Wednesday, 29 December 2010

FAO: Roy Hodgson

Since you like passing on the blame to other people, how is this?

That was your fault tonight.

The idealistic mirage of Liverpool supporters and the world-famous Kop is just that - a mirage. It's an illusion which has been perpetuated by Sky to give games at Anfield a unique selling point; ironically, some would argue it lost its lustre when Sky truly dug its claws into English football. Even so, people will hark back to the 60s, 70s and 80s and insist it wasn't always a wall of noise. My grandad says that. I always believe him.

I still maintain we not that bad though - we just don't have St. Etienne, Olympiakos et al every single home game.

But tonight, we did something we've never done before.

A small minority booed Lucas at home to West Ham, and then booed a side top-of-the-table.
A few sung 'you can stick your Gareth Barry up your arse' at the Lazio friendly.
A handful, I'm reliably informed, wanted Souness out.

We've never imploded, though; and make no mistake, that was a complete and utter implosion both on and off the pitch. That was akin to a child getting up in school and throwing a chair at the teacher, and then kicking the headmaster in the crotch.

Under any other circumstance, I'd be livid. I'd be embarrassed. I'd herald tonight as the death of what slight reality holds true regarding the fabled McKop Grandstand.

But this is your fault, Hodgson - and we'll be here long after you are, so there's only one winner in this.

This is your fault for bringing on Joe Cole and playing him central midfield.
This is your fault for shifting Raul Meireles to the right wing, despite the fact Lucas/Meireles has been the highlight of your horrendous tenure.
This is your fault for taking off David Ngog for Ryan Babel.
This is your fault for bringing on Joe Cole and playing him central midfield.
This is your fault for bring on a left-back for our final sub - even if it was to replace one of the worst left-backs this club has seen.
This is your fault for allowing Wolves to have as much time on the ball as possible.
This is your fault for bringing on Joe Cole and playing him central midfield.

And tonight was merely the final action. The straw that broke the camel's back, the drop that broke the dam; the last public humiliation, the last disregard to this football club and what it represents.

This is your fault for coming in on the first day and saying the ownership situation had nothing to do with you.
This is your fault for belittling 'those people' who were trying to do something about it.
This is your fault for blaming the youth players for our defeat to Northampton Town of the old 4th division. At home.
This is your fault for bringing that idiot Mike Kelly along and making him first-team coach.
This is your fault for signing Paul Konchesky, Joe Cole, Brad Jones and Christian Poulsen for around £10million, a couple of youth players and Alberto Aquilani.
This is your fault for making Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina change their style of play to suit your narrow-minded, short-termist viewpoint.
This is your fault for constant contradictions to what you say in order to cling desperately on to a job you know you have no right having.

But most of all, this is your fault for every time you open your mouth; every time you make this club sound like we should belong in the second division. It's your fault for that mentality, and it's your fault the players won't respond to you. It's your fault - and no one else's - that the supporters of this club despise you and despise everything you stand for.

And now you have actually had the temerity to blame the supporters and to blame Kenny Dalglish's interest (which you said wasn't there on your first day - another lie).

Both us and Kenny Dalglish will be here at our club long after you've been amputated from it, like the gangrenous limb your abominable reign has been. We'll still be here next season, "supporting" our team - supporting someone who represents us, who understands us; and someone who is proud to do so.

Roy Hodgson - get out of our club. Please.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Shankly's socialism shines through once more

It’s been a difficult few weeks to be a supporter of Liverpool Football Club, but it’s a fortnight which ends with me feeling proud to be one of those supporters.
First came the Merseyside derby, which is a game that never fails to incite such evocative emotions. It’s also a game which reminds me how glad I am to belong to the red half of the city.
I stand in the Paddock every season and attempt to comprehend how two teams separated only by Stanley Park can have such opposing philosophies on football.
The banners which we revere so much are mocked and derided by our blue brethren, while the songs we sing to celebrate our proud history displease the Park End.
Even our attempts to help our club’s fortunes off-the-pitch are disparaged and scorned upon by the Goodison faithful.
But that culture clash is what makes the derby special; it’s what makes victory taste sweeter and defeat even bitterer.
Unfortunately, against Everton, we supped from the latter cup. It wasn’t our first defeat at Goodison, and it probably won’t be the last – unless, of course, Bill Kenwright decides to move them to Kirkby in the near future.
At least I had an opportunity to hear from several of my acquaintances whom have been missing for nearly two years, I suppose. The County Road chameleons are a wonder to nature, camouflaged in drinking establishments for years until a derby victory brings out their blue exterior in full force.
It would be watching another team in blue - a lighter shade of it - that would cause yet more problems for Liverpool supporters, albeit problems of a different kind.
Nothing beats a European trip with Liverpool. It’s a time for togetherness and unity. Old friendships are rekindled and new ones are forged; moments are shared that will be remembered forever and memories are created that will never be forgotten.
Until kick off, football is never at the forefront of your mind.
There was not one mention of Everton as we boarded at John Lennon Airport – our minds were much more concerned about pizza than Pienaar, we cared more about Morreti than Mikel Arteta.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be a typical European trip. The majority of supporters who made the journey to Naples experienced well-documented problems from a minority of Naples citizens.
Things have been written about our time in the southern Italy, although not enough in my opinion. Ultimately, this is neither the medium, nor the platform, to share the personal experiences endured by my four friends and I.
But despite a torrid 48 hours, and despite 80 of us being crammed onto buses fit for 50, we huddled together in the San Paolo, shared our experiences of the previous night and let out the defiant cry of our football team; the defiant cry of Liverpool.
It wasn’t the loudest away end I’ve been in, nor was it the most effervescent, but for a period of time, we fought their fervent fans with Fields of Anfield Road and You’ll Never Walk Alone, showing that beneath the Liverbird’s feathers beats a heart of steel.
It wasn’t until I was back in Liverpool that I understood the significance of that show of impertinence to the Napoli fans.
I looked around Anfield last Sunday prior to kick off against Blackburn and felt familiar feelings, feelings I’ve felt for almost 20 years.
The smell of burning burgers and the sound of the Solly’s soothing hum in pre-match anticipation were there - as they always have been.
Banners honouring those our grandfathers and fathers respected, and those we respect today, were there - as they always are.
The touch of a mate’s warm handshake and the taste of a pint in the pub afterwards were there - as they always will be.
Despite the week we suffered, we did not desert the football club. More importantly, we did not desert each other. We never do.
That vociferous cry of Liverpool in the San Paolo was made to let both Napoli and the wider world know that despite the problems of the previous two days off the field, and the problems we’ve had on the field throughout the season, we were there to support our football team – like we always are, and like we always will be.
Throughout the club’s 118-year history, the one thing that has remained constant is the supporters. The names and personnel of those who stand on the Kop may have changed, but the values and culture that embody being a Liverpool supporter hasn’t.
And it was as I spotted a banner with Bill Shankly’s name on, a banner that’s been displayed many times before, that I thought of these words:
“The socialism I believe in is, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity
“I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it's the way I see football and the way I see life.”
I don’t claim to be a political expert, but that is a view on socialism I can subscribe to - people helping other people with collective effort, both in football and life in general.
It’s Shankly’s idea of socialism I witnessed at Anfield against Blackburn as we supported the team, irrespective of previous results.
It’s Shankly’s idea of socialism I witnessed in Naples as we supported each other and ensured no one was left behind as we alighted our shuttle buses at the port after the match.

And it was definitely Shankly's idea of socialism I witnessed when bodies flew everywhere, voices mustered an almighty roar and 3,000 of us sang Maxi Rodriguez's name over and over after his late winner on Sunday.
The past week has left Liverpool supporters bearing both spiritual and physical scars, but we’ll be there at home to Napoli, Chelsea, Stoke and beyond.
The flag of Shanks will still wave in the wind as the thousands who see it strive to hold our heads up high and let the world know we’re Liverpool, just like the Scot always wanted.
It’s certainly enough to make me proud – and I’m sure it would be enough to make Shanks proud too.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Analogies Anonymous

Comedic writing is one of the hardest things to do, especially when it’s intelligent to boot. As laugh-out-loud the Carry On movies or Norman Wisdom were, I’ve always preferred the reserved titter of The Office and Peep Show.

That’s probably why I appreciated Rory Smith’s piece on the Telegraph website so much. Smith is one of my favourite Liverpool writers (though I have little choice given my employment history), but this surpassed even the highest expectation. It was succinct and splendidly satirical in equal measure.

So I’m going to write my own analogy regarding the managerial position at Liverpool Football Club. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

I was never good at satirical pieces in university; Swift’s Tale of the Tub bordered on the subliminal to the ridiculous, so I offer my apologies in advance if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of Swift - or Smith, for that matter.

Roy Hodgson’s appointment as Liverpool manager has been an unadulterated catastrophe, and relegation is a definite possibility if he remains at Anfield for the remainder of the season.

When Rafael Benitez mutually consented to be sacked, foolish supporters had lofty ambitions. Some well-established names like Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink were mentioned, and then mixed with European upstarts such as Didier Deschamps, Unai Emery and Laurent Blanc.

But for any of those to take the job would have been like, like, Napoleon Bonaparte leading the Montenegrin army, or something like that.

The ship was sinking, the empire was crumbling. The famous/fabled (delete as appropriate) ‘Liverpool Way’ was tarnished forever as the Holy Trinity once proudly spoken of by Shankly was desecrated.

When a ship is crumbling and an empire sinking, you need a steady pair of hands. Don’t uproot the foundations; don’t, er, play basketball with the anchor.

At least, that’s what we were told in the press conference unveiling Roy Hodgson as our new manager. He was Christian and Kenny’s choice – or not - after an interview process as stringent as wartime conscription.

Are you English and agreeable with the press’ major players? Off you go, Manuel and Didier.

Can you remain silent against the regime and not alert fans to tight financial restraints placed upon you? Check.

Can you not then lament those financial restraints to the press, even though we’re only giving you half the money acquired from the sale of a world-class defensive midfielder? Good man.

Can you promise to give the elder statesmen of the football club, hereby known as the dressing room so desperately lost last season, the arm around the shoulder and new contract they rightfully deserve? Welcome to the job, Mr. Hodgson.

Despite this, Liverpool fans reserved judgement.

At least, it was murmured, the man was a gentleman. At least, it was said, he had over 30 years experience and would understand the traditions of this football club. At least, it was exclaimed, he could organise the side and rediscover the dressing room.

But it’s turned out wrong; wrong like a…like, erm…like a manager desperately out of his depth in a job far too big for him.

His signings are either extremely poor or extremely poorly utilised. In fairness, like Benitez, Hodgson suffered from nonexistent financial backing – he couldn’t even spend the entirety of Mascherano’s transfer fee.

But £5million and two youth team players for Paul Konchesky is dreadful, while an accumulative £5million for Christian Poulsen is just despicable.

The fact the pair replaced Emiliano Insua and Alberto Aquilani, who were both sent out on loan, does not help to temper the anger of the Kop. The fact Daniel Agger might as well be with them, given the treatment he’s received from Hodgson, intensifies that anger even further.

Raul Meireles should be an excellent acquisition. He can glide into space through the middle, he can pick out a pass with unerring vision, and he has a tremendous long-range shot in his arsenal.

He has spent the majority of his Liverpool career on the right of midfield, a position he’s never played before.

And, although it’s clear it’s not his signing, Hodgson’s instance to play Joe Cole – first, behind the hole, and now to play him at all – is baffling, especially given how after 30 minutes, he resorts to standing on the left-wing, hands on hips, out of breath, trying to backheel a thread through a needle that isn’t even there.

To claim Hodgson’s tactics are pre-historic raises philosophical questions over the enormity and concept of ‘history’.

Gone is the look of fear from teams such as Sunderland as they’re pressurised on the ball – they can now stroll into Liverpool’s final third with a bank of six lined up opposing them, like static pawns on a chessboard, awaiting their next move.

Gone is the confidence and dominance of Pepe Reina, who know must deal with Jamie Carragher stepping on his toes as Liverpool retreat further back, content to concede possession and territory, regardless of opponent or venue.

Gone is the sight of Glen Johnson, Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres linking up in the final third with quick, incisive, high-tempo passing and movement. Johnson does not cross the halfway line anymore, while Dirk stands on that same line looking lost. Steven Gerrard is now back in his best position, apparently, despite what the Sky pre-match graphics say and Fernando Torres is a substandard Bobby Zamora.

But most worrying of all for Liverpool supporters is that this is not going to change, and it’s not going to change because he doesn’t realise he is at Liverpool Football Club.

Hodgson delighted in telling the press these methods won him the league at Malmo, Halmstads and Copenhagen; how his methods won games at the Swiss national side and Neuchatel Xamax.

He is not a young manager who will learn. He is a manager who has learnt, and this is the product of it. He will not adapt, he will not experiment, despite the fact a defeat to Blackburn would result in its worst league start ever.

This is it for Liverpool Football Club under his reign.

Even more galling than his performances on the pitch are his embarrassments off it.

Northampton were formidable opponents, and he fondly recalled a famous night in Trabzonspor just eighteen months after the football club had beaten Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate.

The most abject derby display in living memory was described as the second-best performance of the season. Dominance, according to him, consists of Steven Gerrard clipping balls into Tim Howard’s arms as Everton looked increasingly likely to score a third.

He didn’t seem much of a gentleman when he mocked Danish and Norwegian journalists, saying he’d never wish to work there again; nor does he seem a gentleman when he constantly snipes at reporters who treat him infinitely better than his predecessor.

He doesn’t appear to have used his 30 years in football when he condemned those protesting for the removal of Tom Hicks and George Gillett; he didn’t seem understand that special affinity Liverpool supporters have with their football club.

With Torres arguing with Carragher on Sunday on the Goodison pitch, and Daniel Agger – our best defender victim of consistent unprofessional sniping by the manager - leading a queue of players desperately unhappy at the football club, it appears that the lost dressing room is still somewhere down the back of the sofa.

He was given the Liverpool job under certain circumstances, but those circumstances have changed.

With the takeover of NESV and the removal of Tom Hicks and George Gillett on Friday, the Goodison derby on Sunday should have been time for renewed optimism and a positive look into the future.

It wasn’t, and it proved we can not go forward if remnants of the past remain.

For the sake of the football club and for the sake of the supporters, Roy Hodgson has to leave Liverpool Football Club with whatever semblance of dignity and reputation his has left; if he doesn’t, he could take them down with him.

See? I told you I wasn’t very good at satire. It appears I'm as equally inept with analogies and metaphors as well. I suppose I’m Carry On Knockers to Rory’s Office; I guess I’m just Roy Hodgson to his Rafael Benitez.

Monday, 18 October 2010

An open letter to John W. Henry

Dear Mr Henry,

Blundell; Hill, Fleche, Bolland, McKenna; Gardner, Henderson, Dulaimi, Heaton; Andrews, Cummins

I recently wrote an open letter with similar intentions to Stephen Hester of Royal Bank of Scotland. Please accept my apologies in advance if this letter is a bit more disjointed than that one - I’m still rubbing sleep from my eyes. I’ve just awoken from a three-year nightmare.

I don’t expect you to know the relevance of the 11 names printed above. This is no ill reflection on you – few others would know either.

The names above are not the starting 11 of a pre-war side that ran out against Bradford Park Avenue, nor is it the substitutes bench of one of our extremely talented youth sides.

They are supporters of Liverpool Football Club.

In my letter to Mr Hester, I recalled the starting 11 of the first match I attended. Port Vale, October 1991. Sat at my computer, I shut my eyes and visualised my surroundings as a four-year-old boy, scrunching them tighter to help heave my memories of those Subbuteoesque silhouettes on the Anfield turf to the surface of my consciousness.

But what I remember with less effort and more vibrancy than the 11 on the pitch were the 20,000 who surrounded me off it.

That’s not to disparage the players, of course; but when a supporter engages with the Kop for the first time, they become part of a brotherhood or sisterhood. Spiritual contracts signed by all that state we will uphold the traditions of our predecessors, and persevere to teach our inheritors about dignity, loyalty and respect.

I can’t name the substitutes bench when we played Port Vale, but I can reel off yet more names who this football club can call upon: Smith, Edwards, Roberts, Naughton, Dhakal-Woolfall, Nelson, Crane, Barrett, Cook, Spreag, Jaggs, Ballard, Watson, O’Shea. The list could, quite literally, go on and on.

Some of these supporters I consider my closest allies while others I’ve only met sparingly. There are even a few whom I’ve never met at all. But we’re all united by the common bond of wanting what’s best for our football club and of acting in its best interests; we all subscribe to Bill Shankly’s idea of socialism of helping out each other and sharing the rewards.

In the next few months, you will hear an oft-repeated cliché: Liverpool fans are the most knowledgeable in the world. This extends far beyond knowing Christian Poulsen’s birthplace or how many international caps Dirk Kuyt has earned (Asanaes and 73, in case you're wondering).

Our knowledge comes from that aforementioned dignity, loyalty and respect bred on the Kop. It comes from an appreciation of the sport we have watched since we were youths; from Alonso to Ziege, we appreciate the game in its simplest form.

We appreciate football is played 11 versus 11; sometimes the better 11 win, sometimes the better 11 don’t. We appreciate those who tackle with ferocity, pass with finesse and finish with flair. We appreciate the time we have afterwards to sit with our friends and talk about these things. It’s a simple ritual for a simple game.

Three years ago, two men overcomplicated our simple sport; the one-time beautiful game manifested into two ugly heads, coins and bank notes dripping from their grotesque mouths like a constant stream of acidic, poisonous drool.

They took our simple game and our simple football club, and they almost destroyed it. The promises they broke, the debt they accumulated, the world class players they caused to be sold and taking an 118-year institution to the High Court twice – all of this wounded Liverpool Football Club and will leave scars that will take years to heal.

But most damagingly of all, it was the heart of the club, the supporters, that nearly stopped beating when they wrenched it from the Liverbird’s chest.

No longer did we discuss full backs without worrying about finances; we worried more about RBS’ right hand man than we did John Arne Riise’s right foot.

Last week, we watched nervously at the Guardian’s minute-by-minute coverage of one of the most importance matches in our history. But the bar being struck was not made of metal, and the judge was not a trite name for a ruthless referee.

Pars of litigation and terminology filled both our computer screens and our minds. Lads from Aintree became part-time accountants; boys from Bootle became makeshift barristers. It was never meant to be like that.

The supporters of Liverpool Football Club did not become so to understand business. It was meant to be a simple game; this was meant to be a simple football club.

Now, thankfully, we feel we’ve got it back. The Liverbird’s feathers are displayed proudly once more as it looks out over the city, and its heart is beating as strong as it has in a long time.

Liverpool, as a city, has always grown stronger during times of distress, and as a direct result, so have the supporters of the football club. We eventually united through hatred for Tom Hicks and George Gillett and through realising the thing we hold closest to our hearts very nearly evaporated. Spirit of Shankly, Save LFC and other groups united to save our football club.

Never again will we take Liverpool FC for granted.

You will learn a lot about Bill Shankly, as well. You will learn he was a great, humble and intelligent man. You will learn about his views on socialism and how the socialism we believe in is not really politics, but a way of living. You will realise several of our supporters subscribe to it, and that's why our team is the only team that will always stick together; that's why we are the only team you can ever fully rely upon.

The Kop has witnessed players such as Liddell, Yeats, Dalglish, Rush, Fowler, Torres, Carragher and Gerrard. But when they've gone, or when they go, the Kop still remains.

We very nearly crumbled under the intense pressure of modern football, under the weight and strain of two men overcomplicating our simple sport.

But now, we no longer have to sit in the pub after the match and worry about balance sheets and bitter court battles.

We no longer have to stop our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters from wearing the official club shirt. We no longer have to deny them the opportunity to play football in the park with their favourite player’s name on that shirt, just like we could when we were young.

We no longer have to leave our houses earlier on matchday to march to the ground, hoping we have some small influence of taking back the football club our ancestors founded over a century ago.

We have our identity back. Simply put, we have our football club back.

Please keep it that way.

Throughout the whole sale process, your actions were nothing but dignified, loyal and respectful.

Maybe you were meant to stand side-by-side with us on the Kop all along.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Tom Hicks lies - this summer has only been big for Delta cabs

With Javier Mascherano close to completing a move to Barcelona only 4 days shy of the transfer window, I reckon it would be beneficial to look at our summer dealings; you know, in the face of transparency, and all that.

Here are the club's transfer dealings with summer, with thanks to Red and White Kop for the incoming transfer information:

Incoming transfers:

Joe Cole
Brad Jones
Milan Jovanovic
Christian Poulsen
Jonjo Shelvey
Danny Wilson

Standard Liege
Undisclosed (believed to be around £5m)

Outgoing transfers (including Mascherano's imminent departure):

Yossi Benayoun
Albert Riera
Alberto Aquilani
Philipp Degen
Kristian Nemeth
Diego Cavalieri

AC Cesena
Loan (fee believed to be £4m)
Loan (fee unknown)
J. Mascherano

Fee around £17.5m

Total transfer money received (after Mascherano): £34.2 million
Total transfer money spent: £13.5 million
Money going towards the debt: £20.7 million

£20.7 million - that's more than Fernando Torres' transfer fee, and more than any fee we've ever paid for a player. Roy may be held culpable for decisions on the pitch, but how can the puppet master play with both hands tied behind his back?

Of course, those figures are the basest figures available - wages/signing-on fees (which are now taken from transfer budget) aren't considered, nor is the loan fee for Degen. Paul Konchesky is also expected to replace Insua for a few million pound profit before Tuesday's deadline as well.

While trying to acquire some extra intelligence for this post, I stumbled across this article, written by Tony Barrett for The Times, on January 12 2010. Note the quotes in bold.

Tom Hicks has shrugged aside the controversial resignation of his son from the Liverpool board by claiming that the club’s debt problems are not as severe as those of Manchester United.

The Liverpool co-owner also vowed to spend “big” in the summer transfer window.

In a day of high drama for the two North-West giants, Tom Hicks Jr announced that he was stepping down as a Liverpool director after admitting sending an abusive e-mail to a fan.

United, meanwhile, announced plans to raise £500 million to restructure their debts after paying out £41.9 million in interest during the past financial year.

United’s problems gave Hicks an opportunity to divert attention from the storm at his own club and he duly took it.

In an e-mail of his own to a fan, he intimated that Liverpool’s debt — in excess of £200 million — is more manageable than that of their great rivals.

He also insisted that while Liverpool will not be splashing out in the present transfer window, they are already planning to invest heavily in the summer to bolster Rafael Benítez’s squad, and claimed the long-awaited new stadium will be delivered.

“Our debt is very manageable (see Man U) and we never use player sales for debt service,” Hicks Sr wrote in the e-mail, responding to concerns from a supporter that Liverpool will not be big spenders in January.

“Our interest on £200 million is about £16 million. The new stadium will be the game changer. January is a poor quality market. The summer window will be big.

“We are working hard on the new stadium. We have an excellent management team and manager. We know we need more depth on the squad and will address it this summer. We hope to have a stronger second half of the season.”

Liverpool’s search for investment is continuing, but there is evidence that the financial concerns that have plagued them for so long are beginning to filter down to Benítez’s playing squad.

Ryan Babel, the Holland forward, responded to a question on Twitter, the social networking site, about his opinion on Hicks and George Gillett Jr, his fellow American, by saying: “We need money for the club.”

It is that apparent weakness that has prompted fears that Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres or both could be prised away from Anfield should Liverpool fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Reports in Italy suggest that José Mourinho will launch his third attempt to sign Gerrard, this time for Inter Milan rather than Chelsea, next summer.

The chances of Gerrard leaving Liverpool for an Italian club are remote, but rivals sensing weakness at Anfield will give their supporters added cause for concern.

The resignation of Hicks Jr from the club’s board at least solved one problem, the Texan falling on his sword after he sent an abusive e-mail to Stephen Horner, a Liverpool fan, in which he said: “Blow me, f***face.”

The Liverpool hierarchy did not hesitate to accept Hicks’s offer to step down. His place has been taken by Casey Coffman, the executive vice-president of Hicks Holdings.

Manchester City added to the pressure on Liverpool when they opened a five-point gap to them in the Barclays Premier League thanks, to a 4-1 win over Blackburn Rovers at the City of Manchester Stadium, Carlos Tévez scoring a superb hat-trick as Roberto Mancini made it four wins in four games since succeeding Mark Hughes as manager.

No new stadium. Players being sold to service the debt. The only people this summer transfer window has been big for is Delta cab drivers driving our assets to John Lennon Airport and out of this football club.

There it is, in black and white, clear as crystal: Tom Hicks tells lies - as does George Gillett, Christian Purslow, and possibly even Martin Broughton. Get out of our club.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Trabzonspor 1 Liverpool 2 - post-match thoughts

Never too keen to comment properly on matches when I've not watched it in the ground, so just a few bullet points on tonight.

  • Holding onto the 1-0 lead from last week was never going to be done with consummate ease, especially with a depleted squad travelling to a hostile atmosphere. We've never won in Turkey, unless you regard Istanbul as such.
  • With that in mind, it was a little perplexing to see an inexperienced right-footed 20-year-old play at left-back, especially when actual left-back Fabio Aurelio played just ahead of him in midfield. Once Kelly settled down, he looked as imperious as ever; there is a certain confidence he exudes on the football pitch, be it when he has the ball at his feet or staving off the attentions of the opposition player and ushering the ball out of play. He wasn't as productive with the ball as it was predominately on his weaker foot, but he looked like a fully-fledged left-back by full-time.
  • As obvious and cliché as it sounds, losing the first-leg lead so early was a massive blow - confidence plummeted from that moment and it took us an entire half to rebuild it. What would have been a defensive outlook from us manifested into sitting deep, playing safe balls and looking to spring N'Gog free; something which failed miserably throughout the first 45 minutes. As for the goal itself, Kuyt, Carragher, Soto and Johnson can all feel culpable in some way. I wasn't surprised to see Guttierez (known at 'that tiny no.9' last week to the Anfield faithful) score for Trabzonspor, he was impressive against us last week.
  • Second half was an improvement, although still operating nowhere near our full capability. N'Gog floundered between the sublime and the ridiculous, with his excellent hold-up play and perseverance tainted by profligacy in front of goal. One thing you can't fault him for is his effort - he and his elastic legs run the £1.5 million paid for him every time he strides on the pitch.
  • Trabzonspor shot themselves in the foot somewhat after about 60 minutes; they become anxious to get forward and commit which finally allowed Lucas (who had a poor game otherwise) to drive forward. If Lucas is to play alongside Poulsen this year, he needs to be allowed to get forward as much as possible; we looked more likely to equalise when he broke deep from midfield simply because there was another body in there.
  • Kacar's own goal was a fantastic advert of Glen Johnson's abilities when he is allowed to get forward, but it was again too much of a rarity. I can understand Roy wanting him to concentrate on his defensive ability but he does give an extra dimension, especially when two central midfielders sit so deep.
  • Pacheco had another impressive cameo and it was good to see him having a shot at goal which eventually led to Dirk Kuyt's tap in. I think, ironically, he could play the role Joe Cole is usually associated with. He seems to have that innate ability to ghost into space.
  • Not the best performance, but a very, very good result for a side without their two best players. All of this will be a distant memory tomorrow afternoon when I have Easyjet, Ryanair and other assorted airline websites open ready to book a trip to deepest, darkest eastern Europe.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Thoughts on Manchester City defeat

There was a moment last night, at around the 80th minute, which encapsulated how it feels to be a Liverpool fan right now.

Struggling to get a touch of the ball at 3-0 down, the wind blew the torrential rain into the faces of those who had the heart to stay after Tevez’s penalty. Hoods went up, heads went down; when it rains, it pours. Soon after, the City fans sang a ditty to their affluent deity who watched from the stand.

‘Sheikh Mansour, Sheikh Mansour’

If any City fan is reading this, don’t worry – this isn’t a dig at your team and how you’ve supposedly ruined football. Football had already become as polluted as the Mersey before Mansour spilt a couple of barrels of oil into it.

And it’s not as if we haven’t sung the names of our owners on the Kop, either. But where the City fans sang in adoration, we do so in anger; their happiness is the anthithesis of our hatred.

The fact that they’re rich and we’re poor is not what is to be lamented. Football has never been a sport for the socialist. Just ask Javier Mascherano.

It’s the fact that two teams from working class cities, historically supported by working class fans, feel the need to sing the names of footballing plutocracy.

Defeat to City

For Liverpool fans, any on-the-pitch criticism has to be made with the ownership situation in mind. Circumstances are problematic for Roy Hodgson, just like they were for his predecessor. It doesn't mean the team, nor the manager, can be exempt from it though. An eye on the ball airborne after a Carragher punt doesn't necessarily mean the other one is off-the-ball elsewhere.

  • The squad is still taking shape and Roy hasn't been in charge long enough to fully implement his style of play. Early hints as to what that style will be is slightly troubling, though.
  • Playing 4-4-2 away to Manchester City showed a surprising naivety from a manager as experienced as Roy, especially with Gerrard alongside Lucas. Perhaps Mascherano's refusal to play forced Roy's hand, much like it did to Rafa's in Fiorentina last season. That aside, City's strength was always going to be in midfield as Mancini enjoys packing it with tough-tackling, hard-working, experienced players. Last night's trio: Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure.
  • Two midfielders against those three was always going to result in City controlling the game and enjoying possession - something we, as Liverpool fans, are more accustomed to seeing from our own side. Gerrard and his tactical indiscipline when playing in the centre of midfield meant Lucas was overran by three very good midfielders. The first goal was the perfect exemplar. No one tracked Milner's run from Adam Johnson's ball inside, and no one tracked Barry's burst into the box.
  • Man City were good, but their fans should be wary of regarding this as the moment they 'arrived' given they were playing against a transitional side in an unfamiliar formation. I thought Adam Johnson impressed, albeit against a makeshift left-back - not that that's an excuse, because Lescott is regarded in a similar vein and we failed to capitalise on that. Tevez was his usual busy self, the midfield were good (although as previously explained, Roy's selection made things easier) and Joe Hart continues to impress me immensely.
  • Formation aside, we set up similar as we did against Arsenal and Trabzonspor. We let our opponents have plenty the ball and looked to counter. There has to be hope that this is not the only way we're capable of, as we look a much better side when we press and try to control the tempo of the game. I hate to label a side's style but we look very defensively set-up at the moment - Glen Johnson's reticence to venture over the halfway line is symptomatic of that.
  • Man-to-man marking: the new zonal marking? We've struggled with it since we've adopted it. It's worth keeping in mind that we had similar problems with zonal marking six years ago and it takes time for players to adapt to the new system. I doubt Tevez's first goals happens if we adopt zonal marking. Just proves that one is not necessarily better than the other, and certain sides suit different set-ups. We just have to hope Roy finds out what that is for this set of players and adapts accordingly.
  • Daniel Agger looked like a centre back playing left back, funnily enough. His insistence of showing Adam Johnson inside onto his stronger foot was infuriating - Johnson had threatened several times in the first ten minutes, but the warning signs were ignored. Both Barry's goal and the penalty award were a result of it.
  • David N'Gog is a great striker for £1.5 million but he should not be partnering Fernando Torres in a 4-4-2. Strike partnerships rarely work with two out-and-out strikers; one usually drops deep (the no.10) while the other is the goalscorer (no.9). Without that link between the strikers, and with Gerrard playing deeper, it means we struggle to give them the service. But above all else, Torres relishes playing alone up front.
  • Positives from the night? There were few. We looked sharp for a short period in between their second and third goals, and we could have nicked an undeserved goal if Joe Hart wasn't so sharp. The pie wasn't too bad, and Brad Jones' white boots looked quite interesting during his half-time warm up, as well. I suppose things can only get better from here as well, can't they? For the sake of our away-day sanity, we certainly hope so.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Hello my friend, we meet again

I wrote this last season as a response to people's worries about Xabi Alonso leaving Liverpool Football Club and what effect it would have on us.

You could say I was wrong about that, but the underlying message still remains strong: no matter what happens, we'll still be there on the first day of the season. It's just as poignant now, I feel, with Hicks and Gillett reaching endgame.

Last night was our first home game of the season. It was good to be with friends old and new. So I thought I'd post this up.

Warning: there might be a few swear words here and there - had to be realistic, like. ;)



Lime Street. Still there after two World Wars.

A grey, concrete backdrop, rapidly filled with hundreds upon thousands of trabs; blue with white stripes, black with yellow stripes, white with a darker shade of white. An abundance of Dassler littering the landscape. They hold up short lads, tall lads, fat lads, thin lads, brown-haired lads, ginger lads, men stylishly grey. And they hold up bottles of Fosters, cans of Skol, vodka, rum, gin.

Holding everything up, a train sitting upon the track with the destination ‘LONDON EUSTON’ illuminated on the front. It’s not just a support but the synergist. It’s the reason the police don’t say their goodbyes with heavy hearts or why the station’s concrete floor doesn’t cool. The trabs might come back a little worse for wear or the Skol cans cleared out, but the train’s function remains the same and it remains as efficient as ever. Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston, London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street.

Just another away day. The Liverpool boys are in town.

A mad scramble for a decent seat - one by the toilet to avoid the inspector, or one where the day’s papers can be read in comfort. John and Billy are seasoned veterans; they’ve been on the train innumerable times. Both blonde, in their mid 30s and with a whisky in their hipflask, they settle down with the day’s newspapers. John has worked on the docks all his life, whilst Billy took a night class twice a week for two years and is now a pastry chef at a French restaurant in town. But they’re both on the 6/1 shot in the 1.45 at York.

“Good form and from a good stable, 6/1 is a sound price Billy.”

“Yeah, yeah, not bad. I’ve gorra couple of bob on it like.”

There are a lot of scientific peculiarities on this train, but none more so than the ability to hear individual conversations amongst the gentle buzz of mass communication. Other conversations through the carriage about horses, football and the missus work together to provide background noise for the interesting individuality of your conversation about football, the missus and horses.

“What you reckonin’ about today then?” asks John, with the same glint that’s been there for 20 years. “Nice day out in London, few scoops with the lads, and three points for the Redmen.”

“Hope so, John,” says Billy, with his usual enthusiasm lacking – something which John picks up on.

“What’s wrong with your gob eh? Face like a smacked arse today lad,” says John.

“Xabi Alonso,” responds Billy, instantly.

“Yer wha?”

He folds up the paper, sighs and looks out the window as the train begins to depart. Welcome to Lime Street Station, even though it’s saying goodbye.

“He is an individual talent. How can we ever replace him? He is the heartbeat of the team, the conductor who waves the baton as his team-mates dance to the music. Torres and Gerrard will get the plaudits, but Alonso will prove to be just as important as them and to our system. Xabi controls the play perfectly, sitting in the centre of midfield and dictating tempo. At Anfield, it helps us break down teams. When he is on the ball, it will very rarely be wasted; he will use the possession effectively and efficiently. Away from home, he makes sure we’re never under pressure; he has the calmness and intelligence to relieve any pressure we’re under. No superlative can explain his range of passing. He’s a decent free-kick taker. And those shots from the halfway line...he’s irreplaceable, there is no other like him.”

A dejected Billy looks outside the window. Blue skies – it is summer, after all. The train edges nearer to its destination, but the two towering Liverbirds still preside over the city, still there after two World Wars.

“It’s not even about individuality, it’s about the team. Our game was based on his controlling of the tempo. Squeeze the life out of the opposition and then strike. That is our game. Like a pack of pythons. So close to the title, so close, and now it all has to change. We won’t play as well as we did with Alonso there. No one can replace him, so we’ll have to change to a less effective style. The balance was right, it was near enough perfect; all the players knew their functions. Now, there will be players who struggle to adapt to their new role and consequently, results will suffer.”

Another sigh. It accompanies the gentle chug of the train which is still moving. Another thing in motion is the crease upon John’s forehead.

“Billy,” he begins, with all the intent of responding to the soliloquy in kind, “who the fuckin’ ell is Zabby Alonso?”

The question doesn’t really compute, much like the book on Mill he picked up from the second-hand shop three years ago.

“Billy, you’re a fuckin’ crank, yer know that? Xabi Alonso, Torres? Gerrard? Who are they? This is another one of your mad arse visions, innit?”

“But they’re so vivid,” explains Billy.

“Look lad, you need to go the doctor. You’ve been having these dreams…visions…worreva you wanna call ‘em since you got twatted on the head in Rome in 84 with a baton. That was four years ago and you’re still havin’ trauma?”

“You don’t know that’s why I’m having these though mate, you’re not a doctor.”

“No I’m not, but I’m sane. It was funny at first, comin’ on the specials, tellin’ the boys about these Liverpool teams of the future. But then they become unbelievable and, to be honest, a few of us are worried. A six foot seven striker scorin’ overhead kicks and white suits at a cup final? Christ, you even told us we’d win the European Cup from three-nil down against AC Milan. We’re not even allowed in the effin’ competition! Go the shrink lad, there’s something funny in your head.”

“You’re right, I’ll get it sorted this week. I’ll go the doctors.”

“I’m not saying it to be nasty lad, you know it’s ‘cause I’m concerned. Us boys on this train, we’re a brotherhood; we’re here rain or shine. If the Redmen are playing, we’ll be there. As long as this train is moving, nothing else matters.”

“I know, ta mate.”

Both are content to sit quietly for a minute, hearing their supporting cast fill the silence with talk of horses, the missus and football. As always.

“Cheer up anyway Billy, we’re league champions and we’re going to celebrate in style at Stamford Bridge today. 1-0 at home to Spurs last week and Bob’s yer uncle, champions with four games to spare. Pissed it. Liverpool FC, league champions 1988 and a trip to Wembley still to come.”

His psychic interlude forgotten, Billy is back with the rest of the train, moving towards Euston. Gerry walks down the aisle and brushes past him, smiling. 78 years old, Gerry went to Anfield for the first time in 1919 - a 3-3 draw with Bradford Park Avenue. Still there after two World Wars.

“Do you reckon Molby will be fit today?” asks Billy.

“Hope so, the fella deserves it – he was our best player in ’86 and he’s been dead unlucky with injuries. Would be nice to see him passing the ball about in the middle a few more times this season.”

“Hope Kenny puts himself on and all.”

“Defo. Who woulda thought it ten years ago, eh? Just over four-hundred grand. Bargain. Not only did he turn out to be one of the best ever on the pitch, but he’s on his way to becoming one of the best off it too. Three league titles speaks volumes, doesn’t it?”

Billy doesn’t need to answer. The sound of the train as it continues to move towards its destination, synthesised with the familiar static of his fellow Redmen heading along with it, answers for him.

“Lets have a look at that paper please John,” says Billy.

John was passing it to him before he asked.

He starts at the back page of the paper and begins to work his way to the front, but stops after three turns of the page. Continental football, page 56.

“Fucking hell,” exclaims Billy, in a rare outburst of profanity, “Rushie’s having a terrible time at Juve, isn’t he?”

Monday, 2 August 2010

An open letter to the Royal Bank of Scotland

Dear Mr. Hester,

Grobbelaar; Harkness, Hysen, Tanner, Burrows; McManaman, Molby, McMahon, Walters; Rush, Saunders

These names will mean nothing to you. In fact, these names, collectively, will probably mean nothing to most Liverpool supporters.

To me, it’s that biting October wind. It’s the moment the door is knocked upon and your granddad stands there. It’s a hat, cap, badge or a scarf as you walk down Walton Breck Road and catch sight of what will come to define you as both a football fan and a person.

Port Vale, Rumbelows Cup third round, 29 October 1991. My first match at Anfield. It wouldn’t be the last.

I studied Dickens and Shakespeare at great depth in university, but my memory can hardly differentiate between Macbeth and Magwitch. The midfield of McManaman, Molby and McMahon is a different story.

I remember seeing the ball hit the net from Rush’s header and hearing the sparse Kop roar. I will never forget the touch of my granddad’s hug as we scored as the smell of celebratory cigarettes filled the night air. My first taste of Liverpool Football Club.

Ask any Liverpool fan about their first experience and they’ll be similarly encyclopaedic, because that’s what supporting this football club is about. A mosaic of memories in your mind displayed every time you see your team play.

This football club has the most impressive mosaic of all. That famous Anfield roar on a European night originates from the voices of the thousands who have gone before us. Inter Milan, St. Etienne, Auxerre, Roma, Olympiakos, Juventus, Chelsea. Layer upon layer of the club's history being created by us, the fans.

Football is the purest form of escapism. For 90 minutes, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, married or single. For 90 minutes, it doesn't matter if you're a lawyer, a librarian or a landscape architect. You get lost in the experience of innocence; part of you drifts back to that night against Port Vale, or that league match against Norwich; that time when all that mattered in the world was who started up front.

That innocence has been ruined by snakes who slithered into our garden and offered David Moores the fruit of his labours three-and-a-half years ago. Moores greedily devoured, and now Liverpool supporters have to suffer for his sin.

Now, it feels like we have to be chartered accountants to understand the football club. We’re sending letters to your bank using words and terms it’s not our job to fully comprehend. When my grandfather took me to that Port Vale game in 1991, he was taking me to watch a football match, not a business venture.

All of our actions and efforts to remove Hicks & Gillett are necessary evils. Just because we do it doesn’t mean we enjoy it. It will make us stronger and it will bring the fans of this football club together once more, but I look forward to the day we can all stand united over our support for a new left-back, as opposed to disdain for leveraged buyouts.

I don’t know what to believe regarding Kenny Huang’s bid. I don’t know how much control RBS have, or how much control Christian Purslow or Martin Broughton have, for that matter. The fact that this sort of business is our business is the most lamentable part of it all – Shankly’s holy trinity of manager, players and supporters is not sacred anymore.

Perhaps there should be intentions from those in power to do something with Liverpool Football Club that hasn’t happened from the moment David Moores accepted Hicks and Gillett’s bid.

Act with the best interests of the club, and its supporters, in mind - give us our football club back.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Why Roy is the perfect tonic to a champagne socialist

I originally intended to pen a piece on the problematic left-back position after football journalism’s Twitterati went into overdrive to plug the gap left by the departures of Insua and Aurelio with, well, Aurelio and Insua.

There was going to be an allusion to Wheel of Fortune in there somewhere, perhaps some brief merry-go-round imagery as well. I was even contemplating using that old joke you were told in school that your best position was left-back in the changing room.

Fortunately, as I sat down to trundle out the first horrific pun, I was stopped by a loud sound about 35 miles away which reverberated through my house. The sound, I suppose, could best be described as a pop. Darting to my window, I saw no ill-intentioned rocket flying through the air; nor could I see any evidence of an earthquake, tornado or other assorted natural disasters.

Relieved, I sat back down. Not to worry. It was just Alex Ferguson, the world’s biggest champagne socialist, opening another bottle of bubbly. Even better, he’s reminding us all why – despite his trophy haul with those across the M62 – we’re glad he’s never come near this football club in any positive capacity.

Liverpool fans should not have to worry about off-the-pitch problems, but that’s the unfortunate reality we face. As I said in Well Red magazine this month, the necessity to have aptitude in accountancy has taken enjoyment from the club and from football in the wider sense.

For those of us lost in the club’s numeric nightmare, all we want is a figurehead in the dugout who represents us. A shop steward in Bill Shankly’s holy trinity of players, supporters and manager. Roy has only been in charge for little over a month, but he’s already grown into that role more than Ferguson has in over 24 years.

Ferguson has publicly backed the Glazers because they give him what he wants. Little empathy for the people of Old Trafford by a supposed man of the people. The owners give Ferguson what he wants, to hell with the repercussions of it when he’s long gone. It’s a bit like Icarus looking forward to his tan as he flies towards the sun.

At least Roy is on our side.

Liverpool’s search for a left-back and the indecision from the board – that indecision being: how do we find money for a left-back now that £5 million for Insua is not in the bank yet? – is a worrying microcosm of what Hodgson has had to deal with so far. Clearly the board are not there to simply sign the cheques.

A free Joe Cole could not, should not and will not mask the fact Hodgson is expected to make a net profit for the club this summer. Never in his 34-year career has he had to act so stringently; never before has he acted as a juggler, his multi-coloured balls replaced by dollar-signed bags of swag laced with dynamite.

But any worry that the juggler is being controlled by the clowns at the circus that is Liverpool Football Club has been alleviated with the manager’s actions in his first month of the job. Roy has proven to sceptical supporters, myself included, that he is here with the club and fans at the forefront of his mind. For that, if nothing else, he deserves our unmitigated support.

It’s not even the opening weekend, and already our manager is exhibiting more class than his Scottish rival.

Maybe Roy was made for the Liverpool job after all.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Later, chief

In one of those wonderful ironies football throws up, Javier Mascherano rose to prominence as a Liverpool midfielder in Barcelona - February 2007, to be precise.

Before you dust off your programmes and overload the Argentine’s Wikipedia page, I’m well aware Mascherano made his Liverpool debut against Sheffield United, three days after our win in the Camp Nou.

But Sheffield United at Anfield in a Saturday 12.45 kick off wasn’t on the minds of the 5,000 or so of us about an hour from kick off on a brisk Barcelona evening. As we stared down the red and blue Catalonian canyon, Javier Mascherano’s name was intermittently mentioned between exclamations of how high up we were and egregious analysis of how Deco, Messi and Ronaldinho would run riot.

The drama with the Football Association regarding Mascherano's eligibility had finished unbeknownst to many of us in Barcelona without the shining light of Sky Sports News, their garish yellow ticker and the constant re-defining of what constitutes breaking news.

Word and excitement spread around the Camp Nou quickly. Rumours he was in the squad that night were unfounded, but regardless of that, a star was already born. Ignore the 'West Ham reject' label he'd been given in the press, Mascherano was one of the most exciting signings our generation had experienced, sandwiched somewhere in between Jari Litmanen and Stan Collymore.

It's almost poetic that Momo Sissoko enjoyed his best game for the club that night. It could almost be regarded as a passing of the torch. Thinking about it, it's probably the best pass Sissoko ever made in a red shirt.

Sissoko was a fantastic destroyer, but he was just as adept at destroying his own side's attacks with wayward passing. Mascherano could do the destroying and the passing. The signing of Mascherano was a sign of improvement and progression, much like when Torres replaced Bellamy that summer.

Over three years later, and the name of Javier Mascherano is being whispered around Camp Nou once more; this time, as a possible signing for the Catalan club after 'El Jefecito' finally told Roy Hodgson he wants to leave Liverpool. Roy would have been spared the wait if he'd lived on Merseyside the past year - it's been the worst kept secret in the city.

The eulogies were written well before Hodgson's confirmation, sadly. Some of our fanbase have a tremendous ability to perpetuate myths to suit agendas. People taint Rafa Benitez's transfer dealings to make him look a failure. Similarly, people question the likes of Insua, Kuyt and Lucas, accentuating the negatives and disregarding the positives.

It's already in full swing with Mascherano now, too. His distribution was poor, apparently, and his heart was never in the club. £25 million is a decent deal as well, since we only need him for games against those in the top six.

Those three myths are only bettered by that of Jermaine Pennant being our best player in Athens. A few runs down the right-hand side do not compare to the all-action performance of Mascherano, who kept Kaka quiet throughout. All this only four months after joining the club. The final was lost the second he left the pitch; Kaka, finally free from the San Lorenzo shackles, strode through the midfield to set up Inzaghi and Milan's second.

The sale of Javier Mascherano will hit the side harder than many think. The marauding Glen Johnson will not have his gaps plugged as effectively as last season. There was no finer sight last season than watching Masch galloping to wipe out an opposition winger who was proceeding with trepidation in front the Centenary stand. To liken him to Jaws would be clichéd and misrepresentative - Jaws didn't reach its target sometimes.

He was not without his faults. His anger at Rafa after being rested for the home game against Hull City last season left a sour taste, as did his constant glances towards Barcelona and Inter Milan; glances which now seem to be paying dividends. His effort and ability will be missed, especially when we will only see a portion of his transfer fee.

Which begs the final question: who are the winners of all this besides his future employers? It certainly isn't Liverpool Football Club nor its supporters. It can't be Mascherano's wife either; whose homesickness will not abate by moving a mere few hundred miles closer to Argentina.

Unfortunately, the big winners look to be Tom Hicks, George Gillett and Christian Purslow. Mascherano's desire to leave the club will mask the fact they will sell a world class player for £25 million and replace him with somebody half the price. Big sales are needed. This won't get the coverage Torres or Gerrard will for the simple fact Mascherano was vocal about his desire to leave and it's a departure that's been expected for a long time. It's a let-off for the Anfield lepers.

Much like how Mascherano's arrival was a sign, his departure is similar. Excitement has turned into lamentation; it's regression, not progression, that fans expect.

The club was taken over a mere two weeks before that balmy night in Barcelona (no, not that one, Tyldsley), and three years later, the mood of the club's supporters couldn't be different.

If Sissoko passed the torch to Mascherano that night, then consider Mascherano wildly flinging a flame-thrower at his successor, who tries his best to avoid it. Let's hope the rest of the squad doesn't go up in flames with him.