Football/Soccer

Liverpool FC's 2018/19 season is a story worth recalling

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates with the Champions League trophy - former star Michael Owen believes the Egyptian has the desire to get even better.

THE title may be prosaic – ‘Liverpool FC 2018/19 season’ – but, of course, it wasn’t only about the title.

The Reds’ campaign ended in glory, becoming Champions of Europe for the sixth time. Coverage of top level soccer is so in-depth now that you might think there’s nothing new to say or see.

However, the well-structured re-telling of the season by award-winning sports journalist Harry Harris offers plenty of exclusive insights, from manager Jurgen Klopp, club CEO Peter Moore, and players past and present.

The format assesses the campaign on a month by month basis, beginning with an overview, then continuing into short match reports with line-ups, facts, and the league table (and Champions League group when relevant).

Opposition bosses are quoted too - interestingly after the 1-1 league draw at Stamford Bridge in September, the then Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri offered this prescient assessment of the visitors: “It’s very strange [that Liverpool haven’t won the league for 28 years]. But the important thing is now they are ready. [Klopp] is one of the best coaches in the world at the moment. They have worked very well in the last season with these players.

"I think they are ready to win maybe the Premier League, maybe the Champions League, but ready to win something important.”

Among the Liverpool veterans assessing the current stars are Ian Rush, John Barnes, Steve McManaman, Alan Kennedy, and Michael Owen.

The latter offered his assessment of Reds striker Mohamed Salah - MO on Mo, if you like:

Owen believes the dramatic increase in the Egyptian’s goal return during his two seasons at Liverpool is down to a combination of factors: coaching influence, desire for self-improvement and competitive hunger.

“[Salah] showed raw pace at Chelsea but the one thing he has added to his game is that cutting edge all top goal-scorers need – a ruthless need to finish –which he has developed over time,” he said.

“Now you can see he has an obsession to score goals, to be the top goal-scorer, to want that Golden Boot every season, and to reach that level an awful lot is in no small part down to Jürgen Klopp.

“I say ‘obsession’ because that is what the top goal-scorers acquire over a period of time. Once they start scoring, they have that sensation that they don’t want to stop. They feel scoring becomes the norm. Then they start comparing themselves with other top goal-scorers.

“Throughout my career I did exactly that, as do a lot of sportsmen when they reach the top of their profession.

“Scoring no longer becomes such a huge experience, nor does winning or scoring because that is a regular experience. So, it almost becomes a fear that somebody else will do it better than you; you want to continue to strive to raise your own standards even though from the outside people may think they’ve hit the highest points. It’s that fear of not being the best any more that drives you, rather than the thrill of winning or scoring as you’ve done that a hundred times, two hundred times.”

Owen cites Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as players whose rivalry has driven both to greater heights of goal-scoring excellence. “I am convinced [Messi and Ronaldo] would not have reached their highest level, scored so many goals, if they didn’t have each other in their lives.

“One scores a hat-trick, then the other has to score a hat-trick, sand so it goes on. One scores four, the other has to score four.

“Mo Salah has tasted it, scored a lot of goals, won the Golden Boot, so scoring becomes the norm, an average day’s work, an average experience, so he needs to push himself harder, score 25 goals every season then want more. So it doesn’t surprise me anymore what he has achieved.

“In his first season he started off scoring five goals, then it was 10 goals, then 20 as he put together a run in quick succession, he just keep on going, kept on confounding his critics and everyone else.

“He will want to be compared now with the likes of Messi and Ronaldo in terms of goal-scoring and to do that he needs to sustain it, as Messi and Ronaldo have consistently over many years kept up their momentum of goals, an incredible period of time for both of them, and they will be the players that Mo Salah will hold up as the examples he needs to keep up his goal ratio and reach that top echelon of great players.”

Owen also spoke of the need, from his own experience, to trust yourself when the goals aren’t flying in. [The rocket against Chelsea] was Salah’s second goal in 10 games – so a lean spell by his standards – but by mid-May he’d be taking a share of the Golden Boot.

“If I went two, three or four games without a goal, the fear factor would make me gravitate closer to the goal, getting into positions I would not naturally have gone into, and you learn from experience that that is the wrong approach.

“The answer is simple: just to continue to do exactly what you have been doing and the goals will return. You have to realise that all goal-scorers, even the greatest, go through times when the goals dry up, but usually it doesn’t last too long.

“If you try too hard, or try to change your game and become more selfish, it doesn’t work. You have to concentrate on doing what comes naturally.”

* Liverpool FC 2018/19 season - The Official Story, published by Regalpress Publishing Limited, priced £14.99.

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