It was all going so well, and then Liverpool’s greatest ever player – certainly the one who was at the top of his game for the longest, and who excelled in the greatest number of different positions – fell through a crack in the spacetime continuum.
Stop time at the moment Steven Gerrard so infamously slipped on the Anfield turf, and it will teach us all about the psychological phenomenon of normalcy bias, and how humans are terrible at predicting the future, because we base almost all our thinking on the very recent past. This is why people fail to take impending disasters seriously until the moment the impending disaster directly affects them.
Losing a game is not such a big deal; but six years have seen more change than we could ever have envisaged. Because, in truth, studies show that, on average, we massively underestimate how different life will be in ten years’ time (no studies have been done on how different things will be within just six years). We don’t think about the extent to which our bodies will be different, that relationships will end, that perhaps some people will die, and that may be living in a different house, a different city, a different country.
Even so, shit just got weird.
Following that fall, Liverpool will not be crowned champions. Luis Suarez will leave within months, and score 59 goals in a season in Spain. Daniel Sturridge – a beautiful footballer – will never be the same after a succession of injuries turn him into the new Micheal Owen (still able to finish on the occasions when fit, but barely able to run, lest a hamstring go twang). Having just scored 21 league goals in the season that ends with the Reds two points behind Man City, Sturridge won’t even reach a combined 20 league goals in his next five years at Liverpool.
In the same time at Barcelona, Suarez scores almost 200.
And Gerrard, as befits his age, will melt – raging not so successfully against the dying of the light – in a final season of successive disappointments. Liverpool will win just one of the Champions League games that 2nd-place earns, at home to Ludogorets, and will fail to beat Ludogorets away, and will fail to beat Basel home or away. And to think, it was all going so well.
Donald Trump will become US president, Britain will exit the EU. David Bowie, Prince and George Michael will die, all within a year or two. Piers Morgan will still be alive.
Daniel Agger, who could have been one of the world’s great centre-backs, will prematurely retire after a career dogged by ailments. José Enrique – admittedly never in Agger’s class – will also retire early, after persistent knee problems, followed, far more seriously, by an operation to remove a rare brain tumour. Victor Moses will win a league title, but not with Liverpool. Lucas Leiva will score four goals in a season, but they will be for Lazio. Martin Škrtel, despite two standout seasons with the Reds, will lose all confidence and damage his own reputation in the process. Recency bias means we remember how bad he was at the end, not how good he was c.2012 and 2014.
Liverpool will lose Gerrard’s final game 6-1 at Stoke, having just lost 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace, and will soon lose 3-0 at home to West Ham. Brendan Rodgers will win league titles, but only in Scotland.
Also eager – and allowed – to jump ship for richer clubs are Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, the two world-class young gems in the Reds’ XI that day in 2014; and they’ll win league titles with their new clubs. Emre Can, an excellent 20-year-old who arrives in the summer of 2014, will walk out on a free transfer four years later, shortly after scoring an overhead kick for which he bent the rules of gravity. Liverpool’s “future” becomes the future of Man City, Barcelona and Juventus (kinda).
Locked out of the Champions League by successive finishes outside the top four, the Reds appear to become a selling club, although in truth it has often sold its best players to the elite European clubs, dating back to the 1970s and ’80s.
One abject failure, Iago Aspas, will also leave, and then become one of the most prolific players in La Liga, and a reasonably frequent goalscorer for the Spanish national team. Aspas will score 97 goals in Spain from 2015 to 2020, three times as many as the player Liverpool replaced him with and subsequently offloaded a season later (who, now aged 29, has scored five goals in his last three seasons). You could add together all the goals scored by Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke in the same time and still not hit Aspas’ total.
Leicester, in the Championship in 2014, will become Champions of England within two years.
That’s right. Leicester, in the Championship in 2014, will become Champions of England within two years.
That, in itself, should have wanted us that we’d switched to an alternate reality, in the computer simulation that is actually real life. We are all part of one giant game of Football Manager that’s being played by Karen Brady and Alan Sugar in some underground lair on the planet Ole Gunnar Solzgrag.
Leicester will be led by an old Italian manager who had never won a league title in a long and varied career; and therefore Leicester will do so before Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
But the good news – for there is good news! – is that Liverpool will receive various king’s ransoms for the combined talents of Suarez, Sterling, Coutinho, et al, in amongst all the anger at their wanting to leave, and the anger at the club selling them.
The Reds will in turn spend all that money – in the space of just four years – on players who, at the time Gerrard lost his balance (which rival fans still treat as a bigger deal than their teams actually winning something), could be described thus:
– A winger who was also on the pitch that day, but who scored just 2 goals in 19 appearances for Chelsea before being shipped out as a flop;
– A reasonably proficient young striker in the Austrian Bundesliga;
– An uncapped attacking Brazilian midfielder for unfashionable German club Hoffenheim;
– An uncapped Dutch centre-back in the Scottish Premiership;
– An attacking midfielder/forward who had scored a total of four goals in 2013/14 (and who will later be bought from relegated Newcastle, and used mainly as a defensive midfielder);
– An uncapped Brazilian right-back (who won’t even end up being a right-back);
– A left-back who had just been rescued from the footballing scrapheap by Dundee United (before he moved to the mighty Hull City, where he suffered relegation, and from whence Liverpool pounced);
– A little-known goalkeeper in Brazil with less than a dozen league games to his name;
– A young Guinean then at FC Istres, a lowly French club;
– An admittedly once world-class winger with the height of a 9-year-old boy and the breadth of Arnold Schwarzenegger (but who, at the time he arrives at Anfield, will have just been relegated with Stoke City);
– Plus, several players from Southampton in 2014 who mostly won’t even be regulars for the Reds a few years later, including Rickie Lambert, who will score just two league goals. In addition, there will be a free transfer from the Bundesliga. Whoopee!
Then there’s an ageing James Milner, brought in on big wages in 2015, and who will surely not last long; plus Mario Balotelli, who will score one solitary league goal in a season with Liverpool, and spend training sessions arsing around trying to score own goals.
Oh, and a skinny kid playing central midfield with the U16s will become the Reds’ new right-back.
Big money will be spent on other players – some with big reputations, some with bright futures – who come and go without making much impact.
The much-derided Jordan Henderson will become the club captain.
Framed like this, you might conclude that Liverpool were playing in the 2nd tier of English football.
Liverpool will at least procure the services of the mighty mighty Jürgen Klopp, but only after Dortmund struggle in a relegation battle in his final season (albeit one with a ton of bad luck). Within a few seasons Klopp’s trusted sidekick will depart under a cloud, when he was dubbed the “brains” of the operation (albeit by a self-effacing Klopp). Later still, there will be cup games where Klopp doesn’t even bother to turn up, and teams of teenagers are fielded.
By October 2017, two years in, there will be a load of Liverpool fans questioning if he can really take the club forward, after Liverpool lose 4-1 at Spurs, a club who now regularly finished above the Reds. His win percentage, they point out, is no better than Brendan Rodgers’; ergo, he is no better than Brendan Rodgers, and Liverpool will achieve no more than they did under Brendan Rodgers.
Soon after the hammering at Spurs, Liverpool will sell the fast-improving Coutinho – now the big star of the team – and not replace him.
THEY DON’T EVEN REPLACE HIM!
That skinny Egyptian fella who got two goals in 19 games for Chelsea arrives at Liverpool with actual shoulders, and gets 44 goals in his first season with Liverpool (and one dislocated shoulder).
The uncapped Brazilian midfielder becomes a world-class false nine – a man whose skills stop time – and the attacker who scored a few goals in Austria is the third member of a frontline that, in 2014, netted a combined and fairly decent 35 league goals in mostly weaker leagues (Salah spent half of 2013/14 in Switzerland, Mané spent it all in Austria). At Liverpool they’ll have a season where they share 57 league goals, and be rated the best front three in the world.
The uncapped Dutch defender will be voted the 2nd-best player in the world in 2019 (the Ballon d’Or), and three of the top five will be Reds; with a further three in the top 20. These include the skinny kid who, originally a midfielder, sets assist records from right-back. The lad from the Scottish scrap heap also gets more assists from left-back than most left-wingers.
The Brazilian right-back becomes the best holding midfielder in the Premier League.
Liverpool will reach a Champions League final, breaking the competition’s scoring record along the way. But in the final the goalkeeper will get elbowed in the head, the star goalscorer will have his shoulder dislocated by the same opponent (a man with the heart of a pig), and despite outplaying Real Madrid in the first half, the Reds will capitulate.
In the next season, Liverpool will post the 3rd-highest points tally in the history of English football: 97.
And still only finish 2nd.
Ah, familiar story. So close, yet so far. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; at least, since 1990.
Only this time, the management and owners lose the plot and don’t buy anyone! No one! Just a reserve keeper, and two kids for the youth team. This, some say, is terrible complacency. Neglect, even.
Months before this summer of transfer inactivity, Liverpool found themselves 3-0 down in the semi-final against Barcelona after the first leg, and then were without two key goalscorers in the aim to turn it around at Anfield.
By the summer of 2019, Jordan Henderson will have lifted a Champions League trophy, and be regarded as one of the great on-pitch leaders in world football, and generally become known as the best bloke in the world. Divock Origi will become DIVOCK ORIGI!, in all caps, with added exclamation mark and italics. DIVOCK ORIGI! Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez will join Lionel Messi in leaving Anfield in tears, whilst DIVOCK ORIGI! is sung by the Kop.
Next, Liverpool are crowned champions of the world, and rise to be ranked as the 4th-best team in European football history by the Elo Ratings system.
Liverpool are having the best season in the history of European football, when someone in Wuhan fucks a bat* (*may not be literally true), and, as the Reds get to within touching distance of the title, the entire world will more-or-less literally grind to a halt. Football will be cancelled. Work will be abandoned. Travel will be prohibited.
Vast exhibition arenas will be turned into field hospitals, ice rinks into makeshift morgues, as, in New York and cities in other countries, mass graves are dug, to inter the overflowing mountain of corpses. The British Prime Minister will end up in intensive care after spaffing pathogens up the wall. The Tory government will have no option but to instigate the most socialistic measures seen from any British government since 1940s, as the world descends into disease and chaos, and no one can leave their house. Rich and comfortably affluent people suddenly understand what it’s like to to be jobless through no fault of their own, or vulnerable to disease, and start to value the National Health Service.
And yet, despite all this, no one remembers that Liverpool were 3-0 up at Palace days after Gerrard’s slip, with 15 minutes to play; and let that slip, too. But by then, Gerrard had set in motion the alternate reality, where facts are no longer facts, news is no longer news, and where life is still life, just not as we knew it.
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