I really wanted Rafael Benitez to become Liverpool manager before he took over in 2004. I was away living in Edinburgh for the summer but when his name was linked with the job I thought back to the time his Valencia team had thoroughly dismantled Liverpool in 2002, with Pablo Aimar and company running rings around a shaven headed Gerrard and his teammates.
I was still on the fence about the case for Benitez’ dismissal in the summer, and let’s face it, his time had come to an end and the mutual decision was a case of saving face for the former owners, Hicks and Gillett. I still felt that with proper backing, with the ability to choose the right players to sign for the club, Rafa could have won the title.
When Hodgson signed, I felt nothing. No excitement, nothing. It was a case of Hodgson taking a team who weren’t very good and making them punch above their weight with Fulham. He did a terrific job. But he hadn’t been given the big jobs over more than three decades of management. He presided over an Inter Milan team in a rebuilding phase but as recently as five years ago had been manager of Norwegian team Viking.
This season has been an unmitigated disaster, on and off the pitch. But while fans and commentators are queuing up to criticise the effort of the players, something has to be wrong with the style of management when the likes of Torres and Gerrard don’t even have the usual passion for the game, especially against rivals Everton.
It has become popular to say that Liverpool need massive rebuilding of their squad, but these are the same players who were winning big games with ease two years ago. Rolling out victories as they chased Man Utd, hammering the likes of Real Madrid and the league leaders within a week. Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Carragher, Lucas, Kuyt, Babel, Gerrard, Ngog, Torres. They were all a part of it. Johnson is not a bad signing. Meireles is not a bad signing. Cole is not a bad signing. In replacing the likes of Degen, Mascherano and Benayoun, the fact is the first team should not be considerably weaker.
Mascherano and Alonso were the perfect platform for any team and them leaving has ripped the fulcrum of the team apart. But the first team is still performing well below its ability.
The full backs look up and see no-one on the wings. As Hodgson said recently, “we don’t play with wingers” meaning that Konchesky and Carragher had to pass the ball infield at every opportunity today because Maxi and Cole were invariably nearer the centre circle than the wing. The lack of width is frightening, especially when the opposing team has the ball it means that they can switch play with ease and find themselves with acres of space with which to attack a frightened defence.
The usual criticism applies of Liverpool failing to test the goalkeeper. Any save Howard had to make today was a hopeful shot straight at him, with the exception of a Torres header in the first half that would have taken a Howard howler to give Liverpool the lead. Torres’ running was shocking today. He was heading for the same channels as his teammates. When he laid the ball off to good effect he failed to show the ambition to get into the box.
This points to a lack of belief in the tactics. It seemed he wanted to drop deep and try and work magic on his own because once again he received no service in the box, nothing to trouble Jagielka and Distin. Indeed Everton dropped back with half an hour left because they weren’t afraid of Liverpool attacking. The midfield five passed the ball among themselves with no penetration, no ideas, meaning Everton knew the victory was theirs if they kept their discipline. Which they did.
Hodgson’s dismal start as manager is all the more depressing for his growing tendency towards foot in mouth moments in front of the microphones. Here’s the phenomenal delusion he showed after today’s demoralising defeat:
We suffered at the hands of an early onslaught which you invariably do at Goodison but towards the end of the first half we started to even things out.
From what I saw I thought we dominated the second half totally.
I thought the shape of the team was good, the quality of our passing and movement was good.
We didn’t score goals and Everton did but I refuse to accept that we were in any way outplayed or any way inferior.
Is it a crisis? I don’t think it is a crisis, I thought the way we played today was not the level of a team in the bottom three.
Torres? He got battered during the World Cup and mentally he is probably a bit low and he needs a goal or two to get it back. Certainly today I would have no qualms about his performance.
Before Gerard Houllier was sacked as Liverpool manager, he had become fond for noting statistics like the number of corners his team had won as a way of batting away suggestions that his tactics were negative. Today’s comments from Hodgson beggar belief though. That he could go on to describe the second hand performance as the best of the year so far is nothing short of a disgrace.
If that is Liverpool dominating and performing well, if Hodgson says he can’t ask for anything more from his players, what can Liverpool fans genuinely hope for this season.
I try and maintain this blog impartially as I watch all teams play and love The Premiership as a whole. But when it comes to Liverpool at the moment it is important to show that this is a team I watch week-in, week-out. I hate seeing us exit the Carling Cup because it means another matchday with no Liverpool involvement. But I was almost smiling this afternoon. It was a weary smile of someone who has given up. That I saw Hodgson do the exact same thing on 90 minutes made me angry though.
The team has gone backwards again after a poor season last time out. Decisions to invest in the likes of Konchesky and Poulsen rather than stick with Insua and Lucas in similar roles and failing to bring in a striker are strange, bad judgement maybe.
Investing in Poulsen and Meireles after bringing in Cole is odd, given that it was possibly the one area Liverpool didn’t need strengthening in. Playing Cole and Meireles on the wings, keeping faith in Maxi for 85 minutes today despite his complete lack of imput, risking Ngog only when games are lost, failing to inspire his team despite the roar of the Merseyside Derby and new owners watching from the stands, describing his Northampton team as a “B team”, failing to back Fernando Torres against Alex Ferguson, publicly flirting with the sale of the likes of Babel and Lucas, only to go back to them in times of desperation, signing in Paul Konchesky a likeable man but a decidedly average player, these are no the decisions of a top coach.
I expect Hodgson’s comments to lead to his dismissal shortly. New owners will want to start afresh. They will see some despondent players today and will probably make quiet signals to key players and hierarchy like Gerrard and Dalglish to see what they feel needs changing.
Hodgson admitted the buck stopped with him after Blackpool. He couldn’t do so again today as it would be like a broken record interview. His time is running out. The gamble on Hodgson has backfired. Far from steadying the ship, Liverpool are in their worst-ever position in Premiership history, with a team containing some world-class players. Players who don’t believe in their coach either.
It is crunch time in qualifying group B as Ireland take on Russia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Friday night.
While the term ‘crunch time’ may seem ridiculous given that we are only two games into the campaign, Ireland can take a huge step towards qualifying with a victory that would leave Russia with three points from a possible nine. Meanwhile Russia know that they need to go for a win already, having lost at home to Slovakia last time out and having failed to impress in their 2-0 win over Andorra.
Both sides face tricky away trips following Friday night’s clash, with Ireland away to Slovakia who hold a 100% record so far, and Russia travelling to Macedonia. However all eyes will be on Irish coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who has a good record so far but like many Italian managers, is occasionally guilty of settling for draws in games Ireland have a good chance of winning against so-called bigger teams.
When Italy were reduced to ten men after just three minutes of the World Cup qualifier away to Italy on April 1 last year, Ireland could and should have sensed that now was their time to claim a historic result ad attack a weak Italy team made weaker by Gianpaolo Pazzini’s third-minute dismissal. However Ireland failed to pick up the pace and after falling behind needed a last-minute equaliser.
That Italy would find a last-minute equaliser in the return fixture when Ireland had played quite well was perhaps a sense of justice being done.
Does Trapattoni go for the win?
But Trapattoni’s mindset for Friday will be interesting. Again Ireland will find themselves up against opposition which has weakened in recent years. A breathtaking Russian team from 2008 seems to have fallen apart a bit and failing to qualify for the World Cup followed by poor opening performances in this group have put the Russian fans on high alert.
Ireland failed to impress in their opening games either, but know that now is the time to strike. In order to start qualifying for major tournaments again, the men in green need to play without fear of the big boys, as they did against France in the play-offs when they were so cruelly denied.
Damien Duff is ruled out along with Keith Treacy meaning Russian-based winger Aiden McGeady (known as Makgidi on the Spartak website) should continue on the left along with Liam Lawrence who has been in great form for Portsmouth. Doyle and Keane will start up front as usual and Richard Dunne is expected to line up at the back despite missing training on Wednesday. One choice Trapattoni does have is whether to include Everton’s Seamus Coleman as a debutant at right back. This could mean switching John O’Shea to left back and putting Kevin Kilbane on the left in a more defensive formation, dropping Kilbane altogether which is unlikely given the manager’s faith in him, or putting O’Shea in at centre back in an experienced partnership with Dunne (or replacing the Aston Villa man if he fails to recover from injury).
Roman Pavulychenko is ruled out for the tie, meaning Russia will choose a front three from Zenit St Petersburg forwards Alexander Bukharov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov; Arsenal’s Andriy Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak of VfB Stuttgart. The forwards have been in explosive form with Kerzhakov notching up two hat-tricks in three games last month while Pogrebnyak has five goals in seven games for Stuttgart.
LAST TIE BETWEEN THE TWO?
The two teams last met in qualifying for Euro 2004, when Russia won 4-2 in Moscow, racing into a 3-0 lead and sealing maximum points thanks to a Phil Babb own goal after Clinton Morrison and Gary Doherty had reduced the deficit. The return game at Lansdowne Road ended 1-1, Sergei Ignashevich cancelling out Damien Duff’s opener before half-time.
MAN TO WATCH?
Has to be Ireland’s Aiden McGeady. The Spartak Moscow winger is enjoying a new lease of life in Russia where he has averaged an assist per game so far. He admits the pre-game banter before Friday’s clash was “a little lost in translation” but will relish showing the Russians what he can do in a green jersey.
So often a frustrating figure, particularly in Ireland’s 3-1 win over Andorra last month where despite constantly beating hid marker he failed to provide decent crosses, McGeady has been living off his potential for years now, but a brave move to Russia may do him the power of good.
Some day soon I will write a blog post that doesn’t involve Liverpool. But it’s hard when every day seems to bring a new crisis. But today Liverpool fans are beginning to believe in the future of the club again.
A proposed takeover by New England Sports Ventures, owners of the Boston Red Sox baseball club, was confirmed this morning on Liverpool’s website after the news broke late last night that two investors had bids accepted. But the bid has been delayed by a legal challenge by the ever-classy Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
So now that a deal is finally on the horizon, what are the main questions Liverpool fans should be asking of the new owners?
- Will spending money be made available to put Liverpool back among the European elite?
Too early to say obviously, but here are the main answers from the main men today.
Martin Broughton, Liverpool FC Chairman: “Yes. They don’t want any hostages to fortune, very sensibly, so they’re not going to make any comments about how much or anything like that. But this goes back to the winning mentality. I think the demonstration is: let’s look at what they have done at Boston, what they said in Boston, what they have done in terms of investing in players – and I think you get a high degree of confidence of their willingness to do that.”
NESV statement: “NESV wants to create a long-term, financially solid foundation for Liverpool FC and is dedicated to ensuring that the club has the resources to build for the future, including the removal of all acquisition debt. Our objective is to stabilise the Club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies.
The video made to protest against Tom Hick’s continued messing around with Liverpool Football Club, by Mike Jefferies:
The question now will be whether or not the owners will invest money in the staff and playing facilities and genuinely attempt to win with Liverpool on and off the field.
There is no doubt businessmen only make investments to make money. Owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry would have to be a massive Liverpool fan, a die-hard, to invest simply for the sake of restoring glory to the club. He is not.
However Liverpool fans can be reassured that there is money to be made in the club, without Henry pulling a Hicks number and attempting to sell on the club a few years after buying them and saddling them with greater debt. Liverpool are a club supported far and wide but have not capitalised on this since the glory days of the 80s. Manchester United had the right businessmen involved and capitalised to a far greater extent. But there is room for improvement and the new owners can look to the far east where there is still money and make Liverpool rival Man Utd in a commercial sense.
Plus the costs involved in making Liverpool a force again aren’t enormous. The club need five or six very good players, but despite the woes of the last few years, have retained a nucleus of very good players with good players coming through too. Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Gerrard, Meireles, Shelvey, Pacheco, Torres can all take the club forward, while the likes of Kelly, Ngog (still only 21 remember!), Amoo, Ince, Suso and Ngoo have exciting futures ahead of them.
Will there be a new stadium, finally?
This is the interesting question with Broughton already hinting that the new owners could look to redevelop Anfield, as they did with the famous Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox.
Whether that is possible remains to be seen. Of greater interest is the rumour that the new owner will look at groundsharing with Everton as a better alternative. Liverpool fans may come around to the idea if it means a much bigger stadium, better facilities and a greater chance of securing tickets for fans.
It will be a big sell though. But then again, so will the new owners.
Liverpool fans woke up this morning knowing their team is in dire straits after an insipid performance at home to a Blackpool team who knew they could win since boss Ian Holloway told anyone who would listen the previous week that his team were going to “go for it” at Anfield.
And go for it they did. It could have been worse than a 2-1 defeat for Liverpool. But after the game, was Ian Holloway ready to brag as was his right at pulling off one of the club’s most remarkable results? No. Instead he spoke as though he were sad to see the demise of the club. Referring to Torres’ injury and the ownership issues, Holloway was overly generous to the team his players had just beaten, aside from patches in the second half, with ease.
In fact he had these words to say: “To see the best striker in the world limp off after a few minutes, I can’t tell you what that did for us. His mere presence is awesome so to see him come off played into our hands and helped us.
“This is not far off the home of football – these supporters have seen some of the best football over the years and in my era as a player there was no better team in the world. The boys made me so proud and for that set of supporters to clap us off that is all I wanted – that was what my dream was last night.”
As for Roy Hodgson, the headlines this morning have the Liverpool boss saying his team are in a relegation dogfight. For now, that is not true and what Hodgson did say was that these are bleak times for the club. He has not spoken a truer word since taking over.
When Leeds were relegated in 2004 they had gone through managerial upheaval with first David O’Leary’s departure, followed by Terry Venables and Peter Reid. Star names such as Ferdinand, Woodgate, Bowyer, Keane and Kewell all departed the club as they slide from near Champions League glory in 2001 to relegation just three years later.
Three years ago Liverpool lost the Champions League final to AC Milan. It would be their last chance of silverware to the present day and beyond. Liverpool ran Manchester United close in the Premiership in the 2008-2009 season, but were always playing catch-up, albeit securing their best Premiership points finish. But ownership issues began to come to the fore and Liverpool sold Xabi Alonso, failed to sign Gareth Barry, and so began the inevitable decline of manager Rafael Benitez’ reign.
Thank god for that we can stop talking about Rooney and his effect on the England team and can start talking about…Rooney and his effect on the Man Utd team…
Everton V Manchester United
After surprising no-one here at TheFC100 by scoring first against Switzerland, Rooney will be Man Utd’s star man against Everton tomorrow in the early kick off on Sky Sports. The Everton fans quite rightly get stuck into Rooney whenever he returns to his boyhood club due to the fact he buggered off just after breaking onto the Everton first team in a big money move to Manchester. However he has stuck the boot in several times since with the usual badge-kissing, Moyes-bashing shenanigans and now the Everton fans will be relishing their chance to chant several brands of filthy at the former Toffee.
This game is more interesting in determining Rooney’s state of mind. The England fans gave him a great reception on Tuesday but tens of thousands will be doing their best to wind him up. That Everton have had a nightmare start to the season makes the pressure fall on both Rooney and Everton. A good start to the game for the home side is crucial, if they can get their noses in front and get Rooney and company frustrated then this could be a bad day for Man Utd fans. In fact, despite their problems so far, we fancy Everton to nick something here and we’ll throw in a card for Rooney at the same time
Prediction: Everton 2 Man Utd 1
Arsenal V Bolton
Arsenal have lost another few players for their game against Bolton (what are they feeding them at Arsenal, cereal with barbed wire?). Walcott, van Persie and Thomas Vaermaelen all miss out this weekend, however Samir Nasri could return from injury sustained against Liverpool on the opening day. Bolton are missing their inspirational keeper Jussi Jaskelaainen though, after the Finn was sent off last time out.