The final chapter closes on Liverpool’s season like a lifetime, of thi…

Welcome to Red Letters.

Football, soccer, is a truly global game. It is also a game which means so much more than 22 players on the pitch and the two managers in the dugout. For 90 minutes at a time, this is what matters most, but surrounding that is culture, identity, and relationships.

To be a part of a club can often mean to be part of a family, a kinship, which only a small percentage in this world can experience. On the field, the collective and the individual combine to bring success. The same happens with supporters. It is a true collective game, where it is easy to feel as one with thousands of others; it is also individual, where the emotions you feel are your emotions, the experiences you feel are your experiences, and nobody else can understand.

Over the course of the 2019/20 season, two Liverpool fans, friends, will write to each other about those emotions and experiences. Michael MacCambridge, born, raised and living in the United States, is a best-selling author and journalist. Most importantly, he is a Liverpool fan, and can often be found watching the games at his local supporters’ club.

His friend Neil Atkinson, born, raised and living in Liverpool, is the host of worldwide podcast phenomenon The Anfield Wrap. He, too, supports Liverpool, and has been a season ticket holder for 20 years.

Separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but brought together by a passion much stronger, this is their correspondence throughout the campaign, as they share their highs, lows, hopes and fears around Liverpool FC on a regular basis, as well as what it is to simply be part of their community following Jurgen Klopp and his side. 

We are fortunate enough to have access to everything they write. We hope you enjoy.

Best,

Liverpool.com.

Previous editions (on Liverpool.com): July 25, July 18, July 10, July 4, June 26 (Champions Edition), June 19

Previous editions (on LFC Stories): April 3 / March 27 / March 20 / March 14 / March 6 / February 28 / February 21 / February 14 / February 7 / January 31 / January 24 / January 17 / January 10 / January 3 / December 27 / December 20 / December 13 / December 6 / November 29 / November 22 / November 15 / November 8 / November 1 / October 25 / October 18 / October 12 / October 4 / September 27 / September 25 / September 20 / September 13 / September 6 / August 30 / August 22 / August 16 / August 14 / August 9 / August 2

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Red Letters

July 31 2020

Dear Neil,

Kafka said the meaning of life is that it ends. The same is true of seasons in sports. And so we arrived at the conclusion of this inimitable season Sunday, watching the 99ers close out with class and style. This was accomplished despite putting out the sort of lineup you might expect to see in a League Cup knockout game, and spotting Newcastle a goal before I even had a chance to start fretting.

The amount of confidence that this team has earned from its supporters is typified by my response to said goal. I didn’t reach for the komboloi, nor curse the green youngster Neco Williams. Instead, I think I just muttered, “What the…?,” to no one in particular, and then got on with it.

We naturally missed the Fab Three during the first hour, but I liked how we slowly kept ratcheting up the pressure until Virgil’s equalizer (which I had, atypically, sagely predicted in my group text with Sam, Bola and David just a few minutes before it happened, in response to David’s question, “How are we gonna score with this lineup?”).

By the time, Jurgen sent in the cavalry on 60 minutes, we’d witnessed what I believe was Divock Origi’s first goal as a blond (and, perhaps, last goal as a Red?). Big Div looked a step slow all day long, but the quality — always there, even when submerged — expressed itself, and I really hope he stays. More about that below.

The ending was satisfying, but there would be no long goodbyes. I’d barely had time to sleep before the news came down about Lallana’s (admittedly inevitable) exit, and then Dejan Lovren was bidding farewell, with more to follow. I loved that great shot of Lallana, sitting in the St. James’ Park changing room, beer in hand, deep thought and profound look of satisfaction etched on his face, thinking what we were all probably thinking at the end of Game 38: It will never be the same.

There are teams that romp to championships but still hold no special place in the collective memory. The Manchester City machine of 17/18 and 18/19 was bloodlessly efficient, but mostly joyless, a hired assassin paid (and paid exceedingly well) to do the business. What moment will City fans best remember from those two seasons? I think it would have to be Vincent Kompany’s preposterous thunderbolt to beat Leicester, and yet even as the City fans were celebrating that title-winning goal, they blithely believed they didn’t need him.

As a collective, I believe Liverpool fans are more grateful; and a case can be made that we have more to be grateful for. Liverpool have won the title with grace and zest, ingenuity and grit, and in the process of Klopp’s nearly five years at the helm, they have changed the course of the history of the sport, and the way the game is contested. You cannot tell the story of the evolution of the game this century without noting what Klopp has accomplished on the field and what FSG has accomplished off of it.

The historians will write about all of it, and yet for supporters, what will remain is not the remarkable convergence that allowed FSG to invest in the likes of van Dijk and Alisson, nor the tactical shifts that found Trent Alexander-Arnold redefining the right back position (a phrase that by now is already a cliché). What will endure for those who love this club is a sense of wonder at the teamwork, the camaraderie, the esprit de corps, so at odds with much of what we’ve been taught about wealthy, selfish, narcissistic footballers. At a time when the larger world was rife with dissension and bitterness and a kind of reckless carelessness, this team served by example as an antidote to all that.

The 19/20 league champions survived and thrived in the longest, strangest season ever. I believe they are one of the best teams I’ve ever seen. I thought it was instructive that in the Guardian’ s year-end survey of writers, among 16 experts asked to name their player of the year, 10 voters chose a Liverpool player. But four different Liverpool players were named, and all of them received multiple nods: Virgil and Trent and Hendo with two each, Mane with four.

The players who completed the dream season Sunday will be connected for life. And yet, as Lallana himself was perhaps realizing in the locker room, those same people who celebrated together afterward will likely never all be in the same room at the same time again. And that is the evanescence of sports.

And, of course, life.

Before I answer your questions, one more thought about the game. The third goal was always coming, and while I rue the fact that Mo Salah didn’t get his 20 in the league, I like that everyone was left with a little more to strive for individually: Mo will want to regain his Golden Boot form next season,

Sadio Mane will take another shot at player of the year honors, Bobby Firmino will be eager to increase his goal haul, if only to grace us with more of his celebratory originality.

I saw a statistic that, prior to the Newcastle game, Liverpool had 66 assists on the season: 24 from the Fab Three, 24 from the fullbacks, and just 14 from the midfield. I think it’s fine that the midfield isn’t scoring loads of goals, but you’d surely like more assists than that from the position.

And that brings me to Naby Laye Keita, age 25. City, Chelsea and United will all have major signings in the coming weeks, and will all be better next season. The best chance for Liverpool to get better, I believe, depends not on some new signing, but instead on the continued maturation of Keita.

And the answer I’d give you on how I’d play Liverpool is somewhat dependent on the Starting XI: Is it Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum again? Or is Keita in there somewhere? Teams that really believe in their center backs often chose to pack the middle of the field and dare Liverpool to go around them. I would submit that’s harder to do with Keita as the central dynamo, able to turn and run, able to dribble through defenders.

My understanding of the sport is only a fraction of yours, but the other approach by opponents that seemed occasionally successful was teams fighting our fire with fire, pressing our backline and contesting every single pass. The only teams that can do that consistently would be youthful, extremely skilled, and as fit as we are.

But if Keita is in the XI and in form, you pretty much have to name your poison. I’d probably do what some teams did this season, which is foul Mane every chance you can, and take your chances that Salah might have an off-day.

What I think we’ll see less of going forward, just because of the age of this team, is Liverpool frenetically running teams into the ground. As you have noted, even as our fitness remains elite, there has been less of the kamikaze gegenpressing that we saw in the early years of the Klopp era. That was fine for a cup run; it makes less sense over 38-game campaign.

As for my off-season wish list, I agree that we would like a young forward who might contribute. But I suspect that the young forward in question will be Rhian Brewster coming back, though I still think he needs to do some serious weight training to be able to deal with the pounding that Liverpool forwards take.

Can we afford to let Gini Wijnaldum leave? Are we better — fresher, more potent, more complicated to deal with — with Thiago Alcantara in midfield rather than Gini Wijnaldum? (The polite Midwestern boy in me, so grateful for all that Gini has meant for us, feels vaguely guilty for even asking the question, like a content husband with a wandering eye.) And where does that leave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? I don’t know the answer to these questions. I only know that Gini has been a terrific contributor to the cause, and it’s very difficult for me to imagine someone coming in and helping this side as much next season as Gini has this season.

I also think people are too eager to be rid of Origi, whose season was vaguely disappointing in many ways. At one level, we thankfully didn’t need him this time around; we got 38 appearances out of Roberto Firmino in the league, 35 from Mane and 34 from Salah. That’s 107 out of a possible 114 appearances from the Fab Three. You would take that any season. Odds are, it will not be repeated this season. Who will fill the breach for the inevitable missed time? Maybe Brewster will replicate his Swansea performance, or Minamino will come into his own and become the threat he was at Salzburg. But even if one or both of those things happen, we will still need a change of pace coming off the bench.

Also, as it was with Daniel Sturridge in past years, so it is with Origi now: His perceived value is lower than it should be, such that we will not receive his true value on the market, and if we let him go for a bargain rate, we will find it impossible to adequately replace him with the same money. Origi may never fulfill the promise of the spring of 2016, but I still think he’s a useful, dangerous player, who can be more successful if he gets a run of playing time. I would strive to keep him.

I don’t see us splashing the cash for a Kylian Mbappe or a Jadon Sancho. I think because of the finely-honed team chemistry, because of the young talent bubbling up, and because of the financial distress sparked by Covid, we will probably stand pat, and follow the adage of the old University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal. After consecutive wins in 1965, he was asked if he planned any major changes moving forward. Royal replied, ““There’s an old saying, ‘You dance with the one that brung ya.’ ”

One of the other things that we’re going to need to contend with is sorting out priorities moving forward: At the beginning of the Klopp era, when we didn’t have the depth or discipline to compete across 38 games, we were clearly a team built for cup runs. In the past two years, as the lack of a league title has become the Only Thing, we have prioritized that.

But what do we want most now? Is it another league title? Or a seventh Big Ears? If you had to choose one, which would you take? (I’m guessing you’d choose a repeat in the league.) My first instinct is to say I’d rather have the league title again, unless the Champions League title came at City’s expense. That would be brilliant. In the end, my realistic goals are more modest and also vague: I just want to win something next year. I want to keep the string going: A trophy in 18/19. Three trophies in 19/20. A trophy in 20/21, even if it’s a domestic competition. (But in truth even thinking of the next season, at this point, feels vaguely exhausting. If I were the players, I would balk at coming back to Melwood August 15. I know it has to happen to get the season in, but I can’t imagine anyone from our squad being truly refreshed after just 19 days off.)

One of the other things we’re about to see in the coming weeks and months, I believe, is a whole new level of worldwide Liverpool prominence. Winning the title is a big part of that, of course, but so is the upcoming Nike rollout, which promises to get Liverpool in thousands of more places around the world. I believe that difference will be far more tangible and noticeable outside of the Liverpool than within the city.

At the shopping mall closest to me, there used to be a kiosk with soccer apparel. About a year ago, the proprietor moved to a store within the mall. But even with the extra space, he rarely had any Liverpool product at all — it was almost all Nike and Adidas gear, with Real, Barca, City, Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as some Mexican league teams. That will change with Nike handling our kit, extending a reach to make the club even more visible among casual fans and non-soccer fans.

You can even see the club’s profile increasing in subtle ways. Just last week, Rob called my attention to what he accurately described as “one of those Amazon ‘we-treat-our-employees-like-people’ commercials,” showing a worker at an Amazon logistics site with a conspicuous Liverpool logo on his laptop.

I’m holding off on buying champions gear until I see the new Nike kits. But before we rush out to buy the next cool thing, a silent toast, please, for the good people at New Balance. They treated us well, and we almost always looked sharp.

My first letter to you was written a year ago to the day, July 31, 2019.

I mentioned at some point last September, as we were sprinting off to our perfect start, that I wasn’t too eager for the finish; that like Leonard Cohen’s protagonist in The Favorite Game, I would be fine if that moment of bright optimism simply lasted forever. I feel different now. Not that I haven’t enjoyed every minute. But there is a collective sense of weary accomplishment, and the time having arrived to check the box, raise the trophy, and announce this part of the project complete and successful. We have all, to quote Kipling, filled “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run.” And then some.

We are here at the summit; you must sense it as well. Maybe we can reside here for a while longer, and that would be marvelous. But after Kiev and Madrid, after 97 points and 99 points, after this magnificent run and the repeated Hendo Shuffles, it is almost impossible to imagine things getting any better .

So what I will cherish in the following years are the strobe of memories collected from this season: The quick goal in the opener against Norwich (and the Riley’s crowd cheekily chanting “We’re Gonna Win the League” in response); Mane’s gorgeous first-half stoppage-time goal to put us up at Soton, and Ings’ inconceivable miss to let us off the hook; Mo abusing David Luiz in our home win over Arsenal; the Burnley dust-up (and Bobby Firmino’s barely-suppressed smile in the tunnel afterward); Firmino’s delicate back-heel flick to spring Salah against Newcastle; the Trent pile-driver against Chelsea; Gini’s volley escaping Dean Henderson at Bramall Lane (and the pub chanting “Are you Pickford in disguise?”); Millie striking a Ronaldo-esque pose after slotting home the stoppage-time pen to beat Leicester; the leaving-it-late Lallana equalizer at Old Trafford; Hendo’s left-footed equalizer in the rally against Spurs; the impossible angle on Mane’s stoppage-time winner at Villa Park; the Fabinho thunderbolt in the glorious romp against City, and the poetry-in-motion second goal with Trent to Robbo to Mo (also Pep losing his mind on the touchline after the second non-called handball); Bobby’s cool game-winner shortly after Zaha’s equalizer at Selhurst Park; Big Virg’s brace against Brighton; Origi’s exquisite touch for the second goal in the destruction of the Blues at Anfield (and the pub crowd joining the Kop singing “Merry Christmas, Everton”); Keita’s gorgeous slide-rule pass to Salah for the final goal at Bournemouth; Mo’s trick-shot nutmeg inside the post to clinch the Watford game (which I watched dozens of times in the following days because I simply didn’t understand the miracle of physics that he executed there); the overall brilliance of Trent Alexander-Arnold in the stampede of Leicester; Virgil’s majestic headed clearance in stoppage time to seal the gritty win over Wolves; Mane and Firmino’s kung fu celebration after the second goal against Sheffield; the frantic defensive stand in the final minutes of the win at Spurs; Salah’s goal and subsequent celebration after the clincher against United; Firmino, receiving the glorious touch pass from Hendo, drilling it high into the net for the late game-winner at the Molineux; Mo’s deft through ball for Ox’s goal at West Ham; Virgil nearly backheeling a goal in the 4-0 rout of Southampton; the wind at Carrow Road, and the magnificence of Mane’s goal, from a severe angle, handled deftly and struck spectacularly; Ali’s game-saving save from Bowen in the final minutes against West Ham; Fabinho’s long-range screamer against Palace; the happiness on Hendo’s face after Curtis Jones’ first league goal, against Villa; Mo’s gorgeous glancing header at Brighton; Keita’s goal-rattling blast to start the scoring against Chelsea, and the epic trophy celebration that followed; and Virgil’s artfully arched header to start the comeback against Newcastle.

All of those moments reside in the memory, and yet I keep returning in my mind to a less spectacular game, but one that nonetheless endures in my mind. It was our 27th win, and the last before the lockdown, a testament to a team that was in some rare zone of accomplishment, not blowing opponents away so much as grinding out victories by any means necessary. We fall behind to plucky, lowly Bournemouth, and equalize when, after Mane sends a bad pass to Mo, he nutmegs the defender and pushes it past the goalkeeper. Then, eight minutes later, we go ahead on a perfect pass from Virgil onto Mane’s foot, as he slots home. Yet we’re still not free; this was always going to be heavy lifting and Bournemouth had nothing to lose and played with fearless abandon. It all builds up to that moment when Ryan Fraser chips over Adrian, and for a second as the ball arcs over the goalkeeper’s outstretched glove, we face the sickening inevitability that the Cherries are going to be level with 20 minutes to play. But that’s not going to happen, because here comes James Milner out of nowhere, hurling himself into the goalmouth to make the spectacular goal-line clearance, and providing the perfect metaphor the ethos that pervades this Liverpool squad. I walked out of the pub that day absolutely buoyant on a heady mix of elation and gratitude, which exemplified pretty much the entirety of the season. They gave us so much; how can we ever thank them?

I began this correspondence by quoting the Chiefs Hall of Fame middle linebacker Willie Lanier, who once said that, in sports, “a season is almost like a lifetime, of things that can happen.” The wisdom of that is self-evident after this epic season.

Let me leave you with one more Lanier gem, from later in life, well after he’d become a highly successful investment banker, and as he reflected on the remarkable team that gave the Chiefs their first Super Bowl title in 1970: “Since I left sport, I have not seen anything close to a team,” said Lanier in 2003. “I’ve heard people in every organization speak about ‘team-building,’ trying to have that thing called a team. I have not seen it come close. Because the concept is not words, it’s people . Having a heart and a feeling for another that extends beneath the core to what someone else says. So if you don’t have that in essence, you can use the words, but you don’t quite have the thing.”

What I think we will always remember this Liverpool side for is possessing that essence, to the very core. They had the thing. Everyone involved, from the manager to the third keeper, submerging their own egos for the greater good. It was beautiful and inspiring to watch, and I can only imagine how satisfying it must have been for the men and women involved directly with the team. Liverpool 19/20, a team for the ages.

Witnessing this triumphant campaign (and also the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run) has made this the most vivid, most enjoyable season in my life as a sports fan, thanks in no small part to being able to share it with you. Thanks for your insight and perspective, friend; let’s do this again in five or ten or twenty years.

In the meantime, let us live in gratitude, and hold this one close, and treat this season — this splendid, fragile, finite thing — with the reverence it deserves. Lester Bangs, after the King died in 1977, said we will never agree on anything like we agreed on Elvis. Just so, we may never, as sports fans, want anything as much as we wanted this league title. And now we have it. Covid has taken away so much. But it couldn’t touch that.

I’ll see you down the road mate, here or there. In the meantime, I shall remain…

Your brother in arms, and fellow true believer

M.




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Red Letters

July 31 2020

Hi Michael,

All beautiful words there. The core sentiment is indeed the purest imaginable.

We got what we came for in 19/20. The we is all of us and that magnificent side, we all got what we came for. The Champions will always be unimpeachable, we shouldn’t have a word said against them. They did what we needed them to do and what they needed to do. I was eager for them to beat Newcastle; it was important I think they outdid last season in terms of both points and placing. That will have been their target and it was the truism before the season began – do better than last year and you will be Champions.

There is something unutterably sad to think that post Newcastle probably is the last time they share a room, a space. It would now take a miserable event to bring them back together, sadness within sadness. You dwell on the absence of Adam Lallana but Dejan Lovren was important to this side back in the Autumn. He’d got his starting place back for big games as Joe Gomez was struggling for form and Joel Matip struggling for fitness. The brain plays tricks now – Gomez (who needs to put a full season together as his next goal, by the way) in your mind’s eye plays every game but this just wasn’t true. It was Lovren against both Manchester City and Crystal Palace in November.

The point is that they did do it together. It’s why, even though I would be a touch more dramatic than you, I find the transfers as champions part hard. They should be set in aspic forever, if that doesn’t sound somewhat grisly.

However part of this is the rebirth that sport offers that Kafka couldn’t. But how can you want to be born again after all that? We all start back at zero. Well, that hardly seems fair now, does it? Yet it is the only way it works. They have to be frozen in our minds. They have to be allowed the rebirth for this very reason. The way 19/20 and these wonderful young men live forever is that we leave them there. The 20/21 incarnations are on their way and they will be different.

I think that is how we thank them. We free them and we freeze them. They get both. Those moments you wonderfully list from the season are now done and the context of them is done too. The events you list were in pursuit of a league title and 99 points. They got the league title. There is no more context required strictly speaking.

As a position this cannot wholly stand. One day we will hopefully remember Curtis Jones’s first goal as one which offered a launchpad. We will one day speak of Neco Williams. But for all the senior players, even the younger ones, this gets to be its own thing. The careers of Trent Alexander Arnold and Joe Gomez are sufficiently matured and for the rest this sits within the career paths they have built for themselves and as a collective. Their roles clear throughout.

With the exceptions of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of course. So often these two are the exceptions and it sort of makes you think there can only be room for one. This isn’t true – as footballers they are almost as different as it is possible to be when you both play for the same club in the same position. And yet. For Keita you hope it is the year of him getting settled and the Project Restart coda being exactly the sort of springboard you describe, Michael. Oxlade-Chamberlain has had his year to rehabilitate while playing. My concern is both players will constantly be discussed by what is next, not what has just been. Considering the club’s achievements in the last two years that is a tiny shame but as you allude to also an opportunity.

I was pleased you highlighted James Milner against Bournemouth in quite that way. I have been doing season review work and it is forgotten too easily that had that Bournemouth game gone the other way we would have been perceived to have wobbled in a way which would have damaged supporters confidence and actually damaged the COVID-19 cessation rhetoric. That was a game which became very nervy after Callum Wilson’s goal and one which needed Milner’s intervention. In the grand scheme of things it may have made little difference but it did save a lot of people’s nerves.

I understand the Divock Origi argument, truly I do. But he finds himself so continually in the way at times and while he himself has pace he seems to take it away from Liverpool’s play.

It is more than that though, for me, why I hope he moves. I hope he finds somewhere he can play very regularly. But I would also like The Age Of Origi to draw to a close. It doesn’t get any better for him at Liverpool. When discussing the context or the lack thereof for many above we can find the exceptions for Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It doesn’t feel a stretch to envisage that either of them get 20 goals and assists next season. It is possible that both do. Imagine that.

I don’t know how it looks for Divock Origi which isn’t just more of the same. He gets significantly more time last season than the year before. He has had his moments and his involvement. I accept there have to be some guys on sports teams who find themselves being Origi-esque but it is sort of a role one ends up with, not one craved and I think it has its shelf life. Oddly I wouldn’t be entirely averse to swapping him with someone who will have the same sort of output and similar characteristics as a player. Which could therefore just emphasise how irrational I am being but ultimately I just think that even with 9 subs and the use of 5, Divock could keep Rhian Brewster off bench or pitch and it is there I want to place the chips now. The man himself belongs to Genk. Remember how they cheered him. He belongs to us. We will always cheer him. He has strangely completed playing up front for Liverpool. And someone else should cheer him too. There should be, in 10 years time, a third club full of affection for him. That’s a good thing.

I think there being a new feel to next season will matter to Liverpool. This isn’t solely about transfers. The younger lads being more part of the setup due to the likely intensity of fixtures is part of that and Brewster should be added to that list. Takumi Minamino being around too offers something a bit different. But there may well need to be some outs to being part of a couple of ins.

It won’t take much. If, in essence, Liverpool add three first team players then in real terms the first team squad has had those three, plus the two youngsters and Brewster, plus Minamino added to it. We can have a chat about Harvey Elliott later. If we lose Origi plus Xherdan Shaqiri then there is loss of five from the eighteen in the Community Shield squad gone pretty organically. That is quite a churn.

It’s probably just on the edge of what is preferable and something to remember while people are desperate for acquisitions – you want to build on what is there, not start from scratch, especially when hitting the ground running is going to be important again. More than three makes that harder; less than two you could probably do with being a bit fresher.

I’m completely with your analysis on what we can expect to face. Arguably all three of our last opponents sacrificed midfield and tried to play a back three. Newcastle was a little less formal but Arsenal and Chelsea were very 5-2-3. Brighton and Hove Albion do well against us with a back four but the left back was all 6’7” of Dan Burn. Propper and Stephens were just blockers and then it was three up again. Manchester United home and away play 5-2-3 against us, Watford a very deep back four but they by-pass midfield to a three where Ismaila Sarr is encouraged to cheat and stay very advanced. I could go on. Have the middle of the park to merely stifle Liverpool and look to double up wide is the plan that we are facing.

Naby Keita helps that massively as would any potential signing of Alcantara. He makes a load of sense when you don’t think about what was but think about what could be next.

I would choose the league if pushed but do we need to? In 18/19 we essentially got both. We can definitely not have to choose. I take your point about any trophy but I think that that has to be one of the big two. Perhaps an FA Cup but only if you had a title challenge and runners-up in Europe to look at as well. I think it is very very important that you can’t talk about a major trophy without acknowledging Liverpool nearly won one of them. We need to be in everyone’s psyche.

You mention both the ownership and Nike and I suspect that is somewhere where we – that is to say the corporate entities of FSG and Nike and me, Neil Atkinson – are emphatically on the same page. I don’t think you have grabbed this moment to be happy finishing 12 off the pace and with a Champions League quarter-final exit. I mean that will happen again soon but we’re not in the interest of it happening.

In terms of other sides and how they view winning what I think is interesting about the last little run of Chelsea and Manchester City is they are thankful ultimately to an owner for pumping money in. Somewhere that has happened. It is as much about Sheikh Mansour or Roman Abramovitch as it is the coaches and that has been the case for a while. Whereas while FSG have done the excellent job we aren’t saying thank you for the cold hard cash. I think that skews a base and an outlook. When the money has changed hands, well, there had best be the trophy.

That said I think we forget how downright thrilling Manchester City were in the first half of 2017/18 at our own cost. They were phenomenal and it is only forgotten because they sort of peter out while Liverpool come on strong in Europe. It remains the case that the game at Anfield in the January of 2018 is the closest approximation to one match defining an era as we have had for these last few years. I’d argue that from everyone’s point of view despite the silverware in City’s cabinet. I think that bit of eclipsing is part of what has led to a lot of the Manchester City stuff in Liverpool’s general direction to be unpleasant. We have taken not once, not twice but three times (13/14, 17/18, 18/19) their acclaim, their headlines and even when not winning trophies we get the eyeballs that they just don’t.

And we should grateful to our ownership, yes, but to our players and our manager and his staff and we are grateful to one another, to the process that we have lived through, everything we have experienced together. The victory is ours together. It is that of those players and of our moment and our time and we get to know that in a way which is genuinely special.

It may not be true – it is though – but our manager has espoused it from minute one – this will belong to us, this can only happen if we all pull in the same direction, this needs the thousands in attendance and millions at home. It needed that pulling in the same direction internally at the club and on the stands. It needed mistakes to be learned from internally at the club and on the stands. It needed all of us and it will continue to need all of us.

What I love is the feeling that a hunger persists. I know I have it, and while everyone could do with a longer break, it seems to be all around. Not in the sense of who are we buying and when but in the sense, let’s go and be the best Champions.

We end this correspondence here but when we started it you were doubtful the pace could be sustained by Liverpool and Manchester City. You were half right. But I knew the Reds weren’t going anywhere, had looked them in the eye and sized them up.

I feel the same again. This isn’t to say Liverpool will retain the title. It is to say that unless they are well behind and have European ambitions to focus on I genuinely believe Liverpool will become the first top flight side to hit 90 points in three consecutive seasons. That’s the gauntlet that will be thrown to them by their manager and that they will throw to the rest of the league. A minimum of 28 wins and 6 draws, dropping points in no more than 10 realistically. Dropping points in practice in no more than 7.

They have our points. That will be the order of the day.

We got what we came for. No one has ever needed it as much as you said. We’ll meet in person again soon, Michael. We’ll meet as the Champions of 19/20 forever but if we meet in the July of 2021 I have a fancy we will just meet as Champions.

Eternally yours,

Neil.

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Neil Atkinson is host of the Anfield Wrap – download their free app on IOS and Android.

Michael MacCambridge is the author of ‘America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured A Nation,’ and several other books. He lives in Austin, Texas.

We would like to thank you for reading throughout this incredible, magnificent season. Stay safe.


Source link Lifetime Fitness