In 1890, noted football pundit Oscar Wilde (very much the Gary Neville of his day) wrote: ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’
Extremely long-time readers of our output will recall that Mediawatch rightly criticised Wilde for this wildly inaccurate summary of Blackburn’s 6-1 FA Cup Final win over The Wednesday, with Titus Winterburn writing in Assocation Football Year-Round: ‘As the great many spectators present at the Kennington Oval may attest, Wilde was altogether incorrect; for had William Townley not torn the Wednesday rearguard asunder with such exciting ease and the game had finished a more respectable 3-1, the attention would have been on Rovers, with scarcely a word uttered about the terrible state of the Sheffield outfit.’
Now – as much as then – it is media law that at least two of our big clubs must be in crisis at any one time. Currently that role is filled by Arsenal and Chelsea, but everyone except Manchester City has taken the mantle at some point over the last seven months.
Where Wilde had it wrong is that in football, not being talked about is a very close second-best thing that can happen to a club, behind only being talked about in glowing terms.
It is illustrative of the progress Liverpool have made over the past two years, then, that the second leg of their first Champions League knock-out tie for nine years passed by with barely a flicker of interest from the neutral fan – their lead from the first leg was so commanding as to render the second leg irrelevant.
Sitting on Twitter all night like the social media crazed junkie I am, I was hardly even aware that they were playing; all the attention was instead on Real Madrid’s trip to Paris. The same was true of the Reds’ 2-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday evening. For such matches to be treated as routine is the best compliment Jurgen Klopp could possibly crave at the moment.
When Klopp took over, the best a reasonable fan could hope for was that the side would once again become a top four regular. Now, with Manchester City so dominant at the top of the table, it is very possible that Liverpool could finish second under the most minimal scrutiny.
There can’t be too many occasions over the years when Liverpool have faced a trip to Old Trafford that the bookies consider Rizla-fine, but the 4-3 victory over City and 5-0 win over Porto have normalised Liverpool’s improvement under Klopp. There are still plenty of obvious issues to address everywhere behind the front three, but the signing of Virgil Van Dijk, the emergence of Andrew Robertson at left-back, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s incredible improvement in central midfield (with Naby Keita due to arrive in the summer) have allowed Liverpool to become quietly reliable since the turn of the year, one two-game blip at the end of January excepted.
One way or another, this calm will not last long. It would only take one or two bad results to cut the seven-point gap to fifth-placed Chelsea to a sphincter-tighteningly slender margin; whereas a continuation of Liverpool’s fine form would raise expectations for next season another level, particularly if it results in continued progress in the Champions League.
Doing well despite room for improvement only lasts for so long before people start expecting to see that improvement; from here, that would mean mounting a serious title challenge, and being judged against that expectation – regardless of what you achieve, the fans and media just can’t get enough. But win on Saturday, and Klopp and Liverpool can continue to enjoy the silence a little while longer.