Here we go gathering cups in May ..
By TTT Subscriber Anthony Stanley.
We didn’t see this one coming.
In the desert that was the whole of the 90s, it seemed impossible that, as the new decade blossomed, three trophies would be secured in the space of three months. But that’s what Houllier’s 2000-01 vintage achieved: a unique treble together with a third place finish and the arguably more important promise of re-entry into the rebranded Champions League.
There’s a paradox here; a contradiction that goes right to the heart of Gerard Houllier’s management and legacy of the Liverpool team. An achievement that will probably never be repeated and yet within a few years the memory had been somewhat soured by a combination of heightened expectations, a damaged aorta and a disastrous 2002 recruitment policy. Moreover, the surreal events of Istanbul and Rafa’s impact probably overshadowed the treble season to a degree. The events of that momentous spring and early summer, the drama, the goals, the heroics, the return to the banqueting table that we see as our right; it could be argued that rather than peer back at them through a rose coloured prism, we have all done the opposite and not given the team, or Houllier, the credit that is deserved.
But this season was a redemptive one, a campaign in which the whole of Europe was forced to sit up and, once again, shiver in fear at the continental rehabilitation of the Reds. Though Roy Evans had given Liverpool fans some great moments with his 5-3-2 that got the most out of the formidable talents of Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, though the passing had been a joy and the swashbuckling verve had left us breathless at times, they had, ultimately, flattered to deceive, a 1995 League Cup being the only success in that era. Moreover, European nights had become something of a trial; a club with proud traditions of St. Étienne and Roma in the Italian capital, of back-to-back European Cups, had regressed shockingly in this arena since the Heysel disaster. Kopites became used to watching forlornly as PSG (emphatically not the PSG of today) hammered three goals past a shoddy defence or the dubious might of Celta Vigo vanquished the Reds.
As the nineties drew to a close, Liverpool Football Club – the doyens of European pedigree – found themselves cast adrift from the elite. This season changed all that; in many ways it laid the foundations for Istanbul. The irony, of course, is that that miraculous night outshone that which made it possible.
Houllier’s first season in sole charge had seen the Reds narrowly miss out on Champions League football as they finished the season in fourth. Though there was a large degree of frustration at the toothless and impotent finish to the 1999-2000 season, as Liverpool limped to the finish line, there was still genuine cause for optimism as the new season dawned. Hyypia and Henchoz, together with the remarkable Hamann, had made the Reds fiendishly hard to score against. Emile Heskey had been signed from Leicester in early 2000 and though he laboured with his new club in his first few months, in 2000-2001 he absolutely excelled. The summer of 2000 saw no fewer than six new arrivals to help Liverpool make the needed step up in quality (another four players would sign during the winter months – this being before windows ‘slamming shut’ and ghastly Sky Sports deadline day).
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