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Archive for July 2009

Are We There Yet?


Friday, July 31, 2009 by

As a father of two young children, I've been through many road-trips plagued by one question repeated over and over again 'are we there yet?'. It is one of the most irritating experiences in life; one that will drive you to think evil thoughts about your prescious offspring.

This summer, however, I have to say that I've come to appreciate their position a bit better. Think about it: for a kid of three without any desire to stay in one position for more than 30 seconds being asked to stay confined in a car for thirty minutes is the pits of boredom. Or, to put in a football context, the equivalent of waiting for Xabi Alonso's future to be resolved.

Every day for the past couple of months we've been bombarded with stories claiming to know what's going to happen but in reality simply trying to figure out what's going to happen. Which is another way of saying inventing stuff.

Every comment involving Alonso is analysed in minute detail, his every action examined to discern whether he's going to stay or not. One day he's close to staying whilst the next he's ready to leave. With the truth being that no one really knows what's going to happen. His handing in a transfer request should have cleared up matters but, to keep up with the way that the story has developed, his agents then denied him doing so and further muddied up the situation.

In truth, there's only one certainty: that this has dragged on for far too long. I started the summer hoping that Alonso would stay; now I'm praying that the whole matter is resolved no matter the outcome. If he stays then brilliant, if not then at least we'll be able to move on and buy the players needed to replace him.

Who's Being Arrogant Now?


Sunday, July 26, 2009 by

"He [Rafael Benitez] called them [Everton] a small club which points to his arrogance. They are a big club and David Moyes is doing a great job.”
Alex Ferguson, 17 April 20009

"It's [Manchester] City isn't it? They are a small club with a small mentality."
Alex Ferguson, 26 July 2009

Need I add anything to that?

A Look At: Tor


Friday, July 24, 2009 by

Book Review: Tor

For some reason this book – which is a history of German football - had stood, unread, on my bookshelf for a couple of years. I had bought it in one of my usual spending sprees and then felt little inclination to read it. Well, that’s not completely true as I had actually started to read it, not really liked what I saw and dropped it soon after.

The reason for that was down to the opening chapters being devoted to the early days of the German game. Which, if truth be told, is a bit off-putting.

Stick through those opening few pages, however, and it gets much more interesting as I found out this summer. For, what Hesse-Lichtenberger manages to do extremely well is link the German social history with that of the development of the game. And if that sounds boring, well, it isn’t. There’s evidently been an enormous amount of research but you hardly notice that as the narrative style adopted effortlessly links between one story and another.

This is a wonderful book, one where you’re genuinely disappointed when you turn over that final page simply because it has come to an end. A must read.

A Lot of Questions


Thursday, July 16, 2009 by

Far too often in recent years, Liverpool’s internal dramas have been played out in public. It was tasteless and unseemly but at least once Rafael Benitez was handed the new contract that he wanted, the stories seemed to die down.

Or that was the case until the summer began. Because suddenly Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano became daily features in the news: the first being rumoured to be on his way to Real Madrid and the second apparently wanted by (and wanting to go to?) Barcelona. Coming after a season that proved that the foundations were there to take the final step forward and win the league title, the threat of seeing such an effective midfield combination broken up is all the more frustrating.

Yet, away from those two stories, there has been a third player whose apparently unavoidable departure seems to have been forgotten: Alvaro Arbeloa.

Arbeloa’s willingness to leave Liverpool has been rumoured since last summer when it was said that his family hadn’t settled in. Eventually, that story went away but only temporarily. Come the summer and stories about his departure once again started to resurface.

Once Liverpool signed Glen Johnson then this became practically an inevitability and everyone accepted this without any fuss. Real Madrid then came along with their usual low-end bid, expecting Liverpool to roll-over and accept. Only that Benitez was that willing to act like a circus seal and the move has stalled.

At least temporarily since even Benitez has publicly accepted that Arbeloa will leave. Which leads to a whole series of questions and surprises.

First of all, there’s the lack of fuss around his departure. Arbeloa was practically ever-present last year and he had a pretty good season: why isn’t doesn’t anyone seem to care that he will leave? How come his contribution wasn’t appreciated?

There is of course the other side of the picture. Wanting to move back home is understandable if there’s a member of your family who hasn’t settled in. What is much less clear is his eagerness to move to Real Madrid. After all, this is the club that didn’t give him the opportunity to progress when he was younger, not to mention the side that contains Sergio Ramos who is the player that is keeping Arbeloa out of the Spanish national team.

This latter point does at least clear up one thing: the decision to leave is down to Johnson’s arrival because Arbeloa is indicating that he’s more than willing to be considered as the back up option because that is what he’ll be at Real.

It is somewhat disappointing. Liverpool put their fate in Arbeloa three years ago when he hadn’t even played a full season of top-flight football in Spain and helped him develop into a Spanish squad national. Would that have happened had he stayed in Spain? Possibly, but being at Liverpool certainly raised his profile and helped his cause.
Had he opted to go for another club – one where he would have been a regular starter – then it would have been completely different. As things stand, the acceptance of a move to Real seems like a huge waste of talent and frankly borders on the insulting for Liverpool.

A Look At: Wark On


Tuesday, July 14, 2009 by

Book Review: Wark On by John Wark

It must be impossible for those who played top flight football in the era of pre-Premiership riches not to wonder how their lives would have panned out had they been born a couple of decades later. Take Glen Hysen: the Swedish central defender who played for Liverpool in the early nineties recently ended up on the dole after a Swedish broadcaster opted not to renew his contract.

John Wark might not have had similar problems, yet such thoughts will have surely crossed his mind. One of the most effective midfielders of his time, Wark combined the agression that was typical of English football with a technique that many assumed was missing. Best of all, he had a knack for scoring goals that often saw him finishing near the top in goal-scorer's tables.

Today, such a player would be able to command huge fees - just see what Paul Scholes or Steven Gerrard earn for an indication - yet during Wark's time all the power lay with the clubs. Therefore, whilst he earned enough money to live comfortably during his playing days, it certainly wasn't enough to set him up for the rest of his life.

That much is apparent when going through the final pages of his auto-biography Wark On where he goes through the contracts he signed, the signing-on fees, the wages and the bonuses he earned. It is eye-opening and easily the most entertaining part of the whole book. Well, that and the cover design that can alter between Wark during his Liverpool times or else from his time at Ipswich.

Which is not said to put the rest in a bad light. Wark chooses to adopt a calm tone, prefering not to enter needless controversies and instead opting to reminisce about how good the old times were. It is a style that sits comfortably with him and, frankly, is how it should be. Don't know whether it helps boost sales, though.

Despite the Liverpool evoking title to the book, there is little doubt that Wark's main love was Ipswich with whom he played on two seperate (and completely contrasting) occasions. He has nothing but positive things to say about Liverpool, even about the way that he left the club and, overall, portrays the club in a very good light.

All of which makes Wark On a nice, if not compulsive, read.

Spanish Move Reveals True Character


Monday, July 13, 2009 by

It was always going to be tough for Jermaine Pennant to suceed at Liverpool. For one thing, there was his troublesome past that many were unwilling to forget no matter what he did or how he behaved. But, more than that, there was the feeling that Pennant had been a fallback option that Rafael Benitez had gone for because he either didn't have the money or the authority to buy the players that he really wanted.

All of which inevitably weighed Pennant down. Almost fearful of making mistakes, early on he stayed too much on the right often opting to put in crosses instead of the risker, but possibly more effective, option to try and beat the right back. Rather than do him any favours, this added even more pressure on him as it strengthened people's view that he was second rate. Adding to the chorus of criticism was his almost complete inability to score and soon the realisation hit home that, as many had so vociferously said, he wasn't good enough to be a regular player for Liverpool.

Then again, he wasn't as bad as some make out. Pennant's other main problem was his inconsistency. Occasionally he would put in a magnificent performance - none more so than in the 2007 Champions League Final - but then he would follow that with a series of completely mediocre ones. If a player manages to balance his bad games with his good ones then there isn't that much of an issue. Pennant, however, got the ratio horribly wrong. And the harder he tried, then the more he seemed to struggle.

Eventually, as is his habit, Benitez decided that he wanted to get rid of Pennant. To his merit the player tried to stay on as much as possible in a bid to earn a new contract but unfortunately for him Benitez isn't one to change his mind easily. Hardly surprising then, that after a season in which he was first shut out from the first team and then sent out on loan, Pennant has left the club.

What is surprising, however, is his choice for the next club. Forget the rumours linking him to Valencia and AC Milan, he could easily have chosen to go for the one of many middling Premiership clubs like Portsmouth, Sunderland and Tottenham who were all apparently interested in him. The money there would have been quite good and he wouldn't have needed to work particularly hard to prove his worth at any one of those clubs.

Yet instead he has opted to join Real Zaragoza, a club that in Britain remains famous for having beaten Arsenal in the Cup Winners' Cup final thanks to Nayim's improbable lob. It is a bold move, one that should portray Pennant in a different light. Indeed, here is a player who, aware that for him things aren't going to get better than playing for Liverpool, has opted for a whole new challenge whilst displaying a desire to grow as a player by testing himself in a new league.

If anything is to make people forget his past, then hopefully this is it.

Spreading the Word: A Word on Tony Barrett


Thursday, July 09, 2009 by

It is not often that there's a thread about a journalist on an internet forum, much less one where positive things are said about the writer in question. Yet Tony Barrett now has that 'honour' to his name with threads praising him both on The Liverpool Way and Red and White Kop.

Originally both threads appeared because fans were wondering where he was seeing that he had been absent from the Liverpool Echo for some time. That was apparently down to a holiday and this week he was back with a couple of articles.

Yet the return won't last for long as, apparently, he has been offered a job at the Times. It is a massive achievement for him and a major step upwards for a truly talented writer who has written some of the best stuff about Liverpool in recent years. Over the past season I occasionally took a look at what was being said about Liverpool and his writings regularly featured.

This also means that the Times now becomes compulsive reading for Liverpool fans as Barrett will be joining fellow reds Tony Evans and Oliver Kay, both of whom are excellent writers as well.

Two years ago, the Echo lost a very good writer in Chris Bascombe (whatever your opinion of him since joining the NOTW, when it the Echo he wrote some really good stuff), and replaced him with a brilliant one. Can they do the same this time round? Let's hope so

Liverpool After Pirlo (Not Really)


Monday, July 06, 2009 by

Let me see if I’ve got the hang of this. Liverpool might be losing Xabi Alonso so they would need a ball playing midfielder in order to replace him. That’s step one; step to is trying to see who this replacement could be. I rack my brains (or do a quick google search) to see which players might fit into a similar pattern and come up with a name. In this case it is Andrea Pirlo. Now all I’ve got to do is put everything together. So here goes:

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez promised one further signing this summer and could be about to do just that when this week they launch an audacious bid for Andrea Pirlo. With Xabi Alonso eager to leave for Real Madrid, the Anfield club knows that there is the need to find an adequate replacement and Benitez has identified Pirlo as the man to do that. AC Milan have made it known that they are listening to offers for their players in a bid to sort out their debt. Whether they would be willing to let a fans’ favourite like Pirlo go, however, remains to be seen.

And there it is: my first rumour. Because, looking at the rubbish stories that come out, that is definitely what is done. Of course, it all depends on how much you happen to like Liverpool or not. Pirlo, for instance, is a best case scenario whilst if you really have it in for Benitez you would put in the name of someone like Didier Zokora.

The worst part of the summer – much worse than the lack of football – is the number of made up stories that come out. Similarly, the most irritating aspect of this time of year is that so many people are willing to believe anything that is written. Regardless of the rubbish that is thrown their way, they keep gobbling it up.

The Worst Offenders
This was always the case with tabloids but the internet, and the hunger of sites to drive traffic their way in order to boost advertising hits, has raised the stakes much higher.

Spurious rumours galore as they blatantly come up with stories such as those linking Obafemi Martins and Maxi Rodriguez.

The New Football Pools
Recent arrivals on the scene, they have taken things on to another level coming up with headlines that include up to three or four teams in order to draw in as many people as possible at the same go.
These guys adopt a slightly different tactic to the rest in that they see what the foreign media is saying and then translate everything if an English team is mentioned. To their credit, the authors’ names are published.

Tribal Football
The daddies of the current trend, having been around for five years, they don’t really make up stories but only regurgitate what everyone else is saying and disguising it under attractive headlines.

Gone and Quickly Forgotten


Wednesday, July 01, 2009 by

History books will show that Liverpool's 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Olympique Marseilles in the Champions League of two years back ultimately didn't matter. After a shaky start, Liverpool managed to recover enough to make it through the group stages and, eventually, the semi-final.

For one player, however, that game proved to be pivotal. Sebastian Leto was included from the start as Rafael Benitez made a raft of changes that effectively led to an abject performance. Unfortunately for the Argentine winger, he was one of the worst of a bad bunch on the night and his reputation was sealed during those ninety minutes.

It mattered little that he set up two goals a couple of weeks later as Liverpool overcame Reading in the League Cup. Much less that he looked a class apart whenever he played for the reserves. The Marseilles game was what mattered and as a result, he was a bad player.

Not that he had the opportunity to prove anyone wrong. An apparently legitimate Italian passport turned out to be fake and, given Liverpool's success with work permits, inevitably he was denied permission to stay.

This was followed with a season long loan at Olympiakos, a move that was supposed to give him regular football and also an opportunity to prove his worth at the Champions League. Unfortunately for them, they were knocked out in the final qualifying round which meant a season in the UEFA Cup that was hardly of interest to anyone.

Even so, a season in Greece was enough to show what kind of player Leto really was. The basis for judging him was simple: if he took the league by storm and established himself as one of the best players then he was a worthy of a Liverpool return; otherwise get rid.

And, it is fair to say, that he didn't take the league by storm. His was a good season spiced with flashes of creative play that hinted as to why Liverpool had bought him. Yet, the memory of the season that really stuck was that of his fight with manager Ernesto Valverde that saw the player being suspended. Not the ideal way to get noticed.

All of which led to an inevitable situation. Liverpool applied for a work permit but without much conviction - the negative experience of Mark Gonzalez has taken the desire to fight such rulings out of Liverpool - so it was hardly surprising that the bid failed.

Throughout all this there was also little effort to hide that Liverpool now saw him as a saleable asset. Bought for £1.8 million, there was never any doubt that the club would turn out Panathinaikos' £3million bid that will generate a profit and also add to the funds available for Benitez.

So Leto will be sold leaving behind him no visible mark that he passed through and few regrets. Except, perhaps, the doubts of what might have happened had that Marseilles game gone differently.