Liverpool: Triumph of Silence – 2 By Mumini Alao
THIS is by far the longest period of time I have recorded before writing a sequel to an article in Soccertalk. And this sequel is to celebrate Liverpool Football Club’s emergence as the 2019/2020 English Premier League champions, their first top flight triumph for 30 years.
Part one of this article was written in May 2005. This second part is coming in July, 2020, a massive 15 years later. As a Liverpool fan, my personal experiences on both occasions are similar which explains why I have titled the second as a sequel to the first, never mind the huge gap in years.
I wrote part one to celebrate Liverpool’s fairytale triumph in the 2005 UEFA Champions League. At the start of that 2004/2005 season, our manager Rafael Benitez was relatively new on Merseyside and Liverpool were not tipped by pundits to win anything. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal who had just won the 2003/2004 Premier League title in Invincible fashion, Alex Ferguson’s dominant Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s big-spending Chelsea were the favourite teams of that era.
In apparent admission of Liverpool’s poor rating, Michael Owen who was the star of the team had left for Real Madrid where he felt he stood a better chance of European glory. But after overcoming powerhouses Juventus and Chelsea en route to the Champions League final, Liverpool completed one of the greatest comebacks in European Cup history by turning a 3-0 halftime deficit against AC Milan into a famous penalty shootout victory after extra time in Instanbul.
Throughout the journey to the trophy in 2005, I restrained myself from celebrating early by not writing a word about Liverpool’s campaign in my weekly Soccertalk column. Based on an experience that I had at USA ’94 World Cup when I spoke a little too early as Nigeria was on the verge of beating Italy in the second round before the Italians turned the tables late in the game, I decided to remain silent on Liverpool’s chances. It was only after captain Steven Gerard hoisted the big-eared European trophy that I exploded with jubilation in Soccertalk. That was what informed the title of the first article, Triumph of Silence.
Fast forward to the end of the 2017/2018 season. Manager Jurger Klopp had just led Liverpool to the final of the UEFA Champions League again where we lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in Kiev. Despite that loss, no thanks to an early injury to talisman Mohammed Salah and some dreadful mistakes by goalkeeper Loris Karius, I was confident that Klopp had built a team good enough to win the Premier League the following season.
So, as the 2018/2019 season got under way, I threw caution to the wind. I went public by boasting to Tunde Koiki, my anchor on the YouTube/radio programme, Soccertalk with Mumini Alao, that nothing was going to stop us from winning the Premier League by the end of the season. “Liverpool already are the champions,” I declared after only the first weekend of action!
Indeed, my prediction went very, very close. It took Pep Guardiola’s extremely talented Manchester City to pip Liverpool to the title by just one point. Liverpool set all manner of records for the best runner-up in Premier League history (97 points and only one loss in 38 games), but who cares about all that? Despite my early season boast, the Premier League title had remained elusive. My only consolation was that we finished the season as Champions League winners, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the final, following an unforgettable 4-0 semifinal second leg victory over Barcelona at Anfield.
On to the start of the 2019/2020 season and I decided to return to silent mode. Liverpool continued from where they left off at the end of 2018/2019 season, racking up win after win, but I kept my ink bottle dry. Their three points gap at the top of the Premier League table became six, then eight, then 10, then 15, then 20, but I refused to punch my computer keyboard in jubilation. At one stage, Liverpool went on an incredible 18-game winning run, but I kept my mouth shut on radio!
When the gap at the top extended to an unbelievable 25 points, my most die-hard Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal friends began to congratulate me that this was certainly Liverpool’s year. But I only looked at them and played deaf and dumb. No matter the gap on the table, I wasn’t going to celebrate early this time until Liverpool were mathematically uncatchable.
As if fate wanted to play another trick and justify my secret fear that something could go wrong still, Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic chose this year to break out and force football to be suspended globally. All of a sudden, rival supporters who had been congratulating me started pushing for the whole season to be cancelled so that Liverpool would be denied the title. The hypocrites!, I thought. But that’s what rivalry is all about. You always don’t wish the best for your adversary.
Thankfully, the inevitable could only be delayed but not denied. After three months of lockdown, football returned, Liverpool completed their rites of passage and are English champions again for the first time since the legendary Kenny Dalglish won our last title in 1990. Just like in 2005, my philosophical (did you say, superstitious?) silence has triumphed again in 2020. At last, the curse of 30 years is broken.
Congratulations to all Liverpudlians. You’ll Never Walk Alone!
*Postscript: My “Game of the Season” was Leicester 0, Liverpool 4. Fresh from their successful but exhausting FIFA Club World Cup adventure in Doha, Liverpool were fatigued and vulnerable against the then high flying Foxes who also were in contention for the Premier League title at the time. But the methodical and ruthless manner our boys took out their opponents in the Boxing Day fixture had me drooling. Captain Jordan Henderson particularly stood out in that game, dominating the midfield and tirelessly conducting the Reds orchestra. It was the perfect performance with the perfect result.
What made that game even more special for me was that it was sweet revenge. Leicester, in my reckoning, cost us the title last season when they “stole” a 1-1 draw at Anfield a few days after Newcastle had shocked Manchester City to give Liverpool more breathing space at the top of the table. I’m convinced that had Liverpool beaten Leicester in that game to consolidate the gap on City, we would have been champions in 2019. But it doesn’t matter now.