Seldom has a Liverpool player ever given as much commitment, showed as much heart and performed with the boundless exuberance of Stephen Warnock. The man many seem to forget during the speculation fueled lead-up to a new Premiership campaign, remains at Anfield, just, fighting for the opportunity to showcase his valuable skills in the coming year.
I write this article in the midst of a pre-season where new, exciting talent has come to the fore. The likes of Paul Anderson and Craig Lindfield have caught the eye, while young Jack Hobbs, in spite of his mishaps on Saturday, has also seen action. Aside from originating from Steve Heighway’s hugely successful youth team, this select group has another common denominator, their nationality.
When Rafael Benitez first seized control at Melwood I feared for those potential England stars plying their trade within the YTS ranks. Such anxiety was hardly neutralised when Emile Heskey, Michael Owen and Danny Murphy all embarked upon pastures new in summer 2004.
Foreign managers often overpopulate Premiership teams with unbelievably high amounts of overseas calibre. One look at the Arsenal squad list highlights this trait. Only Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell feature in a side bursting with Swedish, German, Dutch and predominantly French individuals. In fact, with Campbell’s contract termination and Cole’s impending move across London, a real sense of English identity is ripped from the heartbeat of Arsenal Football Club.
I have absolutely no doubt that legions of Gunners will disregard such a scenario, after all, you cannot argue with success, and Arsene Wenger has enjoyed plenty of that. Nevertheless, one look at Alain Perrin’s disastrous revolution at Portsmouth provides evidence of how horrifically wrong this kind of influx can go.
Fortunately, Senor Benitez has realised the importance of home-grown presence, adding English steel to his Spanish Armada over the course of the previous 18 months. Robbie Fowler’s return delighted me personally, as he was and still is my footballing hero, but he has been joined by Scott Carson, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Pennant, Anderson and Hobbs as well as a fellow Briton Craig Bellamy. Now, a British core is about LFC once again, something this clubs supporters crave.
Harking back to Warnock, he has been saying this week of how the boss assured him his future remain on the right side of Merseyside. This is encouraging, for although the arrival of Fabio Aurellio unmistakably piles on pressure for the left-back starting berth, he appears to have seen off Djimi Traore, a player Gerard Houllier may have retained ahead of the Ormskirk born defender for differing reasons.
In hindsight this kind of happening hindered Houllier’s reign. A seeming inability to offload his failing foreign captures ultimately ending his stint at the helm, and suffocating the Anfield wage bill even now.
Benitez, to date, contrasts his predecessor. Flops like compatriot Josemi and Fernando Morientes have been dispelled of, for the overall benefit of the club. This immediately improves the first team picture, but also provides encouragement for those youngsters desperate to fill the void.
Well publicised was the sometimes futile relationship between Houllier and Heighway, though an accord looks to have been struck with the current coach, perhaps more obliged to asses his upcoming crop.
It gives me pleasure seeing Warnock crash into a tackle with his never-say-die attitude, lets not overshadow the fact he has broken his leg twice. This bull-dog like spirit epitomises what the reds were once renowned for, Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith and Graeme Souness excellent examples. It has also earned the former Coventry loan star an International call-up.
With the exception of the challenge that ended Roy Keane’s Manchester United career, Luis Garcia is not obliged to follow suite. In this respect the modern game is just that, and must be accepted. His contribution is forthcoming courtesy of a spectacular goal or a classy assist. This is of course extremely satisfying in itself and by no means less effective, but supplementing such genius with the courage of a Stephen Warnock, someone built in the Joey Jones mould, is a precedent of Liverpool.
Rafa Benitez appears to have grasped the impact such a concoction can have, here’s to hoping it will prolong for many years yet.