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Hearts Of Champions

“We can be heroes, for ever and ever!” So sang the late, great David Bowie. The words, part of a defiant anthem of staring into adversity and choosing to continue fighting, feel appropriate for what Liverpool accomplished on Sunday evening. By finding a way to win the Carabao Cup over continued rival Chelsea, the team summoned all the heart, spirit and team unity that Jurgen Klopp could ever dream of. By lifting up youngsters who are all possibly out past curfew celebrating this victory, the team ensured that Jurgen’s farewell season won’t go out with a whimper.

Ravaged by injuries, which only grew as the game wore on, Liverpool at times had to hold on for their very lives as Chelsea made several good chances. It took some truly dynamic saves from Caoimhin Kelleher to just reach extra time. The man who has risen to the occasion when the lights are brightest, earned every single plaudit and man of the match award that came his way at the final whistle.

Make no mistake, this is a victory born out of the identity that has been forged on Merseyside. What has been built here is a sense of togetherness, where players are accountable to one another and it showed. While Chelsea threw on more expensive attackers as the game wore on, their vibe as just a collection of talent became stark. Liverpool meanwhile leaned heavily on to the few senior players they had left to lead the youngsters in a trial by fire and they were all up to the task. By the end of the game, many would be mistaken for thinking this was some Under 21’s match or perhaps a friendly with the names and positions being played.

Much can be made of the fact that despite their wage bills and on field talent, Chelsea clearly weren’t playing for a win but just to get to penalties and take their chances there. Liverpool meanwhile, as always, decided to just take their shot. As Jurgen has said so often, you need to take doubt and turn it into belief. Even if no one else thinks it’s possible, so long as the people on the pitch and the club have a hope, there is a chance.

That comes from Jurgen first and foremost but also to those who stood up to be counted. Virgil van Dijk took destiny into his own hands, by leading from the back and eventually the front too. He seemed the most likely player to score and as the minutes ebbed away, seized his chance deep into extra time. It was a mix of two things: desire and being prepared. Somehow, the most obvious target man for a corner kick was still able to break free and win the trophy for his team. Job done, the first trophy to be raised as Liverpool skipper. Calm as you like, that Virgil van Dijk.

The celebrations on the sideline and the field told much of the story. Players who are out injured or just not quite fit to play today were jumping up and down at the final whistle. And, when the youngsters who probably couldn’t wrap their heads around what they’d accomplished almost seemed sheepish about accepting the victory, those same senior players lifted them up and extolled them to stand up and be proud. This ethos is exactly what has been fashioned at the club.

It’s a cliche but deep down, fans really want just one thing from the teams they root for: they want to know their team cares. Wins are sweet and loses sting but ultimately, what fans remember is the passion their players showed, how they pull for one another and come together. Some teams can be serial winners and yet, it has an almost robotic feel because the victories aren’t built so much as they are checked off a list that was long bought and paid for. However, when a team that is so fully invested in one another and connected to their community finds victory, it creates a joy so intoxicating that anything seems possible. Kids really do become heroes for ever and ever.

So here we all sit now, reaching the end of February, with somehow miraculously all to play for still. The climb will be monumental, the games will be flying in fast and furious and the team looks stretched possibly to a breaking point. But nights like these are the shield against all doubts and within that, a new strength, forged from battles fought together can be pulled to go further.

We must cherish these next few months we still have before we lose our manager. He’s always been something extraordinary and while the future looks as bright as can be, the present is mighty fine too. We still have more to come, and even if it all falls in the end, we’ll head that way unified.

Savor this and get back at it. It’s all we really can do, when things seem bleak. Remember that when you believe in yourself and those around you, when you lift each other up, the collective power and spirit of that can move mountains. At the highest of those points is surely that golden sky.

Or to paraphrase Bowie: “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere. I’ll stick with you, Jurgen, for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years”.

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