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 clich├ęd 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.