KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —– Liverpool have not appeared in a European club final since losing to Milan in the Champions League showdown in Athens in 2007; it was a disappointing evening after the dramatic footballing pyrotechnics two years earlier when the Reds had written an indelible page in history with their comeback against the same Italian opponents in Istanbul.
Nine years on the final sidelines is too long for one of the clubs which has done so much to build the worldwide reputation and status of the European competitions.
At least, that is what the fans think. Statistics would appear to bear them out: Liverpool have competed in Europe ever since 1964, winning 10 trophies (including the European Supercup) and finishing runners-up eight times.
Their heroes down the years have ranged from Ian St John and Roger Hunt to Kevin Keegan then Kenny Dalglish and on to Steven Gerrard. Now a new generation is charged with adding their own names to the Anfield international pantheon.
Officially only 10,000 Liverpool fans will be in the St Jakob stadium in Basel tonight but thousands at home and maybe millions around the world will be willing them on against a Sevilla side who boast a remarkable attachment to the Europa trophy.
One reason for extra empathy is due to the emotional impact induced by the final vindication of the families who fought the establishment and the corrupt South Yorkshire Police for 27 years to uncover the truth of the cover-up conspiracy over events involving 96 fans’ deaths at Hillsborough in 1989.
But Liverpool also may feel they deserve to a matching trophy to show for their efforts on the pitch this year. Certainly, no-one can deny the effort which has been invested, even in the last days under Brendan Rodgers early in the season. The fact that Rodgers failed to match the early optimism of his reign was not a condemnation of his commitment or hard work. Really, his managerial world fell apart at Anfield when he was unable to hold on to Luis Suarez.
The Uruguayan, like strike leader Fernando Torres before him, wanted Champions League football. Here is a glittering lure for Liverpool’s owners, directors and management in Basel: If Liverpool win then they will be into the Champions League next season and that means the transfer tables will be turned. Instead of risking the loss of star players they will have become transfer market predators.
Liverpool’s team and squad need strengthening in every department. The whirlwind style of football which Klopp demands means intense physical pressure on muscles and ligaments even without the heavy demands of the English season with European football laden on top of a will to win in Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup.
There are no easy games at any stage of an English season. Newcastle United proved the point by thrashing Tottenham on Sunday even though they had already been condemned to relegation.
Klopp protected his likely starters for Basel by fielding a team of reserves to wind up the Premier season with a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich on Sunday. Now he must wait to find out whether he will have the bonus of captain Jordan Henderson and striker Divock Origi fit to play some part of the game against leftback Alberto Moreno’s old club.
England midfielder Henderson has been out for a month after damaging knee ligaments away to Borussia Dortmund on April 7 while Origi tore ankle ligaments against Everton a fortnight later. Klopp insists both could still make the squad, albeit not the starting line-up.
“Divock and Hendo are both in a good way,” said Klopp at the weekend. “We will see what happens over the coming days. I have to take what I get. They are pretty close. If the final was one week later now we’d be talking but it will be close. I’m not sure, we have to wait.”