Tuesday’s win over Inter represents the ultimate expression of the greatness of Liverpool FC. Not the team, which is so far from being great that they’ve been dragged into a dogfight with Everton for the last Champions League place. No, it was the club that won, an entity of which the players are the most visible expression yet are ephemeral compared to the fans, the ground, the history, even the shirt.
Okay, Pseud’s Corner is on high alert. But how else do you explain such a poverty-stricken display against Barnsley on Saturday versus the vibrant, tub-thumping effort against Inter? Sure, there were a few different players, but I find it hard to credit that Jose Reina would have done any better with those goalbound efforts than Charles Itandje did. And if Liverpool were at 50% capacity against Barnsley – we were, after all, missing Torres, who is now officially half our team – then how much better were the runaway leaders of Serie A than the oh-so-endearingly nicknamed Tykes?
The difference in performance could be explained by ‘stuff happens’, which would be true but wouldn’t make for much of a stream of consciousness. Part of the difference can be explained by that evil (gagh) known as the magic of the FA Cup. Throughout the earlier rounds of the competition we’ve had to endure various manifestations of the reckless hope that someone would trip the Reds up. Listening to the drawn game against Luton, something I rarely do as the radio drives me potty with all its oohing and aahing over nothing, what struck me most was the hysterical desire of the commentator for a cup upset. Rationally this is understandable. The BBC has made a big investment in the FA Cup, and the (gagh) magic of the Cup fills a lot of talk radio waffle and column inches. But it’s galling to have to sit and listen to it, especially when there was precious little evidence that Luton were really going to pull it off. Sure, there could have been a last minute goal (see: Barnsley) but it’s usually traditional to wait until the last minute before anticipating last minute goals. The nonsense reached its peak when commentators – and Don Hutchison – were bemoaning Luton’s inability to hold out for thirty more seconds at the end of the first half of the replay. If it were that simple, it would be a simple matter to split a match into c. 180 thirty second periods and you’d never concede a goal. The desire for a shock creates a maelstrom of hope which occasionally translates into reality, which we saw against Barnsley, damn and blast their eyes!
This kind of self-fulfilling prophecy doesn’t work when it’s a clash between the likes of Liverpool and Inter. Because of the two legged nature of European trophies, you don’t have romance of the European Cup stories. When a team from nowhere like Nottingham Forest went all the way (the bastards) in Europe, they did so as the champions of England so it was hardly a shock. Still, Europe does have its shock-inducing intangible, and that’s pedigree. When the draw was being made for the last 16, there were only three possible opponents: Real Madrid, Milan and Inter. Combined European Cup count: 18. As the draw was taking place, I was down in my foxhole praying that we would draw Inter. This was not because they have only won it twice, and not since 1965 when they beat us in the semi-final (the bastards), compared to Real’s nine and Milan’s seven. Nor was it the fact that we have a recent history with Milan (the bastards) – although they were all issues. The main reason Inter were so appealing is their astonishingly brittle record in the last couple of decades. Inter is a sick club in much the same way that, well, Liverpool is, and no amount of money seemed able to solve their ills. From the time when they last won the league title in 1989 until their recent successes, tainted as they are by the punishments meted out to Juventus and Milan over match fixing, Inter reeled from one calamity to the next. The weight of a history of failure, allied to the all-conquering status of their roommates in the Giuseppe Meazza, crushed the players and no amount of rationalising could overcome that burden in Serie A. Their performances in Europe haven’t been much better. They won a couple of Uefa Cup’s back in the early 90’s when the Uefa Cup really mattered, and there are a fair few English clubs who would combust with joy should they land a diminished Uefa Cup, but their efforts in the Champions League have been puny. Twice they have crossed swords with Milan and twice they have been utterly humiliated, not least when some moron managed to clobber Dida for real, as opposed to the fake clobbering he received when he went down like a sack of spuds after being grazed by a Celtic fan last year. Add in the lift the Champions League gives this particular Liverpool team (you’d wish try as hard against the likes of Barnsley, the bastards) and the metronomic efficiency with which the Kop pumps out another big European night on demand in a manner that is beyond the abilities of every other set of fans in the world at every point in their history, and it’s a wonder that it took eighty-five minutes for Inter’s resistance to crumble.
It could all go pear-shaped in Milan in three weeks time. All that history is great when all other things are equal, but there’s no point in pretending that things are equal. Inter are far better than us, and just as we’d probably take Barnsley to the cleaners were we to meet them again in three weeks time, Inter might cut loose on their own turf. But hopefully this result will give us the boost we need over the next three weeks, the belief we can beat giants like Middlesbrough. And who cares if we can only stumble past the second leg based on the result we secured on Tuesday? We all have the t-shirts for what comes next.