Mark Twain once asserted that while history doesn’t repeat itself, “it often rhymes”.
While the literary great may have been making reference to the grandiose military and political conflicts of his era, that seismic figure of Liverpool Football Club, Bill Shankly, made plain that while “some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
Twain’s insistence that history regularly threatens to repeat itself is particularly pertinent in this year’s Champions League. It is hardly unusual for the Champions League to pit two clubs of genuine European Royalty together, but the fact that the history of both clubs appears to be a prime reason for their reaching the final is certainly unusual.
Neither side have mounted any serious challenge in their respective domestic leagues, indeed so comprehensively pummeled have they been in their league tables that it seems counter-intuitive in the extreme that one will be crowned the greatest team in Europe this evening. This however, is to miss the point, to be ignorant of the DNA of both clubs and what defines them.
While Manchester City have dominated the headlines in England this season, theirs is a club of ‘new money’, yet to truly establish itself in Europe and they still appear oddly out of place on Europe’s grandest stage of all. Their fans don’t expect such accolades and seeing Manchester City in the latter stages of the Champions League still seems unusual.
In truth, they should have had they mental nous and sense of entitlement to impose their will on Liverpool in the quarter final, and against other English sides they likely would have. But they were up against a club at home on European nights even when the crowd are bedecked in blue. The roads winds that bit more for City on such evenings while Liverpool armed with their history and heritage can overtake them like no other English club.
In a similar vein, Barcelona came perilously close to an unbeaten season this year and Real Madrid have managed to finish 3rd in what has traditionally been a two horse race between the El Clasico rivals. Even on an individual basis it has been remarkable how drastically Ronaldo’s form improves in Europe.
In a club that has defined itself by Galaticos and glamour, domestic success often seems too small for them. Like a fly attracted to a bright light, Real is a club that can’t help but seek the levels of fame and fortune that simply can’t be brought by La Liga titles. A win in Kiev would leave them with 4 European crowns in 5 years and mark them as the most successful team in Europe since Di Stefano and Puskas established that thirst for European success that can’t be quenched.
Such European success, however, has traditionally been accompanied by domestic glory rather than in spite of such failings. The Madrid of the 50s and Liverpool of the 70s were more than capable of romping home ahead of Barcelona and Manchester United’s pursuit and it made sense that teams so imperious on their owns shores would translate that to European success.
Clearly, such sentiments are no longer true. These two clubs have the greats that have previously donned those jerseys to thank as it is that sense of belonging that can’t be bought but must be earned. Just as Isaac Newton said that ‘If I have seen further it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants’ so too do the likes of Salah and Ronaldo have the toils of their predecessors to thank for establish their clubs as the powers they are today.
The aforementioned Shankly once asserted when asked about the people of Liverpool that “They’re arrogant, they’re cocky – and that’s what I wanted the team to be.” While it’s hard to ascribe those attributes to anyone in their current squad, it is undoubtedly that sense of belonging, that arrogance, that drives Liverpool as a club on magical European nights. And if their are to triumph in Kiev, that could make all the difference.