So then, how is it even possible to summarise our feelings after the FA Cup loss to Reading? Shocking? Damning? Embarrassing? Any of a range of superlatives could be used to describe a season that for most Reds fans, is already shaping up to be “the one to forget” over two decades of football. And let’s face it, there’s a bit of competition for this over the last 20 years.
I’m happy to admit that I have been sitting on the positive side of the fence with recent articles, and no doubt Rafa detractors will see our most recent misery as more fuel for their fires. There can be little doubt that there is something very, very wrong with our club at the moment. Whether it be general apathy, malaise and discontent from boardroom level to the pitch or the fact that we’re clearly not as good as we think we are, something horrible has happened and I for one, can only speculate as to why.
It’s folly to suggest that two bad performances against a struggling Reading side (who were more than worthy of their victory, in both games, incidentally) is down to the manager, as we all know that the sides put out against them would be more than good enough to beat them nine seasons out of ten. In fact, if any Rafa detractors out there believe that it is somehow the manager’s fault that we have found ourselves knocked out of the FA Cup, I would challenge them to argue exactly why eleven players of that calibre couldn’t beat a struggling Championship team based on sheer pride, forgetting whatever suggested disillusion they may have encountered in the dressing room. This is a loose argument, but it’s leading to the point that the same could be said for many ‘lower league’ sides we’ve played in the league this season, and many points we could (and should have) accrued.
What we’re seeing here is a team of eleven professional footballers, just five months of football short of running Manchester United to the league title, utterly capitulate against teams that, and no offence to those who have rightly achieved points or places at our expense, we would beat in our sleep in most other seasons. Our confidence is totally and utterly shattered, and while I will point out that this is partly down to a horrific series of injuries and bad luck, something frightening is happening at Anfield, and I feel there are more prominent factors at play.
Press – A constant, incessant bullying from the press, who farm out miss-quotes and blatant lies (see Aldridge’s ‘ghost’ interview in Nuts magazine recently for a recent topical example, or Rafa’s claims that Torres and Gerrard will be sold), which is doing nothing but furthering the general feeling of discontent around the club, turning our own fans against us and no doubt exacerbating players’ gradually growing cynicism around the future of the team.
Premonition – “We are Liverpool!” and thus it is written that we should be challenging for the title every season, right? Wrong. Not these days. We need to accept that we must put the traditions of our club’s influence on the game on the back-burner (this is addressed to many ex-players who have criticised us as well), along with the hope that “next year will be our year”, a stance that we’ve held for so long. It’s painful to suggest, of course, but the alternative frustration in clawing at this fantasy like a rabid vulture leaves us calling for the head of the manager, or the owners, or anyone in fact, that we currently deem at fault for our current predicament. It’s not that anyone who does this can guarantee success with an alternative, and there are very few that will even suggest one, but it will do our club no favours to demand a change simply out of hope – I again refer back to Newcastle’s delusions of grandeur and ask you to consider what happened to them.
Pressure – Football has changed, and while this is more of an all-encompassing statement than relates to our season so far, it’s meant as an example of how we need to readjust our sights in the face of the pressure of the changing world of the sport. Despite Rafa’s guarantee of finishing in the top four this season, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that he is wrong. Why? Well, partly because of Arsenal’s form but mainly because Mancini has taken over at City, and he actually knows that he’s doing. Put a manager with some experience in front of a blank chequebook and you can kiss your aspirations goodbye. Until the yanks decide to start competing at this level (they won’t – like the Glaziers, this was a business decision, not a play toy), we are going to suffer badly going on current standards in the Prem, and it’s time we started getting used to it. And it’s also time we started working out exactly where to point the finger of blame, if indeed, this should be done. I, personally, still believe that it would be wrong to aim it at our manager.
For example, Arsenal, despite the fact that we were having a comparable first half of the season to them last season, are having a good season thus far, and fair play to Wenger for sticking to his guns in times of strife. But it’ll be us or them, in the future, that fights for the last place in the top four. City are nailed on, going by their bottomless pit of money, and in the same way that Chelsea bought the title with Mourinho in 2006, expect it to be only a matter of time before the same happens with the blue Mancs.
It sickens me, to be perfectly honest, that certain players and managers are blindly lauded despite an obvious disregard for poor judgement in terms of signings or the metaphorical playing field on which they are placed. There are countless examples of shocking signings that far and away eclipse the poor buys that Rafa is chastised for day in, day out, yet they are rarely even alluded to at other teams, let alone designated an entire article’s worth of focus by a major newspaper.
This is the world of football we now live in, and in-fighting between fans, particularly at a club as prestigious as Liverpool, soon becomes nothing but fuel for mockery amongst rivals who consider us to be digging our own graves.
Unfortunately, all of these factors have combined to create the “perfect storm” this season, during a period in which we, as Liverpool, still believe the title is just a fingertip away from our grasp. I’m not just referring to the fans here, I’m also talking about the players. They also have to take a step back, because I consider that part of the reason for our sustained lack of confidence is because they realise they are constantly underperforming. There’s too much pressure. The key is to get them enjoying football again, and only then will we see the kind of performances that had us all salivating at the tail end of last season.
Sorting that out is their job, and unfortunately there’s very little the fans can do about media pressure, money available for new signings, player performances on the pitch and the end result of games. But what we can do is take a rational approach to our expectations and anticipations for our club. Everyone has their own opinions on tactics and formations, and long may the debate continue, but until we can comprehensively say that we have realigned our sights towards the new ultimate challenge that Premiership Football poses, I believe that we would credit ourselves by taking a sensible view. Sure, we’ve been shocking over the last few months, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and all that.
One thing that has struck me this season, almost as much as our poor performances, is the knee-jerk reaction of Manchester United fans to their poor performances (and they’ve had a fair few), resulting in cries for Fergie to be sacked or leave the club. Rafa hasn’t had nearly the amount of success (or time, or money) that SurrAlex has, and they won the title last season. Let’s not put ourselves in their camp, by reacting so immediately to a bad run of form. We’re better than that.
A write-off this season may be, but in the grand scheme of things we need to realise where our assets and loyalties lie, and they are most certainly not in face-turning, manager-blaming, knee-jerk responses that have seen so many other clubs turn into a farcical mess of their former selves.
We are Liverpool, and if our fight has to be fought against the odds, I say “bring it on”. I can handle not making the Champions League places next year, I can handle getting knocked out of the League Cup, and the FA Cup, but seeing our own fans turn against the manager and the club? That’s what will really hurt, because despite what some might think, unless they are happy to ‘buy’ success, in the current climate the solution is most certainly not just around the corner.