There are teams still competing who shouldn’t be there and others that are just happy to be there. There are no truer examples than England’s two remaining representatives, Liverpool and Fulham.
Liverpool, who is having a very disappointing season by their standards, lost narrowly 1-0 away to Lille, while Fulham were very lucky to escape with only a 3-1 defeat against Juventus.
Liverpool went into the tie last night with a history as rich as any English club in European competition. Their famous red soccer uniforms have graced the European soccer stage since in 1964, and they have won the European Cup or European Champions League no less than five times, as well as taking part in two losing finals, the most recent three years ago against Barcelona, and the other, the infamous final against Juventus in Brussels in 1985. The Reds have also won the UEFA cup and the UEFA Super cup three times, a record which puts them up there among the European greats.
So why is it that you feel almost uncomfortable seeing Liverpool play in the Europa League, while you seem almost surprised to see lowly Fulham still there and holding their own?
When comparing the clubs, you can’t help comparing the record of their respective managers. Liverpool’s Rafa Benítez came to Annfield as a relatively young man, yet with an already proven pedigree in Europe, having taken Valencia to the La Liga championship in 2002 and 2004 and the UEFA cup the same year.
His first season in Merseyside was one that legends were made of, and he led Liverpool to victory in that remarkable final of 2005, where they came back from 3-0 down to Milan, to win on penalties. It looked like the glory days of Shankly and Paisley were back from Liverpool and the championships would begin to roll in again. Yet since then, the Reds have failed to reach their potential and Benitez’s ability to take them there has been increasingly under question. Speculation has it that Liverpool would like to try someone new in the manager’s role but the club’s hapless owners can’t afford to pay Benitez the almost £20 million that they would have to if they let him go. These days Benitez looks increasingly more like a manager with a plan that he only understands.
On the other hand, Fulham manager 62-year old Roy Hodgson knows exactly where he came from and possibly where he is going too, Hodgson is a real journeyman manager, had managed teams all over Europe and the World, including Inter Milan and even the Swiss National Team. He was brought to Craven Cottage by Fulham’s millionaire chairman, Mohamed Al-Fayed, when the club were struggling, probably as a stop gap. Since then Hodgson has turned the club’s fortunes around considerably. Today they are a solid middle of the table team in the English Premier League and in the eighth round of Europa League. To some teams that a great position to be in, and to others it’s a disaster. It’s all a case of what you expect and the difference is that football expects a lot from Liverpool and a lot less from Fulham.