Do neutral fans want Liverpool to win the title? Glen Johnson claims that ‘neutrals would want to see us win it’ because his team’s style of play appeals to football’s floating voters. ‘People watch football to enjoy themselves, see goals and see exciting football and I think we do provide that’, said the Liverpool defender. Both the Daily Mail and the Mirror have published articles listing the reasons why Liverpool are the neutral’s choice.
Now, I’ll admit that I briefly entertained the notion that Liverpool were the least unpalatable option on offer. They’re not Chelsea or Manchester City, therefore they must be preferable, right? Wrong. On reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be morally wrong for anyone to root for Liverpool (other than their own fans). And here, in the spirit of list-making, are five good reasons why the rest of us shouldn’t want Liverpool to be champions.
It will be bad for English football. Liverpool deserve to win the title, we’re told, because they play expansive, attacking football. That’s one way of looking at it. Liverpool’s ability to retain the ball is, of course, admirable, but I prefer to focus on the flipside of that argument. While Liverpool have been scoring goals for fun – 96 goals at the time of writing – they are prone to defensive blunders. It’s a shocking indictment of the Premier League that the title could be won by a team that has conceded more goals than Crystal Palace. What kind of example does that set to youngsters? It would send out a clear message that defending doesn’t matter. The art of good defending is scandalously undervalued in England. The sneering disdain for defensive tactics was all too evident when Brendan Rodgers complained that Chelsea ‘parked two buses’ against his team. We’ve seen similar ungracious gripes from Barcelona and Arsenal when opposing teams had the audacity to defend properly against them. English football will never emerge from the dark ages until excellence in defending is valued as highly as attacking.
A victory for sentimentalism. Liverpool is the capital city of mawkish sentimentality. You can just imagine the orgy of grief that will engulf the city if Liverpool choke. They’ll be wearing wristbands and ribbons, laying flowers at makeshift shrines, observing minutes of silence, and opening books of condolence – all the rituals of post-Diana public mourning that Merseyside has embraced. If that sounds grim, the sentiment-fest will be 10 times worse if they actually win the title. I’m already sick of hearing all that saccharine tosh about how Stevie G deserves a champion’s medal for remaining loyal to his hometown club. ‘Gerrard has always been the most popular of the “Golden Generation” and few would begrudge this one-club man a title win’, claimed the Daily Mail. Oh please, spare us the schmaltz. The Stevie G love-in will soon come to a juddering halt when he’s back on England duty, charging around like a headless chicken, hitting Hollywood balls to nobody in particular, and shanking penalties over the bar. And don’t be seduced by the Mirror’s tearjerking hogwash about how Liverpool winning the league would be a ‘fitting tribute to the 96 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hillsborough’. This dewy-eyed mush will soon morph into vomit-inducing crowing and self-mythologising. You have been warned.
The myth of pauperism. Probably the most preposterous myth is that Liverpool are plucky underdogs who haven’t bought success, but are reaping the rewards of business prudence and good coaching. ‘They are proof that canny management, team spirit and shrewd investment can pay dividends’, declared the Daily Mail. ‘Their victory, then, would be a victory for us all.’ Oh please. The notion that Liverpool are footballing church mice is complete bunkum. They may not have the same financial clout as Manchester City or Chelsea, but let’s not forget that this is the twelfth richest club in the world. Liverpool didn’t pick up Luis Suárez for a pittance in a flea market; they paid Ajax £22million for his services. The club’s £119million wage bill is hardly a sign of penury. Liverpool’s total revenue last season was £206million, which, to put it in context, is double that of La Liga table-toppers and Champions League finalists Atlético Madrid. The surprising thing is not how Liverpool have mounted a realistic title challenge on such a modest budget, but how such a wealthy club has woefully underperformed for the past 24 years.