by Farhat Raza
The Carling Cup: a small but crucial step in Liverpool’s quest for glory
February 25, 2012 in FA and Carling Cup by Farhat Raza
If, as expected, Liverpool claim victory in Sunday’s Carling Cup final, you can rest assured that rival fans will be quick to rain on King Kenny’s parade. The lines are well rehearsed by now, with the winners told that “it doesn’t matter”. It was only the Carling Cup, the one that nobody cares about; easy to win, irrelevant, the cup almost embarrassingly slight. The League Cup is certainly nothing to shout about. Liverpool won’t be taking the silver cup on tour should they win (if they do, I will be all over it, as an avid Manchester United fan), nor should it be what defines their season, but it definitely matters. It matters a lot.
Liverpool have won the League Cup a record 7 times. Dalglish won it as a player in 4 consecutive years, and winning it as a manager on Sunday could be just as crucial to Liverpool’s fortunes in the future as his former glories are to the club’s illustrious past. There are obvious reasons for the Scouse faithful to celebrate should they secure victory; winning is a good habit, silverware is what the game is played for and defeat can be torturous. Ask Arsene Wenger if the League Cup doesn’t matter – his side succumbed to a shock defeat to Birmingham City in last year’s final and while the trophy itself may not have been of massive value in the currency of history or financially (the winners take home just £100,000), that winning feeling is most definitely invaluable.
Liverpool have been going through a tough time. Rafael Benitez’s reign saw Liverpool on the very brink of returning to the green, trophy-laden pastures of the past. His managerial demise and the burden placed upon the club by notoriously bad American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet led to a sharp downward spiral which culminated in Roy Hodgson’s short tenure. Dalglish returned to a hero’s welcome and that alone is crucial for Liverpool. The fans will be as patient as is possible with him and offer him every sinew of support their bodies can muster. To Liverpool fans, Dalglish really is King and they are his loyal servants.
You have to wonder how they would respond to another man paying £35m for Andy Carroll before recording 8 home draws this term. Considering Liverpool’s outlay in the summer and the very steep and sudden deterioration in Arsenal and Chelsea’s form, you could have reasonably expected Liverpool to secure the crucial 4th place this season. That hasn’t transpired and currently Liverpool linger behind Newcastle in 7th position. Fourth place is still very much within their reach, but seeds of doubt have naturally begun to creep in. Can Dalglish really lead Liverpool to glory once more? Is he a true top level manager? It’s almost impossible to tell for now, but a win on Sunday means the jury are kept out of the court-room for a few months more. Liverpool fans will turn the volume up on the pro-Dalglish chants and regardless of the Cup’s relevance, Dalglish will have once more led Liverpool to success. For Dalglish and Liverpool however, a win on Sunday has to be regarded as a small step in the right direction rather than a significant landmark.
A small step albeit, but an immensely vital one. Whilst Dalglish may lack tactical knowledge or the Midas touch in the transfer market, he possesses something of perhaps greater importance. An understanding of what it takes to be the best, the fibre than underpins all great clubs and all succesful sides. One he was taught by Liverpool’s great managers of the past. Bill Shankly once said, “If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing”. Dalglish knows that better than most and it’s what he must instil into his players today if Liverpool are to return to the glories which for so long saw them sit at the summit of the English game uncontested. A relentless and insatiable thirst to be at the top of the tree is what Liverpool have been lacking. Whether he will be the man who lifts the trophies Liverpool fans so desperately crave, he is better placed than anybody to set that pursuit in motion. Winning is essential because the alternative is defeat. Defeat must be unacceptable, incomprehensible, impossible.
Many Liverpool fans have been weighing up whether they would rather win Sunday’s final or secure 4th place come May. Most have gone with the latter. The conundrum made further difficult by bringing a potential FA Cup final into the picture. A cup double or 4th place? A tougher call.
Liverpool, however, must aim for all three, casting the choice aside, a treble of sorts. Should it come, even that can not be enough. Whilst his players may celebrate, rightfully so, Dalglish must keep his eye on the real prize. Next season, the gauntlet must be laid down to the players once more, defend the crowns, secure new ones, climb the table, win the league, conquer Europe. It won’t all come at once. It can’t.
Some players won’t make the cut, others may only last half the distance and few the whole way. But until Liverpool Football Club once again demand of themselves that winning it all must be the aim, the glory days of the past will remain distant memories. Never mind dreaming big, it’s time to demand big. It begins on Sunday.