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.