The Liverpool v United Rivalry

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 14, 2009: We've won it five times... Liverpool's Fernando Torres reminds fans of his club's European pedigree as he celebrates scoring the equalising goal against Manchester United during the Premiership match at Old Trafford. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
“MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Saturday, March 14, 2009: We’ve won it five times… Liverpool’s Fernando Torres reminds fans of his club’s European pedigree as he celebrates scoring the equalising goal against Manchester United during the Premiership match at Old Trafford. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)”

Mario Draghi’s press conference on Thursday is just white noise, the real event of the week is Monday night football at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, when the Pool take on bitter rivals Manchester United.

Maybe it was the excitement of the clash, or the inspirational Bill Shankly videos I stayed up watching, but I was in the gym before my alarm even went this morning. The result could be make or break for how this week goes; for any clients meeting me this week, beware my enthusiasm may be impacted by the result tonight.

There are few bigger rivalries than this one. A reported 700 million people from around the world will tune in to see the game. I don’t think it matters what country these fans are from, true Liverpool fans hate Manchester United, and likewise United fans hate Liverpool.

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard summed up his disdain for United: “Their shirt is the only one I won’t allow in my house. I have a big collection of shirts I’ve swapped with other players — but not one from United.”

Two nearby cities competing since the industrial age provides a backdrop for the folklore around this rivalry but the reality is that from a football perspective it was borne out of Liverpool’s dominance of English football in the 70’s and 80’s and their European Cup success in 1977, 78, 81 and 84. Everybody hates the team that is winning everything all the time.

Still, winners give you something to aspire too. When Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United the trophy starved club hadn’t won the league since 1967, under the revered Sir Matt Busby. Fergie’s greatest challenge? As he famously said, “Knocking Liverpool right off their f##king perch.” 

Liverpool’s trophy record was “the bogey I had to beat”. As he reflected on this in his recent book on leadership, Fergie said: “You cannot define yourself by your rivals and competitors or change your strategy and approach because of something they do….Nonetheless, you can learn from your competitors and, more importantly, you can raise your standards by trying to match or outperform them.” The same applies for any organisation, whether it is football or business.

While it took Alex Ferguson a few years to win his first trophy, the rivalry intensified as Liverpool languished, albeit with some glimpses of hope, and Fergie’s United became the dominant force in English football, eventually surpassing Liverpool’s 18 league titles. Growing up listening to United fans became the penance for the success enjoyed by a previous generation.

Thankfully, it looks like the retirement of Alex Ferguson has brought an end to United’s cycle of dominance and maybe the payback is having to listen to their noisy neighbours even closer over the road, with their free flowing oil money.

That rivalry is new though, and the result tonight still means more to both sets of fans than a win over any other team. The fact that Jose Mourinho will be sitting in the opposing dugout as the manager of the Red Devils makes a victory even more important.

For years Liverpool fans have been accused of living in the past, but it is now United fans who are lamenting the days gone by, when they played ‘the United way’.

Interestingly, in this 1973 interview with Sir Matt Busby, the legendary United manager, who Bill Shankly said was the greatest manager to ever live, talks about entertainment being a critical component of success in football, and the risk of the game becoming overly defensive, “a game of fear”.

So whatever the result, hopefully Jose doesn’t just come and park the bus tonight and we get an entertaining game. (Busby also captained Liverpool before the players went off to fight for Britain in World War 2.)

My prediction: looking at the long term statistics home advantage is a big factor in deciding the result. My money will be on a 3-1 win for Liverpool. #YNWA

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