So last week saw Liverpool progress to their third Champions League Semi-Final in four years. The frequency of such an achievement extinguishes any myth which points to fluke. Instead, the Reds’ success on the continent is a result of a careful combination of fruitful ingredient. Firstly, there is quality. Admittedly, at home the side fails to mount any serious or indeed maintained title challenge. Nevertheless, with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres propping-up the forward line, they are more than a match for any opponent.
However, it is one thing matching your foe but another to actually outplay them. This trait is down to the mastery of Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard has many a supporter and lamenter but the fact is, tactically, he is probably the best manager in Europe. Indeed, his competence in this field has even spared him the now customary Tom Hicks paper cut. Benitez can set his squad up meticulously, leaving absolutely nothing to chance. Every player has instructions, whether that going forward or in a defensive modality. Whichever outfit Liverpool are paired against will come in for intense scrutiny. Each individual from their contingent is analysed, his qualities and failings highlighted, then exploited. Forget what morons of the ilk of Paul Merson or David Platt jabber, this is not luck – its reward. What’s the phrase? You make your own luck?
Even this though is not quite enough to conquer the European elite. No, the third and final ingredient is heart. It’s that willingness which underpins both those in the stands, on the bench and ultimately, wearing red. We give our all, in vocal support and subsequently – on-field effort. Our boys are galvanised by the twelfth man and act accordingly. None more so than Dirk Kuyt.
The Dutch forward turned midfielder has a fair share of critics. Sure, at times he appears a tad slow. His goal scoring record is modest, his skill level likewise. Meanwhile when it comes to glitz and style, something sadly prominent in today’s Premiership, Deadly Dirk can only really challenge the Neville Brothers on the beauty front.
But it is his sheer endeavour, embroiled with a gentlemanly conduct off the field, which means he is one of the Reds most popular figures.
And indeed the Kop loves to see a good guy succeed. Kuyt was gigantic in each leg of the quarter-final showdown with Arsenal. His goal at the Emirates of course proved crucial, the record books will remember it. What they won’t note however is the marathons worth of running clocked-up to stifle a usually proactive and menacing left-hand side. Only once did he ever get caught-out, and thankfully, his acting skills, portraying the innocence of Oliver, kidded an unsuspecting Pieter Vink.
True to form Kuyt extended the blitz against Blackburn on Sunday. Operating what Gerrard and Danny Murphy used to call ‘the graveyard shift’ of right-flank, he simply gets on with his duty. Let us remember he is a forward, playing out of position, for the greater cause. For that reason he deserves just as many plaudits as those leading the way in the end of year ratings game.
So could his long-term future lie there? Possibly. The energy levels are truly remarkable, matching that of a Russell Brand sexathon. Another positive is his awareness of when and when not to deliver the killer ball. A converted striker, he will recognise at what point or indeed where Torres will reap a cross. Ryan Babel has yet to grasp this, though when it finally clicks into place he’ll be truly frightening. Improving the manner of assist is on the to do list, but should Dirk and his fellow countryman up the ante in this regard we will have an extremely productive wing front.
Tracking back is also critical if facing a side with the guile of Arsenal. That, in my opinion, is what lets Jermaine Pennant down. The latter has a cross as sublime as Jessica Alba but his work-rate stinks of mid table, not Liverpool.
Dirk knows what it means to play for our great club. He may not be in the same class, technically, as a John Barnes or Steve Heighway but by God he’ll strive to be. In this respect he echoes the Kevin Keegan mould.
When we travelled to Rotterdam to participate in the pre-season tournament last summer he was mobbed, loved courtesy of the years of effort aiding Feyenoord. Rightly so. And, with games the size of those clashes with Arsenal aired throughout the world, those ignorant to that aspect of his game can actually gage why.
The chant talks of a team of Carragher’s but a few Kuyt’s would compliment them well. The work ethic of that pair provides the heart, the G&T combination the skill, while Rafa offers the wizardry. How fitting would it be if all bloomed in Moscow?
Whoever said nice guys finish last?