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5 February 2020

All hail Jürgen Klopp’s breathtaking Liverpool side, the finest sight in modern football

The fame and love for Liverpool in the next ten years will be even more widespread than that for Man Utd.

By Hunter Davies

That’s it then. We know who has won the Prem. And we also know, or think we know, what will happen afterwards. In 1978 I went to Hamburg to interview Kevin Keegan. He had surprised us all by going off to Germany so soon after Liverpool had become European champions. I watched him at Hamburg’s training ground, along with various locals, and noticed a young girl with the names of the whole Liverpool team embroidered on her jacket. How strange, I thought, that a girl in north Germany should be in love with an English team. 

When Kevin was doing his first interview in German – imagine that, an English player speaking a foreign language, amazing – there were students with rucksacks, on which they too had embroidered the Liverpool team. It was not just because Kevin had become a cult figure in Germany, known as Machtig Maus (Mighty Mouse), but because Liverpool dominated European football.

There was no wall-to-wall TV coverage, mobiles or social media, but any football-mad kid growing up anywhere in the Seventies and Eighties knew about Liverpool and their stars. The team you acquire when young – through blood, environment, chance or football fashion of the day – tends to stay with you through life. You can often tell a fan’s age by their team.

Manchester United took over from Liverpool in the Nineties and became even more popular, as our TV coverage was being beamed around the world. When going abroad to Africa or the Caribbean, I still take old Man Utd programmes to hand out to the local waiters in lieu of a tip. Money they can always get, but not a genuine Man Utd artefact. I am so kind, so thoughtful, and also ever so condescending. 

The fame and love for Liverpool in the next ten years will be even more widespread than that for Man Utd. The exposure is deeper, now that all the top English clubs rely so heavily on foreign players. Liverpool is mainly a foreign team, with a German manager. There is therefore an inbuilt loyalty and love in Africa, South America and Europe, from whence Salah, Mané, Firmino, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Alisson, Shaqiri, Lovren, and Origi have come. 

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The two full backs are true Brits, as is the captain, Jordan Henderson, perhaps the most improved player of the season. I used to think he was a lump with a funny walk, but surrounded by such talent he has learned to express himself, not just blocking attacks, but encouraging the troops, urging them on. It turns out he can pass the ball as well.

Liverpool, with their forwards in full flow, are the finest sight in modern football. They are like a celestial wave, sweeping all before them. And they are clearly enjoying themselves: a poet could not be but gay, in such a jocund company.

Are Liverpool at their best better than previous dominant teams at their best? I don’t remember Arsenal having a world-wide fan club when they were the Invincibles in 2004. Even in England, football fans did not bow down the way we now do with Liverpool. Preston North End were the first Invincibles, in 1888-89. I remember them well. Goodness, did they swank.

Football today would be understood by a 19th-century fan. The object is the same – get it in the net – the rules similar, but goodness, the skills and control, the grace and fitness. Those three Liverpool forwards – Mané, Salah, Firmino – are often breathtaking.

Until fairly recently, all teams had an Enforcer, whose job was to stop the fancy dans being breathtaking, or taking the piss, as it was known. In their Seventies pomp, Liverpool had Tommy Smith, who ate razor blades for breakfast.

None of the top teams today has a lump whose main function is to destroy. The nearest Liverpool have is Henderson. But we now know he is a creator not a destroyer. 

All today’s successful sides are positive, forward-looking, adventurous, lean, fast-flowing. Parking the bus, endlessly passing sideways… that is now gone. We are living in exciting times. All hail Liverpool.