Commentary

From Liverpool to Calvary, via Kiev

It was not to be, was it? Too many surreally bad things happened to Liverpool in Kiev. Surely some curse was at work here making sure that Liverpool and its fans would have to bear yet another burden of tragedy and gloom.

After the awful fan episodes of Heysel and Hillsborough comes a brutal soccer reckoning, one so outrageous, so unfair that it defies understanding.

Shakespearean stagecraft seemed to hover as the doom that was to envelop Liverpool unfolded almost theatrically in Kiev. For just 30 minutes the Reds were allowed the illusion that all was well. There was a game to be won. Then the unthinkable, the sudden thrust of a dagger into Liverpool’s heart ... the sight of the wonderful, inspirational, Mo Salah, leaving the field, weeping as he went.

Liverpool struggled to adjust, tactically and psychologically, to Salah’s exit. At halftime, the score was still 0-0. Just six minutes into the second half came the second blow. The betrayal. The team was badly let down by one of its own, goalkeeper Loris Karius, whose horrendous mis-play presented Real Madrid with the game’s opening goal -- a goal it had done little to deserve.

Despite the gathering omens -- the unthinkable, the betrayal -- Liverpool steadied itself, tied the game and had, surely, survived the worst of whatever curse was at work.

Could it be that the curse, fickle in choosing its victims, had switched sides? Where was Real’s miracle-worker, the brilliant Ronaldo, a non-factor, almost a non-presence, in the first half?

But the miracle was yet to come. It arrived in the 64th minute, a sudden blinding flash of soccer lightning from Real’s Gareth Bale, an instantly improvised overhead kick, half bicycle, half scissor, that flew into the Liverpool net before anyone -- least of all poor Karius -- had time to understand what was happening.

Real was now leading 2-1 thanks to a goal that seemed cruelly designed to mock all that Liverpool could do. Just to underline the point, Bale struck a second goal 19 minutes later, but it was again Karius, with another colossal gaffe -- this one bordered on the farcical -- who handed Real the goal.

Liverpool, at no point outplayed, had succumbed to bad luck, their own faults, and that Bale miracle-goal. Another view of the strange events in Kiev would have Liverpool defeated not by bad luck and self-inflicted wounds, but by ill omens and a moment of surreal intervention.

However one may feel about omens and curses and suchlike -- personally, I have no belief in them -- there is something about the Kiev game that gives the sensation that it didn’t go according to the usual way of things. After all, why should Liverpool be hit with those four body blows -- the unthinkable, the betrayal, the miracle, and the final act that reduced its performance to a farce?

Doesn’t that seem a bit over-the-top? No other team, in my memory, has ever suffered anything like that in a big game. You could compare it, for sheer failure, to Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup. But that was entirely explicable with mundane reasons -- no miracles, no betrayals -- Brazil were simply awful, Germany much, much better.

Liverpool has been martyred before. The appalling Hillsborough incident, followed by the long years during which devoted fans simply kept going, against all the odds, to prove that the “official” verdict of “accidental death” (one that entailed slurring Liverpool fans as drunken and unruly) was a whitewash.

What kept those utterly devoted fans going for those 27 years? Was it something that is reflected in Liverpool’s anthem --

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Tho' your dreams
Be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

-- from the 1945 Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musical “Carousel.” Light years from Anfield, of course, but doubtless words to give heart to those fighting an apparently forlorn cause.

But ... as the anthem for a highly successful soccer club? In that light the words take on a mawkish tone. Not to be taken seriously. Richard Rodgers’ music is fine, though there is something of the dirge in it, but I’ve never particularly liked Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics.

If Liverpool plays soccer under a curse, maybe that curse can be found in words that portray it as a club forever struggling as it “walks through a storm” with its “dreams tossed and blown.”

And I’ll confess to a longtime dislike of those other words that are invariably associated with Liverpool. The words of legendary coach Bill Shankly: “Football is more important than life or death.” There are those who insist that Shankly never said that. The Daily Mail claimed to be correcting matters when it said the real quote was “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

I’d call that a distinction without a difference. I find the anthem words maudlin, but Shankly’s words are dangerous, even if he did not intend them to be taken seriously -- I mean, he could not have meant that ... could he?

Even so, death did creep in here, with reports that Karius had received death threats. A horrible development, a modern refinement that makes anonymous nastiness so easy. Why should it be assumed that any threats come from Liverpool fans? Why not from anti-Liverpool types anonymously slurring their rival? That is how repellently clever we are becoming.

The Kiev calvary is over and done, a tragedy for Liverpool, a personal nightmare for Karius, who, I imagine, will leave Liverpool. Time to move on. For Liverpool, moving on, I could wish a new, cheerier, anthem, and a different, less deathly, quote from Shankly. There must be plenty to choose from.

7 comments about "From Liverpool to Calvary, via Kiev".
  1. Wooden Ships, May 30, 2018 at 9:22 p.m.

    Enjoy your prose, Sir Paul. 

  2. frank schoon, May 31, 2018 at 9:38 a.m.

    All I have to say is that I"m glad Liverpool didn't win for I'm afraid many unimaginative coaches especially in the MLS, College, and in youth soccer would be trying to copy Liverpool's style which can only be detrimental to US soccer development'
    I miss the days of Liverpool when they played great soccer, with Steve Heighway on the wing, with Kevin Keegan, Dalglish..  Not to mention, Liverpool played with an upcoming centerback, Kennedy, going up to midfield creating numerical superiority, which was nowhere else to be seen in England. Liverpool was sofar ahead of its time for even now, today, with that centerbacks are an "in' thing, they are not capable, technicallly qualified to move up to midfield, like a sweeper/libero.
    What Liverpool did with upcoming centerback, AC Milan likewise had success in Italy, in the 90's for they employed upcoming attacking outsidebacks which no Italian team did.
    Unfortunately, Liverpool's style of soccer is going back to the stoneages and I hope whoever coaches the USMNT better not entertain this garbage style soccer....

  3. frank schoon replied, May 31, 2018 at 9:44 a.m.

    ZIDANE, is leaving Real Madrid, which is a good move. The team is getting old and in order to keep winning they are going to have do things which will not fit in with Zidane's style...There needs to be some changes made with Real Madrid...

  4. uffe gustafsson, May 31, 2018 at 7:09 p.m.

    First off have to admit I’m always been a Liverpool fan.
    frank not sure why you say they play like in Stone Age?
    i think they play a very entertaining soccer fast paced and high pressure to keep opposing team from setting plays up. And with the addition of Salah you got some very skilled player. Both out side backs are attacking as well and makes good crosses. 
    Not to talk about ferocious counter attacks w great speed and precision in passing the ball up.
    this is how soccer are played today.
    you never see them bunker down and park the “bus”
    that is not soccer to me, like so many teams do.

  5. frank schoon replied, June 1, 2018 at 10:10 a.m.

    Uffe, yes it's true they play fast-paced, high pressure defense, have lots of speed up front and they have Salah. Without Salah there isn't much excitement to their game, but you can't say that with Barcelona without Messi for you can still say, "they play such good soccer". But with Liverpool, without Salah, you can't say, "they play such nice soccer',for they don't...it's that simple. Liverpool is not a creative team, it's not build that way. They play one-style of soccer which is to wait for the opponent to make a mistake and quickly run and counter attack. Their game is predicated what the opponent does. They can't build up an attack or play ball possession. Like a dutch coach one stated about this style of soccer, "its something my grandmother can even understand". This type of game requires less thinking, and skills. A good example is that English for many, many years never used their midfield. This is why there has only been one great midfield player ,Bobby Charleton. Foreign midfield players  ,than, would often complain about  getting sore necks watching the ball go over their heads back and forth. The English players were told to kick the ball long to the front line and preferably let that ball drop in behind the opponent's backfield, leaving the attackers to run after the ball. It was simplistic and yes, it was exciting too ,or rather never boring, but the quality of soccer was very poor. This is why the English game has a reputation of not being producing technically, skilled players but were good in heading and fighting. Because I see the deficiencies of what Liverpool offers ,in the way they play, as far technical skills ,thinking, other game aspects of real "football", Liverpool style has little to contribute to the American game that so SORELY needs to develop creative players of technical good ability, able to play in small spaces and smart and savvy soccer.
    Soccer is not about speed but quickness of ballhandling and quick thinking. If it was about speed East Germany would have been the greatest team or we would see track stars play soccer. Their is a lot more to soccer. Like Cruyff states, " Soccer is a simple game, but playing simple is the most difficult".

  6. Kris Spyrka replied, June 1, 2018 at 11:57 a.m.

    Uffe, I agree with you.  What LFC does is exciting, and they managed to pick Pep Guardiola's pockets on more than one occassion.

    More curiously, no one has mentioned Sergio Ramos Judo hold, or the Tomahawk to Karius' face prior to any goals falling in either direction. SR was a stain on Madrid's victory, but maybe that was Madrid's calculous, I can't imagine.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, June 2, 2018 at 1:38 p.m.

    I haven't watch Liverpool play in probably 10 years. Uffe, meaning no disrespect but that description is how conventional soccer was played in the 1980s and 90s with notable exceptions such as AC Milan.

    I would like to think that soccer tactics have become more sophisticated to recognize the primary importance of positioning rather than just penetration.

    The other "stone age" concept is the division of the field players into two separate camps: defenders and attackers. Okay so fullbacks get forward occasionally and the forwards pinch inside. Is the emphasis on penetrating runs or providing support? Is the whole team positioned to guard against a potential counter, or just the "defensive" unit. A person's vision of the game determines how he thinks about that question.  

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