Despite Radja Nainggolan’s emphatic 93rd minute penalty to put Roma up 4-2 on the night, Liverpool progressed to the Champions League final for the first time in over ten years. With that moment comes that inevitable feeling that Manchester United’s most hated of rivals might just well win the whole thing.
For a United fan, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Especially when we went crashing out to Sevilla in one of the most insipid performances since Ferguson retired.
But Liverpool’s success in the competition makes for an interesting conundrum: is it ever okay to want your domestic rivals to succeed in Europe where your team hasn’t?
It’s one of the biggest footballing bugbears, up there with players not celebrating against former clubs (worthy of a fine of a week’s wages), wearing gloves on the pitch (nailed-on three-match ban) and the utterly criminal failing to beat the first man at a corner (definite public hanging).
For 38 games of the year, Premier League rivalries take centre stage, whether that’s United and City, Arsenal and Spurs, or Everton and Liverpool, and when it comes to the European theatre, things should be no different, right?
Yet this season, there appears a begrudging respect for Liverpool burgeoning from the most unlikely of quarters.
Across social media, certain United and Everton fans have been voicing their desire for Liverpool to win the whole thing. These heathens that are so enamoured with Klopp’s tactical resourcefulness that bears all the hallmarks of having played too much Football Manager. 2-0 down? Set tactics to overload and get your strikers to mark the ‘keeper.
However, if there is something that is the antithesis of what football stands for, the complete anathema to the game, it’s surely willing your bitterest of rivals to succeed where your team hasn’t. In the post-Fergie years, bereft of success and with the club developing more rapidly into a soulless money-making commercial juggernaut, the failures of Liverpool have been our sweetest moments of joy.
From throwing away the title at Crystal Palace to Steven Gerrard getting sent off after less than a minute during his final game against United, Liverpool have provided no end of glorious moments forged out of their own ability to royally f*ck their own interests up.
So, if anything, watching them progress to the Champions League final instilled nothing but the most fervent desire to see them crash and burn. How could any self-respecting Manchester United fan reach for his phone, fire up Twitter and type out such bilge:
Despite of supporting Manchester United but the hate of Real Madrid will lead me to rep Liverpool and Salah in the finale. let’s do this together Liverpool
— Sam West ✨ (@JuanderfuI) May 1, 2018
Dante’s going to have to make a new circle of hell for people like that.
Perhaps it’s the globalisation of football. Many Premier League clubs have no shortage of fans across the globe to whom local derbies and rivalries have far less meaning. Then there’s this breed of fan these days who follow players over clubs. They want to see their star men lift silverware no matter what club they play for.
Maybe, just maybe, the traditional tribalism that existed prior to the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of the British motorway system is finally on the wane. Maybe it’s now alright to admit your admiration of what were once your deadliest of enemies.
Sure, football has its ugly underbelly and no one wants to see a return to the rampant hooliganism that marred the ‘80s and got English teams kicked out of Europe, but rivalry is an intrinsic part of the sport.
Yes, Liverpool have been entertaining. Yes, they’ve captured the attention of the casual football fan. And yes, Jurgen Klopp is an infectiously likeable man. But they’re still rivals.
So come the 17th of May, I’ll be praying to every god on every pantheon that they get stuffed 6-0 by Madrid, with Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick, whipping his top off and revealing a Manchester United shirt underneath, emblazoned across the back with 20 TIMES in enormous lettering.
And if Liverpool win? I don’t even want to comprehend that.