LONDON: The 2012 League Cup Final at Wembley will be a fun day out for second division Cardiff, a rare appearance in the national spotlight. But for Liverpool it is far more serious: victory would be a demonstration of long-awaited revival after five dark years of stagnation.
When manager Kenny Dalglish leads out his team it will be their first final since 2007 and their first appearance at Wembley since 1996.
Their last trophy came in 2006 in the FA Cup and in the intervening time the club have dropped out of Champions League contention – even failing to qualify for the Europa League last season – during a turbulent period under the disastrous ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Rescue arrived in October 2010 when that warring pair were bought out by fellow American John W Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. The revival was accelerated when, in January last year, Anfield legend Dalglish returned for a second spell in charge.
The first time Dalglish accompanied Liverpool to Wembley he had been with the club for less than a year and scored the winning goal in the 1978 European Champions Cup Final against Club Brugge.
Now, 18 major trophies with Liverpool later, he is back. No wonder he says: “This means a lot to myself but more importantly it means a lot to all the people who have had to endure a few years when we’ve not been there. It has been 16 years but there was a wee bit of reconstruction going on for some of the time.”
Dalglish was referring to the ‘lost years’ during which Wembley was being redeveloped and when Liverpool won two FA Cups and two League Cups at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium.
Reviewing the past year he said: “This is a just reward for the loyalty and support everyone at Liverpool had shown. We have moved on from where we were last year, progressing in the FA Cup and to the final of this cup and are four points behind fourth in place – this time last year we were nowhere near that.”
Liverpool may also feel that their appearance in the League Cup final is a deserved reward for treating the competition with respect.
They are seven-times record winners and Dalglish has named strong sides even against lower-league opposition all the way to Wembley, while other Premier managers fielded weakened teams and paid the price, ultimately, with early-round exits.
Sunday’s opponents Cardiff, despite coming from the second division, last appeared in a Wembley cup final more recently than Liverpool. The Welsh club, currently fifth and thus in the promotion play-off places, lost 1:0 to Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth in 2008.
The outcome this time should be no different.