Tony Barrett: No - this year really IS the important one for Liverpool FC
SUMMER wouldn't be summer if it wasn't described as the most important in Liverpool's recent history.
Like incessant rain, appalling dance tunes imported from Ibiza, old fellas wearing hankies on their heads and legs so white they even out-dazzle Tom Cruise's teeth, British summertime just wouldn't be the same without the months of June and July being repeatedly described as pivotal to the Anfield men.
This year is no different, of course. A season of tangible Premier League progress means that Liverpool now need only to make the right moves in the transfer market and the step from being contenders to champions will be a formality - or so the theory goes, anyway.
Hope and expectation are not just rearing their heads, they are shouting from the Anfield rooftops, letting the world know that 2009/10 could finally be Liverpool's year.
And rightly so.
In previous years, such excitable notions have been found to be hopelessly misplaced time and time again with searches for that elusive final piece in the jigsaw being about as fruitful as Johnny Vegas' diet.
This time around though, Liverpool's foundations have been built on something much more sturdy than shifting sands and there are a whole welter of statistics and no shortage of evidence to suggest that the first team is finally heading in the right direction.
The most telling indication of the giant strides that were made in the last 12 months comes from the fact that the 2008/09 season saw the Reds points average at its highest level since 1978/79.
Seeing as that campaign was arguably the best ever by a Liverpool side it takes something significant and substantial for a team to come even close to matching its points gathering feats but that is exactly what Rafa Benitez's side have done.
The most important thing now though is to build on this relative success and the only way of doing that is to make sure the right changes are made in the weeks and months before the new season gets under way on August 15.
Player recruitment is the most vital area of course and Benitez cannot afford another summer to be wasted by bringing in players who are deemed surplus to requirements within 12 months.
The current squad is at the stage in its development in which quality and not quantity is the order of the day and if the right players are brought to Anfield then there is every reason to believe that the optimism that most Liverpool supporters are feeling right now can prove more long lasting than it has done in recent years.
Benitez has already made some of the changes that he feels are necessary to the structure of the club with reserve team manager Gary Ablett and youth coaches Dave Shannon and Hugh McAuley all set to exit.
This means that the club will now be run more as the Reds boss wants it to be - from first team to youth levels - and he must accept that the increased power he wields means he also carries greater responsibility than ever before.
There is no doubt about it, this is a very big summer for Liverpool and it is also a massive one for Benitez.
Get things right and Liverpool could be back on the path to glory. Get things wrong and next summer will be just the same as this one and the 18 that have preceded it.
Were we watching? How could we miss it!
OBSERVATIONS from Wednesday night's Champions League final:
* When Carlos Puyol hoisted the European Cup above his head he did so in front of only a smattering of Manchester United fans because the vast majority of them had already left the Stadio Olimpico. Compare and contrast with the scenes in Athens two years earlier where all Liverpool supporters to a man stayed behind to watch and applaud Paolo Maldini as the AC Milan as they lifted Europe's most famous trophy.
* "Paul Scholes, he's never mastered the art of tackling," chortled Andy Gray after the United midfielder had scythed down Sergi Busquets, leaving the Barcelona man in a crumpled heap on the halfway line.
It was the kind of challenge which Scholes has been making for years only for his malevolence to be continually excused by a succession of commentatorson the grounds that he isn't very good at tackling. What would Gray have said about the Boston Strangler? "He still hasn't mastered the art of cuddling"?
If you kick a player below the knee it is usually because you want to. If it happens time and time again the only logical conclusion is that you have a nasty streak.
Had Joey Barton committed a similar kind of challenge he would have been castigated by all and sundry.
* For the first time in recent weeks, the United fans did not sing Are You Watching Merseyside? Funny that because Merseyside was watching....one of the most one-sided European Cup finals in living memory.
* If ÃÂ£6m Brazilian Lucas Leiva ever performed as badly in a major game as ÃÂ£18m Brazilian Anderson he would have been hounded all the way back to Brazil.
* Barcelona played Man United the team, not Man United the reputation and won with ease, just as Liverpool did at Old Trafford two months earlier.
The challenge next season is for others to do the same and not roll over and die as happened on so many occasions during the 2008/09 campaign
* Why did the British media not ask Alex Ferguson to congratulate his opposing and victorious manager?
Do such forced niceties only apply to Rafa Benitez?
* As long as Andres Iniesta and Xavi are around, that cringeworthy song about Liverpool having the best midfield in the world can't be sung. Music to the ears of everyone who has heard it.
* Sighs of relief could be heard all over the red half of Merseyside when the final whistle was blown and Barcelona's victory was secured, meaning Liverpool's 5-3 lead over United in the European Cup remained intact. The Anfield club can't continue to pray for favours from others, though.
The best way of ensuring that the Reds stay on their European perch is to become masters of their own destiny once again.
There would be no better way of doing this than Rafa Benitez leading them to European Cup No 6 in his Madrid hometown next May.
THE funeral took place yesterday of a Liverpool fan who was taken away at far too young an age.
Paul Kelly was just 32 when he died and his absence will be keenly felt in the seasons to come by the many Liverpudlians who knew him and who liked and respected him so much.
Not surprisingly, his funeral at St Margaret Mary's church on Pilch Lane was packed with mourners and Paul given the kind of send-off he richly deserved. Rest in peace PK, you will never be forgotten.