Sotirios Kyrgiakos is anything but a stereotypical Liverpool player. He’s big, brutal and unceremonious, with a crazed appearance hinting of Neanderthal heritage. At first glance one would associate this Greek stopper with ancient warfare as opposed to top-flight football. Yet in the doldrums that has been Roy Hodgson’s tenure ‘Soto’ has emerged as a leading figure.
With the exception of Tommy Smith it is hard to recall a defender of similar ilk in the Reds illustrious history. Clearly, Smith was a far superior player and rightly revered by the Kop faithful. However, Kyrgiakos is slowly earning cult status himself, erasing initial reservations.
In truth, his track record hardly inspired. Somewhat of a journeyman, supporters were horrified to learn he’d actually been released by Glasgow Rangers in 2006. But with precariously limited funds Rafa Benitez took the plunge and landed Kyrgiakos from AEK Athens for around £2 million. A year later that deal is proving shrewd business.
With persistent injuries shearing the Reds backline Kyrgiakos has become a mainstay in recent weeks. In addition to his uncompromising defending, the 6ft 4in brute has proven a constant threat from set-pieces. Liverpool have lacked a genuine target in such areas since Sami Hyypia departed in 2009. Goals against Blackpool and Blackburn have improved his standing but hearty performances in Napoli and Bolton have also highlighted the fighting spirit required at the foot of the table.
The purists amongst us may question the longevity of his selection but right now Kyrgiakos is undroppable. Daniel Agger may possess greater class, while Martin Skrtel has shown promise in a stuttering campaign but both are susceptible. With Jamie Carragher shifted to full-back Soto has been thrust into the face of a relegation dogfight and fared admirably. Few battle Kevin Davies head-on and win but on Sunday he revelled in this wrestling match, even smirking in the wake of countless collisions.
Sadly for the towering Greek his style does not endear him to critics. Praise is in short supply and Hodgson’s likening of him to John Terry would only have succeeded in heightening his teammates’ awareness whenever their wives are in close proximity.
But if not a long-term fix, Kyrgiakos may prove a vital cog in steering the team clear of choppy waters.
His popularity amongst fans is growing with each game, a trend that began when he almost destroyed Maruone Fellaini in last season’s derby. It’s that kind of commitment and honesty which endears someone to the Kop. And rather than shirk responsibility or emit questionable body-language, Soto has rolled his sleeves up and tackled the threat of an ailing season head-on.
An improving league position and the return of certain casualties may ease him out of the reckoning in time but in October alone Kyrgiakos has displayed his worth and shown he can be counted upon when the going gets tough.
More generally, the team continue to labour. Results have turned yes but the style of play still sparks heated debate. Against Blackburn the side attacked with great gusto and finally seemed to rid themselves of the shackles. But the question must be asked, was that effort testament to a change in tactics or simply the result of how negative – and deep – Rovers approached the game?
This weekend’s fixture meanwhile provided a great advert for the EastEnders omnibus. With all due respect Bolton are a woeful side (on paper) and had the Reds committed a few more bodies they could have been won at a canter. Instead it took a fortuitous winner to steal the points.
At least Sunday provided a vital victory and a rare away win to savour. But the odds still look grim for the current boss. With Chelsea and Spurs on the horizon the prospect of a relegation tussle lingers like Wagner on the X Factor.
Harsh though it seems it will take a great deal for Hodgson to appease supporters at this point. He simply must alter his ways and adjust to the grandeur of the job. It is all well and good claiming your methods have held you in great stead but Liverpool is a different kettle of fish altogether.
He must change tactically, in press conferences, with his signings and in his team/squad selection.
The lack of depth in our ranks has been discussed at length but there is enough quality there to establish a better bench. Why exclude Dani Pacheco and Ryan Babel from the fold totally? That leaves David N’gog as the only serious attacking option in reserve. Frightening.
Similarly, conduct yourself better when speaking to the press. When Manchester United are being linked with Fernando Torres do not add credence to the claim but tell journalists it will happen over your dead body.
And although funds were tight certain acquisitions have beggared belief. Christian Poulsen is the best thing to ever happen to Lucas, making the Brazilian seem like a world-beater. Likewise Paul Konchesky cannot surely be deemed a long-term solution at left-back?
It is truly devastating to think that those fees combined (around £8 million) could have lured Rafael Van Der Vaart to Anfield.
As mentioned in my last article, Hodgson seems to be struggling with the magnitude of this position, as if he cannot shake himself out of a mid-table mind-set and embrace the monster that is managing a top European force.
However with a change in ownership now secured the club’s long-term future does look decidedly brighter. NESV will desperately want to support the manager but he needs to ensure he does not isolate himself. If you lose the supporters, the Liverpool hot-seat can become a very lonely place. Just ask Graeme Souness…