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Frontliners to fringe players: Why FSG & Klopp owe Liverpool squad for this rocky title triumph

COMMENT: The tribute from John W Henry hit the right tune. And it rang true: this Premier League title is down to the work of Liverpool's players and their manager.

For Fenway Sports Group, on the eve of their ten years in charge, it's a planned project... a typical ten-year project... made good. And it's culminated in a year of triumph unseen in the Premier League era - including Manchester United's Treble winners of '99.

A Premier League crown, as Henry declared in his online tribute to the club and players on Thursday night, achieved over a year which also brought "a European championship, a Super Cup and a world championship" - or in football-speak, a Champions League title, a UEFA Super Cup and a Club World Cup. It could've been more, but... oh well, maybe we'll get to that later... But four trophies. The biggest in the game. As Henry put it "...a season for the ages and for the faithful of Liverpool Football Club. It has been an incredible year of magnificent achievement...".

FSG will be delighted. A £300m investment made a decade ago is now worth close to £2bn. The club's greatest run of silverware in 40 years achieved without any major outlay over almost two summer transfer windows. The mega spend of two years ago, which brought in Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Alisson and Naby Keita, now paying off. Players to not only challenge for and win silverware, but whom will attract (and keep) others to the club wanting more of the same. Pundits, even some LFC players, keep talking about the start of a "golden era". But that happened a long time ago. The lead-up to Kiev and Karius. It was then that this team - this project - was truly forged.

Liverpool had come close. Very close. But found themselves outclassed by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired Real Madrid on the night. But the potential had been seen. The words. The promise. Everything that Jurgen Klopp had espoused in his conversations with Henry and Mike Gordon, Liverpool's day-to-day boss, were seen on that night. They were close. So close. But changes had to be made. Investment was needed. And Henry and co agreed to come up with the readies.

Two years on and that investment - just as it's been with the club overall - has paid off. At this moment, Liverpool are the biggest thing in the world. European champions. English champions. World champions. The club. It's players. They couldn't ask for more. Or at least, the owners couldn't...

For a club that has dominated the domesti... ahem, the Premier League this season, it hasn't exactly been a smooth sailing campaign for the new champions. It'll be for the post-retirement book. Or the 'long interview' in five, maybe ten, years' time. But there are players inside this Liverpool locker room who feel the squad underachieved this season. And due to no fault of their own.

Liverpool's players are in lockstep. And why shouldn't they? Klopp has made good on his promise. The manager helping them to reach the absolute summit in the game. But there's some on the fringes who are celebrating with just a pang of frustration. They wanted more this season. The Cup competitions offered this. But Klopp's refusal to split his senior squad for their Club World Cup commitments was a blow to those who saw the Carabao Cup as their best chance of a run of games. That the manager then insisted every senior player go on their German-style 'winter break', despite an FA Cup tie to win, only exacerbated things for some. It wasn't just those connected Shrewsbury Town who were left bitter by the experience.

But winning fixes everything. And while some have been left out in the cold, the momentum of the league campaign made them an afterthought. How could you pipe up when the Premier League team was dominating as it did?

And off the pitch, the winning did much the same. Six months ago, Liverpool were being priced at £1.7m. Today, Sir Martin Broughton, who brokered the original sale to FSG, says the club is now worth €2bn. And the momentum is showing no signs of stopping.

But beyond the trophies and the backslapping, inside the boardroom it has been rocky for Liverpool. There was the backlash from a failed move to trademark 'Liverpool'. An even greater reaction was felt when the club chose to furlough a number of non-playing staff as the coronavirus impact began to take effect. And then there was the court battle to wrangle out of their kit agreement with New Balance and go with Nike. Arguments being made by Liverpool that Lebron James, among others, would increase sales of club merchandise in China - all at the height of the Hong Kong protests.

But as we said, winning fixes everything. And with a servile local media in tow, scrutiny was at a minimum. Mere hiccups as Liverpool's players, with win after win, generated their own headlines for team and club. Even surrendering the battle for Timo Werner, the now departing RB Leipzig striker, to Chelsea could be papered over as Reds fans around the world anticipated their 30 year drought ending.

Henry's right, this Premier League title is one for the players. Players who have held up their end of the bargain. Whether it be the frontliners, or those who have sacrificed while on the fringes, they've all contributed to a Premier League title triumph which hasn't been as smooth as it'll read in the history books.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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