While much has been made of Liverpool players’ on-the-pitch brilliance over the last year or so, their merit off-the-pitch has perhaps gone unnoticed too often. Understandably so as well, given the Reds’ ongoing title tilt.
It’s easy to get lost in the more modern aspects of the game which often neglect the human side of football. Clean sheets, heat maps, xG and chance conversion rates may be what defines players to many supporters and viewers, but heartless stats fail to show the way in which this set of players and the manager have immersed themselves in the values and the culture of the club.
They fail to show how the players have conveyed to supporters, both directly and indirectly, that they are just ordinary lads in their 20s. They fail to show the humility in the squad, and the determination that exists to succeed, not for bonuses or individual accolades, but for those in the stands and everyone involved in the club.
In the week when Merseyside becomes divided for 90 minutes, @andrewrobertso5 volunteers with Liverpool's foodbank heroes to learn how the city unites behind a vital cause.🔴🔵
If you watch only one video today, make it this one… pic.twitter.com/R9ytKOo6M2
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 30, 2018
Some direct charitable causes have been there for everyone to see, such as Andy Robertson and Adam Lallana’s involvement with Liverpool food banks. Even at the age of 20, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s commitment to giving back in his local community through the An Hour For Others charity saw him take time out of his Christmas day to buy dinners for underprivileged kids in the area, even more remarkable when you consider Trent is one of the few players in the squad who gets the luxury of spending Christmas with his own family.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain recently speaking to kids involved with the KIND foundation. James Milner sending on two shirts to young boys who had already paid forward his generosity the night before at Molineux. Mohamed Salah’s donations back home to Egypt.
Given their professions, these acts aren’t heavy burdens on footballers, neither financially nor time-wise. But they are significant in what they stand for and represent. Each time a Liverpool player gives back to a part of the community, a set of fans or their home country, it’s a genuine act of kindness. It is not done in search of better PR or for a perfect Instagram shot of them handing over a bag of food supplies to a charity they know nothing about.
Neither the players nor the manager have gone out of their way to highlight their good deeds, and who knows how many more gestures of generosity have been shown that have remained private?
It’s not just charitable acts that have endeared Liverpool players to supporters. The squad also appears to lack any sort of a big ego.
Some players such as Salah and Van Dijk showcase an on-the-pitch arrogance. However, that audacity is required for them to do what they do. They have seldom overstepped the mark and remain humble and genuine both before and after the game.
Salah’s lack of reaction to any sort of Sergio Ramos goading over the last six months is the perfect example. He is prepared to do his talking when he crosses the white line, and not any earlier. Yet he is still human enough to have a joke back at those who had talked up a goal drought earlier this season, or raise an eyebrow at Kane’s dubious goal claims of last year.
There’s never been a question over the players’ commitment to the team and to the project. Klopp’s lack of desperation to persuade Philippe Coutinho to stay showed that the manager is only interested in working with players who truly want to be there, pulling in unison towards the same goal.
His dismissal of Mamadou Sakho and refusal to give Mario Balotelli even a minute of action in the pre-season of 2016 further established Jurgen Klopp’s position of being a humanist as much as he is a coach. He understands, as does his players, what this is all about.
At the Stadio Olimpico last May, all the members of Liverpool’s travelling squad were desperate to share the moment with the 5,000 reds in the away end. Klopp’s charge down the Roman running track forty-five minutes after the final whistle was a moment of genuine human emotion. The post-match celebrations were an acknowledgment that despite all the money, the cameras, the interviews, the sponsors, the banter culture and the media, this was what we were all in it for.
Dejan Lovren is the perfect example. Some of the abuse and criticism directed towards him boggles the mind. Listen to him speak. Watch his face at the full-time whistle in Rome. Watch his sprawling run of jubilation after the winner versus Dortmund. Watch those moments and tell me he doesn’t care about Liverpool Football Club. He wants to do well for those around him as much as he wants to do well for himself. All he wants to do is win games and silverware for Liverpool, he has no ulterior motives.
The much-maligned Simon Mignolet has gotten his head down this season and has been vocal in his support for the side on social media. He wants the Reds to win the league, even if he’s unlikely to feature enough to earn a winners medal in May.
James Milner has been willing to cover anywhere across the park even if he came to Merseyside to play centre-midfield. Although he’d never admit it, you get the feeling that even one Premier League triumph for Liverpool would mean more to him than all the silverware he lifted in Manchester.
Daniel Sturridge has remained with the side through thick and thin as well as several summers where him staying appeared illogical and highly unlikely. He has always been proven right in his belief that he will have a part to play at some stage.
They are genuine characters, not afraid to express themselves to the public and yet never shallow or self-serving. Professional and dignified, and yet as anyone who follows James Milner on Twitter will know, never bland.
They are more than brilliant footballers, they are a great set of lads, they deserve to win something. They deserve to have one great day in the sun to crown what has been an exceptional journey so far.
Let it come in May.