For the Mighty Reds, it was a steep and long fall from the top. Now careening at number eight, Liverpool founders on despite coach Gerard Houllier’s experimental tactics.
Who is afraid of the Big Bad Reds?
Unfortunately, no one is anymore. Liverpool Football Club has become a laughing stock.
The most successful club in English football history is on the slide and has been now for over 10 years.
Once considered the best side in the land, Liverpool fell behind Manchester United and Arsenal during the 1990s, and were widely regarded as the third best team in the country.
Now, in 2003, Liverpool lie in eighth place in the Premiership, a pale shadow of their former self.
Success in football is patchy. Manchester United went 26 years without winning the league, Liverpool are halfway towards an identical barren spell.
Many pundits and fans will look at the management spells of Graeme Souness and Roy Evans as a time when the club stagnated while their rivals surged past.
During this period Liverpool were said to be ‘rebuilding’ and the ever-patient scouse fans seemed to accept this.
However, the arrival of Gerard Houllier was supposed to signify the resurrection of the mighty reds.
It was expected that Houllier would have the kind of impact at Liverpool that Arsene Wenger had achieved at Arsenal.
Houllier announced a ‘five-year plan’ to bring the glory days back to Anfield.
The plan got off to a steady start with no obvious signs of improvement.
Then, in 2001, Liverpool won five trophies – the League Cup, the F.A. Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Charity Shield and the European Super Cup.
Still no league title, but surely a sign of progress?
Quite simply, no.
The Charity Shield and Super Cup are one-off games that amount to very little.
The League Cup was won after a penalty shoot-out, after being outplayed by Birmingham during the final.
The FA Cup was won thanks to the genius of Michael Owen and some incredibly poor finishing from Arsenal.
In the UEFA Cup final, Liverpool continuously gave away the lead until an own goal in extra time sealed a 5-4 victory.
Since then, Liverpool’s solitary achievement has been beating Manchester United in the 2003 League Cup final.
Still no league title. Houllier’s excuses are wearing thin, as is the patience of the supporters. The five years are over and the plan should be complete.
For every good player Houllier has signed – Dudek, Hyypia, Hamaan, Riise, Baros – there are bad ones – Biscan, Smicer, Cheyrou, Diao, Ferri.
The jigsaw pieces for a championship winning side are there – Gerrard, Kewell, Owen – Houllier, however, can’t seem to put them together.
Houllier tried to build a successful side around a watertight defence. It didn’t work, Liverpool became boring and predictable.
This season a new attacking approach has been adopted.
Unfortunately this gives Houllier a chance to make more excuses about the players needing time to get used to the new system.
While Houllier and his long list of excuses remain at the club, the future of Liverpool is clear. Still no league title.