Same Old Blame Old…

Kolo-Toure

There is something quite basic and instinctive about accusation, an accusation to attribute responsibility. In its basic form, ‘it was his fault!’ Football fans have an ongoing compulsion to single out a particular moment or player as directly accountable for the outcome of the surrounding 89 minutes.

No goal conceded by one’s own team can be excused because somewhere, 60 yards away, and two minutes ago, possession was lost from a less than inventive throw-in. After Sunday’s brunch stalemate with West Brom, Kolo Toure was the latest to absorb responsibility for Liverpool not acquiring three apparently life-or-death points.
Flash back to the Christmas period, and until Chelsea’s recent halting of the Etihad juggernaut, Liverpool had tested Manchester City to limits not pushed under Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure in charge on their own patch. However, with geographically related accusations and photo-shopped offside lines, referee Lee Mason’s decisions expunged everything else that happened on Boxing Day. The next week was spent rummaging through previous Mason performances, desperately seeking a link to validate an agenda. Raheem Sterling, Glen Johnson and Joe Allen were grateful beneficiaries of this exercise as their failures when presented with gilt-edged chances were erased from history. Simon Mignolet’s mistake was excusable because, of course, it wasn’t borne out of an agenda against the club. 

The simple truth is that all of these elements accumulate to result in defeat. Professional footballers, being paid more per week than referees make in a year, made equally costly mistakes. If officials repeatedly failed in their duties as Liverpool invariably do with set-pieces they’d be on the Uriah Rennie scrapheap before a season reaches the point where Sky Sports start subscribing to movie trailer tag-lines for any top-six match.

Fans though need a fulcrum for vitriol as if somehow specifically targeting one precise error will alleviate every other fault, error and strategical naivety that the team as a unit are guilty of. Some seem so unwaveringly focused on such a target that they hope it will conjure some form of Uri Gellar phenomenon of points transference and by the time they wake up, Liverpool will have been victorious.

Almost equally hindering in this funnelling of concentration is the fact that it overshadows positives in performances. November saw what most likely will be the game of the season and the finest Merseyside derby in at least a decade. For the first time in a generation, the public of Liverpool were blessed with both of local sides playing free-flowing, rhythmic football completely geared towards winning the game. A match deservedly awash with as many ‘ebbed and flowed’, ‘goal thriller’ clichés you could subscribe to. This was overshadowed when Joe Allen selfishly conspired to lose Lukaku twice, which somehow allowed indiscipline at set-piece management, becoming overrun in midfield, and the exposure of both flanks to seep into Liverpool’s play – the fact that Allen alone did this was quite the feat. What a destructive force little Joe can be when he wants to.

ian-ayre

This behaviour of course extended itself to Liverpool’s rather disastrous transfer window (although it’s yet to be seen just how disastrous). Little comprehension is afforded to the numerous intricacies involved in a multi-million pound deal across different countries, currencies, economies, leagues and cultures. Such logistics were irrelevant -it was just time for #AyreOut again. The real issue is the lack of transparency in this transfer funnel Liverpool have developed. The question is at what stage does the filtering block? The whole process is so completely opaque that Ian Ayre has become the lightening rod and Brendan Rodgers will ultimately feel the current.

The reality is that Liverpool lost the lead against West Brom because of Kolo Toure’s mistake but they lost maximum points because of an inept second-half performance that bore no resemblance to Tuesday night’s demolition of Everton. The question is not ‘why did he pass that across his own fucking box?’, but ‘why do a team, as free-scoring as any Liverpool side have been for 20 years, only have two gears – fifth or first?’ Why can’t Liverpool turn the screw when required to? Stoke aside, it seems that unless Liverpool play really well, they don’t leave the game with three points.

The Hawthorns draw means Liverpool equalled Arsenal’s result on their travels there and bettered Man United’s when they hosted West Brom. It also served to move them yet another point ahead of last year’s champions and kept Spurs at arm’s length. However, perspective is lost when a mistake is so seemingly unforgivable.

It’s often said that football is a simple game. It isn’t. There are thousands of permutations during every match and an unlimited total when it comes to a season’s final standing. Nothing is certain, nothing is conclusive and no single thing equates to a result. If Liverpool are to realise their potential and seize upon this opportunity for a Champions League place they will of course understand, that failure or success won’t be because Kolo Toure lost his line’s compass. Fans need to understand it would be a lot healthier if they did likewise.

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Player Cake – The layering of the transfer saga

newspaper-montage

At one time it was little more than a wicked whispers segment to fill up space between actual stories but in 2013 transfer gossip is centre stage.

Fans’ lust for transfer stories has accelerated such dubious tales from segment to star in any football media production you can think of.

The whole summer (granted, an almost football free season) becomes a ‘swoop’ swamp; an odd-numbered year only more so. The obvious question is, why?Why, despite the truth only making its way into a small percentage of these stories, do we allow ourselves to be dragged down the rabbit hole year after year?
Of course not all football fans approach this time with the same enthusiasm. Many have learnt their lesson – stung one too many times and are somewhat blasé about the whole circus. But many fail to function on that same ‘C’est la vie,’ mind-set. It is for this gossip-chasing group that every transfer window now follows its own pattern.

The first stage is inception. Each position of the team that requires strengthening results in a cluster bomb of players being mooted for a role that appears to logically fit the club’s requirements. The simple mathematics applied are ‘player availability’ + ‘position required’ = ‘piece of the jigsaw’. The equation is complicated somewhat by the club’s social standing and attraction. But the limitations only add to the challenge of mentally constructing the completed puzzle.

At this stage of transfer development, a keen follower develops his own Columbo-esque approach. A sea of suspects must be waded through as a vast scope of players are honed and fine-tuned into establishing any form of solidity in this, for now, tenuous link. At this level a detective’s only leads are in the overloaded world of social media.

In The Knows (ITKs) represent the low-level street informants in this case. Lies, guesswork and exaggeration lead to possible triple figure sums being bandied about without abandon – a shameful willingness to even entertain the stories that suit individual desires emerges.

Alongside 20 others, the midfielder that you think would fit perfectly into that problematic chasm has been ‘monitored’ by your team. That possibility starts to become a reality – in your head at least.

This leads to stage two in the process – imagination. The seed has been planted. Soon that seed will sprout and grow until it has evolved into a beautiful and natural, 34 goals in 53 games second striker. This photosynthesis is driven by YouTube and Wikipedia. Copy and paste becomes one of the most important advancements in I.T. as names like ‘Henrik’ emerge as a new leader in Google’s search engine. You never knew it before, but after a 4.17 minute video, this previously unknown quantity has become everything you need in your life.

This distant and vague possibility explodes into widescreen Technicolor if the stories leak to national papers. In this Twitter age, different levels of credibility have been afforded to journalists. Followers now have their own trusted circle. A red top story ignites excitement. A broadsheet carrying a story all but confirms it in some minds.

This leads to non-Twitter enthusiastic friends being regaled with stats, stories and skills of an enigmatic Moldovan with some stopping just shy of having his 16 lettered surname plastered on the rear of their new third kit.

In transfer time, months have passed. After a proverbial rollercoaster of flights, sightings and proposed medical appointments have exhausted all those with an insatiable interest.

Stimulation has turned to dejection 10 times over. In real time, of course, two weeks have passed. But finally that gleaming, new purchase emerges from his Range Rover at the training ground.

A familiar narrative evolves, depicting a man who has had life-long ties to the club. Sleep patterns are as predictable as ever with yet another player’s life shaped by dreams of playing for the club in question. Giving one’s own context on a particular night of glory for the club or (the pièce de résistance in evoking adoration), a hidden tattoo, elevates this stranger to legend. A ball has yet to be struck.

A rare bargain for Liverpool

A rare bargain for Liverpool

Even if Lionel Messi himself was signing that contract, opinions would be divided. Everything from alternative names, injury records and even nationality are weighed up and distributed across both sides, for and against.

Indignation and inspiration bellow from opposing sides of the divides but all the tweets, blogs, updates and opinions don’t change the fact that a manager and a team of scouts have decided that this man at that price were exactly what the club required.

All the layers that went before dissolve into irrelevance when the season starts. The final and most important part of the transfer is implementation. Whatever the price, whatever the reputation or however long the saga stretched out for, the player must now perform. The addition must assist in the progression of the team.

Ask any journalist which fans are the most carnivorous with regard to speculation during a window and the likelihood is that most will agree on Liverpool and Arsenal.

With Liverpool stuttering into their fourth season without Champions League football and Arsenal approaching almost a decade without an honour, they are arguably the two teams with most to gain from perfect expenditure in the transfer market.

A Russian oil tycoon changed the landscape of football when he decided he needed a London football club in his life. But Borussia Dortmund have dispelled the cold hard facts of finance to myth.

A small nation’s budget is no longer a necessary prerequisite to succeed in football. Now Liverpool need to be equally astute. It is not Liverpool’s God-given right to be challenging for honours every year. One year of adaptation for a manager does not mean that all room for leeway has been exhausted. Objectives must ultimately become reality, but only in a timely manner.

Liverpool must improve. But every team will have the same ethos. The transfer market can be the key to determining the battle of who improves the most. All the levels that build throughout any window are tedious, disorientating and even overwhelming. But if they all accumulate to upwardly augment the level of the football club, it was all worth it. Until the next window.

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What’s another year?

FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIERS-URU-PRESSER

Most rational thinking people have a clear and concise set of ethics. Each person’s will vary to another’s set. Some will be more rigid than others. But there will still be a particular code to which they view what is right and wrong. What is forgivable, and what is not.

One element to completely distort this moral compass for many is football tribalism. Support of one’s team or players can see a person’s value system reduced to blind faith. Football fans will defend one of their players through allegations of racism, through spitting, after assaulting fans and after biting an opponent. The more quality the player has usually correlates to how staunch this partisan defence will stand.

However, one thing fans will not tolerate, is a player wanting to leave. Despite a player testing their morality on many more widely offensive occasions. Unless they have immersed themselves in to this deity like a true fan should, then he can no longer be defended. Flirtations with another tribe can see this seemingly unconditional loyalty dissolve.

And so Luis Suarez has dared to do just that. Before a ray of sun has split a proverbial tree, before a burger has been scraped off another cheap barbecue, Liverpool’s star forward has stated he wishes to leave Liverpool. After a tempestuous two and a half seasons on Merseyside, a time drenched in as much mind bending moments of brilliance, as soul destroying moments of insanity, Suarez wishes to escape what he sees as media persecution and depart for what he hopes will be Real Madrid.

But whether Madrid bid for him or not, does Suarez owe Liverpool another year at least? The greatest insult of this, for fans, has been that for 2 years they have fractured the equilibrium of their moral compass to defend this man, and he owes them. But does Suarez really owe Liverpool or anyone this form of loyalty?

Despite the shock and indignation for supporters, this is something that had to be expected. On April 21st, as Sky Sports editors drooled over their control panel and let the moment of insanity roll over and over again in replays, a part of every Liverpool fan had to believe that this could be the last time they would ever see Luis Suarez in the famous red. A match that in itself, served up a microcosm of Suarez’s Anfield career. The mercurial pass for Sturridge to resurrect them in to the match, to the frankly daft concession of a penalty due to his handball. With Chelsea moments from taking 3 points from Anfield to compound the misery of the frenzy that would now ensue, the premier leagues finest goal pest would steal in to secure a point and have the final say. But the bite on Bransilav Ivanovic would surpass everything else that match had served up and consigned the result to a mere statistic for the records.

Liverpool FC v FC Zenit St Petersburg - UEFA Europa League Round of 32

Liverpool were suitably embarrassed. Behind the scenes Rodgers had to be livid. But the defence began. Suarez was immediately condemned by the club but not dismissed. Internally he would be brought in line, but not cast aside. In the face of this nationwide condemnation, disapproval so widely consuming, even the Prime minister would say his piece, Brendan Rodgers had possibly his finest hour in charge of Liverpool.

His interviews have been as erratic as his team’s form but he handled this somewhat unparalleled situation impressively and commendably found a perfect balance between peace and punishment when there seemed to be none.

Rodgers’ grasp of the situation was certainly more controlled than his predecessor’s. During Evra-gate, Liverpool’s then manager, Kenny Dalglish, despite his good intentions only fueled the raging fires of anti-Luis rhetoric and made a desperate situation worse. The Suarez T-Shirts actually added to the insult and all groups from the FA to ‘Kick it out’ were grossly offended at what they saw as Liverpool’s ignorance for the gravity of the situation.

However much the two contrasted, the purpose was the same, keep Luis Suarez. Whether he was guilty or not, neither crime would be enough to proceed with a case for dismissal. Both would lead to a conveyor belt regurgitation of Shankly-esque quotes about the Liverpool family, one for all, and You’ll Never Walk Alone wheeled out more times than a Gerry and the Pacemakers world tour. Management and fans seemed united in the front that Suarez was still too valuable to lose. He would be forgiven and he would be helped.

Despite this defence, it has been Suarez himself who has initiated an exit strategy. From the safe haven of Uruguay he has conjured up images of media persecution with Madrid or actually any other league, as his salvation. And this is what have upset Liverpool fans more than any of his previous misdeeds.

Football fans are a romantic sort. At times they can be guilty of living in a false utopia where all their players have the blood of the club racing through their veins. Liverpool fans in particular wish for the player to be connected to the club since birth, must have an Istanbul related quote from years ago on their C.V. and an L.F.C. affiliated tattoo would seal him in for a lifetime of service.

The reality though is that these players are professionals. In the context of how they feel about their time at the club, the word ‘love’ gets revamped from ‘like’. Although professions of love roll of the tongue without real sincerity or forward planning, a players two main objectives when they move to a new club are money and honours.

When the latter fails to materialise and the prospect of them on the horizon looks as distant as ever, it should be expected that a player might look elsewhere. If that player is in the world class bracket, it should be certain.

There should also be an understanding that the emotions of betrayal and desertion were mirrored by the fans of the player’s previous club, Ajax in Suarez’s case. Liverpool broke hearts to bring Suarez here in the first place so to believe this move would be his last is certainly fanciful to deluded.

Of course though, Suarez’s situation is somewhat unique. The moments of brilliance and ironically more so, the moments of insanity have manifested in a stronger bond between player and punter. This bond they believe places the player in their debt. As crucial as any aspect in football tribalism is defence in the face of opposition from rival fans. Liverpool fans have struggled but been resolute in their defence of Suarez to all manner of condemnation from rival fans and forces. They see this transfer maneuvering as a insult to their effort.

However there must be an admission within this scorned collective, that this defence is not due to any ethical leaning. It is not because ‘he is one of us’ and therefore we unite. The foundations of this defence is because Suarez is far and away Liverpool’s best player, most likely the Premier League’s. A ridiculously skilled footballer that has lit up Anfield with individual magic not seen since John Barnes.

At this time more than ever, Liverpool are extremely fortunate to have a truly world class player and the idea a jewel like this would simply be happy to continue a pattern of 6th, 8th and 7th league finishes is one that only seems logical within football tribalism. It is this very desire to better himself that has excelled him to the player with such inordinate ability.

This outrageous talent, despite the stance of innocence, provided the cornerstone of the racism defence. As Kenny Dalglish’s record breaking transfer acquisitions turned his tenure into one of the most damaging in Liverpool’s history, one star shone. Perhaps never before had such vast money been spent in English football on such ill equipped players. An outlay that rationally should be as embarrassing as anything Suarez has inflicted on the club, he himself was the one element of quality from the £120 million assortment. And so Dalglish would have felt compelled to defend his best player. The proceeding games without him gave a brief window to how precarious Liverpool’s situation would, is, and most likely, will be, without him.

Even now, after he has offended, in an incident that was so severe it can be drawn upon in almost isolation in English football, Liverpool would protect him. But was there really any alternative? Biting an opponent left the club snookered to a position of condemnation. Anything less would have been yet another P.R. disaster. They also expressed dismay at the harshness of the punishment, which it undoubtedly was. Much more dangerous incidents have gone unchecked, with little scrutiny.

But he remained the clubs most valuable commodity, after this season more than ever. Advertising his availability for possible suitors was as likely as sacking him. Football simply doesn’t follow the rules of most forms of employment. Yet here we are and before the window had even opened, Liverpool had discreetly publicised their price through a combination of both manager and media. Suarez was now up for sale.

There is no way we can know that this wasn’t already decided as a very plausible conclusion from the very moment Suarez stuck his protruding enamel into Serbian flesh. There is absolutely no question that P.R. conscious F.S.G. would be weighing up the pro’s of selling their most valuable player, a player who could decrease that price at any moment with another disgraceful moment. Liverpool fans should not be under the illusion that every level of club affiliation would be desperate for him to stay.

luis celebration

The final bite from this reality pie, possibly the most difficult to swallow, the crust if you will, is that 5 times European champions, Liverpool, are currently in a different stratosphere than Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. Both clubs offer guaranteed Champions League football, a level everyone, not least Suarez himself, know he should be on. They offer a vast supporting cast of equally skilled (or at least close to) players that will challenge on all fronts, annually.

Its been at least 4 years since Liverpool have offered that. Add language and weather and its difficult to see any possible reason why Suarez wont end up in the Spanish capital.

Some will still believe that all that is irrelevant and Suarez should share their passion, stay and re-immerse himself in the good fight with them. Maybe so. Maybe there is simply too many reasons for him to leave. But what should be most disappointing for Liverpool fans about this whole saga (the first of many this summer no doubt) is how Suarez has excavated this opportunity. Not with the subtlety and close control of a chance he has conjured on the pitch, but with a touch more reserved for Andy Carroll.

His luring of Madrid’s attention is beyond transfer flirtation but street corner prostitution. Yes the media have been fixated with Suarez. There is no question there were elements of persecution especially in the middle of last season as every thing he done was under the microscope, culminating in being labelled a cheat by an awful example of a commentator, while Gareth Bale and many others side stepped scrutiny. At times even praised for displaying a form of elevated footballing I.Q. But by 6.00 P.M. on April 21st, Luis Suarez had waived his right to defence based on persecution.

“It’s a good moment for a change of environment because of all I’ve been through in England, where I haven’t been judged as a player but based on other things.”I have only words of thanks to the club, the fans of Liverpool, but the treatment I received from the rest of England in recent weeks has been tough’.

His words are akin to Tony Soprano in Dr. Melfi’s office. Acknowledgement of a crime but without really taking responsibility and actually blaming other forces. This has been the most insulting of this ordeal. Suarez has no need for this public exposure to facilitate a move abroad, his almost unrivaled talent will bring him anywhere he wants. He fails to understand that what he does owe Liverpool at the very least, is the respect of decorum.

Fans of all clubs should not take moments like this as personal insults. It is the harsh reality of the football food chain. Your teams best players will be bought by bigger teams just as your team will then buy players from smaller teams as his replacement. All Liverpool fans can hope for now is either Luis Suarez stays for at least one more year or they get as much money as possible for their superstar and spend it perfectly. There is almost no room for error as they attempt to push for the top 4. Sadly though, looking back over the last 20 years, there are too few moments were Liverpool have displayed a perfect touch in the transfer market.

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Another year for Koptimism

The Boss

At some point we have all issued the advice ‘dont take him/her back, leave him’, either to a friend, butting in when our opinion wasnt asked for or just ludicrously shouting at a character on a mundane TV show. The assumption is that once trust has been repeatedly broken we should all have the self respect and strength of character to move on from this destructive influence in our lives. Transfer season can often feel like this.

Yet rather than absorbing this staunch and valid advice, every summer we dive back in, into the midst of rumours, links, outright lies and the new villian in the play ITK’s. No group of wounded and heart broken victims report back for duty so readily and optimistically as Liverpool fans. Perhaps the only thing more erratic than Liverpool’s on field form is their off field performances. More ‘final pieces of jig saw’ have rolled in and out of their summer revolving doors than a Mattell store room. But once again its summer time and fans are more willing than Bridget Jones, returning from bad news at the ovaries clinic, to say ‘this guy is gonna be different’.

The cold fact underlying all this is that fans have been bitten so often that apprehension should consume them by now. Make a list of the 20 worst transfers in Premiership history and its the only league table Liverpool would dominate now. From Paul Stewart on the maiden season, right through to Stan Collymore, El Hadji Diouf, Harry Kewell, Ryan Babbel and more names than a phone book, right up to the present day piñata style spending of last year (Luis Suarez aside).

The figures for Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing are well publicised, yet still bend the mind attempting to comprehend. Expenditure so ridiculous that now fans of all most every club weigh up their new signings against the outlay of Dalglish and Comolli last summer (Usually Carroll’s fee alone is enough to quash the other teams receipt for 3/4 players better than Carroll himself). The damage this lavish budget caused is far out reaching and enough for an entry of its own so all that can be done is move on to new solutions.

So what of this summer? So far more players have left than have come in which could be concerning but the reality is exodus is as needed as entires. Players like Dirk Kuyt and Maxi have seen their best days fade behind them. Kuyt especially will always be remembered by the Kop faithful having scored as many important goals as almost anyone to play in front of them. The realisation must be that his super human engine, that could conceal a lack of technical ability, has diminished, leaving him very little to offer. Fans can appreciate his need for first team football and Maxi’s need to return home and as ever, should feel no ill will. Alberto Aquilani should be afforded as much page time here as he gave pitch time at Anfield. Good Riddance.

Thus far despite being linked with every player with a pair of boots, only two have spilled ink in the name of the club. Fabio Borini of Roma and Joe Allen of new boss Brendan Rodgers’ old side Swansea. Neither have genuinely caught the excitement en mass. There can be lack of reality in the nature of Liverpool’s current enticement level in the market. In one hand a supremely respected and global powerhouse, but little to offer top players in terms of career enhancement. In a time when winning a cup is no longer enough to save ones job, Champions League is king. It’s not only ruthless owners who believe this, ambitious players need this. Therefore budgets and targets must be managed as tactically as an on field opponent and already its clear the direction Rodgers is venturing. In Borini and Allen he has gone with players he knows, yet affordable within his current restraints.

Reunited

Joe Allen’s arrival has been met (if social media is to be taken as a barometer) with lukewarm appreciation at best. Last year’s outlay was so outlandish that even Liverpool’s fans are sceptical. The big concern being that yet more double figure millions were dropped on another average player, playing for an average side. Stats have become transfer witchcraft. Illusions to mirage over the most average of players to make him seem like a world beater. Joe Allen’s are spectacular. But unlike Henderson and Downing, this is not a purchase from a manager who has watched from afar and hoped he would work, Allen is a player the manager knows inside out and believes he can work. Rodgers himself should be the best gauge of what Allen is and isn’t worth, having not only seen his ability as a player, but his attitude as a man, an aspect becoming abundantly clear is very important to Rodgers.

What is vital about Allen is that he is ready made. Every player at the club, even the few top quality members left like Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, will still take time to adjust, comprehend and transcend that vision on to the pitch. Joe Allen should need no such time. Time to adjust to a bigger club sure, but he comes ready made for the philosophy and should be a perfect projection of this mantra right in the hub of Liverpool’s team.

Fans have proclaimed that Rodgers will be given a chance, but with an opening quintet of West Brom, Manchester City, Arsenal, Sunderland and a quiet affair at home to Man. United, the patience could be tested in the most arduous of saints. The possibility of 0 from 15 is distinct, as the team fumble for understanding of the new system. That is why it is absolutely vital to have at least one player in there who already knows what his duty is.

Allen’s Swansea background has sadly been used a slant rather than commendation upon his arrival. A player playing for mid-table side has no place at Anfield. Yet the same protesters would seemingly cut off a limb to poach Gaston Ramirez from mid-table Bologna in an inferior league. These rabble-rousers have most likely seen Ramirez play as often as they’ve seen Joe Allen play, which combined is probably a mere fraction of their time spent on Twitter. Xabi Alonso is player who joined from modest surroundings for a similar price yet only Christians match the Kop in desire for a return of a bearded man.

Knife Man

From early impressions Borini looks like another player who already has a secure sense of what is expected of him. Much has been made of Rodgers’ obsession with ball retention. His passing style caught the eye and plaudits of anyone who had the pleasure to watch Swansea on form last year. Yet as crucial an aspect of this style was retrieving the ball. His entire team worked tirelessly to smoother the opponent into mistakes and loss of possession. Already it is clear Borini is adept at this, would also enhance any admiration for possible target Clint Dempsey. Even at this early stage, Borini’s movement has been toxic for defenders and agility visible in his link ups with Suarez at home to Gomel.
Sadly none of these new traits of Liverpool’s frontline encourage the idea of a place for Andy Carroll. Probably Liverpool’s zenith in spectacular transfer disasters and one they seem unable to relieve themselves of without once again being bitten. Many believe he should be given a chance, Rodgers should adapt to forge out a place for him in the side. This defeats the entire purpose of his appointment in the first place.

Liverpool’s owners have taken the risk of Rodgers not based on his accumulation of trophies, not based on his experience at the top level and not to appease the fans but because of a belief in his footballing philosophy. Why would he change that entirely to accommodate a mistake of his predecessors? The expense of that mistake is not his to rectify. Yes a severe hit is expected on his now inevitable transfer (ironically Newcastle seem likely to add to the entire insult) but if he does not figure in the managers plans then another season unused and benched will hardly increase his value. Better to cash in on his brief success at the Euros now.
Pre season has been somewhat condensed. A tour of America was this years destination to fatten future budgets. Marketing and globalising have become dirty words in football. But this is 2012 and if Liverpool had grasped this shift in 1992 then they may not be striving to surpass Man. United in years without a league title.

The generations that saw Liverpool dominate England and Europe now have kids and grandchildren. This generation have not been witnesses to a May league table that reads Liverpool then the rest. They live in the world of Chelsea and Man. City out spending everyone. If on the field success has been lacking, then tours of America and afar are absolutely vital to maintain that connection. The global resilience can only last so long and until the players on the pitch put things right, then fans must accept this air mile accumulation.
Another positive about the American tour was game time for the youngsters that promise so much. Whether they performed or not is irrelevant compared to the importance of that first taste on the lips of playing for Liverpool. Ravel Morrison and countless others highlight just how easy heads can be turned by outside influences if their star child is not given everything yesterday. The experience of first team football should only set to encourage effort and understanding as they head back to the daily grind of reserve training knowing they can make it, but not yet.
Fourth place becomes the new title as far as Liverpool’s current standing allows. Difficult indeed but impossible, no. There is no question that Arsenal and Chelsea have added to their squad, but there would be no point in this article if adding players guaranteed strengthening.

There’s certainly a collective acceptance that an improvement on last year is paramount. 6th or even 5th may be as far as Liverpool can stretch with a visualisation that the new strategy is taking shape. But if this acceptance is to remain true then there must be a realisation that any team that finish 6th will go through a random November where more points have been dropped than gained. Patience is once again the key. 2 maybe even 3 more players before August 31st, without losing any stars and there genuinely is a good team waiting to happen at Anfield, that is of course if this transfer curse can finally be lifted.

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We Fade to Grey

Study the Oxford English dictionary from cover to cover and one would still struggle to locate the vocabulary to surmise the emotion; the sheer elation when this moment of reality theatre twisted in your favour, after all hope was lost.

The heart-soaring image of your enemy slain, choked on the poisonous medicine they’ve so regularly prescribed to everyone else. The victory tasted as sweet as anything the previous 38 games had offered up and a conclusion that somehow managed to live up to what was probably the most incident packed season ever witnessed in Premier League history.

Sadly for Liverpool fans, these emotions were part of the now annual vicarious lifestyle of following the team competing against Manchester United. Predictably, any Liverpool fan, economic aspect of the dual aside, waded on the unfamiliar grounds of rejoicing in blue victory over red.

However as the dust finally clears from that four minute roller-coaster that surpassed even a week in Alton Towers without safety checks, the reality for Liverpool fans now is that they enter the most worrying time of the current owners’ tenure.

After a season-long version of said four minute roller-coaster, the owners decided the stomach turning lows outweighed the dizzying highs. Liverpool’s principle owner John Henry and club chairman Tom Werner decided that Carling Cup success was not enough to push an eighth placed finish under the carpet and sacked Liverpool’s greatest living legend Kenny Dalglish.

But was the house a development in progress or was there simply no room under the carpet any more, meaning a late spring cleaning was required? Kenny Dalglish’s playing career made him the greatest ever player at one of the world’s greatest clubs. His dedication to the club off the field only helped to add to his God-like stature.

His return was seen by the majority of reds as an event akin to that of Jesus playing drums at a Beatles come-back gig in The Cavern. ‘For when you are at your weakest, when you have been cast to your knees, I shall return in the full glory and power of salvation’.

And Liverpool were undoubtedly on their knees. Torn to shreds by civil war in the board room and practically sprinting backwards from the furthest point they had been since 1990. Then in January 2011 a band of white horses rode into town in the shape of Sports Illustrated’s ‘best owners in world sports’. Fenway Sports Group had ousted the previous American cowboys and removed the grossly unpopular Roy Hodgson. The true master stroke in their transition was encouraging Kenny out of retirement to save the club he still loved. It meant that they could retain their title as Americans, not ‘yanks.’

One year on and that reality reshaping dream has descended into a bed-wetting nightmare. 2012 has seen Liverpool break more records and deliver more mind-bending stats than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo; the worst home record in years, the lowest home-scoring record since 1904, the worst shots per goals ratio in the league and an overall goals tally that fell well short of either of the above player’s goal haul for this year.

All of this concluded with Liverpool finishing closer to the relegation battle than the title race. Any fan who has had any form of contact with logic in the last year should have been well aware that a title race was well beyond Liverpool, only one year from teetering on the brink of administration. This season was always going to be about progress.

Brave steps needed to be taken to get back on the road to redemption and to restore the club to a position that fans see as their birth right. Even a Champions League place was venturing into insanity and most supporters were content to aspire to a fourth spot battle. That fourth place challenge failed to materialise and unrest surfaced.

The staggering January and summer outlay did not guarantee a challenge but coupled with a season that saw the weakest Arsenal and Chelsea teams in a decade, it most certainly was there to be grasped. Chelsea’s problems mirrored events at Anfield with the difference being that that they opted to change manager early.

Arsenal survived early humiliating defeats to somehow secure a third place finish, driven by one man alone (ironically two goals from Van Persie in yet another Anfield game they should have won proved to be the final nail of Liverpool’s league coffin and the catalyst for the Gunners’ fantastic end of season rally).

Spurs punched above their weight before eventually crumbling like a virgin at the very allure of being chased. Although unrealistic in August, by May it was clear that fourth or even third spot would have in fact been achievable. Had the enormous financial muscle been flexed differently then Liverpool’s entire future would have seemed an entirely more optimistic prospect. A point which illustrates this clearly? -the 35 million spent on Andy Carroll could have bought the entire Newcastle team that finished above Liverpool.

Of course there are those that proclaim Liverpool are a club that win trophies. A team never content with finishing lower than first. That argument would suggest that a return of one cup and two final appearances should have been enough to save any manager in his first year. Liverpool’s form became even less comprehendible as they swept away Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and anyone else put in front of them across both domestic competitions.

The Carling cup offered Reds the opportunity to finally return to the ground once viewed as their home from home as a first appearance at the new Wembley beckoned. What unfolded though was a performance so underwhelming that it almost eroded the work of the earlier rounds. Liverpool’s new silverware was snatched from Championship side Cardiff after Dalglish’s side used up more lives than a middle aged cat. It was memorable only for what could legitimately be described as the worst penalty shoot-out in living memory.

The belief that a better side would surely have punished Liverpool on that day was only confirmed by their first half performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
If Liverpool are indeed a club only focused on winning trophies, then losing a final is as relevant as going out in the third round. If Kenny supporters can burn through Shankly quotes all year in his defence, then second place is surely nowhere?After too many baron years for a club like Liverpool, a champagne moment on the Wembley turf was a welcome distraction indeed, but the idea that it is sufficient is now as dated as their last league silverware.

The reality was that without the midweek shackles of European football, Liverpool were free to play their best team throughout the competition, a luxury not afforded to their more contemporary successful counterparts. People can accept it or deny it but the Champions League rules the global market that is football. It provides the finances to build the projects owners preach of and construct the platform needed to attract the performers needed to drive this project.

Fans took solace in the identity of the club. Results may not have materialised as they had envisaged but comfort was sought in the fact that they were not only playing football that had hinted at a throwback to their glory years but that Liverpool were also being led by a man who loved their club with as much vigour as they do.
When Dalglish returned, his passion and enthusiasm oozed from every pour and was so consuming and contagious that optimism touched every corner of Liverpool’s worldwide fan base.

However as each weekend seemed to deliver another crushing blow that optimism eroded and the harsh reality of the huge demands of the Liverpool job were clearly etched on Dalglish’s face. His 21 years away from the club seemed like the generation ago it truly was as he struggled with the enormity of modern day football’s media involvement.

In his handling of the Luis Suarez racism row, Dalglish showed a glaring ignorance of today’s Twitter-driven internet coverage of modern day sport. One wrong decision or one misjudgement can be sent hurtling out of control quicker than it took for the event to happen.

In 2012, everyone has a soapbox. With the Suarez t-shirt incident, Dalglish’s intentions, as they always tend to be, were fundamentally correct –protect Liverpool FC at all costs. But as pressure mounted, results worsened and Dalglish became increasingly truculent with the media, to the point of embarrassment. His interviews morphed from being cagey and protective to being point-blank rude and abrasive.

There was a clear lack of acknowledgement that the expensive flops he had signed and promised would come good had only been secured due to the financial windfall that comes from Geoff Shreeves’ employers.

The Liverpool image he would do anything to secure was ironically being fractured all season long, fractures that would not go unnoticed by the PR- lusting American owners. FSG have a very real and comprehensive understanding of the need to globalise the brand that is the football club. Liverpool must be attractive to people and investors who are not fans, an idea some actual supporters seem to really struggle with.

Then there was the Comolli factor. Fans’ loyalty to the King cast the blame firmly in the corner of the French talent finder. It is unquestionable that he was the driving force behind the signing of Andy Carroll, a signing that could yet prove to be the worst in Premier League history. Although accurate knowledge of exactly what Damien Comolli’s involvement was with the process of signings is difficult to assess, it is entirely unrealistic to think that a man whose influence is so far-reaching in the club as Dalglish’s was, would not have final say in all transfers. It is unlikely that he would have agreed to come back without assurances of that nature.

Even with a fair spread of the blame, the window spending has been so disastrous that all involved must carry a heavy burden of blame. Still, the fans’ love for the man did not shift. The players were underperforming, the club was too big, they needed time and apparently there was no better man to resurrect them as ‘the best man manager in the league’.

Yet if Dalglish truly possessed these confidence-enhancing talents, how could it be that every player signed under his reign performed at a lower standard than they had done for their previous clubs? The most notable of these players was the absolute disaster that was Stewart Downing who contributed no goals and no assists. The outlay could well prove to have been a one-off one-window strategy designed to catapult the club forward four positions. Instead the spending has sent them in the opposite direction with the purse strings now surely tightened.

Support for Dalglish is so fervent in some cases that acceptance of mediocrity is excused. ‘Liverpool are now a mid table side, fans should not expect more and it’s an unfair burden to rest on the shoulders of a man simply doing his best.’ In all my time following football I have never seen a mid-table team spend over 100 million in one year.

The mid-table position can be attributed to the fact that almost the entire budget was spent on players accustomed to that section of the league table. Defeat is mentally accepted because it’s in their nature, the prevalent feeling must be that this is how things usually unfold at this point in the season so why should this be any different now?

Football is a tightrope with harsh consequences -stay upright and be the hero, but fall and you are at the mercy of the wolves. The FA Cup semi final could have seen Andy Carroll further cement his position as the number one comedy show on Merseyside with a glaring four yard miss. Instead, with moments remaining, a mere brush off his elevated ponytail and the much maligned striker was rocketed into the Liverpool hero stratosphere. The header was suddenly enough to merit his performance as star man across national media.

That line between success and failure seemed more tenuous than ever for Liverpool throughout this year. The width of a post seemingly denied them enough points to have already won the league by Christmas. The proximity to victory became a mainstay in the ‘Dalgish to remain’ campaign. The team was achingly close to turning one point into three on many occasions. Again the harsh reality to combat the woodwork propaganda is that it merely shepherded a herd of missed chances into the darkness. Time and time again Kenny’s expensively assembled attack were utterly toothless when they needed to be ruthless. Often the three points never came and stumbling in 2012, they would end the season crippled by a run of form so poor that the only club with a worse record was bottom club Wolves. That fact was more damning than any other in the ‘time for a change’ case files.

As a summer of questions, changes and new projects loom the lack of direction seems to be verging on the hysteric. Rudderless on almost every level the club is certainly not on course for what fans had envisaged as a bright future. Defenders of Dalglish are staunch and furious as they have been all season. Their rigid resistance has been as frustrating all year as the team’s performances. Kenny Dalglish’s identity is so ingrained into the very fabric of the club that he is a part of them. Questioning him became a personal insult which saw retorts with volleys of vitriol that are usually reserved for the defence of a family member.

But take away past glorys and regurgitation of Bill Shankly quotes and their points come up short. For every Alex Ferguson given time, there is a Roy Evans given time. For every Lucas that turned it around, there’s a Salif Diao who did not. The time is now crucial for FSG. The first real decision that could invoke the supporters’ wrath has been made. Their absence from the Suarez case has been duly noted and now they must get it right across a full sweep of Liverpool’s controlling figures. The decision to sack the Liverpool hero will only be the right one if the next decision is right.

One final thought. For those that feel Dalglish’s second tenure was sour enough to chisel away at the fantastic memories he brought before and for those that did not live through any of his original years and don’t hold him as dear to their hearts as many do, Kenny Dalglish turned down his severance package, telling the men who sacked him to ‘spend it on players.’ It was a moment of total class that perfectly sums up why no one should have wanted it to work out this way. It is exactly the kind of memory we should have of him and that memory will never die.

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Artificially Greener Grass

There is an aspect in human nature to destroy that which is familiar in order to promote an opposing hegemony. A trait that deliberately advertises one’s knowledge as beyond that which has been feed to them. An opinion that elevates them to an all knowing zenith from where they can oversee the philistines consuming their entry level information. It is this mindset that will have people inform you that The Wire is better than the Sopranos, that Ibiza is better in the winter and that the Smiths are better than the Beatles. All opinions as valid as any but with a pattern of being forced as fact.

Of a similar ilk is the much promoted idea that the Barclays Premiership is overrated, financially bloated and employing a widespread lack of quality below that of what it once had. The forward thinking members of this belief system will point to Spain’s La Liga competition as Europe’s flagship league. Images of one’s urination from on high to the English product are frequently suggested throughout internet and pub debates. Certainly their case is strong. In Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga possesses arguably the world’s finest two teams, with a tighter condensing of the planet’s top 20 players than any other two could offer. This year they also provide three out of four semi finalists in Europe’s second competition, the Europa League. Certainly two facts that would add heavy weight to the superiority of Spain’s competition. But as the dust settles on this week’s Champions League semi finals, that weight is eased.

Barcelona have been described so often as the world’s greatest ever football team that its almost morphed in to fact. A team considered so fluid it would seem they almost patented passing. Every side capable of finding a member of their own team more than 3 times in row is progressing to play ‘the Barcelona way’. The Catalan’s blueprint has found its way into every training ground from Arsenal to Swansea. They now must prove worthy of playing football ‘how it should be played’.

Yet somehow an ageing Chelsea team, with an intern manager, languishing 6th in their inferior domestic league, have progressed to this years final in Barcelona’s absence. Down to ten men and without either of their starting centre halves, at the home of invincibility, they made the worlds finest team look tired, predictable and completely devoid of the imagination that had made them everyone’s second team.

Chelsea’s progression means the Premiership have now provided eight finalists in the previous eight years. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have all competed in at least one of European football’s show case event. Bayern Munich’s triumph over Real Madrid means Spain have provided three in that same time, all of which, have been Barcelona. Not since the all Spanish final of Real Madrid v Valencia in 2002 has La Liga offered another finalist other than their current champions. Yet for the protagonists, the chasm between leagues has opened further with every season.

There was also great enthusiasm for Manchester United’s exit from the Europa League. Emphatically beaten by La Liga’s 6th placed side Athletic Bilbao. So comprehensive a defeat this was, that it perfectly illustrated the gap between the La Liga’s also rans and the Premier League champions. It was a glorious night for Bilbao as they moved one step closer to their greatest achievement in decades. An achievement, that while positioned worryingly off the pace for a champions league spot, accumulated their priorities into one basket. Title chasing Manchester United, although fielding a strong side, one way or other have to be more generously spread over their domestic duties. When the world’s biggest club travelled to the North of Spain, it certainly meant more to one red and white club than the other.

Confirmation all non EPL believers needed that superiority was ensured. Contenders for La Liga’s second tier within a league, have disposed of England’s champions. Somewhere over these two legs, Manchester United reaching three of the last four European cup finals seems to have gotten conveniently swept under the carpet as current became paramount.People will counter the dual dominance argument by drawing similarities in their English counterpart. Yes Real Madrid or Barcelona win it every year, but a look at the May standings give the impression the EPL has been equally dominated by Man. United and Chelsea for some time now. Hard to contest.

The main difference however is that reality of the run in shows it still was possible for any one of three or four teams to finish on top until at least March. In August predictions will be made, some reserved and realistic, some a wild stretch of imagination. But predictions that will scope across at least six teams for crowning glory in the end. Anyone predicting outside the big two in Spain had clearly discovered Sam Miguel is indeed a great mixer for Corn Flakes. The reasons the EPL will have more twists and turns than a weekend at the Bahrain F1 is because no team will lie down for another. Fans look at their next games and desperately calculate their proposed points total knowing that Stoke (A) could turn a whole season into a complete nightmare. Fans in La Liga look at their next six games and try to calculate if either Messi or Ronaldo can finally have a more goals than touches stat by the other end of the 6. The race equating to more of an Indy 500 track than F1.

UEFA have invited teams that aren’t champions in to mainland Europe for the Champions League now for so long now, the old format seems confined to video tape. In this format, Europe’s ever expanding top table has mixed resident chairs with the surplus fold ups from the garden shed. In this time, teams from the EPL have beaten Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Roma, Valencia, Napoli and every force you can imagine. These results gather no accumulative relevance for the strength of the league. Usually credited to their financial strength to any ability, the EPL being a technique vacuum by all accounts. But when a result does go against the league, even if those results were part of a club’s maiden voyage in the Champions League, in the case of Manchester City (another new team to represent at the table), it is once again proof of the divide.

The debate could rage all day, all season or forever but why? Why do some need to disassociate themselves from a league to one further afield? I can only request a spectrum of appreciation, across both. One result or one campaign wont prove anything as fact, not domestically or on the continent.

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Re-ranting Premier League History

And so that time rolls upon us once again. The Easter chocolate overload is finally settling, those little seen gym cards are being dusted off and another season in the Premier League draws to an unforgettable, explosive, never before seen climax. If Sky Sports are to be believed. A time when every fan of every team from top to bottom believe they have something to fight tooth and nail for. Some targets realistic, some not so much.

Although every season offers its own unique stories and twists, some things seem ever present. Manchester United will be in the title race. A team beginning with W will be near the bottom and a whole Pandora’s box of cliches get regurgitated for the farewell 2 months. Some are fresh, their foundations built that season. From Balotelli being the sole culprit for Manchester City’s mini collapse to Liverpool’s lack of luck. Of course every year contains those ever present familar tag-lines like Arsene Wenger’s fear of the transfer market and Alex Ferguson’s mind games. Media en mass would have all with an attention span believe that entire squads of professional athletes, assembled for countless millions of pounds, crumble at the knees and throw their entire years work away after a few barbed comments from the man who has been there and seen it all before.

But have mind games become as important as any player or any tactical briefing in the nail biting run in? Or has the idea become the journalistic equivilant of a Rory Delap throw in, a choas inducing long shot caused by one forceful flick of a wrist? Sadly for any non Man. United fan, a large portion of Premier League seasons have actually finished at such a canter for United that Fergie barely even needed to wield out his acid tongue.

The 1996/1997 season did of course produce a genuine race when United pipped Newcastle, seemingly certain winners, to another title and a run in that would produce an interview that would become as dramatic and instantly unforgettable as any moment on the pitch during the ‘Sky Sports years’. As Kevin Keegan cracked professing a burning desire for love and everyone from Richard Keys to Rupert Murdoch licked their lips with glee, the title had gone and Newcastle had surrendered a 13 point lead.The annuls of history would record that Fergie had won and Keegan had cracked under the pressure. Kevin was weak to the game.Yet the truth is that ten games before Ferguson’s interviewed attempt to rile Leeds and Nottingham Forrest into direct action against their Geordie rivals, Newcastle began a run that would see them drop 14 points out of 30. The goals had dried up, the signings of Faustino Asprilla and David Batty seemed more disruptive than beneficial. All season long the backline of Warren Barton, Phillipe Albert, Darren Peacock and Jon Beresford were more than susceptible to conceding goals but Les Ferdinand and co. could always score more than the opposition to collect another 3 points. When this was no longer the case, the 13 point lead frittered away. The pressure set in on a team and manager with no previous title experience and the Cantona lead juggernaut took over. But the underlying fact is, this all started long before Ferguson had even spoke seriously about a challenge.

Facts lead us to another of Fergie’s famous psychological victories. In 08/09 Liverpool mounted probably their one and only true title charge, under the tenorship of Rafael Benitez. As Liverpool sat in the unfamilar position of top of the league, Rafa launched into what was vilified as a rant over issues he percieved as the FA and English football as a whole, favouring Ferguson’s side. The press lapped up the ‘meltdown’ and as Manchester United strode towards another title, the papers would force people to cast their minds back to that press conference, as the day Liverpool lost their best chance for a first Premier League title.

But once again if we have commitment beyond a season reduced to bullet points, we will see that the week to week slog of that run in was not about a collapse. In a season where Liverpool lost only 2 games, they would gallop in with 31 points out of 33, stretching back to February 28th. The best form they have ever been on in the EPL. An insane 4-4 draw against Arsenal on a night when only for Arshavin having the game of his life, could easily have ended 10-0 to the Anfield side. These would be their only points dropped.

The reality of Liverpool’s failing were a terminal lack of quality widespread. Despite having the best striker in the league, with the best goals per game ratio in Fernando Torres, those games were so few that two midfielders were Liverpool’s top scorers that term in Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt. Liverpool’s first choice 11 was arguably stronger than anyone else in the division, but sadly that 11 rarely battled together. Their replacements could never replace the lost quality and Rafa’s tinkering (another unfair myth) could not duplicate their post ‘rant’ form, throughout the season. Throw in the failings of 20 million Robbie Keane and already we can see that Liverpool’s search for that elusive best team in the land crown would extend again for a multitude of reasons beyond that of a press conference.

In the interest of competition and basic change of scenery, thankfully, Man. United have not won every Premiership. In 1998 they once again strode out front in another one horse race for the title before St. Patrick’s day. Yet a Marc Overmars winner at Old Trafford unsettled the mastermind so much that Sir Alex filtered the mind games into the environment early. He promised the result would be no major set back as Arsenal would certainly drop points before the end of the season. Fergie was right. Arsenal would lose again, but only after embarking on a 10 match winning streak that would see Tony Adams lift his first Premiership under the stewardship of Ferguson’s latest foe, Arsene Wenger.If the mind games did not work this time, why wasn’t it documented as acting as an inspiration instead?

As fans we enjoy and despair through almost every human emotion in a long tough season. Weeks on end of high drama, miserable mistakes and week changing brilliance. The hopes and aspirations of ones own team can change ten times over in those 9 months. So is it possible that an entire season’s work can come down to who can handle the child’s play most adequately? Can an entire dressing room of anything up to 20 nationalities be disrupted by one of 1000 interviews throughout the year? Id have a right mind to switch to a different game if it did.

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