John Gibbons: Progress not defined by trophies for Liverpool

The Reds can still lift a sixth European Cup this season, but their progress shouldn't be measured by silverware according to John Gibbons...

The PFA Team of the Year came out this week. By now you’ll have seen it and seen plenty of reaction to it too, with fans of every club always believing at least one of their players who isn’t in it should be, and at least one player who is in the team written off as rubbish.

There are a couple of things I don’t get about the PFA Team Of The Year. The first is why people get so worked up about it. Footballers are choosing which footballers they think are good at football. It’s their team, let them pick whoever they like.

If Dave from Stoke thinks it’s a disgrace that David Silva is in it and Badou Ndiaye isn’t, then let Dave from Stoke pick and announce his own team of the year.

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Maybe do a press release and have an awards night at Alton Towers and invite all the players and see if anyone except Badou Ndiaye turns up. It’s just a group of people’s, reasonably qualified, opinion. Nothing else.

But I also don’t understand why they have to announce it before the season is over and there is plenty still to play for. OK, Man City have got the title wrapped up earlier than usual, but for everyone else there are still big games to come, and this is the part of the season when big players prove their worth.

If Liverpool, for example, finish second and win the Champions League and Tottenham Hotspur finish fourth and don’t win anything, their fellow Premier League professionals might change their mind about including three Tottenham players and only one from Liverpool, but they won’t be able to.

On the same note the debate has started over who should win the Premier League Manager of the Year. This week, a number of football writers have made the argument for several well-performing managers in the top flight, with votes cast for Pep Guardiola, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, David Wagner, Jurgen Klopp, Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe.

But only one of those managers can be sure of their achievements this season. Two of them are in the bottom six and might end up going down.

Surely relegation is a hindrance to winning awards? Why are we always in such a rush to judge achievements? If Wagner keeps Huddersfield up he’ll have done a fantastic job.

We can debate how his work compares as an achievement to Pep Guardiola winning the league with an expensively assembled squad if we wish to spend our time that way.

But let’s wait until he’s actually done it first.

Which brings me to Jurgen Klopp. Watching Liverpool this season has undoubtedly been huge amounts of fun and Reds fans are probably the most excited in the country at the moment, dreaming of a potential sixth European Cup in May.

But we could just as easily get beaten over two legs by Roma and stumble to a top four finish with a similar points total as last season. In which case, how will Liverpool’s season be judged?

It seems unfair to suggest a season, and a manager’s performance, can be judged on the strength of a knockout tie against a team who have just beat Barcelona 3-0.

But this is Liverpool Football Club, where winning trophies is arguably all that matters, and, despite all the fun Jurgen Klopp has brought to Merseyside, he is still on zero shiny cups. Sooner or later that will have to change, even with the competition getting tougher all the time.

Yet, I would argue, regardless of the Roma result, this has been a season where Liverpool have moved forward.

Liverpool lost their best player, half way through this season no less, but, instead of suffering like on so many recent occasions, they actually pushed on as a team.

This has also been a season where strength and resilience were added to undoubted attacking flair, Klopp’s side limiting an all-conquering Manchester City side to one goal and a handful of shots on target across two legs of their Champions League quarter-final tie.

Liverpool definitely have their swagger back. Players like Virgil Van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have chosen to come to Anfield over a range of suitors that might have seemed more appealing to the outside world. But in Merseyside we’ve known something exciting is happening, even if the rest of the country were a bit slow to get onto it.

Regardless of what happens between now and the end of May, this feels like an important season in reestablishing Liverpool at the top table of European football. Staying there is another thing, but, after so many false dawns over the last twenty years, this time does feel different.

Just ask Virgil Van Dijk – centre half in John Gibbons’s Team of the Year. Awards in The Grafton on Friday night.

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