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It didn't seem like the end of an era but a painful wait may soon be over

AS a stalwart of the great Liverpool team of the 1980s, a 27 time-capped Scotland internationalist, the former manager of New England Revolution, and now a pundit on ESPN in the United States, Steve Nicol has presumably made a decent living from football.

Luis Suarez has scored 28 goals in 29 Premier League matches to become the most obvious candidate for player of the season as Liverpool surge towards a long-awaited championship. Picture: Getty Sport
Luis Suarez has scored 28 goals in 29 Premier League matches to become the most obvious candidate for player of the season as Liverpool surge towards a long-awaited championship. Picture: Getty Sport

The thought crosses his mind, however, that he could have made a few extra quid had he been blessed with the gift of telling the future.

"I wish 24 years ago I had put a bet on Liverpool not winning the title again for all that time," he says. "Imagine the odds you would have got! They would have laughed you out the door for even asking."

The bookmakers, of course, are not paying out yet but the end of the drought is inching ever closer. Last weekend's 3-2 win over Manchester City has left Brendan Rodgers and his players just four games away from the championship and with their destiny in their own hands.

The Anfield trophy cabinet has held the FA Cup, the League Cup, the UEFA Cup and even the Champions League in recent times but the wait for the Barclays Premier League trophy has been an almost interminable one.

To put it into some sort of context, Philippe Coutinho - scorer of the winning goal last Sunday - was not even born the last time Liverpool were crowned champions of England back in 1990.

Nicol was part of that team, managed by Kenny Dalglish and containing illustrious figures such as John Barnes, Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley and Jan Molby. It did not particularly feel like a end-of-an-era moment - in the previous two decades they had only once finished outside the top two - but to date that 18th title, claimed by nine points from Aston Villa, remains their last. This, though, could finally be their time once more.

The task is straightforward if not simple. Win their final four matches - away to Norwich City tomorrow, home to Chelsea, away to Crystal Palace, and then home to Newcastle United - and they will be champions.

Nicol, candid as ever, is confident they can do it. The Scot has been living in the United States for the past 15 years but his passion for Liverpool is undiminished. He sees the victory last weekend as pivotal as the championship grows ever closer. "I always felt that if we won the City game we would win the title," he says down the line from his home in Connecticut. "This side has no real experience of being at the top of the league so the question marks were always over whether they could handle it. But they showed in that game that anything you throw at them they can deal with it.

"To come through that game - given the difficulty of the opponents plus the emotion of the Hillsborough remembrance - tells me they are going to win the league. And if we have to beat Newcastle at home on the final day to win the title then I can't see us not doing it."

They will cheer Luis Suarez to the rafters should Liverpool get over the line. The Uruguayan has been the undoubted star of the season, his 29 goals making him the obvious recipient of the player of the year award. His has been a dramatic reinvention, a character reformed from this time last year when he picked up a 10-game ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic. Many, including Nicol, felt Liverpool should have sold him at that time.

"Suarez is just unreal, you can see defenders don't want to play against the guy," he said. "He tries things that most strikers wouldn't even think of doing. If they had sold him last summer they wouldn't have got near winning the championship.

"I have to say I was one of the guys who said you can't have a guy doing this for Liverpool. Nobody's bigger than the club. I thought they should have got rid of him. Now, though, keeping him is turning out to be the best thing Liverpool has ever done.

"Not even [Lionel] Messi could have delivered as much this year."

Nicol was part of a Liverpool side that took great pride in its defending. It is a changed picture today where an unsettled back four has kept just three clean sheets in its past 12 matches. "When I grew up your defending was personal - you never saw John Greig just shrugging his shoulders when someone got past him," said Nicol. "That seems to have gone from the game now."

For those of a superstitious bent, there is one possible positive omen. On their way to that last title success in 1990, Liverpool defeated Chelsea 4-1 at home in the run-in.

Nicol scored two that day and is keeping his fingers crossed for a similarly happy ending. "Yeah, that would be nice. It's been a long wait. Hopefully not for much longer."

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