Over the past decade, Liverpool fans have seen their dreams turn into nightmares. The high of that night in Istanbul hinted at a glorious future with Rafa Benitez managing the Reds into a new state-of-the-art stadium supplied by the club's wealthy ownership. Instead, over the next five years, fans watched as "that" ownership group chewed through the club like termites - the damage only aesthetic at first, but grew totally consuming as it was left unchecked.
The club avoiding administration was a joy most fans never imagined they'd experience and the re-appointment of King Kenny initially seemed the perfect move to repair not just results, but, in some ways, the very soul of the club. Instead, the King's "second first full season" ended in much the same way the previous seasons had: mid-table mediocrity, with no Champions League play secured. Trips to two domestic cup finals were nice and, to some, enough to earn the King another season he was not to see.
When it came to move on to Liverpool's fourth manager in four years, more Kopites were howling for the return of Rafa Benitez than the installation of the relatively unproven Brendan Rodgers. Indeed, that the former Swans' boss had to politely endure the Kop's loving reception of Benitez upon his return to Anfield with Chelsea nicely summed up his first season in charge. He tried hard (maybe a little too hard behind a microphone), he seemed to "get" what Liverpool is all about, and the team gradually showed improvement over the course of the season. Yet, it still only led to a seventh-placed finish while Manchester United celebrated another title.
After this season, one of the most remarkable, trophy-less seasons in Liverpool history I'd venture, no one would dare want another man at the helm of the Big Red Ship. The club failed to make a serious cup run and the campaign ended in the disappointment of feeling Liverpool's best chance at a Premier League title slipped right through its left boot. Yet, that Liverpool was even in position to slip away the title speaks to the borderline miracle work performed by Rodgers over the course of his second season.
From hanging onto Luis Suarez over the summer to vacillating between patient possession play and voracious counter attacks, Rodgers commanded total control of his team the entire season. Without the long-winded press conferences and awkward behind-the-scenes moments of Being: Liverpool, Rodgers seemed to simply grow into himself - and the results were incredible.
Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez became the greatest strike partnership on the planet, with the latter having at least a stretch of the season as the world's best player. Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson will be major contributors to England's World Cup campaign, while Steven Gerrard turned into The Godfather in his new holding midfield role. As a team, Liverpool played some of the most exciting footy seen anywhere on the continent during the 2013/2014 season, epitomized by the club becoming many a neutral's favorite team watch. It wasn't perfect - the defense was far, far, far from perfect - but even a second-placed finish by this Liverpool squad exceeded any and all expectations.
Of course, now that he's stabilized the club's on-field performance, the next step is actually winning trophies. Rodgers can't and won't be content with what was achieved this season. The bar has been raised now, he did it himself, and he'll be eager to see just how high this team can climb - particularly with Champions League resources to spend and Champions League play to offer.
Rodgers has already spoken of his delight at being able to truly recruit top-level players, not the reclamation projects that have produced both hits and misses so far. He's also, reportedly, asked for a greater influence in transfer matters - though what this means as to past signings (he'd worked with Borini and Allen before) I don't know.
What I do know is that for the first time in a long time, opposition players walk under the "This Is Anfield" sign and know they're in for a pretty shitty afternoon. For the first time in a long time, it feels okay to feel good about Liverpool's future and that white-toothed, inexperienced wind-bag is the main reason why.