Football, Sports

Liverpool FC 2018-19: In search of a red dawn

Another year. Another football season coming to end. Another so-near-yet-so-far year at the KOP. It leaves a void when you think of the drama, the expectations, the equation amongst the best six and the rest of the best — the whole buzz is a thing of the past. A new season will begin soon, with new teams, new faces. For a Liverpool fan, every year ended as a disappointment lately, but there was something about the EPL this year that made me pen this down.

First, the campaign had not finished at the EPL for Liverpool. After many years, a Champions League final presented with a great opportunity, although it ended in heartbreak and disbelief. Halfway through the EPL season, when the Man City juggernaut seemed to blitz all their opponents into dust, people kept saying Man City is the best team in Europe and they deserve to win the CL. Since then, Man City played three times against Liverpool. The rest is history. Yes, City has been in an imperious form this year. Yes, they scored 106 goals and reached the fabled 100 point mark. Perhaps they were the most consistent of them all. Yet, LFC this year seemed a different unit. The played firebrand football that blew any doubts the so-called football pundits cast over the team’s performance into smithereens. Not much to comment on City being the best club in Europe, in my view Liverpool played the most flamboyant football this year. Considering Real Madrid was the last bastion before the CL trophy, the loss of Mo Salah prevented us playing the natural attacking game and that sealed the luck. Yet, a number of players showed their potential like Alexander-Arnold, Anderson who would become a great asset for the team.

Sergio Ramos tackle on Mo Salah that caused the shoulder injury.
Source: The Times

Also, during the 2017-18 campaign, Liverpool managed to function in a much-coordinated fashion that it hadn’t for quite a few years. Their forward line has always been great, but there was no connection between midfield and the defence. Most of the matches or point Liverpool list were due to its defence buckling under pressure. And it was crucial that the team performed well against smaller teams. That’s where most of the points were lost in previous seasons. The coordination, under Jürgen Klopp and with Virgil van Dyk strengthening the defence, has been superb this year. Besides, we played forwards who operate much deeper, helping midfielders.

This brings to the coach and the transfers this year. The signing of Virgil van Dyk was a great move, and so was selling Philipe Coutinho. If a player wants to leave a club, it’s worth waiting to get the best deal for him, but clubs who keep blocking transfer of players when they want to go, don’t help themselves. It was wise to let Coutinho go, and not spend all the transfer money if they didn’t need to. It was a clever move from Klopp, and I believe it kept the board happy as well. This was one of many master strokes of the boss, and his biggest success is moulding the individuals into a team and instil a sense of dynamism. It was phenomenal how Liverpool never felt the loss of Coutinho after January, as Mané, Firmino and Salah shared the burden at the frontline. If the middle of the year transfers were meticulous, the transfers for the 18-19 season were phenomenal. Alisson Becker, Nabi Keita, Xherdan Shaquiri and Nabil Fekir — the reds have sure pushed their boat to a level that kept other clubs go green in envy.

No words are enough to describe Mo Salah’s spectacular performance this year. He was Liverpool’s Mr Dependable, scoring in almost every game. He’s got good speed, fantastic ball control and a calm head to finish off the goal. I’m sure if Salah continues his form this year, he going to be the UEFA footballer of the year. He surpassed with ease the previous record set by none other than Luis Suarez. Yet, because of the stellar performance of Mo Salah, one should not forget the other two prongs of the LFC juggernaut, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. If it was just a one-man band, it would have been much easier for the opponents, but when all three of them are on top form, and helping not only by scoring but also on assists, it goes without saying why LFC has become one of the most daunting clubs in Europe now. And behind that explosive front line, there was a balanced mix of young talent like Oxlade-chamberlain and experienced veterans like James Milner. The defence is well-knit with van Dyk and there is a safe pair of hands in Carius under the goalposts. The CL final hadn’t been his day but he made a number of good saves in the game. The entire team raised their game this year, and the results are formidable.

I think I’ve digressed a bit far from where I started. I’m not a die-hard fan of EPL. Yet, this season kept me on my toes. It was probably clear a long time ago that city will win the league, but the battle for the second place went on for a long time until the defeat in Old Trafford. Amid other things during weekends, I never failed to check the score. I have been a bit superstitious as well, and during CL matches, I only checked scores when I knew the match was over. I didn’t want to jinx the performance. I was never disappointed! Yet I never got too excited because the last time I felt jubilant was in 2014-15, and we lost the title at the very end. In the CL final, I know that we’ve lost to a team that can write a manual on how to play Champions League finals. That was the last match of the season, nothing more to gain, nothing more to lose. No matter what the result was, the performance of LFC this year has filled me with hope, that this team has immense potential, and can fire on big stages. A hope that this team is going to put their hands on the cup one first time since it eluded us from the inception of EPL.

But beyond Liverpool’s performance, I took a bit more interest in the league table in general than previous years. And I paid more attention to the other games every week, knowing how results in other games would affect LFC on the table. And you realise the role of the “minnows” who are expected to be easy points. Teams that are even relegated this year, like West Brom or Swansea, they have changed the dynamics of the league table significantly, by drawing or winning against the top six. A few years back Leicester proved it’s not just the best-six-and-the-rest. This year, until the last moment, it wasn’t sure if Arsenal would be toppled from the top six spot by Burnley. This makes you think that EPL one of the most competitive leagues in Europe. We know that it’s the richest, but in terms of competition, it’s probably also one of the most gruelling ones, and there are more contenders to the top spot than elsewhere. The next season will bring another intense array of footballing skills and with wise signings during the transfer window, Liverpool can surely become the top contender for the elusive trophy. I know I think about it every year, but seeing how the team is working as a unit, I’m hopeful that the kop will produce flamboyant firebrand football.
Brain Tumour, Charity, Sports

Meeting Lewis Moody: An unassuming sportsman

Could you please spare a few seconds and vote for this campaign, Headsmart, created to drive research into diagnosing brain tumours in children? Here’s the voting page from The National Lottery.

Lewis Moody
Image Source: Twitter@LewisMoody7

I don’t often get starstruck. That’s  because I don’t lead a lifestyle where there’s an opportunity to brush your shoulder with celebrities every now and then, and when I do get a chance very rarely, I tend to stay calm and not appear overexcited. As a natural instinct, when other people flock around famous people for autographs before and selfies these days, I decided to stay away from mindless adulation. But very rarely comes a moment when you start with meeting someone as a complete stranger, then realise he or she is a superstar, and like them by virtue of how you find them personally, not just through the statistics or the cover pages they were featured on. This was one such instance when I spent an entire day with Lewis Moody, the Ex-England rugby captain. And I’m admittedly starstruck.

We planned to come to the activity day out arranged by The Brain Tumour Charity. We thought it would be a great opportunity to meet people in similar situations, and a day out for Sofia. When we left this morning, it was brilliant weather with a spotless sky and a promise of a great day ahead. On the way to Conkers, Jennifer mentioned that the welcome email said the event is also supported by a Lewis Moody Foundation. That name didn’t ring any bell to me, and I thought it might be another charity supporting brain tumour causes, named after a patient.

When we finally reached there, at the reception desk, apart from the volunteers of the charity, we were greeted by this very tall man with rippling muscles and a wide smile, as he said, “Hi, I’m Lewis”. After sitting down, I wondered if he’s the Lewis Moody of the foundation? His physique gave away that he’s into sports, and a few rugby balls scattered around the hall confirmed that he’s probably a rugby player. But at what level? He looked really young, does he represent a local team? Or someone who played a few odd games as a reserve at a bigger level? The terrible 3G coverage made sure that all my attempts to find it out were futile. So Lewis Moody remained a mystery.

But it didn’t matter anyway. Throughout the course of the day, we were involved in many activities, and Lewis popped in and out, talking to the families visited. Sofia was already talking to his son Ethan, and Lewis wasn’t a stranger to her anymore. It was a family day and everybody joined in the activities, participants and organisers alike. Lewis’ wasn’t any different. We spoke many times during the day, as Sofia enjoyed her rugby session with him, and a bit of friendly skirmish and water splashing during the canoeing — he mingled with us as equals, and my first impression of Lewis being “some” rugby player was transformed into a really nice, energetic and down to earth person.

Team photo with The Brain Tumour Charity and Lewis Moody Foundation crew
Source: The Lewis Moody Foundation Facebook page

The penny dropped after all our activities were finished and we were getting ready for a final photo shoot. A brief look on the phone showed the search results I asked for six hours ago. And I was right on one count, he is a rugby player! And yes, he is “some” rugby player, if that’s how you can describe stalwarts, over a decade with the English rugby team with numerous caps, captaining the country, winning member of the Rugby World Cup, an MBE — the credentials were endless.

But did that make any difference to our experience? It did, only marginally, now that we know his statistics are as fabulous as his demeanour. Coming across a famous sportsperson is rare in our daily life. Meeting someone who is not an arrogant brat is pretty much a MasterCard moment. It’s priceless. It’s not just us, not many people swooned over Lewis and perhaps that made it easy for him to mingle with the rest as well. When he spoke to the people during the day, one could see that he showed sincere interest in listening to them and participated in the conversation that didn’t revolve around rugby at all. It didn’t matter what his background was, the fact that he was pleasant and amicable was reason enough to remember him.

But the realisation that he is someone famous made me reflect on a similar scenario, for which I kept thinking that day was my Sharapova moment. For those who don’t know, Maria Sharapova said in an interview that she didn’t know of Sachin Tendulkar — the prolific Indian cricketer, and Demi-God. Following that, there was a big hoo-ha in India, with everyone demanding an apology from Sharapova. Until, of course, Sachin himself spoke out in public that it’s perfectly normal for the rest of the world not know about a sport played largely in 12 countries! Now, if you wonder who Sharapova is, I don’t blame you, but you must have Google on your device. But the fundamental issue is that there are hundreds and thousands of professional sportspersons with incredible achievements, but it’s not possible for people to know every one of them. As much as it’s unfair and absurd for the players and their fans to be upset due to this, it is equally unfair expecting people to know and memorise the achievements for every sportsperson.

However, being starstruck didn’t involve hankering for autographs and selfies. Lewis Moody chose to devote his time following retirement in his foundation associated with the charities, and it contributed to the successful day out we had. However, it would be extremely ungrateful not to mention the volunteers for The Brain Tumour Charity who arranged the event and made it happen at the first place. They travelled a long distance, gave every family a warm and heartfelt welcome and their stories and experiences shared with the others. And the families who attended the event. Having such a major illness and the trauma, the pain, the endless wait to the road to recovery associated with it, can turn anyone’s life upside down. It takes great strength to deal with the ailment, and continue with your life, and for this reason, the meet-up turned out to be one amongst the equals, involving people with incredible strength of character on or outside the pitch.

So, why am I not writing about the others? I think it’s because not knowing who Lewis was for the entire day was in a way funny. It was about wondering who he was at the beginning, then trying to imagine what level he played at, then forgetting who he was in his professional life altogether and enjoying the day in activities with him and everyone else…and finally, the dawn of the truth. It’s also because finding a famous person who is humble and empathetic is rare. And finally, meeting him was a realisation that you can still like someone famous based on their human qualities rather than what they did in their professional life. And the fact that seeing Lewis and his wife Annie and the other volunteers on the day, Becky, Emma, the lady with round glasses, the girl with the camera — it made me feel that you can just appear the person next door, but you can do extraordinary things.

So, the outcome of meeting Lewis? Firstly, I now know who he is, so that’s going into my trivia bank. Secondly, I’m a bit interested in rugby now than I was before. And finally, I ended the day feeling bloody frustrated learning that he’s the same age as I am and he’s already retired! But despite that gloomy realisation, the day out was marked by meeting an individual who was a prolific sportsperson, and beyond that, a humble fellow, and that’s how I’ll remember him. I’ll be waiting to see him next time to thank him for his extraordinary work. Am I a fan? Probably not of the “mad dog” Moody, as I never knew that part of his life, but as a person, I certainly admire him.

An appeal to end:

If you’ve read this far, I thought I could be cheeky and ask for some money. Although this blog is about Lewis, I must remind you the purpose of the meet. It was for the families with children who are dealing with brain tumour (not the children, but anyone in the household). Brain Tumour is one of the biggest cancer killer in the UK amongst children and its perils are not well publicised. Even the non-cancerous tumours, although termed benign by medical professionals, affect ones abilities significantly and a large number of brain tumour survivors sustain a life changing disabilities. Researches in diagnosing and treating brain tumours are underfunded. It’s organisations like The Brain Tumour Charity and Lewis Moody Foundation who are doing their utmost best to raise awareness, raise funds, facilitate research and support the affected families. Campaigns like Headsmart, started by The Brain Tumour Charity phenomenally reduced the diagnosing time for brain tumours in children. And The Lewis Moody Foundation is partnered with The Brain Tumour Charity fundraising and hosting family days, as well as support the Headsmart campaign.

So, here’s the deal. You can contribute to both of these fabulous charities doing pioneering work for Brain Tumour Research. You can make a voluntary contribution to either of the charities, or participate in a fundraising event, or if you are aware of families affected by brain tumour, you can help them get in touch with The Brain Tumour Charity, and The Lewis Moody Foundation. All these small measures will immensely help to all the families going through the ordeal, trying to coming to terms with this life changing illness.