Posts Tagged ‘Liverpool FC’

Beware of the experts

Posted: June 4, 2011 in English Football
Tags:

The sports media may be useful for getting up to the minute news, but they’re useless at pretty much everything else.

There can hardly be anything more satisfying in life for highly successful individuals than proving to young upstarts, that after years of dominating their field, they still have what it takes to be a winner. I think that’s the general feeling among the Liverpool faithful this summer. Just six months ago sensationalist sports writers were saying that Liverpool was a club in terminal decline, and that a Leeds-style implosion was a very real possibility. Apparently we were going to be relegated from the Premiership, lose all of our A-list players, and spend the next few years in the wilderness. Even the normally stoic Arsene Wenger warned when asked about Liverpool, that a good team takes many years to build, but a fall from the top can happen almost overnight.

But then came the second half of the season in which Liverpool beat Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and earned a remarkable draw away at Arsenal. We finished second in the form table just behind Chelsea. And along the way played some of the most attractive football the Premier League had seen this past season. Every journalist commented how “remarkable” the turn around was. But it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. If it were not for the laziness of most sports writers they would have seen that at the beginning of the season Liverpool had a core of players who could give any team in the league a run for their money. The spine of the team, with Reina, Carragher, Lucas, Gerrard, and Torres, was as good as any other in England. All LIverpool needed was the ownership issue to fade into the background, and a manager fit to lead one of the world’s most famous clubs. With John Henry taking over from Hicks and Gillet, stability and security returned to the club. Kenny Dalglish shooing that Cockney who will not be named, out the door, meant that a manager with tactical understanding beyond ‘kick and run’ would be in charge of the first team. And in swapping Fernando Torres for Luis Saurez the spine of the team was made even stronger. That these few changes would make Liverpool into one of the most formidable teams in England once again was something that I, or any close observer, would have easily predicted when the team was sitting in the bottom half of the table. After a disappointing draw against Wigan in Novemember, I commented that watching Liverpool was like one of the rare bad films Steven Spielberg makes. It seemed like everything needed for a hit was there, but somehow it didn’t come together. All that was needed was a few minor tweaks to the script, a better soundtrack…and voila! A winner.

Now as always, whether next season will see Liverpool pushing for the title depends very much upon transfer decisions over the summer. The policy which the club has publicly stated that it will pursue makes me confident next season will be an enjoyable one for Liverpool supporters. Gone is the policy of spending four to seven million pounds on mere squad players. Instead, expect just three new players of a very high calibre, thus avoiding the usual mercenaries who crowd out any opportunities for academy youngsters to progress into the first team. Couple that with the return of our world-class play-maker Alberto Aquilani ( again, a terrific player written off as a “flop” by newspaper hacks), means that Liverpool has every chance of reclaiming it’s rightful place at the summit of the British game.

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I have an awful memory, and it isn’t just because of the concussion I sustained recently whilst skiing. If I try to remember what on earth was going on in my life four years ago, I’m at a total loss. Only when I stop and think…2011..-4 =2007…one year after we won the FA Cup, 06-07 European Cup runners-up, we signed Torres…3rd place in the league was it?….ah, that’s right, just at this time four years ago I was making my decision to major in philosophy.

For those afflicted with the same addiction I have, life literally revolves around Liverpool FC (or whichever club is your dealer). After all, life is essentially a collection of memories. The acquiring of, storage, and reminiscence of memories.  Lose your memories, and you yourself will disappear.  And in the life of a football supporter, landmark games or seasons are the great marker points of your life.
The connection between memory and identity has been something I’ve been pondering for the past year or two. Is it our identity and personality which shapes the memories we have or the other way round?  It actually seems difficult to say where the one ends and the other begins. And why is it that my own personal life always seems to follow a similar pattern to the fate of my club? Parts of my life which I would rather not remember or think about always seem to have happened at a time when Liverpool were having a bad time on the pitch. And on the other hand when I’ve had amazing opportunities professionally, or to travel, we win at least one trophy.  I know I’m not the only one who sees it this way.

Honestly I still do feel a bit dopey from that knock on the head. And I know I’m really just mumbling to myself, and can’t really pull together a fully coherent article. But the smell of the vinegar in the compress on my left hand does pep me up a bit.  Mind, oh that bit of nausea is coming back.  How long til I can take my dose of Tylenol again? ohhhhhh

Blackpool doing the double over Liverpool? I thought it was a practical joke! Torres scored a wonderful goal coming in off of the right, and the interplay and overlapping of our fullbacks was actually the best it’s been this season.  But one bad player, that’s all it takes. Every time Milan Jovanovich touched the ball, a disaster was imminent and you could sense it. Why the gaffer let him play the full 90 minutes is beyond me. And that Martin Skrtel! Is he ever useless?! Remember Alan Hansen and how…..

bla bla bla bla

I can still remember the Blackpool-Liverpool score.  That’s a positive.

There’s a lot of talk this year about the league being more competitive.  It is the job of the mainstream English press to hype up the Premier League, and managers like Arsene Wenger have repeatedly said the league is getting better overall.  But the undeniable truth is that the Premiership is no longer the best league in Europe. The  reason that teams like Sunderland and Newcastle have been able to take so many points off the big four isn’t that the overall level quality has improved, but that the big teams have gone downhill. In fact it’s rather alarming at how badly the big four have all declined. If the current Liverpool, Man Unt., Arsenal, and Chelsea teams were to play against the squad they had five years ago, all of the current teams would have their asses handed to them in a basket.  Just look at the comparison I have made below. Each of the starting elevens from five years ago are vastly superior to the 2010 vintage.  And thats also ignoring the overall squad depth. For example the 2005 Arsenal team I’ve listed leaves out players of the caliber of Dennis Bergkamp, Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini (all players who could easily have walked in the first XI of Arsenal today).

Liverpool 2005-06 Liverpool 2010

GK Jose Reina Jose Reina

RB Steve Finnan Glen Johnson

CB Sami Hypia Martin Skyrtel

CB Jamie Carragher Jamie Carragher

LB John Arne Riise Paul Konchesky

Defensive Advantage : Liverpool 2005

RM Steven Gerrard Dirk Kuyt

CM Xabi Alonso Raul Meireles

CM Dietmar Hamann Steven Gerrard

LM Luis Garcia Maxi Rodriguez

Midfield Advantage : Liverpool 2005

ST Peter Crouch Fernando Torres

ST Djibril Cisse David N’Gog

Attack Advantage : Liverpool 2010


Arsenal 2005-06 Arsenal 2010

GK Jens Lehman Lukasz Fabianski

RB Emmanuel Eboue Backary Sagna

CB Kolo Toure Sebastian Squillaci

CB Sol Campbell Laurent Koscielny

LB Ashley Cole Gael Clichy

Defensive Advantage : Arsenal 2005

RM Freddy Ljunberg Samir Nasri

CM Cesc Fabregas Cesc Fabregas

CM Gilberto Jack Wilshere

LM Robert Pires Andrei Arshavin

Midfield Advantage : Arsenal 2005

ST Thierry Henry Marouane Chamakh

ST Jose Reyes Robin Van Persie

Attack Advantage : Arsenal 2005

Manchester United 2005/06 Manchester Unt. 2010

GK Edwin Van der Sar  Edwin Van der Sar

RB Gary Neville John O’Shea
CB  Rio Ferdinand Rio Ferdinand
CB Mikael Silvestre  Nemanja Vidic
LB John O’Shea Patrice Evra

Defensive Advantage : Man Unt. 2010

RM Cristiano Ronaldo  Park Ji-Sung

CM Darren Fletcher Darren Fletcher

CM Park Ji-Sung Michael Carrick

LM Ryan Giggs Nani

Midfield Advantage : Man Unt. 2005

ST Ruud Van Nistelrooy Dimitar Berbatov

ST Wayne Rooney Wayne Rooney

Attack Advantage : Man Unt. 2005

Chelsea 20o5/06 Chelsea 2010

GK  Petr Cech Petr Cech

RB William Gallas Branislav Ivanovic
CB John Terry John Terry
CB Ricardo Carvalho  Alex
LB Asier Del Horno Ashley Cole

Defensive Advantage : Chelsea 2005
RM Joe Cole Florent Maluda
CM Michael Essien  Michael Essien
CM Frank Lampard Ramires
CM Claude Makelele John Obi Mikel
LM Arjen Robben Solomon Kalou

Midfield Advantage : Chelsea 2005
CF Didier Drogba/Hernan Crespo Didier Drogba/Nicolas Anelka

Attack Advantage : Chelsea 2005

Why is there such a huge gulf in quality from five years ago? The most obvious answer is that it comes down to financial reasons. Five years ago the state of the economy was much better than it is right now. But that explanation doesn’t hold up for very long. First of all most clubs have increased revenue over the last couple of years, drastically so in Arsenal’s case. Yet Arsenal’s improved finances have not meant any improvement in the first team. Secondly, football clubs live in their own universe far removed from reality. Unemployment in Britain could reach 20% and footballers would still be making 200 000 pounds a week.  In the same time as the global recession has forced governments to cut spending, Real Madrid signed Kaka for 56M and C. Ronaldo for 80M pounds.  There’s as much money as ever in football, and English clubs are still swimming in it.

The only reasons I can  think of the decline in quality is a rather quaint explanation. I think the cliche of money ruining football has come true and is a key reason that the players coming through today are not as good as 10 or 12 years ago.  Youngsters who were graduating from academies in the late nineties were still influenced by old school players who came from the pre-prawn sandwhich brigade days. If you were trying to break into the first team at Man Unt. it meant that you would be training with guys like Roy Keane. At Arsenal you might be training with Tony Adams. Those were the last players to come through before the massive commercialization of today.  I think that for this reason players had to work harder to get a big money contract. The money comes too easily for players now which is a disincentive to push themselves to their limits.  This is why players today are just not as good as they used to be. Hardly any of those who were still up and comers around 2005 have lived up to their full potential. Robin Van Persie isn’t half the player Dennis Bergkamp was and Michael Carrick has never lived up to the expectations of replacing Roy Keane.  One of the only youngsters from five years ago who has lived up to expectations is Carlos Tevez. And that’s about it really.

SO yes, the problem is money I suppose. Too much of it.

If you believe everything you read then Liverpool are on the verge of signing Karim Benzema, Niko Kranjar, Dimitri Payet, Carlton Cole, Mirko Vucinic, Fernando Llorente, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Romelu Lukaku,Valentin Stockel, Andy Carrol, Luuk De Jong, Keisuke Honda, Juan Mata, Ibrahim Affelay,  Charles N’Zogbia, Antonio Cassano, Diego Forlan, Royston Drenthe, Ashley Young,  Phillip Mexes, Alexander Kerskakov, David Wheater, Antoine Griezman, Rod Fanni, Urby Emanuelson, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Mathieu Valbuena, Oscar Wendt, Armin Bacinovic, Blaise Matuidi, and Shaun Wright-Phillips.  All players tipped (within the past month) by respectable news sources for which Liverpool “are preparing to break the bank” to add to the roster.

There are two reasons why this nonsense gets regurgitated in the sports press everyday ; the first that journalists are usually so desperate for stories they will print any nonsense, the second being that it is a tool for agents to promote the name of their athletic clients. That much is obvious and well known to all sports fans. But what I don’t really understand is why, even though everyone knows it’s B.S., do people bother to read it? Myself included.  Soon as I see an unfamiliar name being linked with Liverpool, I look up their highlight reels on Youtube to see if they are interesting or not.  And here things get even more irrational.

I know that it’s impossible to tell how good or bad a player is from edited highlights on Youtube. But I still bother watching them, even though most of the time it’s just a collection of easy tap-ins and headers set to bad dance music.  So there I am- watching bad videos, on the basis of tabloid journalism, about players I know will never sign for Liverpool.
Why on earth do I bother?

Although I have seen Dalglish, Rush, and John Barnes play for Liverpool, it was a ‘Legends’ match. These are the players from my own era that  are my personal favourites and with which I associate fond memories.

Robbie Fowler : Perhaps the reason that I fell for Liverpool.  A healthy Fowler in his prime was probably as good any striker in English history. Breathtaking, elegant.

Dietmar Hamann: All-time favourite player in my favourite position. Had zero pace but it didn’t matter since he was one of the most intelligent readers of the game in the modern era.

Michael Owen: The way he left the club and what he has done since clouds and distorts the way many supporters think of him now. But from 1998 to about 2004, he let Liverpool supporters have the bragging rights of  owning the best goal scorer on the planet. Before his hamstrings went, there were centre backs in the league who went on record to say that he was the most feared striker in the country. He was also more than just a goal poacher like now – then he had amazing dribbling ability and could create goals from nothing.

Steven Gerrard: Best player in the history of the club.

Fernando Torres: again, like with Owen, we have the bragging rights of having the best centre forward on planet earth. Fastest player to hit the 50 goal mark in the history of Liverpool. The best striker in England since Henry. Pace. Ruthless.

Luis Garcia: the football equivalent of Thomas the tank engine.  I’ll always remember him playing injured against Everton and still getting stuck in to help win the game. One of the most charismatic players Liverpool has had. I was really sad when he went back to Spain.

Sami Hypia: For about 10 years one of the most familiar sights in Liverpool matches was Big Sami effortlessly collecting the ball off of attacking players and then initiating play to the opposite end.  Because of the physical dominance he had, crosses into the box never ruffled a feather of the Liver bird.

Jamie Carragher: The most loyal player anyone could ask for. Gives 110% in every game.

Djimi Traore : On his day he was actually a much better defender than people give him credit for. Strong,tall,  and with plenty of pace, he was not an easy player for opponents to get around.  And because of his lanky build he was one of the most interesting players to watch just in terms of style. When he put in a sliding tackle it looked great.  Of course there was the number of bad blunders he made, but that only made it more special to see him with a Champions League Winners Medal.

Dirk Kuyt: “Worth his weight in gold”. Kuyt more than anyone else I’ve seen (other than Carra and Gerrard) embodies what a Liverpool player should be. A player who will sweat blood for the team. Chase lost causes. Never gives up.  To the novice, or a sports writer from the Guardian, his quality is not apparent. But people who know football, also know that he is one of the most valuable players in the world.  I could go on forever talking about what a fantastic he player he is to have at Liverpool.

Agree or disagree? Who would you leave in, or take out from your list of favourite players?

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.

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.