Much has been made about the “Liverpool way” and there is a certain respectability, integrity and style about the way LFC conducts itself that distinguish it from other top flight clubs. That was challenged in Hicks and Gillett’s tenure, as the fans were undervalued and boardroom bickering threatened to eat away at the core of the club. Fortunately, there has been a renewed optimism in recent months that John W Henry’s NESV share a grand vision with the fans of returning the club to former glories. Unfortunately, that has not been borne out on the pitch just yet. It is only the beginning of the new ownership but, if NESV want to maintain their record of being winners, they need to extinguish the (hopefully) temporary malaise that exists at the club and banish the mediocrity that threatens to undermine the Liverpool way.
Painful though it is for critics, rival fans and the biased media establishment to admit, Liverpool remain a massive club and the most successful club in English Football. That is a fact, and not a case of living in the past or ignoring the recent lean times. Liverpool fans know that silverware comes first and that the League title is the “bread and butter”. That has always been the mantra and NESV seem to have acknowledged this important aspect of the club’s history. A top four finish would be very welcome after the abject failure of last season and the highly disappointing start to this one.
We were among the favourites to win the league last season. In fact, such was the impressiveness of our form in the 2008-2009 season, last season’s awful showing blindsided virtually everyone. In short, it was an aberration. It must be the exception and not the rule, as there is a very real danger that Liverpool’s current manager is lowering our expectations because he realises he cannot meet them.
Naturally, the vultures seem to revel in Liverpool’s misfortune. Knocking the club “off its perch” has been a preoccupation of Alex Ferguson. Our rivals would prefer to think of as yesterday’s men, even though they probably do not fully believe it. It is crucial to remember that one turbulent season does not define the club and fortunes can turn around quickly. In the last ten years, the club has typically occupied a top four position and it is the minimum expectation of the fans.
Two Champions League final appearances in the last five years, including a very memorable win, show that the club have had the sort of success many of our rivals could only dream of. For all Spurs’ spending in recent years, they have only now made it to the Champions League and are unlikely to win it. Man City have not even managed to buy their way in. Chelsea and Arsenal have failed to win the trophy. This is, after all, the biggest prize in club football. To win it is an extraordinary achievement.
Negativity from the media and rival fans must not seep into our mindsets. The club must remember where it comes from and where it needs to go. Success has to remain the memory, the focus and the goal. It is important to reflect on our success and not allow recent achievements to be overlooked. We have allowed our detractors to undermine us and, in turn, undermined ourselves.
There has been a disturbing trend that, when the club are more than ten points off the pace, we throw in the proverbial towel. It is as though we are already beaten when a bit of spirit might actually make a difference. Concessions about being out of the race and settling on finishing as high as possible will then be fed to the gloating press. Such a defeatist attitude would force the players to mentally disengage from any title chase. That certainly is not the Liverpool way. It cannot be tolerated any longer.
Leagues have been won and lost when teams have been twelve points clear at the top. Man Utd have done it a few times. The key, it seems, is to keep churning out wins and banking on your rivals dropping points. No right-thinking Football fan would dismiss Man Utd when they are trailing by 12 or even 15 points. More importantly, neither would anyone at Man Utd or Chelsea. Their managers simply would not allow it. Neither should Liverpool’s manager, but Roy Hodgson seems frustrated with the fans and cannot seem to understand what it really means to be manager of Liverpool. He has all but conceded the title and, while we accept winning it would be highly unlikely even if the club mounted a strong winning streak, it is simply not good enough that we are in this position.
Expectations should never be lowered at Liverpool. The fans know the club has faced some considerable challenges in recent years. They are also fully aware that the playing staff has, on the whole, been stronger and more cohesive in the past. We are becoming too accustomed to settling for second best or, more pointedly, fourth best. We are looking up the table at the likes of Stoke and Blackpool, both of whom defeated us convincingly. It is completely unacceptable and, far from being unlucky this season, our mid-table position flatters us to some degree. That is how bad it has been.
We might accept fourth place as a consolation prize for this season, but even that is looking decidedly unlikely. In fact, the club is in danger of having a more disastrous season than the one which just cost Rafa his job. To even consider this a reality half-way through a league season is about as harrowing as it gets for a proud Liverpool fan.
Winning certainly breeds confidence, but a winning mentality makes all the difference. There is a difference. Away from home, the players look fearful and defensive. They are playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. That is not the Liverpool way of conducting business on the pitch and, while we can forgive a little caution going to somewhere like the Nou Camp or Bernabeu (two grounds where we have recorded famous and deserved wins in recent times), it is less understandable to show fear at the Britannia or St Andrews.
The players seem to lack the stomach for the fight and have lost that winner’s mentality. It is difficult to pinpoint the cause, but the team is full of players who would grace any squad. Joe Cole helped Chelsea to a title last season, but looks lost now. Torres, one of the best and most coveted strikers in world football, is a world cup winner (even though his own performance in the tournament in the tournament was very disappointing) and also looks way below his brilliant best. Gerrard has won everything in club football except the league title. It is hard to fathom that all these players became mediocre overnight.
Whatever the root cause of the problem, we need to reclaim pride in our ability and let it permeate the club. The Champions League would not have been won in 2005 had the players bought into the party line that they were not good enough or unworthy for the stage. It is from these moments of great triumph that Liverpool’s current squad must derive inspiration.
When any Liverpool player or manager is asked about their targets for the season, only one answer should come up: “the league title”. Such an admission is not a guarantee you will win it, and it should not mean your words will be used against you. It means you are a winner and you understand the fans want you to be a winner. In fact, if that is not the goal or the mindset, you should not be Liverpool manager.
Roy Hodgson just does not have what it takes to be Liverpool manager. He is a symptom of the problem, and unlikely to be part of the solution. From his negative tactics, to his dismal away record and embarrassing and confidence-shattering interviews, Roy just does not seem to understand the demands of the job. It has, for the most part, been a reign punctuated by disappointment. 96% of ThisIsAnfield agree that Roy needs to go now. The enormity of this cannot be emphasised enough. This is the most patient fanbase in the Premier League and the club has always given the manager time so, whereas the two previous managers still enjoy a special bond with the fans, Roy has not connected with them in any way. Therefore, it is difficult to make a strong case for Roy deserving more time and the impact of delaying the inevitable could be calamitous.
In fairness, it should be said that Roy Hodgson has always seemed a perfectly affable character. He is well-regarded in the game, working wonders with tight budgets and with workmanlike squads. He confounded expectations as manager of Switzerland and Fulham. He is a good manager in the right environment, but has shown himself incapable of rising to the challenge of being Liverpool manager. He looks like a man on the edge and, in the face of criticism, has let some of his affability erode. Liverpool fans do not want workmanlike squads or dull, toothless football. They want winning football played with belief and passion.
It is not all Roy’s fault, of course, but he has failed miserably in his sole mission to “steady the ship”. Harry Redknapp might not be wholly convinced that Spurs can win the league, but he sets his teams out to win and they play with flair and belief. There is no question that having a manager with a positive mindset would positively impact the players. Roy has written his squad off on numerous occasions this season, both castigating the players and generally blaming everyone but himself. Every excuse under the sun has been thrown out: the squad is not good enough, not strong enough, not his. It is all self-serving rhetoric and rather unconvincing at that. The Liverpool Way is to resolve problems in-house and do the “talking” on the pitch.
Roy’s dismal record and general demeanour are way beneath the standards Liverpool managers should set, especially since he knew the circumstances when he took over. More worryingly, he seems to have undermined some of the club’s most talented players while going to bat for his mediocre signings, Konchesky and Poulsen. As a consequence of this, the galling prospect of losing Torres, Reina and even Joe Cole (who might just be a revelation under a manager who appreciates him) looms large.
The new owners should note that Liverpool fans do not expect the club to be the highest spending club or to have a team of all-stars. An average player who takes pride in the badge and can rise to the occasion can be effective, but a player like Konchesky has actually become worse since signing for the club. Man City and Real Madrid prove that high spending does not guarantee success. However, the only way to become competitive is to have a manager who knows how to harness the talent at his disposal and how to effectively bring in more quality signings to complement that talent. It is easy to write this, of course, but there are actually managers who possess this “magic”.
Hodgson has his supporters. It is telling that most of his supporters tend to be rival managers. They may rate him highly and that is encouraging for him, but Ferguson almost certainly would not endorse Hodgson to be the next Man Utd manager. In fact, Hodgson would never have been considered for Chelsea, Manchester City or Arsenal. Liverpool FC has to be gunning for silverware and the calibre of players who will give everything for the cause. To help that, the club need a proven winner and a top-drawer manager at the helm. At the very least, the manager has to have a winning mindset and an understanding of what the fans want. It is and always needs to be the Liverpool way.