The club recently announced that Adam Lallana, 28, has signed a new long-term contract. Some doubted the former Southampton man in his early days at the club, and although a lot of the criticism was unwarranted he has undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp. He has been one of our most important players over the past 12 months, and as such this new deal is good news.
This has not prevented a significant minority within the Liverpool fan-base from vocally questioning the decision, however. The new contract, initially rumoured to be 150k a week but now reported as 110k, undeniably represents a significant amount of money – some have suggested that this is too much to be spending given the combined factors of Lallana’s age, quality and demand (or lack thereof) in the transfer market. This is highly questionable: Lallana remains in his prime years, and is one of the most important members of the team. His pressing and energy are second to none, and his finishing has improved a lot this season. Furthermore, the wages of footballers long ago reached a point where the numbers were so incomprehensible as to preclude particularly insightful value-for-money judgements. As fans, the most important thing is surely that a player who helps the side has been tied down for the long term.
That said, questioning the Lallana deal is not inherently wrong – there is at least some validity in the arguments laid out above. It is the underlying hypocrisy which is damning; at the risk of tarnishing a large group with one brush, most of those who are outspoken against Lallana’s new deal are also fans who dislike FSG. This begs the question: what exactly do these fans want? They constantly complain that funds are not being made available, despite the ample evidence that it was Klopp who opted not to spend in January, and then baulk when big sums are involved. The claim is that Lallana is not good enough to warrant the big money, and the new contract thus shows a lack of ambition. But these same fans complain that we simply cannot compete with the top sides in the transfer market. If this is the case, the option of spending this money on a better player is simply not an option. In other words, there is a worryingly large subset of fans who would only be satisfied by signing a world-class player who happens not to be wanted by any other big teams, preferably at a low price although not so low as to suggest lack of ambition. This is, of course, highly implausible – it would seem as though some fans simply seek out negativity.
This is an issue far bigger than the new deal for Lallana. This is about the nature of support, and the dawn of an unnecessarily demanding culture. Of course all fans want success, and it is right and natural to be frustrated if this success does not come. However, this should be accompanied by an appreciation that success is not something that can be instantly delivered by following some magic formula. Particularly at a club like Liverpool, where the historic standards for what constitutes ‘success’ have been set so high, some serious framework has to be put in place before this success can be achieved. The waning Anfield atmosphere, once so famous, is symptomatic of the modern demand amongst fans for instant gratification: the support has become dependent on achievement. In other words, unless the team are winning, they lose the backing of these so-called supporters. This of course leads to a vicious cycle whereby the lack of support demotivates the team, thus affecting the quality of performance. Some might try to dispute whether crowd noise really impacts the players; Klopp clearly thinks it does, given his repeated pleas in press conferences for the creation of a better atmosphere. In the same way, all fan negativity translates to the squad and is ultimately counter-productive.
This is not a plea for fans to overlook everything wrong with the club. There are some clear problems, and there is nothing wrong with highlighting them. However, seeking out issues to the exclusion of appreciating the positives is both foolish and contrary to the very essence of being a fan. Fans back their team, they cheer them on; it is hard to reconcile this with relentless criticism. Furthermore, it is hard to fathom why anybody would want to do this: is it not more enjoyable to remain at least vaguely optimistic than to create problems that do not exist? At the end of the day, Liverpool have a world class manager at the helm, consistently good results against the top sides and very realistic top four prospects this season – it is pure fiction to pretend that there is nothing to be positive about! If the team miss out on top four it will be a huge disappointment, just as it was a huge disappointment to see the title hopes all but disintegrate in January, but it will not change the fact that the club is slowly getting back into a position that will make it a force to be reckoned with again.
I take the view that tying down Lallana to a new deal is one step along this path. This is not an undisputable fact – you are more than entitled to argue that he is being overpaid or has been signed on for too long. What is ridiculous is to almost gleefully take the new contract as more ammunition to rally against FSG, the club or even the Liverpool Echo when the mood takes you. Support requires patience, especially support of a club like Liverpool. Many people would do well to remember the true meaning of YNWA – they may even find that a more unconditional support helps to bring the success they craved in the first place.