A blood-red banner on display at the Liverpool end during last week's Champions' League tie against Chelsea depicted five European Cups with the legend: "You can only envy us". With nine times as many League championships and exactly twice as many FA Cups and League Cups as the Roman-come-latelies, Liverpool clearly have pedigree on their side. This week in Japan, they attempt to add to the honours list another line that only one British club can boast: World Club Champions.
It is not, to be truthful, a title that teams from these isles have regarded as particularly prestigious in the past, whatever their protestations at the time. After winning their first two European Cups, Liverpool did not compete for it at all; for the next two, by which time the two-leg format had become a single match in Tokyo, they were defeated by the champions of South America without scoring a goal, just like Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa before and after them. So only Manchester United can lay claim to the trophy, having beaten Palmeiras of Brazil in their annus mirabilis of 1999.
United, of course, suffered first condemnation and then humiliation when they forsook defending the FA Cup the following year to take part in the expanded Club World Championship, going out in the first round. Given the two clubs' traditional rivalries, that on its own should provide a little extra incentive for Rafa Benitez's side.
The tournament again comes at an inconvenient time of year, squeezed in ahead of the already overcrowded holiday (sic) programme of four games in eight days. The small mercies for Liverpool are having until Thursday to acclimatise before their first match and then being granted a full week after Sunday's final to recover. In Thursday's semi-final, they play either Dwight Yorke's Sydney FC or Saprissa of Costa Rica. Either ought to be beatable, taking Liverpool to a probable final against Brazil's Sao Paulo rather than an unwanted third-place match.
"I'm not looking forward to the journey but hopefully we can bring the trophy back," their captain, Steven Gerrard, said. "I want to be the first captain to lift the trophy for this club. It will be a difficult trip but everyone's looking forward to it. We just have to concentrate on getting the jet lag out of our system as soon as we get back, because we're going really well at the moment."
Last Tuesday's performance at Stamford Bridge confirmed there was something more than boastfulness to that declaration, albeit in a goalless draw that might have been described as bloodless but for a couple of the tackles on Didier Hamann and Harry Kewell.
Gerrard still manages to influence play from out on the right, though the belated signing of Benfica's Simao Sabrosa in January would release him from that role and even give him an unwanted rest from time to time. "The games come thick and fast, and every chance you get you've got to get your feet up," he said. "I won't be happy if the manager rests me, to be honest. I like playing every couple of days." Just as well, to judge from the list of engagements over the next month.Reuse content