WHAT is success? This is a question that I have been asking myself a lot in the last few weeks as I try to think about something other than our league form! I believe it is a pertinent question in the modern English game in light of the Champions league and Premier league expansions.
Historically speaking the showpiece game of the English football calendar was the FA Cup Final. This was for a long time the highest profile game people at home and abroad had access to. Personally I eagerly awaited Cup Final day all season, even more so when my beloved Reds were playing, as Cup Final Saturday dominated TV on BBC and ITV.
It marked the culmination of the footballing season, and as you soaked up all the football delights laid out you knew that this marked the end of the season, it marked a sign to put the boots away and dust off the cricket bats.
The build up, the fan interviews, the cup goals that led each side to this spectacle, it truly was a magical day for all football fans. Skip forward to the modern day, the current campaign, and we are counting down to this seasons FA Cup final on the 5th of May. The 5th of May! Win or lose, we still have to play out the rest of our league fixtures. Talk about being watered down. Chelsea plays Newcastle on the Wednesday before the final in a fixture vital to both sides in the hunt for a top 4 finish. Top 4! This takes me onto my next point.
At the start of the season the hierarchy at Anfield will have no doubt expressed their desire to have the club finish in the top 4 in the league to therefore qualify for without doubt the biggest competition in football, to have access to the monies that promises and to attract the worlds stars to ply their trade in front of the Kop. There is something that does not sit right with me about what I have just written.
The club wanting a top 4 finish.
Shankly once said ‘if you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing’. The behemoth that is the Champions League in the modern game has created a culture in the Premier League where the be all and end all for clubs is to finish in the top 4. You must secure Champions League football or your club will implode. Don’t get me wrong here, I understand what a top 4 finish brings and how that can help, but are we really entering a climate where at the end of the season finishing 3rd or 4th is deemed a success of sorts? Let me ask a couple of questions here: is a season with two cup finals (potentially two trophies) and a low league finish successful or unsuccessful? Is a season where you finish 4th but are knocked out of the Carling Cup and FA Cup at the first opportunity a successful or unsuccessful season?
Before you answer have a think about these points:
Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League consecutively for a number of seasons now yet have had no trophy to polish for the past 7 years. It is stated that Champions League attracts the biggest names and is why players want to play for your team, yet Arsenal have relied on youth players brought in relatively cheaply with a distinct lack of ‘big name’ signings. In fact they have lost players such as Fabregas and Nasri despite the continued promise of Champions League football. Are we to believe that Wenger is so stubborn he won’t spend any money, or is it more the case that the owners don’t see the value in splashing the cash if Arsene can guarantee Champions League money with the resources he has? Are Gooners happy at merely qualifying each year for the Champions League or would they want a trophy instead?
In a perfect world then yes of course you want that Champions League qualification to walk hand in hand with trophy success, not unlike 2001, as this is undoubtedly the platform to build and to construct a title challenge. Would we be better off in the Champions League? Yes of course, but we haven’t done too badly out of it with the likes of Suarez coming in, luring a player like Joe Cole (yes I know it didn’t work out) from Chelsea and hanging on to stars such as Gerrard, Reina, Agger and Kuyt especially considering that, as I have mentioned, even with Champions League football Arsenal lost two of their biggest names
However, this isn’t a perfect world and for me the seasons in which we qualified for the Champions League and nothing more, are forgettable but you ask me in a couple of years about the Carling Cup win against Cardiff and I will be able to tell you who scored, what the goals were like, where I was, how I celebrated. So for me give me finals, give me trophies, they can breed a winning mentality and drive a team forward injecting that experience of winning rather than settling for 4th best.
Love to chat football and Liverpool so come find me on twitter @timdibs
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