Monday, 17 January 2011

How low can you go?

The situation at Liverpool is one which is worrying players, fans and owners alike. This once great club has been on a downward spiral for the last 18 months and the question most supporters are asking is, how bad can things will get? Rafa Benitez is still remembered very fondly by most fans but his increasingly strained relationships with Hicks, Gillet and other board members made his position untenable. In addition to this his poor use of transfer funds and (in the last 12 months) bizarre behaviour led to his downfall. In fact you could look back as far as January 2009 when it all started to go wrong when he gave his now infamous press conference rant aimed at Alex Ferguson and the apparently lenient approach officials take towards United. Liverpool were top of the table and genuine title contenders for the first time in 17 years. It was mind-games from Rafa and it back-fired dreadfully and ultimately led to his sacking. The clubs financial situation then became front-page news and the appointment of the affable but ultimately low-budget, low maintenance Roy Hodgson reflected that. In fairness to Roy he joined a club in turmoil, and whilst he never managed to get his team to hit the heights the fans expected, he was always living on borrowed time.

What they should have done next is to get a manager with the direction, ambition and conviction to take Liverpool back to where they belong. There is an outstanding list of top managers currently not in employment: Rafa Benitez, Frank Rijkaard, Sam Allardyce and Martin O’Neill. Martin O’Neill would, for me, be the stand out candidate. It would surely present him with the opportunity that he has always wanted – to manage one of the countries top teams, and Liverpool get a proven top manager for free! Everyone’s happy! But what did they do instead? The worst kept secret in football was that Kenny Dalglish was hovering above Roy Hodgson’s head like the blade of a guillotine waiting for his opportunity to get back in charge. It was predictable and full of romance, but how can you expect someone who has not worked at the sharp-end of football for the best part of 10 years to know about potential targets and training systems as one of the above mentioned managers would? After all the club and football world have moved on immeasurably since 1991. The cynic in me believes Kenny’s return will be destined for mediocrity and is little more than a public relations stunt by owners who don’t know football and don’t really know what they’re doing. Bring a legend back to the club and it will keep them happy! The situation is strikingly similar to another “Kings” return home a couple of years ago when Kevin Keegan returned to Newcastle. Actually there are many similarities: “the fans choice”, unpopular former manager, owners who don’t understand football, a disgruntled home support, and well-documented financial problems. What happened to Newcastle that season? They were relegated. If it wasn’t for the astute management of Chris Houghton during their season in the Championship their stay outside the top-flight could have been far longer, a la Leeds.

I’m not suggesting that Liverpool will get relegated this season; any team with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard in it shouldn’t ever be embroiled in a relegation battle. However what happens in the summer? Can a player of Torres’s class and ability really be expected to spend a second consecutive season in the (at best!) Europa League? Will Gerrard - 33 next season - think his chances of silverware greater elsewhere than at his beloved Liverpool? Realistically you wouldn’t expect Liverpool to be back competing at the top for another 2 or 3 years – especially with the emergence of Spurs and Man City as credible top 4 sides - which will prove too long for both Torres and Gerrard to wait around. If they are sold, who would they be replaced by? Similar quality players would be nigh on impossible to attract for a club outside the Champions League.

Most people can see the warning signs of a club in decline and the only way to prevent it is by making the right decisions for the clubs long-term future, the problem with foreign owners or people who don’t understand our game is that they think “Doing a Leeds” is some kind of neat counter-attacking move. Someone would do well to educate John Henry of once mighty clubs who have fallen, otherwise he could well be the owner of the next one!

This piece has been written by Eddy Lascelles specifically for HuntersWorldOfFootball

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