By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
Between the years of 2004 to 2009, Liverpool fans had become accustomed to the European glamour that followed the club. Countless memorable nights across the continent against Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Barcelona and many more had become the norm for the Reds – we would play against the best, and we would beat the best.
That perception was shattered as Liverpool exited the Champions League in the group stage in 2009/10 with a whimper. Little did we know how deep the depths we were destined to delve directly afterwards. After Rafael Benitez left Liverpool at the end of the season following a seventh-placed finish, Roy Hodgson took over the reigns for the subsequent years campaign.
First and foremost, the squad that season was decimated – it lost key figures in Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Alvaro Arbeloa as well as Steven Gerrard suffering a season-defining injury. One of the poorest transfer windows in Liverpool history saw the likes of Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic walk through the Melwood doors.
Negative, insipid football was combined with baffling post match press conferences in which Hodgson described a 2-0 derby defeat to fierce rivals Everton as: “as good as any performance under my management I have seen”. An unforgivable viewpoint, really.
Having trundled to dreadful performances one after the other, Hodgson deservedly lost his job at Anfield and was replaced by club legend Kenny Dalglish. But the scars were still there to see, most notably in the Europa League against Sparta Prague – a far cry from our famous European nights.
The team lined up as follows: Reina, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Kelly, Meireles, Cole, Lucas, Poulsen, Kuyt, Ngog – I think that side alone speaks for itself. Liverpool slogged to a 1-0 victory having drawn 0-0 in the first leg, with progression only confirmed in the final five minutes of the game thanks to a goal from Dirk Kuyt, one of the few players of quality in that lineup.
From demolishing Real Madrid 4-0 not two years before this, it was stark reminder of how far Liverpool had slid away from the elite. The damage seemed almost irreparable, and Liverpool’s absence from the Champions League would continue for many years to come.
Barring an extremely forgettable Champions League campaign under Brendan Rodgers in 2014 where Liverpool lost out in the group stage, our next real foray into the prestigious competition came last season under Jurgen Klopp – where finally, our European prestige was restored.
Having blasted through the group stage with relative ease, Liverpool made relative light work of the knockout stages too – dispatching Porto, Manchester City and Roma by heavy scorelines, adding to our very long list of famous European nights.
Whilst the infamous 2018 Champions League final against Real Madrid didn’t go our way, we finished that campaign dining back amongst the best of the best. Crucially, that defeat didn’t feel like the end of the road for Liverpool – it felt like the start of a special journey to come.
And so it proved to be. Jurgen Klopp’s men went one better this season and secured that coveted sixth title – adding Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG and more to growing list of victims to incredible European nights. With a star-studded team that is the envy of every top side on the continent, Liverpool are well and truly back on their European perch after so many years in the wilderness.
No longer are trudging to the remote corners of nowhere to play FC Rabotnicki in the Europa League qualifiers, no longer are we squeezing out results against Sparta Prague with those days are well and truly in our rear-view mirrors as we steam forward to even more glorious nights in Europe.
Time can somewhat blur how incredible the journey has been to get to this point, but it cannot be underestimated how huge the rebuilding task was from the Roy Hodgson era. Jurgen Klopp has taken us back to the heights we so regularly scaled, and long may it continue.