To be a football fan is to often hold two diametrically opposed thoughts in your head at once. That you can both be excited about the present and anxious about the future. That you can have great anticipation when a player signs for big money but worried about where exactly all that big money is actually coming from or funding.
The summer transfer window is certainly every swirl of emotion all bottled together. With daily rumours from random social media accounts who claim they “heard” some player was on a flight circling around the city only to have that same player never arrive or worse, be swayed by more money elsewhere. The twin midfield debacles with Chelsea proved just how hard anything can be to trust these days from any online sources. It’s enough to drive even the most zen fan into a frenzied state.
Add in the endless money from the petrol state of Saudi Arabia who are hellbent on finding relevance and eventual leverage into the bigger football echelons and it’s frankly a relief to just get back to being worked up over the matches themselves. In fact, there can be a line drawn between fans as they are separated into two distinct categories: Those who enjoy the chaos as if every day is just another round of playing Fifa and those who just want the window to be closed already. Both are big business as they generate endless content and the almighty impressions that social media companies crave, but they can cause real fatigue and obscure the enjoyment of the sport itself.
Now everyone waits with growing annoyance over the Saudis’ repeated attempts to tap up Mo Salah or some other top player to join their quixotic quest toward respectability. This is just the latest example of out and out sports-washing, the process of using money, sports and spectacle to try and deflect away from truly horrid crimes committed without remorse. Whether Salah stays this year or Liverpool do decide to take the money, it only furthers the sliding scale toward the truth that the sport is being eaten from the inside, hollowed out by those with money and the empty pit where shame should dwell but attention will do just fine.
I’m not naive enough to think that football is anything but a capitalistic venture, where bottom line deals are the name of the game and making money is of course at least as big a consideration as glory, but this is a truly insidious turn of events. I’ve been joking on social media and with friends that the only way to combat these insane bids is to demand access to oil rights or stakes in the inevitable international streaming rights deals that the petrol states are salivating at. For in the end, if money is not an issue and the goal is to buy their way in, then you must meet their offers with cold hard bottom line cash grabs of your own too.
With the dust settling though, some things are at least clear for this season. Liverpool have in the end done a fair bit of good business. They’ve brought in four midfielders to replace and strengthen an engine room that was getting old, injured and had probably run to about its max. Questions will remain how all these pieces fit but what is clear is that Jurgen at least has some talents to play with and, if he can find the right combination, this team can surely challenge for every honour this season.
It’s for this very reason, as well as the stated objections above, that I do hope Salah stays through this year. Despite the juggernaut status Man City have rightfully attained, they do not seem like quite the unbeatable force this year and Liverpool have proven time and time again that they can run the race against them. Keeping Salah, one of Liverpool’s greatest transfer successes and most legendary players, is essential to any sort of title chase this year. Trying to replace his ability and perhaps even more important, constant availability, is not something that can be tackled on transfer deadline day. If indeed he decides he wants to leave, Liverpool must begin to formulate a plan to pivot to a new dynamic and that can’t be rushed or the entire operation will suffer, all the money in the world be damned.
The early matches have proven one fact beyond a doubt: Klopp and his team are still mentality monsters, capable of digging out of ditches and clawing back to victory when all seems lost. It comes from both the talent on the field and the grit and determination that has been hard won over the years. This very trait can be the difference as the season drags on and more challenges and obstacles get thrown into the way. While much remains to be seen, at the least, Liverpool have cleared one major hurdle: they survived the transfer window with a team that looks stronger, younger, hungrier and with a point to prove again.
If this indeed is the last hurrah for some players with the endless pipeline of money looming, we fans can walk confidently into the storm and feel a sense of peace now. This is the team we will go to battle with and win, lose or draw, all we can do is cheer them on again. The pure joy and excitement when matchday comes and the team hits the pitch is one aspect that cannot be bought or taken away. For the next few months at least, it’s about the most calming sensation in the world.