Liverpool’s incredible run deserves praise but manner of dominance provides concern for future of the game

The Reds won for the 19th time out of 20 Premier League matches this season last night against Sheffield United

Jurgen Klopp reflects on starting the new year with a 13-point lead after beating Sheffield United

As Sadio Mane thundered the ball into the net against Sheffield United, it was impossible not to be struck by how stunningly everything again came together – but in more ways than one.

There was primarily the conviction of a forward on all-conquering form, soaring due to his confidence in his own game and his perfect fit within this Liverpool team. That finish flowed from a glorious interchange with Mohamed Salah, reflecting the integration of these forwards into the most exhilarating of modern tactics, instilled by perhaps the finest manager in world football right now in Jurgen Klopp.

This inspiring play is itself the natural product of the most intelligent project in football right now. Liverpool are the example to follow, showing best practice, and now putting out by far the best team.

That can all be true, however, it can still be simultaneously true that Liverpool’s results are an example of something much less inspiring.

They are also a natural product of the super-club world that football now finds itself in. It is a world, just as in society, that is getting much more punishing for anyone on the wrong side of the lamentable embrace of hyper-capitalism.

It would be much easier to talk about all this if Liverpool’s supreme results records were unique – but they are not. It is only two years since Manchester City posted almost identical numbers. In between, both clubs claimed 96-plus-point seasons. When that happens, it’s less unique brilliance, and more a common issue of which there are more examples.

Before that, Chelsea bested an in-season record with 13 consecutive wins. Across Europe’s major leagues, the same major clubs – Juventus, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and even Barcelona – are winning the title again and again. The clubs from these countries now completely dominate the Champions League last 16.

There has never been such a collection of situations like this in football’s history, where so many such records are being broken in so short a time, and so many results are… so predictable. This is not some grand coincidence. It is a distinctive consequence of something bigger, that has been developing for decades. It is exclusively because so many resources are being concentrated at the same few clubs.

It is perhaps the biggest issue in football right now, and has many bigger effects. It is already leading to the death of clubs like Bury, and may yet lead to the birth of a super-league. This is how extreme the economic reality of the game has become. This is why Leicester City were a 5,000-1 “miracle”.

It should be stressed at this point that Liverpool themselves defied those economic realities to even compete with City. They had to absolutely maximise what they had, through the most astute of thinking, to make that happen. By rights, they shouldn’t really be beating City. This is hugely admirable – but it would be naive to think it was down to genius defiance alone.

Salah and Mane celebrate against Sheffield United

They had a distinctive financial platform. They had a super-club’s financial platform, without which all the most intelligent decisions in the world would be irrelevant when it comes to actually challenging. It was not as big as City’s super-club platform, no – but it was an essential bottom line nonetheless.

Many might naturally quibble with what a super-club is. It conjures images of oil-money takeovers and transfer grandeur. Those are all part of it, but the fundamental definition is more basic. It is purely about what you can afford, and having an amount of money that puts you above a certain threshold of financial potential. Liverpool can right now afford one of the highest wage bills in world football, and that is pretty much the only figure that matters when it comes to competitiveness. League tables correlate to that more than anything else.

Many might at this moment fairly argue that Liverpool almost went bust a decade ago, and point to their hugely impressive net-spend figures. It is true they only emphasise the scale of the achievement, the quality of the thinking. But the added point there is that FSG – in a move entirely in-keeping with the intelligence they have shown throughout this project – identified an under-performing club with huge financial potential. And FSG’s brilliant business approach is now maximising that potential, too, to ever-escalating rewards and resources.

And that’s why Liverpool are a super-club. They did not have an Abu Dhabi, Qatar or Roman Abramovich buy them as with City, PSG or Chelsea, but they did have a rare historic status and immense global appeal that was rife for maximising. They were essentially “lucky” enough to be successful and famous at the right time in history, so it created this huge fanbase. It is a similar story with Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal. They have this globalist power that make it impossible for almost anyone else to compete without a super-wealthy owner.

And sure, many of these – especially United and Arsenal – are currently under-performing. They are not making the best of their resources, or potential. But they could get right back up there with the right decisions, or investment in football intelligence. Clubs outside this band couldn’t get up to this level with right decisions alone. Even the sharpest football intelligence only goes so far – and is usually bought up by the super-clubs anyway. Klopp wasn’t going to Everton in 2015. Pep Guardiola wasn’t going to Lazio. That is the way of things.

Jurgen Klopp has maximised the potential of Liverpool (Getty)

It is also the point with FSG and Liverpool. Had they taken over any other club bar perhaps Milan or Internazionale, and taken the exact same steps at the exact same moments, they just wouldn’t have had the same effect. This would not have happened at West Ham United, or Sunderland, or even Everton or Leeds United. They just don’t have that financial platform, and don’t really have the globalist appeal to develop it. This is of course not to single out Liverpool.

It’s just to signal that their incredible season should not solely bring gushing praise. It should bring cause for thought, about the state of the game and where it’s going. Liverpool’s supreme run is really just a symptom of a wider issue, where a growing financial disparity is causing a greater distortion of results and harming the very unpredictability that makes the game so glorious. The reality is that a series of decisions have been taken since the early 1980s – from changing rules on directors to the birth of the Premier League to ongoing changes to rights distribution – have made this inevitable, and arguably brought it past the point of no return. Wealth has always dictated the game, sure, but never to this degree. This is unprecedented.

It still doesn’t mean that football is uniformly predictable. It will still vary. There are still humans involved. Players will get tired of managers. Bad decisions will be made. Clubs will drop off. Surprises will be possible. But the key point is that if a super-club gets it right, results like this are becoming the norm. It is not a surprise, because that is what happens with hyper-capitalism, and so much going in one direction. The rich get richer, gaps grow. The wider forces of the game are by now unmistakable. This has been coming together for some time.

This is not to take away from this Liverpool. This team, and this manager, would have been historically brilliant in any era. They would be repeat champions in any other era. But, in this era, they’re achieving results that are becoming painfully routine for a distinctive group of super clubs that get it right.

And that is not healthy for the sport.

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