LFC: A shambles from top to toe

Some of you will remember me as being a regular columnist for a few years on This Is Anfield and then one half of the KopBlog duo with Gerry a few years ago. Anyway, I felt I had to come out of retirement and voice my thoughts and concerns…

IT’S depressing to see how far our great club has fallen over the last few seasons. We, the Liverpool faithful, are famous for our support of our club, our players, and our manager.

But something has changed hasn’t it? One of the things that defined our club over all of these years was the “family atmosphere”. Just walk into the player’s lounge, or any of Anfield’s corridors, on match day and you were guaranteed to see friendly faces. Employees that have been at the club for decades … ex-players who can’t stay away from a club they graced for years with their skills … everything always just felt ‘right’ and ‘friendly’.

Did the club ever have any problems? Of course it did – but these were all sorted behind closed doors. Why? Because it was “The Liverpool Way”. I’m sure you feel the same as me when you think back to tom hicks’s infamous “fireside chat”. You could almost picture “The Liverpool Way” burning in the flames behind his pompous, arrogant armchair. Do you want another example? How about the club trying to copyright/trademark the Liver Bird? Talk about trying to screw over the city of Liverpool.

We, as supporters, have always funded the club – either directly or indirectly – and this is how a football club is run as a business. But even trivial things like phoning the club with an enquiry means you have to dig your hand into your pocket. I don’t know about you, but I take offence to having to call premium numbers in order to call my club – and then be cynically placed on hold as the minutes and pounds tick on. How deep your pockets are dictates what service you get from the club now, not how loyal you are and how many years you have supported the club.

And what about the Academy? Yes, it’s true that it has been a number of years since a stellar player like Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher or Steven Gerrard have made it into the first team. But then have there been any such players coming out of man united in recent years? Under Steve Heighway, John Owens, Hugh McCauley and the other Academy staff, there was an atmosphere that allowed children to develop their football skills but also prepare them for a life away from football as most Academy attendees unfortunately never make a career from the beautiful game. But this ethos defined “The Liverpool Way”. Again, it’s what made the Adademy stand out from other academies.

So what went wrong with our Academy? Quite simply, it was politics. When Rafa Benitez arrived, he wanted control over every aspect of the club. David Moores left Steve Heighway to run the Academy and Rafa didn’t like this. Is it really any coincidence that Steve, and virtually all of his Academy staff, have now been removed? Ask yourself why young players never got a proper chance in the first team when below-par “purchases” by Rafa did? Under Steve Heighway, we won the FA Youth Cup for 2 seasons on the trot in 2006 and 2007. Can you honestly tell me that none of those players were good enough to break through into the first team? Look back to our cup winning team of 1996 and see who was in that team … Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and David Thompson. Where is Jay Spearing now, and the other players from those cup winning sides of a few years ago? It’s all politics.

So what about our manager Rafa Benitez? As a club we back our manager – we always have done – and history has shown that we have supported our managers far longer than other clubs would have done. Look back to Gerard Houllier, for example. Everyone knew his time was coming to an end yet we gave him every chance to turn things around. Remember the never-ending list of excuses after another defeat or draw? If it wasn’t the weather, it was the pitch, or any other excuse Gerard could think up.

But things are worse with Rafa. When I say this, and what I’m about to say, I have always been in the “give him more time” camp and support him to the hilt. What turned it for me was last December, when I asked myself whether I really “enjoyed” the football we were playing anymore – and the answer was no. Our football is so negative and ponderous under Rafa … spraying the ball around the back 4 … hoofing it over the top and expecting our one lone striker to lay the ball off for an advancing midfielder or winger. Of course, so often the balls just fly aimlessly over the top for the opposition’s keeper to catch. This style of play had better results when the likes of Peter Crouch were up front, but stick David Ngog up there, who’s first touch leaves a lot to be desired, and its not hard to see how other teams have sussed us out.

I don’t know about you but playing one up front for home games just isn’t acceptable. Playing so deep that when we do finally try to get the opposition on the break, it takes us so long to get forward that their “back four” are well in place by the time we get near their box. This isn’t acceptable. Starting the season with only one recognised quality striker is again, unacceptable.

Other columnists on different sites who see the club through rose-tinted glasses will fire off statistics at us to try and hoodwink us into thinking that things aren’t bad after all – but we aren’t stupid. The type of football we play is negative and ponderous and shames the beautiful game we used to play when we really were a dominant force.

I will tell you my fear. Rafa has his hold over every aspect of the playing side of our club, from the Academy to the first team that removing him will not be easy and will take some repairing. Also, don’t you think that Rafa has seemed more and more desperate as the season comes to a close? He makes statements like “the fans aren’t stupid, they know what’s happening”. He wants you to think that none of this is his fault – but he’s as guilty as our American owners. He had funds – not enough, but still he had them – and he’s the one with the flawed and negative tactics. He must accept the blame for the shambles we have had to put up with this season. The buck must stop with him when it comes to team performances and tactics.

Also ask yourself how our manager can make great players look decidedly ordinary? Stevie Gerrard has looked a shadow of his former self this year. For me, he lit up a game of football like no other – but he clearly isn’t happy at the moment and this is reflected in his on-pitch performances. Jamie Carragher too. Our defence has been a shambles all season, but players of Carra’s quality don’t become bad players overnight. There have been rumours of Rafa losing the dressing room all season as well as rumoured training ground bust-ups at Melwood. Will our star players even want to remain at Anfield if Rafa stays on?

But Rafa won’t go quietly, will he? Is there any truth in the Juventus rumour? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the manager will deny it to try and force a sacking – which will lead to a big pay-off – and then he’s free to join Juventus or whoever else he wants. This part of the game makes me sick to my stomach. Just like bankers who get paid mammouth bonuses for failure, in order to get rid of an underperforming manager, we must pay him many millions of pounds. 20 million if you believe reports. So if this happens, that’s another 20 million less we have for player purchases … another 20 million we must pay the banks back … another 20 million we don’t have. Wouldn’t it be nice if Rafa did the decent thing. He says he loves the club and its supporters – well, he has underperformed so he should resign and walk away from the club. After all, didn’t he promise us all fourth place (and a Champions League spot) this year? But no, he won’t do that will he.

But finally we come to the 2 most hated figures connected to the club – Hicks and Gillett. Oh how we all warmly smiled when we heard that Hicks expects to quadrouple his money when he sells. What a wonderful investment it will have been for him. I’m not going to go over old ground here because we all know how they have taken our great football club, removed all that was great about our institution and turned it into another “sports franchise”. These people aren’t human beings – they represent the worst qualities of life – power-hungry and money-hungry corporate leeches who take over a great club like ours and would close it down and asset-strip it in a second if it turned around a big enough profit. Think about it – if someone offered them a billion pounds to demolish Anfield and build a huge skyscraper in its place, do you think they would refuse that offer?

What happens in the future is anyone’s guess. I had high hopes for the Share Liverpool initiative but they seem to have faded into the background and no longer seem to be a viable alternative. Now we have gone down this corporate road, our best hopes would appear to be someone like a Middle-Eastern sugar daddy who can come and pump some serious money into the club. DIC have been rumoured to be interested again and for me, this represents our best option. Why? Because Dubai wants and needs long-term international investments. Liverpool would become a “flagship investment” and hence it would be treated as such. Honour and success are hugely important in the Middle East so you can bet they would want to build a new stadium and to invest significantly in a side that would at least match their rivals from Abu Dhabi (ie: Manchester City).

Otherwise what will happen? The investment and ownership saga will plod on into next season? Rafa will still be at the helm. Any of Torres, Gerrard and Carragher could leave the club as the Americans try and cash in on our best assets. Then we really WILL be in trouble. Or we could sell to another corporate money-making machine. George Kraft maybe? A private equity firm maybe?

It will be a critical summer for our club. Things don’t look good right now but who knows, maybe we will all be pleasantly surprised. I, for one, will have my fingers crossed.

Andy Harvey

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