Season 09/10 approaches and we all know it really is a case of win or bust this time round as far as the Premier League is concerned. Second place allied to our results against the other members of the big four has laid the platform but there really is nowhere left to go now in terms of integrity should our old habits of inconsistency lead to dropped points & see us again fail to become the best side in England. The old adage of Bill Shankly that ‘œfirst is first and second is nowhere‘ has never been truer now that our record of eighteen league championships has been equalled.
Thinking long and hard as to the theme of this article, I realised the sentiments in the title apply to every single one of us associated with the club, from the owners right down to the fans. All of us can play a role in creating exactly the climate and circumstances required to facilitate an end to this twenty year wait. For years there has been far too much talk off the pitch and not enough quality on it whilst United continued to chalk up success after success. There has got to be a single minded approach without distractions such as the court room revelations, boardroom squabbles and the subsequent media reporting.
Our fabled owners have at least in the short term ridden out the financial storm and the pivotal July watershed of refinancing has now passed. Regardless of our perspective, these two now look to be in it for the long haul and we are being told that a cash injection of Â£60 million pounds of their own money was needed to satisfy the brokers. Add to that in excess of Â£40 million pounds to service the debt and indirectly or otherwise, over Â£100 million pounds has been spent just in retaining ownership. Little wonder, then, that talk of massive outlay in the transfer market has, so far at least, been wide of the mark. We are also hearing of attempts in America to reduce their assets there, clearly in an attempt in this current financial climate, to maximise their efforts on the best ‘œfranchise’ in their portfolio. The world wide brand that is Liverpool Football Club still has so much untapped potential but it seems now there is very little chance of these two being made an offer that they cannot refuse amidst the notion that even oil rich billionaires have different perspectives now.
So with re-finance in place, there has been no mention of building the stadium and the irony of announcing Anfield as a potential venue still holding 45,000 for the Rugby World Cup in 2013 was not lost on me. The significance is of course that, if we are not ‘œputting a spade in the ground’ right now then a substantial investment in the transfer market would be the perfect springboard to take that last step up and usurp United as champions. The most vociferous within Old Trafford would have you believe that they are not weakened by the transfers this summer but conventional football wisdom dictates that you continually need to improve to stay at the top and it is hard to accept that policy has been adopted at the ‘œtheatre.’
Most of us still seem to agree then that our significant signing in the summer has to be the addition of a world class forward to both support Fernando in attack and adequately replace him when he is not playing. Unfortunately and despite all that speculation, with the big kick off looming it seems the finances are just not there, especially in the current inflated market, for the acquisition of the likes of Sergio Aguero or David Villa after all. Regrettably the pre-season displays have done nothing to convince me (for the second successive year) that David NGog, Ryan Babel, Andrei Voronin or Kristzian Nemeth can adequately fill the Spaniards boots if the calamitous happens and he has another injury interrupted season. We were told that there was money outstanding from Portsmouth from the Peter Crouch transfer and from the return of Robbie Keane to Spurs. We have also sold a few fringe players like Sebastien Leto and with the money we got for Alvaro, my maths tells me that the purchase of Glen Johnson should have easily been covered from these deals. I am hoping then, that a surprise deal is in the offing otherwise I fear that a golden opportunity will have been lost to steal a march on our rivals. OK, so City and Real Madrid have put, to say the least, an unrealistic slant in terms of transfer values but there is no doubt that United and Arsenal look weaker for their outgoings while Chelsea have done little to bring down the average age of their side. If ever our owners needed to speculate to accumulate it is now with the cash for a spectacular transfer to inject the momentum into a pre ‘“season that has basically lacked any sort of impetus.
Indeed, the only small grain of comfort to be gleaned from the protracted Xabi Alonso transfer is that the potential revenue may allow Rafa to bring in a forward as well as the incoming Alberto Aquilani. Clearly Xabi looked like he wanted to go all along but his timing was awful in coinciding with potentially our most important season in twenty years. At times such as this when contradictory statements come thick and fast, a simple one liner from the player is usually enough to both clear the air and the situation. Xabi’s comment then regarding the situation being sorted ‘œfor better or worse’ said it all & did little to ingratiate himself, given that it looks like we had, sadly, become the latter option.
As they say though, life goes on and for the second successive summer we were involved in a protracted transfer saga but at least there was a solution this time round, albeit not to our liking. The position with Javier, conversely, looks more promising now with Barcelona appearing to have blown their entire transfer budget on the enigma that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Quite how he is worth that much more than Eto’o in this swap deal is beyond me but if it keeps the little Argentine on Merseyside, despite his wife’s misgivings, then so be it. All along though, I just got the gut feeling that this was merely the agent posturing for a wage rise for his player but the last thing we needed was another unsettled player’s ‘œalleged’ comments in the press at the same time as Xabi’s saga was rumbling on.
So yet again then, it would be nice if the players, i.e. the ones who are staying, are wary of what they say to the media. The ‘œthis is our year’ comments, regularly attributed to Stevie and Carra, for example, do us no favours at all when it is thrown back at us so, this time around, can we be cautious with what we say (and in some cases, what we do) and let someone else give the papers their headlines? The Liverpool way was always to just keep your head down, get on with it and do your talking at the end of the season with the trophies in the cabinet. You never saw Emlyn, Graeme or Jockey saying what we were going to do, they just did their talking on the pitch.
Having successfully overseen the power struggle that saw so many changes behind the scenes, our manager’s head is now firmly on the block if things do not go well. Yes, he now has a hand picked backroom team behind him but it is all about results nowadays and in cutting out the people that he saw as an obstacle to the way he wants to run the club, that double edge sword has now put enormous pressure on himself. Ultimately though, it may be that the appointment of Kenny proves to be a master stroke though perhaps in a manner outside of what was envisaged in his job description. Because Rafa holds him in such esteem, I believe he will see him as someone who similarly has the club totally at heart and can be trusted implicitly. Consequently then, a few well chosen words of wisdom from behind the scenes from one Scotsman who is a legend at his club may avoid some of the mind games ‘œbollocks’ with one at another. For despite all of his qualities, Rafa’s propensity to get involved in slanging matches, is in my view, unnecessary and again, not the Liverpool way. He is a brilliant tactician – arguably the best in world, but I just wish at times he would get on with the job of proving he is a brilliant manager too.
In welcoming back Kenny, his new backroom staff, without doubt, certainly need to ‘œput up’ this year and at the very least, begin the process of alleviating the horrendous log jam of young talent which is apparently stagnating at reserve and youth level. Having watched the kids regularly on LFCTV I remain staggered at how many professionals we actually have on the books and bemused at exactly what club policy is for planning & progression into the first team. Gerard Houllier famously fell out with Stevie Heighway regarding exactly this subject and here we are, some six years later and it seems nothing much has changed. The night of the long knives saw practically every member of the staff replaced and this is allegedly one of the areas of discontent over which our manager fundamentally disagreed with Rick Parry, causing the furore at boardroom level last year. History will show that Rafa was triumphant in that internal power struggle but having come out it relatively unscathed, like a politician who has won a second term of office, he now has to convince the public that he has the personnel and policies to take on the world.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the days when we paraded that cherished trophy around Anfield with seemingly monotonous regularity cannot believe that, in the last two decades, we have rarely even come close to number nineteen. Those recollections of our halcyon days continue to dim with time and are now consigned to another era and apart from Istanbul, we seem constantly to be living in the past. The level of support shown in our far eastern tour, then, was quite incredible, especially considering the actual silverware count won in the lifetime of most of those thronging shopping centres, river banks and stadiums. Following a team in the twenty first century is light years from the terrace culture of the 1980’s and although we now assume the wherewithal befitting, arguably, the second most popular club on the planet, in my view there is an imbalance between popularity and success. It is an anomaly that must now start to be addressed.
Satellite & media coverage continue to promote & hype the premiership to an extent that it has become a magnet to those who love to be associated with the glamour and money currently enjoyed in the English game and teams like ourselves in particular. The influx of foreign managerial and playing personnel has been another influence in our popularity but I have never subscribed to this myth, perpetrated by our friends across the park, that the ‘œpeoples club’ somehow has more local fans. A walk down any street at any time and a quick sample poll of replica shirts tells it own tale.
So we’˜ve all had our say and after so many false dawns and missing pieces of jigsaws, we start another year optimistic, excited and supportive of the team both on & off the pitch – that of course is a given. But as the season unfolds, regardless of our form, would it be possible, just for once, to ask that we keep the lid on the tone of predictions, criticism and comments sent in to the many radio phone ins, teletext and websites and by doing so avoid possible distractions and simply let the team get on with it?