL had returned with a whimper, not a bang.
And even that was optional, sound-engineered and out of sync. Nor was there a peep from the cardboard ‘crowds’.
Anfield, Old Trafford and Goodison, erstwhile cauldrons, all staged these ghost games – and had all the atmosphere of a haunted house.
Now we know why the broadcasters wanted half their money back – football behind closed doors is a vastly inferior product.
But what is spooking the sport is if this is how next season has to start. We know it is a necessary evil to keep the game alive but football like this is unsustainable long-term.
It was legendary Manchester United manager Matt Busby who said: “Football is nothing without fans.” Fans won’t put up with “nothing” for much longer.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.