There’s an unsurprising general consensus in morning’s newspapers, on the day following a weekend that saw Liverpool blow any faint title hopes they had by losing 2-0 to a Middlesbrough team that hadn’t won in the league for four months, as Manchester United clinched their first trophy of the season at Wembley.
Sickeningly, the contrast couldn’t be much more different. United sit seven points clear at the top of the league with a game in hand, playing some of the best football seen under Alex Ferguson’s reign and there’s talk about a quintuple. At Anfield on the other hand, we’re far from challenging for the Premier League title and, as with every season, disappointment has set in that this won’t be ‘˜our year’. And there’s talk at Liverpool about who is the biggest clown in the club.
Oliver Kay of The Times writes a brilliant piece on how Liverpool were left in the dark many years ago by their failure to capitalize on the increasing money in football. He talks of how the Reds lose out on tens of millions by their smaller stadium, giving figures that compare with United that we’re all too familiar with.
Life at Anfield was quiet. A few people might mill around during the week, trying to spot a star or snatch an autograph, but it was only on match days that any real crowd gathered. Go to Old Trafford any day of the week and you will see . . . crowds gathering, buying tickets, drifting around the souvenir shop, queuing for the museum or simply gawping at the stadium. Old Trafford is supermarket football.’
The above paragraph could easily have been written last week, but in fact it was written 15 years ago in Stephen F. Kelly’s biography of Graeme Souness. Kelly went on to portray Manchester United as a corporate monster and Liverpool as a cosy corner shop, but he suggested that things were changing, that the Merseyside club were evolving into ‘œa multimillion-pound business staffed by well-paid executives in Marks & Spencer suits and where success is imperative on and off the field’. How did that go, then?
Colin Young of this morning’s Daily Mail brands the Reds as ‘œmugs’ after the performance at Middlesbrough on Saturday:
Magnificent in Madrid and mugs in Middlesbrough, Rafael Benitez and his players surrendered their faint hopes of lifting the Barclays Premier League Trophy with defeat at the Riverside.
Sam Wallace of The Independent urges Benitez to end the power battle he has with the club, though just how is confusing enough:
No one is entirely sure what Benitez’s ideal scenario is at Liverpool, other than that it would involve him making all the decisions. Ignoring for a moment the growing unlikelihood of a bid from the Middle East, a change of ownership would not ultimately suit him if it was to bring just as much interference from the boardroom as, say, is the case at Manchester City. Would he find himself any less likely to clash with a rich man from Dubai than he has with considerably less rich Americans?
I don’t know what happened to ‘œat the end of the storm there’s a golden sky’, because this storm has now lasted a frustrating 19 years. Yes there’s been gaps in the cloud which have seen success in all the Cup competitions but the league title is the pinnacle. The fans know it, the club knows it and the fans know the club knows it.
But there’s also the lyrics ‘œwalk on, with hope in your heart’ and many Liverpool fans seem to be forgetting this. Over the last two days the papers and fans have slammed Rafa Benitez for his decision making and tactics at Middlesbrough. Just days after he was hailed as a tactical genius for the heroics in Madrid.
Yes, it’s the same old story of two parallel universes. One where Liverpool triumph, impress, succeed and at times look untouchable in Europe, before returning home to look like they don’t even belong in the top half of the Premier League.
Benitez has made some awful decisions since the turn of the year which has seen us slip from being ten points clear of Manchester United to seven, potentially ten, points behind (granted, United did have three games in hand when we thumped Newcastle Utd 5-1).
I agree with most, the Middlesbrough game was a tactical catastrophe. The decision to play Martin Skrtel at right-back, when he has been outstanding in central defence all season, was risky and silly. Having no striker on the field at the start of play wasn’t the ideas of a team that wants to go out and win, definitely. But at the same time, fans who mention the words ‘˜Robbie Keane shouldn’t have been sold’ in this gap must be reminded how many chances he would miss for Liverpool, in a game that saw us miss several chances to put the game beyond Boro.
His off the pitch talk about the FA’s treatment of Alex Ferguson and public criticism of the club regarding his new contract talks have come at irresponsible and uneducated times. And he hasn’t admitted that he was wrong to do so. No manager does. They’re all stubborn.
Apart from Martin O’Neil, perhaps.
The contrast between us and Manchester United is horrible. But the fact remains that we are on the verge of the quarter-finals of the Champions League and there are still eleven games to go in this league campaign. It’s only early March and the season doesn’t finish til May.
The criticism of Benitez is helping no-one. I want to urge fans to stop the criticism, get behind our manager and the players for the rest of the campaign. By all means, reassess the situation at the end of the season and vent your anger when it’s not going to effect things on the pitch. But now is not the time for the criticism, loss of confidence and walking out early of games (I’m looking at you, fans who went to Middlesbrough away). Rafa Benitez is still Liverpool manager and those men out there, however poorly they’re playing, are still our players. They need you more than ever now.
Now is the time to sing up ‘˜til the end, stop the negativity and finish this campaign the Liverpool way, ‘œwith hope in your heart’.