UEFA Champions League winners Liverpool FC are seeking domestic success next season.
By Adrian Harte
For much of the last two decades Liverpool FC supporters have lived with one foot in the past, looking back to the 1970s and 1980s when Liverpool were kings of Europe and seemingly perennial English champions.
Since their fourth European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph in 1984 and their 18th English league title in 1990, success has been sporadic with the cup treble of 2001 proving as ephemeral as it was exciting. Indeed, much of the fans' talk prior to Wednesday's extraordinary final was in finding parallels with past successes.
In both 1978 and 2005 a Pope died, the Welsh rugby union team won the grand slam, Juventus FC won the Italian league, the English league champions defeated Liverpool in the League Cup final and, of course, Liverpool won the European Cup. In 1981 and 2005, Liverpool finished fifth in the league winning only 17 games, Prince Charles got married, Norwich City FC and Southampton FC were relegated from England's top division and Liverpool won the European Cup.
However, with Liverpool once again champions of Europe, the club's fans can look confidently to the future. The most immediate focus will be on improving on a poor Premiership performance. Domestic success has always been the top priority on Merseyside.
Former club captain turned media pundit Alan Hansen once recalled: "Some 40 minutes after the final whistle of the 1978 European Cup final, I was in the dressing room at Wembley with a glass of champagne, thinking life could not get much better. Then, I heard [coach and later manager] Joe Fagan's voice in my ear, saying that our displays over the course of the season had been unacceptable. We had finished second in the league to Nottingham Forest [FC] and that was the yardstick for us."
Finishing fifth this year will have been equally unpalatable for Rafael Benítez. "I want to win the [UEFA] Champions League, but also I want to be fighting for first position in the Premiership," said the Liverpool manager, who has pinpointed the team's struggle to adapt to the more hectic tempo of Premiership football as a key problem. "
I am not happy and we need to change things in the summer."
Two of the heroes of Wednesday's triumph, Jerzy Dudek and Vladimír Šmicer, have probably played their last games for the club, while Milan Baroš, Harry Kewell, Igor Bišcan and Chris Kirkland may well follow them out and Dietmar Hamann, the German who turned the tide in Istanbul, is out of contract. Villarreal CF goalkeeper José Reina is expected to head the list of Anfield arrivals while Benítez will surely be in the market for a pacy centre-back, a left-back, a wide midfield player and another striker, which raises the thorny issue Liverpool's financial position.
Liverpool no longer have the financial muscle to compete with super-rich Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC in England, while AC Milan's annual turnover is six times that of their final conquerors. Liverpool have been actively seeking investment through financial advisors Hawkpoint but a prospective move from their famous Anfield home to a 60,000-seater stadium that would allow Liverpool to cut the income gap to their rivals has been beset by escalating costs.
The financial pressure is off for now thanks to the cash windfall from winning the most lucrative competition of them all. In any case, after their triumph in the 50th European Cup final, Liverpool fans know that football has not changed that much since the first: it is winning, not wealth, that matters.