Last Sunday marked five years since Liverpool Football Club last won a major trophy. The club, which had become known for collecting silverware like stamps in the 1970s and 80s, won the League Cup in 2012 over Cardiff City – and only then scraped past the Championship side on penalties.
Recent decades have not been so kind to the Reds for winning titles of any kind. Liverpool have been far from irrelevant, winning the FA Cup under Graeme Souness and the League Cup with Roy Evans, before collecting six major trophies under Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez, including the famous 2001 Treble and the 2005 Champions League triumph in Istanbul.
However, since the 2006 FA Cup victory, Liverpool have only managed one solitary success in eleven years, arriving under Kenny Dalglish’s second spell at the club.
Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rodgers were unable to contribute towards the Anfield trophy cabinet, although the Northern Irishman came awfully close in 2014 as the Reds challenged for the Premier League title.
Jurgen Klopp has since succeeded Rodgers and before he could celebrate a full year at Liverpool the German had already led his new team to two cup finals. However, on both occasions the Reds came up short, falling to Manchester City in the League Cup final on penalties before being stunned by Spanish side Sevilla in the second half of the Europa League showpiece.
Liverpool missed out on Champions League qualification because of the latter, alongside the chance to draw level with their opponents as the most successful side in the history of the competition.
Since, Manchester United have claimed the 2016 FA Cup and 2017 League Cup crowns, and now sit level with Liverpool as the most successful side in English football in terms of majors won.
Meanwhile, the Reds slumped to another defeat against bottom-half opposition on Monday night, as a resurgent, controversial Leicester City began the post-Claudio Ranieri era with a comprehensive and comfortable 3-1 victory.
Too often of late Liverpool have appeared a shadow of their former selves who generated hope in the autumn of a first league title in 27 years, but now they sit in fifth place and in serious danger of missing out on the top four and Champions League for another year.
To make matters worse, Liverpool are perilously close to Manchester United and their bitter rivals could overtake them should Klopp’s side fail to beat Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday. Even Everton are now on the horizon, and finishing outside the top six would be a huge embarrassment for Klopp and Liverpool, given their start to the campaign.
So winning a trophy, for the moment anyway, appears a distant dream, especially given their dire exits from both this season’s League Cup and FA Cup, going down to Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively.
The focus for this season has to be on finishing inside the top four, having resided inside those positions for most of the season.
Under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool were perennial qualifiers for the Champions League – a four year microcosm of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. This allowed the Reds to constantly challenge on multiple fronts and win trophies.
Even aside from the Champions League and FA Cup victories however, the Reds reached another Champions League final in 2007 and managed to finish second in the Premier League in 2009.
They were a far more consistent, experienced outfit, with quality throughout the side. Benitez was not perfect with his transfers, but his acumen, combined with Liverpool’s appeal as an elite club, enticed such players as Fernando Torres to the club. It can even be argued that Benitez’s legacy meant, despite Liverpool’s subsequent decline, the Reds were able to sign Luis Suarez six months after the Spanish manager left the club.
Winning trophies, but even competing on all fronts, always being there or thereabouts, is what is expected of an elite club, and Liverpool have not lived up to that reputation since Benitez’s departure. They have only finished in the top four once in the last seven years, winning only that 2012 League Cup in the same period.
Unless you have a limitless supply of money (Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United), it is an uphill task to establish yourself amongst the elite if you are not competing with your desired peers in the Champions League.
Being at Europe’s top table improves your chances of winning trophies by attracting quality signings and improving the depth of your squad, both from adding top-class players and the incentive of bolstering your squad’s numbers to compete across four fronts.
Liverpool need a bigger squad for next season – December and January have proved that, and the Reds were not in Europe at all for 2016/17.
Blooding talented youngsters is important, but there must be a spine of experienced, if not world-class players to build the team around, establishing that inherent confidence and self-belief – a winning mentality.
If you cannot win trophies with your current outfit, then sign players who know how to get over the line.
Jose Mourinho is arguably the example to follow here, not just with his focus on strong spines but also prioritizing cup competitions. With Chelsea the Portuguese won the League Cup in his debut season during both stints with the club, and went on to win the league title in 2005, 2006 and 2015.
Having brought in players who knew how to win trophies, he then created a climate at the club where Chelsea believed they could continue winning a succession of trophies.
Post-Mourinho, Chelsea remained hugely successful with Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Di Matteo and Benitez. Meanwhile, Antonio Conte has picked up the pieces from Mourinho’s second spell and is leading his former charges to another league title, while Mourinho looks to replicate his winning formula with United, and has once again begun by winning the League Cup, even if the title is beyond them this year.
Klopp has to buy a couple of these types of trophy-laden players, and to do this they need the top four. Champions League, stronger squad – greater chance of winning majors, which both the club and its manager (five consecutive runner-up finishes) sorely needs.
If Liverpool want to reclaim their lost records and status with league titles, they need to establish the conditions that – rare, Leicester-esque upsets aside – are necessary to win trophies.