No one bigger than the club?

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Well if you thought last season was a roller coaster ride of emotions, then the summer hasn’t been much better has it? The aftermath to the shambles of finishing a poor seventh was early entry into the prestigious “ropy” cup this week with a first match coming at a time when most other teams are still in pre-season training or on Public Relations trips to far flung corners of the world to satisfy their fan bases.

If that wasn’t bad enough, most of our players are still nothing like match fit as a result of a world cup that did very little to enhance the beautiful game and instead did more to highlight the selfish psyche of the modern footballer.

God forbid that I have to support a referee, but the insults after the World Cup Final that flew in the general direction of Howard Webb were quite staggering. Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The lad had no chance with the level of thuggery and cheating being displayed from both sides in what was supposed to be the showcase match of the competition. If he had sent off any of the dutch lads in the first half, he would have then been blamed for ruining the spectacle. So he errs on the side of caution, the players saw what he was doing and every football con-trick under the sun was used to get a result. Even Dirk, who I believe to be one of the most level-headed of his generation, was caught up in the hype coming out of the Dutch camp in blaming the referee for their defeat. In carefully turning a blind eye to assaults like a karate kick to the chest on a former team mate, he was being plain stupid and it disappointed me. If Dirk has watched the game since, you would like to think he will perhaps take a different view and you can put his post match comments down to adrenalin and disappointment.

At least he came out and re-iterated his loyalty to our club though without the need for “counselling” from either our new manager or our chief executive. True to form, that was more than can be said for the others who have now come home to their adoring public and didn’t you just love the loyalty being displayed? Can someone tell me why the hell should Roy Hodgson and Christian Purslow have to go round allegedly “persuading” our under-performing stars to stay with the club when they are, don’t forget, in contract? In particular why didn’t our captain, on day one, lead by example and state categorically that he was going nowhere? Especially with all the bollocks we have had to listen to in previous summers? So what are we saying here, was he considering going or not? Without the signing of Joe Cole, for example, he would have gone?

Excuse me but wasn’t it our players that got us into seventh place and this mess in the first place?

What is it with footballers nowadays? I don’t recall the standard of support falling during last season to being only the “seventh best” in the league. I’m pretty sure there are not many of us who have now “decided to support” someone else now because we are not in the champions league. Fuck me, one bad season and this is incredible. We should be hearing how they are committed to doing better and looking forward to putting things right after letting us down, not keeping quiet and weighing up their options. Why should there be any doubt and debate in the first place? Is it not unreasonable for our lads to just release a quick statement saying they were looking forward to meeting the new manager and then going on their happy holidays? Why is loyalty just a one way street to most of them nowadays?

MascheranoJavier Mascherano has apparently decided he wants a move again, no surprise there then, but didn’t you just love the protracted will he / won’t he contract drama that went on for months last year without him ever putting pen to paper? We were previously told of his unhappiness in this country and his wife’s inability to settle here and learn the language. Under those circumstances, none of us begrudged him the desire to go to Barcelona, who were the European Champions and a country where his wife could settle and speak the language. Nobody can do a job properly where your wife or family are unhappy, so most of us reluctantly accepted it and were surprised and not unhappy that he stayed. Even more so, we were told that he “talked up” the club to Maxi Rodriguez prior to his signing.

Now apparently, his latest dream is to Inter Milan who are European Champions but wait a minute, there is a pattern forming here but hang on, what happened to this country where his wife can speak could also speak the language? O.k. you get my drift, but would he still be asking for a transfer if we’d had had a successful season last year? Look, I don’t blame them for making as much as they can in their career but don’t give us all the crap. Just say you want to move on and do it to suit all parties and leave amicably. We won’t have to like it but we will take it on the chin and move on. Then at least we will be spared all the weeks and weeks of media talk that does the club no favours whatsoever and we can legitimately look for suitable replacements at the right time.

Why the hell do we let these situations to develop in the first place by allowing footballers and their agents to drag out contract discussions for months, leaving everyone in limbo when the players are away? Let’s buck the trend of player power, so they either re-sign at a point in the contract when it suits the club or they are shown the door. Did we learn nothing from the McManaman and Owen fiascos? All they both did was string everyone along with empty promises purely to get the best deal for themselves, so depriving us of critical transfer funds in the process.

TorresAnd what is going on with Fernando Torres? He busts a gut through the entire back end of last season to be fit for the world cup but is predictably totally lacking in match fitness and sharpness when he gets there. Gets injured in the final, so yet another injury while on international duty and then we are told he’s tired because he hasn’t had a holiday in three years. Er, excuse me, but that was because he continually chose to play for Spain each summer instead of sitting on the beach. Anyway, would it not be reasonable to assume that constantly playing for four years was a contributory factor in his injury problems? Then he needs “allegedly” two days of discussions with Christian Purslow decide whether he will honour his contract or not? Is that right? What was this “beef with the club” we are hearing about? We’ve all got a beef with the owners so he is not on his own there, so again what was wrong with one short timely statement to stop all the hysteria? No chance. Then the day before he returns to training (and happy to do so according to Roy) what do we get? Quotes attributed to David Villa regarding his surprise that he was he was still staying with us and not joining Chelsea “after their discussions at the world cup“.

Again, am I missing something here? I idolise the man as a footballer but come on, most of his injuries were playing for Spain anyway so what’s happened to all this bollocks allegedly inferring that the rough and tumble of the premiership is the reason for his fragmented time with us if on the other hand he is even considering going to Stamford Bridge? Injuries are part and parcel of the game but the subtle difference here is where and when he got those injuries in the first place. This club versus country debate is a no brainer as far as I am concerned and these are the sort of reasons why I take that stance. OK I accept this is all ifs and buts, is it not an unreasonable assumption that had he stayed fit for the last two seasons, we may well have won the premiership in 2008/9 and got fourth place last year?

If it is a genuine choice between ambition and loyalty, then the individual must look inside himself and decide and of course we always get trotted out the old chestnut of how players “deserve to be at a club to who are winning things”. As supporters though, are we just supposed to just say that’s all right then and accept it? In my view though, a player buys into a club when he signs that contract and if my memory serves me correctly did he not sign an improved deal not that long ago? Even today he comes back to training and the silence is deafening.

I would hate him to unravel all the good work he has done by tarnishing his image with negativity and it all ending in tears, but having said that if he is not the 100% committed and hungry player we got three years ago, well now is the time to come clean. None of this “give it another season to see how it goes” like Javier and the possibility of this kicking off all over again next year. We are starting another era and if anyone is not in it for the long haul, as far as I am concerned they should go now.

BenitezOf course the biggest turn of events at Anfield in the summer saw the departure of Rafa at a time when very few of us could make a case for him staying despite being only 12 months into another five year contract. Subsequent hearsay would have you believe that morale in the camp was at an all time low with senior players allegedly falling out with the manager and the dreaded “lost the dressing room” synopsis being bandied about by those “in the know”. Whatever the reasons, the dismal showing, after the season before, was so painful to endure. The cull of almost the entire academy and reserve staff after the removal of Rick Parry, saw Rafa adopt a more dictatorial role in overseeing the entire club structure ala Ferguson or Wenger. This policy was always going to be fraught with danger though, if it did not bring success. In steering the club, as well as plotting the course, through choppy and indeed very mirky waters currently swirling around Anfield, that strategy was tantamount to suicide when the results didn’t go our way as there was simply no where and no one left upon whom to deflect the blame. So despite surrounding himself with his own men, from top to bottom within the coaching side of the club, the mushrooming media pressure, alleged boardroom back-stabbing and escalating financial factors saw only one inevitable outcome.

Amidst much debate and speculation then, when there seemed to be few credible candidates once Jose Mourinho had gone to Real Madrid, Roy Hodgson was seen as the safe pair of hands to take over as Rafa replaced the special one in one of the best jobs in football. Football wisdom would dictate that Rafa’s severance package would have been probably paid out on the condition that he neither went public to the media, nor wrote about the circumstances of his demise in book form, at least in the short term. But I sincerely hope that he is indeed allowed to recall his memoirs in some future publication. My god, when you consider what has gone on at our club over the last few years, on and off the pitch, it would make a Hollywood blockbuster never mind a fascinating read. Rafa of course was the central throughout this entire tempestuous time and wouldn’t you just love to know the details of everything that went on. Sure he made mistakes, don’t we all, but some of the stuff going on behind the scenes was bizarre and unique. Every now and again the pressure seemed to spill out at those press conferences and you always sensed that a lesser man would have buckled under the strain. Still he contrived to split the attitude and support of fans perhaps more than anyone else, but few could deny that he still gave everything for the club and for that he will forever have my lifelong gratitude.

HodgsonUncle Roy came in then, with the club rarely more in a state of flux, with a shortened pre-season, his world cup “stars “ going AWOL and the ownership fiasco still rumbling on. A baptism of fire in which, you have to say, he has conducted himself admirably, with dignity and he has certainly won me over. Yes, I had doubts regarding his appointment but at least I am more optimistic now. He is a football man and his persona inspires a calmness that is need in our current circumstances. Amongst other things, I would like to think his media presence and diplomacy will change perspectives and some of the animosity towards the club will dissipate now. At a time when we are struggling to re-establish ourselves, horror of all horrors, we are even seeing complimentary things said about the appointment and the club in the national media!

Like everyone else, all I am looking for now is some short term stability and then, of course the investment we so desperately need to move on and if we can believe what we are being told, Martin Broughton is overseeing a structured mechanism to facilitate that. Perhaps only Tony Hayward has a more thankless task currently, but unlike the beleaguered BP chief executive, our chairman has the potential to come out of this smelling of roses if he oversees a deal that brings us the correct people coming in. Derisory comment regarding his allegiance to Chelsea has to be dismissed out of hand while he goes about his task. He is an established business man with a good CV and we are being told that he is now directly responsible for proceedings now that our wonderful owners have effectively removed from the negotiating table by the banks.

Likewise, Christian Purslow has been enduring and attracting some uncomfortable dialogue lately in these torrid times but the recruitment of Joe Cole was a coup which may become a master stroke if he stays injury free and commands the form shown early in his career. Exactly the flair player that most of us have wanted for years to give us attacking options, this was just the lift that we needed amidst the Gerrard and Torres speculation. It was also a real kick in the teeth for the London clubs, all of whom would have relished having him on their books next year.

I will make no comment on the season as it unfurls before us other than to wish everyone at the club the best of luck. This time last year, we entered the season with cautious optimism as runners up. Now we are struggling for credibility and a real fight even for that coveted fourth place given there is a tangible shift in power at the top table of English football and we have our hands full to be still sitting in that company right now. Any lingering boardroom infighting has to stop, dissenting dressing room cliques need to be weeded out and only those committed to the cause can give Roy at least a level playing field in his attempts to return to a Liverpool way that has been sadly lacking recently. The welfare of the club has always been the most important thing and that, categorically, not been the case for too many people for too long.

Disquieting times to be a red.

Liverpudlian

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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