When Liverpool walk out in Paris on Saturday night, it could be for the last time.
Not just the last match of an exhausting, brilliant season — but their last match as the Liverpool we recognise. The first Premier League champions under Jurgen Klopp, the serial Champions League finalists, conquerors of Barcelona against all odds, the three-pronged attack that terrified all of Europe.
Nothing is for ever in football. Gerard Houllier said that, looking around an empty Old Trafford after another Liverpool defeat. Back then, it seemed unimaginable that such a club could ever go without the title for nine years, and counting, in the modern era. But it has happened.
Nothing is for ever and Liverpool’s final against Real Madrid could be the final fling for this side
Liverpool took 30 years before this team ended their run of disappointments. But in the coming seasons, they will need to rebuild and, as Klopp has it, go again.
The next match Liverpool play after this they could be without Sadio Mane, who says he will make his mind up on his future after the final. Mo Salah has said he will play another year, but gives no guarantees about signing a new contract, meaning next summer he could be gone, too.
We like to imagine dynasties, we can never see a favourite being defeated. Yet the task of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson has shattered the supremacy of Manchester United, the way Arsenal have never recaptured the team who were tagged Invincible.
It feels that way with Manchester City and Liverpool, too, as if the rest of the league will never catch up. But Erling Haaland has a release clause in his contract; Pep Guardiola has not committed beyond 2023.
So much can change. Others can catch up, and they will, just as it once appeared as if Chelsea would dominate for decades. How or when, we do not know. But replacing Mane, and maybe Salah, is the start of transition at Liverpool.
Luis Diaz looks a brilliant player, Diogo Jota has impressed, too. Yet Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino clicked in a way few forward lines ever can. They were exceptional.
In the coming seasons, Liverpool will need to rebuild and, as Jurgen Klopp has it, go again
It is not just a case of taking out one good player, and putting in another. There must be chemistry, too.
This is not to be pessimistic about Liverpool’s future. Klopp is a brilliant coach, and committed, the recruitment department is close to unmatched.
Even so, Saturday in Paris may yet be a swansong. And if it is, it has been a pleasure. But change is inevitable; so we should all make the most of this.
MARTIAL HAS HIT ALL THE WRONG NOTES IN SEVILLE
Tony Martial came from France, English press said he had no chance, We tried to palm him off to Spain, But Tony Martial’s back again.
And with one goal for Martial in 12 games for Sevilla since January, is anybody really that surprised?
GENDER PEDANTS SHOULD GIVE US ALL A DAY OFF
Marseille are not the only French team to win the Champions League, because Lyon have won it in eight of the last 12 seasons.
So if it was written that Marseille are France’s lone European champions it is obvious that we are talking about men’s football. Just as, if it was written that a French club were dominating the modern Champions League, this would plainly refer to Lyon and the women’s game.
Yet when an official account linked to James Haskell’s rugby podcast produced a graphic of England’s most-capped front-row forwards, logic went out of the window. They were all male because, plainly, this was a discussion about men’s rugby.
Immediately, however, Simi Pam of Bristol Bears waded in that the list disrespected experienced female players like Rocky Clark. Haskell replied: ‘Have a day off’ — and has been fielding accusations of sexism ever since.
What confected nonsense. Pedants pointing out perceived slights that are nothing of the sort really do need to give it a rest.
James Haskell has been fielding accusations of sexism ever since the row with Simi Pam
In 2018, some twerp in charge of the Channel 4 feed posted that it wasn’t the first time England had been in a World Cup semi-final since 1990 as was being claimed — accompanying the statement with a photograph of the women’s team who got there in 2015.
It was swiftly pointed out that, if we were going down that road, the men’s Under 20 team did it in 2017.
Equally, saying Andy Murray was the first Briton to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry was not disrespectful to Virginia Wade.
If we’re being pedantic he was the first Briton since Jonathan Marray in the men’s doubles the year before.
But singles are different from doubles, and men from women, and women from age-group teams, and it is usually very obvious what set is being discussed just as it becomes very exhausting and dull to write about sport with the constant interruption of sub-clauses and asterisks pointing out the obvious.
So let’s all have a day off, eh?
MOCK HIS FAILURES ALL YOU WANT, JOSE IS STILL SPECIAL…
Jose Mourinho has reached five European finals, and emerged with five trophies. He is one of only three managers to win European finals across three decades, and delivered Roma’s first major European prize since the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final.
He is also the first man to win all three current European tournaments.
And we can pick holes in that and ask how many of Europe’s elite coaches will ever end up in the Europa Conference League?
But the fact is that when Jose Mourinho did, he won it. Just as he won the UEFA Cup, and Europa League, and the Champions League twice, too. So while there will always be those who mock his failures, Mourinho has succeeded in Europe at clubs big and small.
He remains special, and Manchester United still haven’t won a thing since he left.
Jose Mourinho has reached five European finals, and emerged with five trophies
HAS ANTONIO CONTE ACTUALLY GOT £150M TO SPEND AT SPURS?
It is very easy to pump £150million into a football club on paper; and certainly on newspaper.
The club leaks what the manager has to spend, and journalists put it in big headlines. The proof, as ever, is in the spending.
Arsenal always had grandiose budgets under Arsene Wenger, as far as the media was concerned.
When they didn’t spend it, we were told this was Wenger’s way, he treated the money as if it was his own. Wenger, a loyal company man, never called them out until he was steered into retirement when he could admit that, no, he never had the budget implied by his employers. Once Arsenal built their new stadium, his hands were tied.
Has manager Antonio Conte actually got £150million to spend at Tottenham? We shall see
So, has Antonio Conte got £150m to spend at Tottenham? We shall see.
And we’ll know soon enough because Tottenham could certainly do with £150m’s worth of improvements if they are to take advantage of transition and uncertainty elsewhere.
A manager like Conte is worth that investment because he wins trophies and Tottenham do not. So this certainly should be his transfer kitty; but that’s not the same as getting it.
GAME, SET, MATCH MURRAY
Talk to Sir Andy Murray about sport and the conversation doesn’t stay on tennis for long. He’s as interested in football, in boxing, in golf.
So his intervention on the great Wimbledon ranking points debate was priceless.
‘I follow golf very closely and have no idea how many ranking points the winner of the Masters gets,’ Murray wrote.
‘Me and my friends love football and none of us know or care how many ranking points a team gets for winning the World Cup. But I could tell you exactly who won the World Cup and the Masters.
Talk to Sir Andy Murray about sport and the conversation doesn’t stay on tennis for long
‘I’d hazard a guess most people watching on Centre Court at Wimbledon in a few weeks’ time wouldn’t know or care about how many ranking points a player gets for winning a third-round match.
But I guarantee they will remember who wins. Wimbledon will never be an exhibition and will never feel like an exhibition. The end.’
And, usually, on social media a post that concludes with such a definitive is only just the beginning of a squawk-fest. But Murray had delivered an unstoppable winner. For Naomi Osaka, and all the other waverers, there truly is no comeback from that.
NOT A MURMUR OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR WIMBLEDON…
In the fallout from Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players, having got the ball rolling in the first place, the Government seems to have gone very quiet.
Wimbledon were admirably pro-active in deciding Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine should not be normalised by the participation of Russian athletes. This is, we hope, a temporary exclusion. Yet sometimes an event is so momentous it forces individuals and nations to take sides.
The invasion of Ukraine was like that. The Government raised the idea of exclusion from Wimbledon, and the All England Club acted.
Yet now it has caused an almighty, and foreseeable, row with the men’s and women’s tours, with talk of boycotts and longer-term ramifications.
It is now being speculated next season’s Wimbledon rankings will be based on this season’s performances, meaning those who don’t turn up face a difficult draw. And where is the Government? Nowhere, silent. Not a murmur of support for the tournament and its stance.
The slow-witted sports minister Nigel Huddleston, so vocal at the time, has uttered barely a squeak now the decision transpires to have complex ramifications. It’s as if all he wanted was a populist headline and his name attached.
NEW LEVELS OF DELUSION IN GB ICE HOCKEY
Coaches can sometimes appear deluded when discussing the worth of their teams, but Peter Russell, who steers Great Britain’s ice hockey squad, has taken this to new levels.
After Great Britain exited the world championship elite, he remained bullish.
‘Overall, that’s one of the best tournaments we’ve played,’ he insisted.
‘On any other day, we could have won three games.’ And what was GB’s record?
Played seven, lost seven. Still, don’t stop believin’, as the song goes.
LABOUR IRONY IS CLEAR…
What a superb irony that Labour are now calling on the Government to ‘come clean’ over their involvement in the Saudi Arabian takeover at Newcastle. At the time the deal stalled, they were singing a very different tune.
Kate Osborne (Jarrow) wrote to the Premier League saying the delay was causing her constituents ‘anger and immense stress’. Meanwhile, Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central) called for Government intervention in the process.
Seems she got exactly what she wanted, minus the transparency.
Onwurah, however, remains an advocate of Government regulation for football, thereby putting the power in the hands of the same people who back-channelled the Saudi deal and need, apparently, to ‘come clean’.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WITH FOOTBALL’S REGULATOR?
If football wants to know the quality of personnel the Government will utilise in its regulatory role, look no further than the pressure being applied to make the useless, dangerous Bernard Hogan-Howe the new head of the National Crime Agency.
What could possibly go wrong?
MODERN PENTATHLON HAS TURNED INTO A NONSENSE…
Even before the horse-slapping, modern pentathlon was already clinging to Olympic status by its fingertips. Now, it is to be reinvented as Ninja Warrior, but without the fun.
Instead of a genuine equestrian test — riding a randomly allotted, unfamiliar horse over fences — there will be an obstacle course including monkey bars, a balance beam, rope swings and a wall.
‘These are professional athletes and there is a real risk to their credibility,’ said Olympic bronze medallist Kate Allenby. Not to mention the test on the patience of the viewing public. Who wants to watch Gladiators without the showbiz?
Obstacles the like of which are seen on Ninja Warrior are set to form part of an assault course
Kim Raisner, the German coach who lost control and struck a horse in Tokyo, has inspired this over-reaction. Annika Schleu, the rider, wasn’t good enough to control her mount Saint Boy and was becoming emotional. Raisner stepped in with a hard slap. They should both have received bans, and the sport could have continued as before.
Instead, this nonsense. They should scrap the lot and introduce Taskmaster. Much more of a challenge and a lot more fun.
AUTHORITIES FAILED VICTIMS OF PITCH INVASIONS…
A rare outbreak of sense, as neither police nor the Football Association are to take action over Patrick Vieira’s reaction to extreme provocation during the pitch invasion at Goodison Park.
That means they all know they failed him, and many other professionals, as this season drew to a close. It can’t happen again.
WILL STEVE KERR’S MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Jimmy Greaves used to say that when a funny man talks seriously, people listen. That was certainly the case when Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, abandoned his usual press conference to speak about gun violence in America.
Kerr isn’t a comedian but his departure from injury updates and team preparation carried spectacular clout. Banging tables, calling out all the right enablers in the political arena, white-hot fury building to the moment he stormed out, it was a memorable performance.
Will it make a difference, or is America satisfied with empty silences, and thoughts and prayers?