During the baseball world series, fans of the San Francisco Giants took to holding up signs that said “Torture Me”.  That being a reference to the experience of watching their home team. Most of the performances by Liverpool this year could be called torturous, or maybe public humiliation. Like the public stockades villages used in the medieval days.  All that’s missing from it being an authentic recreation of these old punishments are the obligatory rotten tomatoes and cabbages hurled at the victim.

 

The most worrying thing about seeing the Reds get turned inside out by a team that will probably be playing in the Championship next year was that it held no surprises. My complaints that I made recently about a lack of team spirit and an inability to keep possession of the ball in the opponents half again proved to be their undoing. I have to ask myself, have Liverpool become the football equivalent of  ‘Troll 2’ – a movie so bad it actually becomes funny and quite enjoyable? No. Rather it’s more like one of the rare bad movies that Steven Spielberg or Quintin Tarrantino make. The talent is there, the script is there. On paper it should be very successful, but somehow it just falls flat.

If this team actually had some real characters in it, and not so many one dimensional mercenaries, things would be different. If Djibril Cisse were still at Liverpool then maybe they might still be losing games, but it least they would lose in style.

 

 

 

Advertisements

It’s not all doom and gloom for Liverpool, as the seeds for a succesful team have already been planted.  With some investment coming in from the new owners it won’t be long before Liverpool can contest for the title again.

Here’s why I am still optimistic about the future

The new owners

NESV appear to know what they are doing. The two things that have impressed me the most so far is the apointment of Damien Comolli as Director of Football Strategy and their plans to implement sabermetrics as part of the new recruitment policies. These two initiatives show that they are different from our past owners and I think they’re finally pulling Liverpool into the 21st century.  In the past we have been lagging behind our rivals in terms of innovation and smart strategic planning.  NESV on the other hand are the kind of Americans who are willing to try new methods.  I think this will increase efficiency around the club, and we will start to more bang per buck.

The addition of a Damien Comolli has some very obvious advantages, the first one being his scouting ability. The last time Liverpool showed any competence in scouring Europe for unknown future stars of the game was back when Gerard Houllier plucked Sami Hypia from out of nowhere for 1.5 million pounds.  With the over-inflation of the transfer market, finding good young players at bargain prices is more important than ever. Comolli has a proven track record in this area. He was responsible for Arsenal and Spurs signing the likes of Kolo Toure and Gareth Bale for a pittance of their true market value.  If you look at the current LFC squad you will see a lot of players who were signed relatively cheaply, but represent poor value. With the greater amount of over-sight that the new owners are demanding in our transfer dealings, calamitous errors like this summers signing of Paul Konchesky should cease to happen. It’s impossible to guarantee that a club won’t sign the odd dud but I expect that future mistakes will not be as financially costly.

The new transfer policy

If you think about Manchester United or Arsenal, you can also imagine a certain archetype player that each club likes to sign. That’s because they have a coherent transfer policy that they stick to.  Both clubs rarely sign players over the 25-26 year mark.  Arsenal tend to go for more technical, graceful players and a Manchester United player is usually more of a tenacious and competitive sort. Often if I’m watching a La Liga or Champions League game I will see a young attack-minded player and think ‘oh there’s one for Wenger’.  I never see a young up and coming talent and go ‘he’ll be wearing a Liverpool jersey soon enough’. I do however say to myself  ‘God I wish that was the sort of player we would go after’.  Frequently. It’s because I never know what to expect from Liverpool in the transfer market.  The only common thread in our signings for the last 3 years has been that we’re signing players the PR department at the club can tout as world-beaters.  But they’re world-beaters on the cheap, and a mish mash group of individuals.

It’s all speculation at this point in time, but the transfer targets of the club will be something like this I hope:

  • More local players signed, going into the first team and not rotting in the reserves or on loan to 2nd Division clubs. Given the stature and resources of Liverpool, no decent player from the North-West should be allowed to slip into the hands of lesser clubs. LFC are sitting on a gold mine and letting other teams plunder it.
  • An emphasis on signing only young players
  • Hopefully a big improvement on players signed in the under 5 million mark if NESV increase scouting efforts as expected
  • If a player’s transfer fee is in the 5-10+ million region then he will have to actually be worth the money. Using more objective data (sabremetrics) to evaluate the quality of a player will put an end to the likes of Carlton Cole being linked with the club.

I don’t believe in 5 year plans – it didn’t work for the Soviets and it doesn’t work in football

Having looked at the long term strategy the club may be taking, let us now consider the immediate future of the first team.  I’m not a fan the thinking that goes like “if we do this, and we do X, we will win the title in 5 years”. In politics two weeks is a long time, and in football it can be an eternity. The club cannot accept anything below a fourth spot finish this year without the managers head going on the chopping block. Champions League place this season, win the title next year is still my thinking. The common press (or hacks if you will) would say that I’m crazy for still having these expectations. But I’m a Liverpool supporter, and like Shanks said “first place is everything, second is nowhere”.  Beyond blind faith I think there are still  rational reasons for keeping my hopes up.

A world class spine

The line of Reina-Carragher-Gerrard-Torres is as good if not better than any other back bone in the EPL. And as Rafa pointed out, he did leave us with 13 internationals in the squad. When Liverpool actually get around to signing a real replacement for our departed Rafa, the critics will be made to eat their words. A man who knows how to motivate the troops could do a lot with the current players we have. The squad as it is right now needs much more depth, but our best 11 would be a handful for any opponent as Chelsea found.

With Martin Kelly, Kyriakgos, Carra, Daniel Agger (when he is not injured), Fabio Aurelio and Skrtel to choose from in defense there isn’t a need for massive spending to solve our problems at the back.  I think Martin Kelly has been very impressive when included in the team and should be made a regular starter. This would allow Glen Johnson, who is useless at defending, to be moved up the pitch to the right wing position where he would flourish.  Another left back is still a requirement however. If the club act correctly all that needs to be done to solve this problem is to bring back, and keep, Emilano Insua.  If you add Danny Wilson to this picture, and sign one more defender, there would be a good mix of experience, youth, and competition between the players.

That’s the good news. The bad news the midfield and forward line need a big overhaul.

In central midfield the quality has gone downhill, fast. Out of Lucas, Poulsen, and what I have so far seen from Meireles , Liverpool do not have a quality player who can create attacks from deep positions in midfield.  In the holding position we lack both ball-winning and passing abilities.  Sissoko, Mascherano, and Alonso have all been allowed to leave without anyone coming in as direct replacements.  This is an area where a lot of money will have to be spent as good midfielders never come cheap. Lucas could still fetch a good price if sold to a Spanish or Italian team where he might fit in better.  Players of the highest calibre, possibly Lassana Diarra (who incidentally isn’t getting enough playing time Real) will be required to raise the bar and support Stevie G. Better possession and distribution will allow Gerrard to continue being his own brilliant self.

Considering that Alberto Aquilani is still under contract, and a move for Diarra is entirely realistic, it wouldn’t be difficult to dramatically improve central midfield with just one signing.  An axis of Aquilani-Diarra and Gerrard at the head of the triangle would terrify other teams.

Looking at the wings, Glen Johnson would finally prove that he is a world class player if he was moved to the RW position. On the left side I’m just hoping that Joe Cole will come good eventually. And then there is also Maxi Rodrigez who seems to be improving every time I see him.  He is the perfect example of a “squad player” versus a regular starter in terms of quality however. A handy player but he won’t single-handedly win many games.

Which brings me to the forward line. The problems in this area of the pitch are well-known so I won’t say too much about the striker situation, other than  WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T LIVERPOOL SIGN KLASS JAN HUNTELAAR?

So there. If the manager situation is sorted out, it won’t require a massive rebuilding job to get Liverpool back into the title race again. Never mind the salaried press, and hold your head up high.

I hardly recognise Liverpool this season. This current side is the most gutless and embarrasing team I’ve ever seen.  I will think about what positives there are to be taken, but the cons of the Hodgson era outweigh the pros.

1- Inconsistancy

It ‘s no use beating Chelsea and Napoli if you’re just going to go on and get a lousy draw against the likes of Wigan.

2- Roy Hodgson: theres a number of qualms I have with the cockney. Here they are

  • Transfer signings- When you sell the highest rated defensive midfielder in the world, you damn sure have to sign a quality replacement.  Instead Hodgson signs an over the hill Poulsen, who is one of the worst players I have seen in a Liverpool jersey in recent years.   Juventus were keen to get rid of him, easy to see why.  Furthermore, 4m pounds for Paul Konchesky (at the age of 30)?  Most clubs would never sanction such a stupid buy.  These two purchases alone  means 10m pounds pissed down the drain. Neither player has any resale value, and I don’t know how they can be taken off of the wage bill.
  • Tactical ineptness- His formations are badly thought out. Even in the few games we have won our style of play has been stilted and disjointed. Hodgson still thinks he is at Fulham; he doesn’t set out to beat teams, he tries not to lose. That’s not the Liverpool way and overly defensive football should never be accepted by Liverpool supporters.
  • Poor use of substitutes in-game- one of the greatest assets that Rafa Benitez had as a manager was his astute use of substitutes to change the tempo of a game in Pool’s favour.  Benitez would always go for the jugular, bringing more attacking players on even if we were 2-0 up. On the other hand Hodgson makes panicked and  uncalculated subs. Against Wigan with a 1-1 scoreline he took off an attack minded player, Kuyt, for the useless Poulsen. This decision showed he was settling for a draw
  • He looks a like tit- The manager is the public face of the club and he should be someone who can handle himself in front of journalists. Rafa Benitez’s comment that every Hodgson “press conference is worst than the last” was spot on.

Inept Roy

3- We can’t keep possesion of the ball, which is key to dominating a game.

Three years ago if you were watching a Liverpool game you would have seen an English side playing continental football at its best. The style of play now is either 1) get the ball, play a few square passes between defense and midfield then play an inaccurate pass forward thats either intercepted or goes out of play OR 2)  manage to get the ball upfield then quickly and stupidly give the ball back to the opponent.

A top side in modern football should show patience on the ball, and hold up the ball when on the counter to give teammates time to support attacks.  Never let the opponent get a touch. Be intelligent about when you shoot. Instead, Liverpool are playing stereotypical English football – the kind of kick and run game you expect to see in the lower leagues.

I think this is probably a result of the aforementioned tactics of Hodgson, and players who are not technically good enough for grade A football.

To solve this problem it will be necessary to sign a couple of players who are good dribblers.  A player who can individually play keep-away from defenders will create time for his teammates to get into better positions to recieve a pass from.  A big target man upfront would also help.

Most importantly though the overrall technical ability of the team must be raised. That means players who have a first touch. Paul Konchesky has no concept of what a good first touch is.

4- A squad that is short on quality.

There are just too many bad players at Liverpool . Milan Jovanivich, Christian Poulsen, Lucas Leiva,  Ryan Babel, Paul Konchesky are expensive mistakes and need to be culled.

As I mentioned before, the loss of Mascherano has not been addressed.  I’m of the opinion that the single most important position on the field is defensive midfield. Usually this is overlooked by most of the sports press.  But every winning team requires a top quality player here . Think of how important Hamann was to Liverpool, Roy Keane to Manchester United, Makelele to Real Madrid.  Why do you think Manchester City have splashed out Nigel De Jong, Viera, Yaya Toure? Mancini knows that it is in this position games are decided. So why does Liverpool not have a single decent defensive midfielder? This is just one more indication Liverpool’s management don’t know what they are doing.  To start winning again a new manager and a star holding midfielder like Lassan Diarra will have to be brought in.

And obviously there is no experienced striker to partner with Torres.

5- No spirit.

Jamie Carragher looks like the only player on the field who cares about what is going on around him. I think the board should ask Tony Robbins to come in for a day of motivational speaking.

Until all these problems are addressed it will be the Europa League, and not the Champions Leauge, again for Liverpool.

For people of a certain age, the name Edgar Davids will always carry a resonance of association with the ultimate player. With his dark glasses and dreadlocks, Davids looked more like the alien from ‘Predator’ than a human. And during the period of the late 1990s and early 2000s , Davids was unarguably one of the best players in the world. The only players who were on a similar level with him during his peak were his teammates from international and club football respectively, Dennis Berkamp and Zidane.  Now the former Champions League winner can’t even secure a place in the Crystal Palace squad. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Football can be cruel and fickle but todays news which just barely garnered a mention in the Telegraph is downright sad.

Years ago on an affiliate newscast from Buffalo, NY, there was a one minute snippet about the Chuck Berry making a local appearance. Except that it was a free concert at some hole in the wall mall. The news footage showed Chuck Berry playing his red Epiphone guitar to a crowd of about 15 or 20 people who probably didn’t know who he was, while other uninterested shoppers  ignored him to get on with the important business of buying discount sox. That’s what the notion of Edgar Davids playing for Crystal Palace reminds me of. Something so very undignified for a legend who deserves more. Yet the football gods think that Davids deserves even less than this.

Professional athletes need to know when to step away from the game. I just hope that Davids realizes it is time for him to hang up his boots before he slides even lower and makes an appearance on the Maidenhead United bench.

The best thing for those of us who used to dream about making slide tackles and backheel flicks as sweet as ‘the Pitbull’ did, is just pretend you never heard anything about this episode of his life and just remember the days when Zinedine Zidane was overshadowed by the Dutch legend.

Better days: Trezeguet, Davids, Zidane

The most inspiring men are not those who excel at what they do.  The ones who inspire me at least are the ones who somehow have slipped through the cracks and bungled their way to wealth and fame.  Men who are inexplicably paid high wages in a field which they clearly have zero aptitude.  That moment when you’re watching a schmuk  on tv and you think to yourself ‘I could do X better than that guy’ is a sorely underrated boost for ones self esteem.  For me that moment usually comes when I’m watching the news and some wooden generic news anchor drones along in a colourless monotone and over-enunciates every foreign name.  I think at least half a billion people had the ‘I could do a better job’ moment throughout G W Bush’s  two terms in office.   And depending on which football team you support, you probably have that moment on a weekly basis.  Daily if you support Newcastle, and maybe monthly or bi-monthly if you support Chelsea.  If you support Barcelona, the feeling I’m talking about has probably never overcome you while watching football.

Since the introduction of modern sports coverage and the increased amount of monies involved, people easily forget that football is a game, and the object of a game is to have fun.  And,  unless you are a sociopath with no sense of humour,  winning is not the only fun part of sports.  Drama and hi-jinks add to the soap opera nature of football, and is one crucial element which helps make it so addictive.  It is for this reason that Liverpool FC supporters are truly the luckiest fans in the world.  We get to experience the full spectrum of what it is to be a football supporter.  We can match Real Madrid in terms of how famous we are.  Inter Milan  for the amount of silver ware we’ve won.  We also have more stories of  nail biting moments of glory and failure than a team like West Brom who are continuously in relegation and promotion battles.   It is not just the fact that we have more trophies than any other club in Britain which makes us the greatest, it’s how we won those trophies. Five years ago we were crowned European champions after the greatest comeback in history, and now we are sitting in the relegation zone.  You need a sense of humour to support this club, one thing scousers are legendary for.

Which brings me back to the original reason I started this article. Bad players.  Winning the European Cup in 2005 still makes me go all misty eyed when I think about it.  When the expert pundits run down a list of the ‘greatest’ teams in football history, none of them will mention Liverpool of 2005.  But for me and every other Liverpool supporter,  that lineup which orchestrated the Miracle of Istanbul will always be the one in our hearts because they embodied the best aspects of the game.  That was a team which had Sami Hypia, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Dietmar Hamann – ALL brilliant players who were arguably some the best players in their particular positions.  But rounding out the team were guys who were continuously derided by the press, their own supporters, and all the other so called experts.  Jerzey Dudek, Igor Biscan, Djimi Traore, Josemi, Antonio Nunez….

I’m about as a loyal a Liverpool supporter there is, but I will admit that Djimi Traore was not very good, and Josemi was downright bad.  The number of times anyone watching Josemi stumble around the pitch thought ‘I can play football better than that’ , would have left you convinced you actually had what it takes to be a pro footballer- no matter how fat you are, or how bad at hitting a cross field pass you happen to be.  But all these players had some part in Liverpool hoisting the trophy against the much more talented  AC Milan team.

Ultimately, all those George Bush moments we had to endure throughout that long season made us feel closer to the players on the pitch, and more united as a sports family.  Perhaps we broke through the glossy veneer television producers try to attach to professional players.  In hindsight I look at George W as an ordinary man who somehow ended up with the worst job in the world.  W was a mere human burdened with unrealistic expectations.  For us Liverpool supporters, the players became human too.  We identified with them, largely because they had some clear and obvious short-comings to go along with their brilliant gifts.  But through good old fashioned pluck, determination and grit they kept on running as hard they could til they got to the finish line.  And they beat the bookies favourite to do it in the process.

The moral of the story is to never say die when pursuing your goals, and never be distracted or intimidated because your opponent has a flash car or is married to a lingerie model.  Let people misunderestimate you, and when you win it will feel all that much better.

On a final note, just think about the fact that Pascal Cygan made 51 appearances for Arsenal the season that they went undefeated.

Professional sports reveals an incredible amount about the culture and age it is the product of. The values, prejudices, and vices of a particular era are shown thus. Pro sports is a scholar’s dream. Spend a day at Anfield or any sports arena on match day and you will learn about economics, history, sociology and pyschology. The ultimate snap shot of what it is to be alive in the 2010 could probably best be told by the results of the World Cup in South Africa. History is just that – a story, and that’s something that all sports fans love.

‘Bigger than Jesus’

And what would a good story be without its characters? Want to write a story about post-war America? The characters you’ll need to know about are Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Cassius Clay. To understand the world today, specifically the western world, look at the big names in the ‘world’s game’.  To explore my theory of football as a microcosm of the real world, consider the result of the housing bubble in America.  We have all been consumed by the financial disaster and global credit crunch which has since ensued. The number one cause of the economic meltdown was of course greed.

How better to illustrate the waywardness of the West than looking at the shocking scale of greed in topflight football? Every story needs a good guy and a bad guy. The bad guy is Wayne Rooney. The ultimate embodiment of a 21st century athlete. The archetypal footballer and celebrity of the most materialistic society in modern history. 40 foot tall bill boards with his face. Very expensive and over-produced Nike commercials. Tabloids writing up front page headlines every time he farts.  Rooney this and Rooney that is nothing unusual, but I believe this is the week that will be the crescendo in the tabloid  area of his career.  Public fall outs with our protagonist, Sir Alex Ferguson, seem to have that effect. David Beckham has spent his entire life trying to make headlines, but the most publicized incident of his life, other than his affair with Rebecca Loos, was when Fergie kicked a boot into his face (which is only one of the reasons that Ferguson is the good guy) . Despite  all the efforts of Manchester United’s many primadonnas and publicity whores to be ‘bigger than Jesus’, no one in modern football has ingrained their image into the collective conscious of football fans more than Ferguson.  Anyone who tries to take him on ends up looking like a fly buzzing around the tail of a giant elephant. The reasons why Sir Alex is so respected are simple; he is the antithesis of what our shallow pop culture says men should be like. Humble and loyal, Ferguson embodies old fashioned virtues that everyone, deep down inside their gut, knows to be the correct way for a man to carry himself.

This is the week that Rooneygate has sent the newspapers and everyone involved in the premier league into a kind of frenzy that I’ve never seen in English football.  It all started months ago before the world cup, simmering, out of public view.  Now everything has been laid bare.  Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career is more or less over- a result of  greed, immorality, prostitutes, disloyalty, a ridiculously over inflated ego, and fans who are sick and tired of highly paid professionals behaving with the same level of integrity of a common pick-pocket.

Unhappy with the 90 000 pounds sterling paid to him by his employers every week, Rooney has shown more gall than I’ve ever seen- demanding that Man U pay him in excess of 200 000 a week! Never living up to his potential- he’s made a career out of goals that like look great on a highlight reel, but in reality he goes missing or lets down his team when they need him most. He’s an overrated and overpaid player. But what makes him even more unlikeable, and an outright bad human being is the way that he treats his family.  He has publicly cheated on his wife with prostitutes on two separate occasions, the last one being when she was heavily pregnant.  The man is truly shameless.

Who is to blame for this? You might expect me to say that society, or Hollywood, or some other part of the media is at fault.  But the television shows, movies and rap videos that glamorize crass hedonistic materialism are merely indicative of wider trends.  Wayne Rooney is the way that he is because of weak parenting and a lack of scruples.  The contempt he has shown for his wife and the lack of respect for the authority of his manager can all be traced to the values (or lack there of) instilled by his family. This can be said for all humans.  The childish behavior of misters Rooney,Franc Ribery, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre  etc., are I believe related to the break down of family values.  That’s not to say that the parents of all these athletes were necessarily the most guilty party in every case, but something, whatever it is,  allowed their own vanity to take precedence over their family.

The backlash against Rooney from fans, his teammates, and other managers is refreshing in a way.  Too often the bad behaviour of a player is shrugged off as long as he scores goals, or brings in more money to the club. Some Man U supporters took such offence to this whole debacle that they picketed his house.   Although, like all tabloid wars, this story will fade away and be replaced by the next player behaving badly, there is something to gleaned from it.  Nearly everyone is backing up Sir Alex Ferguson. To me that says people don’t really want what the Rooneys, Beckhams, and Ronaldos of this world represent.  We don’t want gold coloured football boots, annoying ring tones, gelled hair and pointless twitters. We want back the world as it’s supposed to be, the one we learnt about in the stories told to us during childhood.  A world that puts honour and loyalty ahead of frivolities. We want decency back.




The old onion

Posted: October 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

The url domain name of this blog is not a tributary reference the fake newspaper. It comes from the phrase ‘the old onion bag’ (meaning the net of a soccer goal) used by ESPN commentator Tommy Smyth.

The name ‘Mersey Paradise’ is a reference to a song by The Stone Roses.  Heaven will taste something like Liverpool.