It was Roy Evans who once said “Liverpool without European football is like a banquet without wine”, a well versed quote over the years, especially given the more recent slump Liverpool have been faced with.
In Europe (and arguably world football) the UEFA Champions League is viewed as the most prestigious prize throughout the beautiful game, though recently the once dominant English clubs have been faltering.
Over the past five years, of the 20 English teams that have earned qualification to the Champions League group stage, only three teams have made it as far as the quarter finals. Manchester United in 2013/14, Manchester City in 2015/16 and Leicester City in 2016/17.
Conversely, in the five year period between 2006 and 2011, 16 of 20 English teams who entered the Champions League earned passage to the last eight of the competition, if not further.
Incidentally, across those five years, Liverpool featured in the Champions League four times, progressing as far as at least the quarter finals thrice. Though from 2011 onwards, the five time European champions have made only one appearance in Europe’s Premier club competition, exiting at the group stage in the 2014/15 season.
While it’s no secret a lack of Champions League football has been holding Liverpool back recently, restricting the caliber of players they are able to sign as well as somewhat hampering them financially, it does beg the question to what extent does the Reds absence from the top tier of European football restrict their ability to succeed?
To start off with, I would argue it’s not the absence of Champions League football in and of itself that is so restrictive, but the continued absence of it over the past five years or so.
People talk about Manchester United signing Angel di Maria, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic without having their names amongst Europe’s elite. Likewise with Chelsea this season, signing David Luiz and N’Golo Kante and excelling in domestic competition.
“If they can do it why can’t we?” Liverpool fans ask, and the simple yet agonisingly painful answer is; Liverpool isn’t as big a name as Manchester United and Chelsea anymore. At least for the time being anyway.
Truth be told, the regressive attitude we inherited under Roy Hodgson is yet to vacate the club. When we appointed the former Fulham manager, off the back of taking the Cottagers to the final of the Europa League, we appointed a small-team mentality along with him.
While Hodgson was quickly ousted from Anfield and replaced with Kenny Dalglish, the damage had been done and Fenway Sports Group and King Kenny were left with a rebuilding job as opposed to a maintenance one.
Year after year the deadwood was slowly cast out from the club, all while the reputation of Liverpool spoiled and stagnated.
Fortunately the club was afforded some respite as big name players such as Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho made a name for themselves at Anfield, somewhat expediting the recovery process and helping people to view Liverpool more as a prospect for the future than a lost cause.
Under FSG, Liverpool has taken massive steps towards being viewed as a world class club once more. The expansion of Anfield and the appointment of Jürgen Klopp being just two examples of the American company helping to pull the club up by its bootstraps and back amongst England’s elite.
There’s still a long way to go however, and that’s why finishing in the Premier League’s Champions League places is so imperative to the clubs continued success.
So often it seems a requisite for signing a player is having Champions League football on offer, as was the case last summer with Mario Götze.
Although this may not always be the case with such players as Sadio Mané and Georgino Wijnaldum, who looked for ambition and endeavour in the club they joined, not having Champions League football as a selling point for joining Liverpool does severely limit the choice of players that will choose to move to Anfield.
Naturally Champions League football is a major selling point for joining a club, though one good season, placing in the top four, is not necessarily a catalyst for success.
You need only to look at Leicester in order to see that not all that glitters is gold, the Foxes have floundered in domestic competition this campaign and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to get any better.
Needless to say they didn’t take full advantage of their new found prestige and are now paying the price, much like Liverpool following the 2013/14 campaign.
But in order for Liverpool to once again assume their role as one of England’s, and indeed Europe’s, footballing superpowers, they have to capitalise on their initial success.
Liverpool returning to the Champions League isn’t only an important milestone for the club but for English clubs as a whole. As of the past five years the performances of English clubs in the Champions League have been yielding diminishing returns year after year.
The standard of football that Liverpool (and, to arguably a lesser extent, Chelsea and Manchester United) bring to European competition has provided the world with some of footballs most entertaining games.
England’s once overwhelming dominance in Europe has since been dismissed, thanks in no small part to the dominance of Spanish and German clubs. Henceforth, why it is so important for a team like Liverpool to make a return to the competition.
All told Roy Evans is right, Liverpool without European football truly is like a banquet without wine. However, the same could be said for European football without Liverpool.