A West Indian fact check for Liverpool.
Liverpool have been blown away in the ongoing Premier League season. Their nightmarish run after a dominating victory in the last season is a downfall that’s turning out to be similar to that of the West Indian cricket team. Surely not what Jurgen Klopp would want.
Highs and lows are inevitable factors that come bundled with life. How quickly a person or team is pulled from cloud nine into the realms of failure and uncertainty is a fearsome thought. More so in sport, there are teams that enjoy marvellous success one second, and are down in the doldrums the next second. How fast this transition from hero to zero pans out varies from team to team, but almost all engaged in sport will be of the opinion that staying at the top is not something that lasts an eternity, and sooner or later the flip side of the coin strikes and former champions are left languishing at positions they would never have even thought about. There was once a time in world cricket when the West Indies were an undefeatable force. Wherever they went, whoever they played against, it was almost regulation for them to emerge victorious, mostly without even breaking a sweat.
The 1970s and 1980s were the years when the West Indies was at its demolishing best. The World Cups of 1975 and 1979 pretty much had the name of the Windies written on them before the tournament even started, while the 1983 edition seemed to be no exception until Kapil Dev’s spirited Indian side toppled the titlists in a major upset. Just the sheer class and ability of the players who were part of this destructive squad was frightening to watch. Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge often gave their team a start that ensured a gargantuan total was posted if batting first. Whilst chasing, hardly any bowler had the ability to curtail the excessive run-flow when these two occupied the crease. If the miraculous breakthrough was somehow made by the opposition side, it sent to the crease a man who sent shivers down the spines of even the best of bowlers.
Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, or simply Viv Richards, was a class apart. The man had a sense of coolness about him and his mere presence on the field left an everlasting impression. The man’s batting had a certain sense of swagger and razzmatazz that next to no one has been able to inculcate into their game since his retirement. Facing the likes of Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev without a helmet, and dispatching them for towering sixes and bullet-like fours with minimal effort spoke volumes about the legend’s batting prowess. Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharan, Jeff Dujon and Larry Gomes further empowered the batting department at different times throughout the Windies’ golden run.
If their batting was a force to be reckoned with, their bowling was a force not to be meddled with. Ferocious, intimidating, fierce and fast. These were the words the West Indian pace attack lived by. Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts absolutely terrorised batsmen with their hostile and accurate bowling. The speed generated by each of these pacemen was otherworldly, while the precision and movement in the air and off the pitch made it a herculean task for opposition batsmen to score runs. Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith and Colin Croft were also extremely menacing exponents of fast bowling.
The 1990s saw a significant downfall in the performances of the Windies. Though they were still in possession of brilliant players like Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Richie Richardson, the team failed to emulate the success that its previous class had achieved. As the years rolled by, the condition kept getting worse and worse, and by the mid-200s only two hardened warriors were left to keep the team afloat, Lara and Chanderpaul. Though these two batsmen were impeccable at their craft and toyed with opposition bowling, cricket is a sport where all eleven members of the side have to perform, and when only two out of eleven are left to struggle it out, disappointments are unavoidable.
With the introduction of Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy and Ramnaresh Sarwan, it seemed as though a recovery was on the cards, but the psychological edge, that Windies once thrived upon, was now against them. Defeating the West Indies in their backyard was a thought that was cordoned off from entering the players’ minds back in the 1970s and 80s, but as the years went by, it didn’t seem such a daunting task and the West Indies were conquered both home and away with regularity. The impotence to produce quality talent has hurt the Windies ever so hard, and things have not improved for them whatsoever in the past twenty years.
Such dramatic ruination also seems to have found its way to English club football. The English Premier League (EPL or PL) is the world’s most popular and competitive football competition, and with its ability to constantly surprise and enthrall viewers through upsets and fast paced action, it has garnered a massive and loyal fanbase as well. After two decades of domination by Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, ranging from the early 1990s to the early 2010s, with sporadic triumphs belonging to Chelsea and Arsenal, there was little surprise left in the PL. Then however, to revive the drama and anticipation, came along two clubs that knocked on the doors of a league title. One being a completely reinvented Manchester City, and the other being the once highly successful Liverpool.
Arsenal was forced out of reckoning after a few disappointing seasons, hanging around at anywhere between number two to ten ever since. Chelsea has managed to keep itself afloat while Manchester United, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur have also been able to stay in the thick of things. After Manchester City’s record breaking 100 point triumph in the 2017–18 edition, followed by another narrow one point victory in the 2018–19 edition over second best Liverpool, interest was reignited in the world’s most famous football league. Liverpool made the trophy their own in a dream 99 point campaign in the 2019–20 edition, their first league win in thirty years. Liverpool’s utter domination throughout the 2019–20 season made them firm favourites for the 2020–21 edition too, but an unprecedented and disappointing showing from the defending champions has them reeling at number eight.
Following the extreme media hype and fame they achieved after their historic triumph, Liverpool has been crushed under the expectation of dominance and has crumpled without their star man Virgil van Dijk. van Dijk was given a stint on the sidelines in October 2020 after a knee injury sustained in a challenge involving Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. One of the best defenders in the world, van Dijk’s absence deeply hurt Liverpool, and the departure of just one man has sent the team crumbling down. Jordan Henderson, Joel Matip, James Milner and Diogo Jota have also been sidelined because of injury in what seems to be a campaign where nothing is going Liverpool’s way.
However, Liverpool still enjoys a considerably strong squad, with the likes of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, Xherdan Shaqiri, Georginio Wijnaldum and Alisson Becker in their ranks. Milner and Jota are also back in the side, though neither is close to his best, their presence should have elevated Liverpool’s performance. After pinning the initial failures on injuries and team imbalance, the Reds’ campaign has only gone downhill. Running out of explanations for their abysmal showings, they have now failed to win at their home, Anfield, for eight successive games. The first time in more than 60 years that such a thing has occurred. After stooping to a shocking low after losing 0–1 to 18th placed Fulham, Liverpool’s chances of breaking into even the top five seem bleak.
Jurgen Klopp has become used to being the desolate and dejected manager at the end of the full time whistle, slowly trudging towards his rival counterpart to shake hands and somehow throw a smile, when deep inside him there are wounds that keep getting deeper and deeper with each defeat. The undoing of Liverpool has been more rapid and sudden as compared to the West Indian cricket team, but Liverpool will be hoping that this isn’t the beginning of a hurtful toppling for them. The West Indies have never been able to regain the same respect and authority they once enjoyed, primarily owing to the management being indifferent and unalarmed and assuming an automated reversal of fortune and maybe perhaps not being able to accept the wither.
And Liverpool will be cognizant of the fact that if things are not turned around for the better and with express urgency in the next PL season or in the Champions League, they might well be struggling for a long time to regain their throne at the top they worked so hard to conquer, just like the Windies. Tired and exhausted they are but Liverpool’s one most essential gulp of elixir is just a few hours away; one that they have to grab to be alive as they run into RB Leipzig in a few hours time for their Champions League clash. If this slips, it can be a long way back to recovery and Klopp will then want to get some tips from Lloyd, Holding and Lara.