Monday, 26 October 2015

The Trouble With Football

Watching Liverpool has been a big part of my life for a very long time. On the telly, mind. I’m not rich enough to be paying £50 a throw to actually go to Anfield. Plus whatever it costs these days for some track-suited youngster to ‘watch your car’ while you’re at the game. As anyone who has visited any of my pages before knows, Saints is my match-going guilty pleasure. But Liverpool FC is a much older passion. I only started really watching Saints seriously in about 1989, right after Michael Thomas ruined football with his last minute goal for Arsenal at Anfield which won the Gooners their first title in forever and taught me the harsh lesson that actually it was possible for someone other than Liverpool or Everton to win the league.

I explain my passion merely as a way of justifying the presence of an article about Liverpool FC and its ailing fortunes on these pages. It might not be a subject which is strictly concerned with ‘my life’ and certainly not with the laughable access issues that represent the rare diamonds herein, but it is a part of my life. And this is about my life. And anyway it is my bloody blog and if you don’t want to read about the worst Liverpool team in living memory (if your living memory only stretches as far back as Paul Konchesky’s hay-day) then bugger off and read another meme about love, peace, religion or some such other figment of your imagination. Football is real.

The truth is I can only take so much of watching Liverpool these days before I have to bash my keyboard manically in a forlorn attempt at some sort of catharsis. During the summer I had to have my say on the Raheem Sterling transfer saga which, while threatening to place us all into a coma with the sheer daily tedium of it all, also raised my ire on account of Liverpool FC managing to avoid any blame for his eventual sale to Manchester City. It was all greed on the part of Sterling and his agent, everyone said, with nobody prepared to point out that actually Liverpool FC has long since declared itself a selling club whose policy now is to sell its best player at the end of every season and re-invest the small fortune it makes in several piles of shit. And so it came to pass again as Sterling departed and in came James Milner (that noise you can hear is Bill Shankly turning in his grave).

The result of all of this manifested itself clearly but unattractively with the recent dismissal of Brendan Rodgers. His Liverpool sides had been stumbling around to little effect long before he was finally given his marching orders by the owners. It all begs the not unreasonable question about why he wasn’t invited to clear his desk in the summer, rather than being allowed to bring in seven or eight new signings in as he had done a year earlier. For all their underwhelming football they had only lost twice under his tutelage in 2015-16 when the axe fell. There was no further evidence to suggest that he was not going to turn things around than there had been say…..after they took a 6-1 pummelling at Stoke on the last day of last season…or when they lost 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace a week or so previously in one of the most lethargic and pointless performances in the club’s storied history. The only explanation is that Rodgers’ dismissal was timed to ‘coincide’ exactly with the availability after a short break of Jurgen Klopp.

So we are three games in to the Klopp reign and the best you can say about it is that the German is undefeated. He hasn’t won either, but don’t let that spoil the mood. League games against Tottenham at White Hart Lane and at home to Southampton aswell as the home Europa League clash with Rubin Kazan have all ended level. It was while watching the Southampton game yesterday that I suddenly became compelled to have my say on the current state of play at Anfield. In the now time honoured fashion, Christian Benteke’s dreamy second half header was not enough to take all three points as the clowns at the back contrived to allow Sadio Mane to equalise from around three centimetres. One day soon someone will remove the nine inch nails from the feet of Simon Mignolet to enable him to come off his line to claim something in his area. Until then we can look forward to more of Mahmadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel trying to outdo each other in the field of slap-dash defending. Sakho was described by the Guardian last week as Liverpool’s best defender, which may be true but is the very definition of being damned with faint praise. It’s like being my favourite member of Union J or Little Mix.

If you look further up the field to the midfield the reasons for Klopptimism are hardly any greater. My dad hates Adam Lallana. Every time he gets within a five-mile radius of the ball my dad slaughters him. He’s just got it in for him in the way I have for Milner, or the way I did for Dirk Kuyt when he was somehow deemed good enough for Liverpool all those years ago. The definition of the phrase ‘good enough for Liverpool’ has changed dramatically down the years and not for the better. Anyway, in the case of Lallana I actually think he is one of the few of the current crop who actually possess something approaching a footballing technique. His touch is assured and he can beat a man. The trouble is he can’t beat seven, which he often tries to do as if he is some latter day Diego Maradona. He cannot or will not pass the ball. It might be because he deems it impossible for a team mate to be in a better position than him, given that none of them have any ability on the ball. If you want something doing, do it yourself. Cloning this foolishness on the other side of the field is an increasingly grumpy-looking Phillipe Coutinho, on whom most bookmakers have no doubt stopped taking bets to be the next superstar out of the Anfield door. Barcelona have shown interest, or at least his mate Naymar has, and FSG have probably already spent the money on another Serbian winger.

Milner’s cross for Benteke’s goal was top class, but in many ways the fact that Liverpool have come to rely on a man deemed only a squad player at Manchester City shows the level of ambition at the moment. Klopp’s appointment seems to signal an improvement in this department but how much he can do at the helm of a club run by baseball enthusiasts whose hobbies include penny pinching but not football is questionable. Has anyone considered the possibility that Klopp has been appointed by FSG precisely because he didn’t seem to mind having his Borussia Dortmund squad routinely asset stripped by the likes of Bayern Munich? He’ll put up with it, and they expect him to challenge for major honours regardless. It’s a little easier in Germany, however. Finish above an occasionally off-the-boil Bayern Munich and you are probably going to be Bundesliga champions. In England you have to contend with spend happy LVG at Manchester United before you even start to worry about the dual billionaire threat of Manchester City and Chelsea. Then there’s Arsenal, about whom there might well be some unwritten Premier League law that says they must finish in the top four otherwise there’ll be some point-docking going on.

Where Klopp was able to over-perform in the face of stifling transfer policies was in Europe. Yet the Rubin Kazan game did not suggest that he has particularly prioritised getting out of the Europa League group and going on to consider putting actual silverware in the cabinet. It’s another of my bug-bears on the modern game unfortunately, and Liverpool are among the worst culprits. You spend all season concentrating on the Premier League because it is important to get into Europe. Then you get into Europe and immediately do everything in your power to get yourself out of Europe because it is interfering with your Premier League form which is important because you want to get into Europe. Rodgers’ decision to play what was basically a reserve side against Real Madrid in the Champions League last season was unfathomable and nigh on unforgivable. At what point is one of Europe’s most famous clubs going to think about the glory of the game above the pounds and pence in the bank? A lot of people moaned about the recent international break, calling the lack of Premier League football ‘boring’. Those people haven’t watched Liverpool recently nor must they have seen yesterday’s tedium-fest between Manchester United and Manchester City. International football is just about the only form of top class football left in which winning things is more important than financial power. The stories involving Wales, Northern Ireland, Albania and company in European Championship qualifying have been uplifting amid the daily diet of Mourinho moaning and experts queuing up to try to convince me that Harry Kane is anything but a bloody pub player. By contrast, Holland’s failure to qualify from a group that included Iceland, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Sidac Social Club offers a far more interesting Dutch-related narrative than waiting to hear what song LVG will sing at his next overly rehearsed barm-pot fest in front of the salivating journos on a Friday afternoon.

Oh, do you see what has happened here? This started off as a piece about what is wrong with Liverpool and has just grown legs. Unlike its author. Well, not legs that work, at any rate. This has now become a withering critique of modern day football, a cautionary tale, and a compelling argument on why you should probably pick up the phone right now and buy yourself a season ticket at Saints instead of that BT Sport subscription.

At least Martin Skrtel won’t be involved.

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