John Ritchie discusses the need for Liverpool supporters to set realistic hopes and ambitions, forgetting the past and focussing on the future.
Earlier this year I had a conversation with a friend of mine who has sat in the Kop since he was a boy. He’s now in his fifties, he’s seen the glory years, he’s seen the last 23 years with highs and lows and as he’ll wax lyrical about and he’s seen things he’s sure he’ll never see again on a football pitch. Such as Liverpool vs Newcasle 4-3 h- twice. He was there at Istanbul and he’s still no clue how we won that, nor do I by the way.
The reason I mention my friend is that he’s the perfect example of what Liverpool fans today are not; he’s hopeful, realistic and sense just oozes from everything he says and does. I remember when I got back from my honeymoon during the time last year when Brendan Rodgers was appointed I gave him a call and asked him what he thought.
His first answer confused me; he said ‘Rodgers should go to the trophy room, wipe his arse and forget he’s ever seen the thing, we can’t keep being held up by our history. It should be a thing of pride, not something to mock other people with. What’s the point in a room full of shiny trophies when we’re being shat on by the rest of the league and the dodgy teams of Europe?’
My mate doesn’t hold his punches, I suppose that’s why we’re mates, but he got me thinking.
Recently I had a chat with a Spurs fan who was winding me up about how good they’ve become, even if they don’t finish fourth this year, he believes if they keep with AVB, given how he’s used the Modric money to buy quality players like Vertongen, Dembele, Sigurdsson and Lloris. Even though Dempsey has not hit the heights of last season, he’s done a job and when Holtby has played he’s looked decent.
I, for one reason or another, maybe helped by a beer or ten, sent him a picture of the all-time trophy list which shows LFC sitting third and Tottenham not even in the top 10 in top European leagues with the caption ‘come speak to me when you’re up there’. I instantly regretted it, apologised for being a bit of a prick and quickly got back in my box.
Explaining this conundrum to my mate he said rightly that the problem with Liverpool at the moment is the expectation is so huge as it should be, but let’s not confuse expectation with divine right. We’ve no right to be challenging for titles; look at the great teams of Nottingham Forest and Leeds how they completely dominated during their time on a high and then failed through bad management and bizarre decisions ended up languishing outside the top flight of English football. The glory days gone and for those two it seems for good.
This scenario very nearly happened to Liverpool during the Hicks and Gillett era.
Luckily for Liverpool intervention from those within and outside the club somehow managed to save us from financial ruin and what would have meant a very hard recovery to even stay in the league, never mind compete in it.
When Liverpool last won a league title in 89-90, Kenny was the manager and left because of the undoubted toll the Hillsborough took on him, the club began a downward spiral in the league at least meaning those famous glory years have never been matched since despite coming second in twice in the last 23 years. I have argued in the past we’ve not moved with the times, failed to improve and get the infrastructure right and built the club on the wrong commercial platform not fit for modern football.
With Liverpool on their fourth manager in 3 years, it’s easy to see why the club tactically have failed to build on any type of system Benitez implemented – and again whilst Kenny brought back the attacking all guns blazing approach that was so successful back in his first spell, he ultimately sanctioned signings which left most fans baffled.
If you look at the way the club are talking these days, it’s like Liverpool have realised that there’s something fundamentally amiss by the way Liverpool have run the club even at the end of Kenny’s first reign which have subsequently meant they’ve been left behind financially and poor management decisions which have left them always trying to catch up rather than lead from the front.
Just look to the Souness era, the Evans/Houllier regime, the complete failings when it came to sacking Rafa, the appointment of Hodgson and the re-appointment of Dalglish.
Rafa realised there was problems during his tenure when he assessed the academy, kick-starting a process of reform which has seen Liverpool return to the elite status of academy’s nationwide.
The main objective is not to win trophies at the Academy, it’s to produce players therefore players are brought in if they’re good enough to compete with the other talented academy starlets in order to push into the first team. Winning is a bonus at the Academy which is a philosophy that can only be seen as a good thing.
It’s a widely held belief amongst pundits and Liverpool fans alike that Liverpool in 2007 was one of the best teams in Europe. That team again failed to take advantage of a weak AC Milan side in a repeat of the 2005 final, Liverpool failing to deliver another slice of history whilst the club was in the background quite literally falling apart around them.
Manchester United and Arsenal have both moved to develop properly and set their clubs up on a huge commercial footing. Chelsea and City have massive budgets. Only Tottenham have exploited recent relative success through shrewd management by Daniel Levy putting them ahead of Liverpool in terms of both a proposition for players tempted by a move away from their perspective clubs, and obvious quality in the squad.
FSG’s role is now to sort out the debt, appoint a structure at the club which delivers success but over the long term; they must also face the almost impossible solution of fans expecting top four qualification without the obvious cash assets that United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and City do. Liverpool are behind a long list of clubs for a top four spot, and this season will see the team fail to deliver a European place full stop.
So what are we to do I ask my friend? Just accept it? No, comes his reply, a firm no. However he says there have to be legitimate questions asked about the club and the attitude of the players to boot.
He points to a recent interview from Dr Steve Peters. One area of concern is that unlike the individual sports such as cycling and athletics that Peters has been so successful in, football is a team game with everyone playing apart. If only 5 players out of 10 work with Peters, there’s only so much he can do. The fact that 10 players of 23, thus far, have wanted to work with Peters is a concern in itself.
However, my friend points to Dr Peters philosophy which he believes is spot on:
If you start going into the realm of the uncontrollable with a pre-defined goal then you are going to start to stress.”
Peters does not see merits in saying we’re going out to win the league. He goes on:
“So I would be guiding Liverpool to say, ‘By all means let’s commit to the dream and make it happen. But let’s not make it a goal and put pressure on ourselves to live up to something that is actually not in our control.’
On a players attitude Peters says something I think is a valuable lesson in life. I’m not one for 5 year plans, and Peters sums it up perfectly well here:
“That, to me, is very critical in life. The goals become: ‘Let’s do the best we can, be prepared as individuals, be prepared as a team, make sure we get everything right.’ These are the goals because you can control these. At the end of the day you can’t do better than your best.”
The seasoned Kop season ticket holder of many years puts it this way. This is what we’ve missed in the last 23 years. We’ve been completely held back by history and mismanagement. We over-react and get on the teams back and then we also expect the wrong things. The attitude Dr Peters advocates one of realistic expectation, whereas Rodgers’, the scouts, Ian Ayre and FSG need to ensure they bring in the right players who are capable of making the dream the reality.
In the meantime, no we won’t accept mediocrity, but at the same time let’s stop looking back. We need to look forward and help our team move on.