Given the final was to be against Ajax or Hotspurs, there was already mythical heroism surrounding this semi-final in the Champions’ League.
As ever, the emotions the game pulled out of the faithful were what we seek in the best structured stories. That’s what stories do, swing emotions from one side to another until we feel we’ve found something new in life, something better than we thought our simple selves capable of. When a game unfolds spontaneously that has all the elements that a dramatist would put into an epic play – there is nothing to compare.
Down 3-0 to the team that most regard as the world’s best, a team that includes the player that many regard as the world’s best – possibly the best ever. A task that ought to be impossible (4-0 is rare even against weaker league sides, let alone a great side that now only need to protect their goal for 90 minutes). And from this we get a game that began with thoughts of unlikely-but-have-a-go and went into a spiral of increasing hope that was harder to live through than any despair.
We can learn every time from what these occasions show us about the narrative arc, especially of the depths the hero must go to first in order for his/her rise to be a moment of wonder.
- Underdogs: Liverpool aren’t the longest odds to win any of the tournaments they’re in, but they’ve not won their own domestic league for 29 years at this point. They lost a final last year to some real Ramos skullduggery. They’ve only won one thing since 2006 and that was the lesser of the country’s knockout tournaments (2012). This isn’t a team with a stack of recent honours that are bagging more than their fair share.
- Have gone on a journey of ups and downs to get here: Liverpool have learnt much from their mentor. Only three seasons ago a 6-0 loss to Stoke on the last day sealed yet another finish outside the top six – the well guarded threshold to European games – let alone the top four placing for the ultimate challenge of Champions’ League. Almost out this year at the group stages from dodgy away performances, it needed a result against Napoli to go through to the knockouts where they were drawn against five-time champions Bayern Munich.
- Could end up with nothing: The stakes are high. No win here and the only chance for any silverware is the miracle required on the last day of the Premier League season, with a favour from struggling Brighton. The difference in feeling through the club between a win or a loss here will have repercussions through future seasons.
- Are weakened for the fight: A tripartite hero in the front three – two of them go down injured. The chance for the rarely-honoured to step up to the mark and prove that they too are worthy. Origi did it amazingly.
- Timing – there’s always a clock in football, so that bit’s sorted. They’ve got to do the heroism before the final whistle. They’ve also got to hold on to the lead when it seems impossible. If you have to win 4-0 then the last goal is likely to be a late one. But as well as the final blow, there was as much pain in the hanging on – because Barcelona would only have had to score one to win it back and shatter the beautiful dream.
- Have a trickster/Loki: Origi’s second came from the most audacious of corners ever seen. The ballboy got a new ball swiftly to the corner triangle – Trent nudges it into position and walks away as the waiting players do their shuffle into position in the box. Then, no, a step back a quick kick to the only person who’s switched on enough to realise the ball could be coming. Suddenly it’s 4-0. We’ll be talking about that from the homegrown 20 year-old until his honour-strewn retirement around 2034.
- Have a Mentor: You couldn’t write a mentor better than Jurgen. Wise, kind, jokes and laughter, occasional swearing but only appropriately and for positive emotions, fair-minded and eliciting supreme confidence from his followers in pretty much every decision – especially his transfers. He even had some of the Kop faithful doubt and deny at points in the last two seasons – combines Jesus of Nazareth with Arthur of Camelot.
- Have a traitor: There was nastiness on the pitch. Suarez, a hero himself on this turf, couldn’t help but get a some sly digs and crafty kicks on players. He had a chance to be noble against the club that supported him from an Ajax £23mil also-ran to a player Barça craved as a partner for Messi and Neymar. He showed himself up as a character not properly rounded into hero-shape.
- Have a victim: The traitor Suarez puts one of our deadliest weapons out of action in Robertson, who then had to leave the field at half-time, only to be replaced by another super-hero stepping up to the mark from his place in reserve.
- Have an impressive antagonist to praise: The 3-0 scoreline didn’t just make the game tough to win, it also brought out the crowing and pompousness from Barcelona FC. They were cock-sure and the arrogance made them even more an opponent you had to beat. Normally this is not such a Barcelona trait, but … whatever Ronaldo and Réal can do, Barça can too. However, there’s also the praise of the villain and there’s been no end of praise and complete respect at the press conferences for players who are wall-to-wall world class and the multi-Balon d’Or touting myth that is Messi.
- The humility of heroism: If there’s one thing that ruins the hero in the resolution it’s a pompous swagger. The scripting traditions suggest that the hero should even humble himself before the villain, show respect and honour – return a sword, offer a hand, turn away without dealing the coup de grâce. As the equally modest and heroic John Barnes said in the Bein coverage post-match analysis: Liverpool have humility. They are the kind of team – with the kind of manager – that neutrals can only admire. The players praise their team-mates before themselves. Klopp says “unbelievable” where others would have said “it was my genius that did it.” They have what it takes to be heroes.