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Archive for August 2009

High Hopes for AFC Liverpool

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Monday, August 31, 2009 by

It was a tough season where there was disappointment on the pitch and problems off it. No, we're not talking about Liverpool FC's last season but rather the first one in AFC Liverpool's history. The club set up by Liverpool fans who wanted to rekindle the experiences of old set off with a lot of enthusiasm but soon found the going much harder than anticipated as different opinions started pulling it apart.

This led to the resignation of Alun Parry, the man who had come up with the idea, amid talk of a splinter club being formed.

The summer break, however, seems to have done everone well and after a series of very open meetings a new committee has been elected on board with the aim of taking AFC Liverpool onwards and upwards. We spoke to Chris Stirrup, the club’s chairman, about their hopes for the new season.

It was a tough first season both on and off the pitch. Let's start from the playing aspect: were you happy with how the team did? People were expecting a promotion from the start.
Last year we had high expectations. We started the season well and probably thought that promotion was certain. Come the winter when pitches where not the best we didn’t adapt well to the conditions. This season we are now better prepared for the challenge ahead.

Off the pitch, was it harder than expected?
The Steering Group learnt very quickly how difficult it was. Nobody then thought it was going to be an easy ride. I don’t think anybody realized just how much work is involved in running a club even at this level. We were all surprised at what’s involved and how many hours are needed to be put in.

Midway through the season Alun Parry, who basically started the whole idea, resigned. How hard was that to take?
Alun's leaving the club coincided with maybe the most turbulent time in the clubs short history. What Alun has started here is nothing short of remarkable but like any club, no one person is bigger than it so the club had to survive and it did.

There have also been attacks of AFC Liverpool being too close to Liverpool FC which, basically, was because some people expected it to be a protest club. How are you planning to deal with this 'identity crisis'?
There isn’t very much an identity crisis. Affordable football played on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm. That is what we have. Identities are shaped over time and in time AFC Liverpool will develop its own identity. These things can’t be made or manufactured, look at Chelsea trying to buy and identity on a European night with their plastic flags. Liverpool's identity was built up over the years, we have one year under our belt.

All of this had an impact on attendances. How disappointing were these? And do you think that they can increase this season?
The two highest attendances we had, where when it was pre season in the Premiership and also when Premiership football was on an international break. The crowds where expected to take a dip when the season resumed. We are competing with every pub that can show every Liverpool game home and away on a Saturday. We have had average crowds of between 250/300 for home games last season. Those crowds are also higher than teams 2 even 3 leagues higher than ourselves.

We have also drawn in the best crowds of all teams we visited last season. The game at Bootle at Christmas attracted a crowd of 800 +

The next week Bootle had an attendance of 57. This suggests that the fan base is there and it is probably due to our location that the crowds aren’t as high every week.

One of the aims of the club was that of having a community feel. How successful do you think you've been in that? And what more needs to be done?
This is an area we are looking to improve all the time. We have a number of youth teams all over the city and these, combined with some other initiatives will help us a lot.

Another problem, I gather, has been the ground. What is going to be done for next season?
We have been in discussions with the city council. They are willing to help us achive our aims. Discussions are on going and it will be a long process. We aim to build a ground within the city of Liverpool. We can not put a time scale on this as yet.

Prescot Cables have allowed us to use their ground to play our home games. We signed a 2 season deal and the deal expires after this season.

What are you hoping for from the coming season?
On the pitch promotion is the number 1 aim. We will have more experience of what the Vodkat league is all about and that will stand us in good stead.

Regaining our Vodkat league trophy will be another of our aims and also a good cup run in the FA Vase, who knows, a day out a Wembley could be on the horizon.

Off the pitch we now have an elected board and our main aim will be to take the club forward with in budget as best we can.

Further details about AFC Liverpool can be found on their site at www.afcliverpool.org.uk


Spreading the Word: Argentine Football

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Thursday, August 27, 2009 by

Before Maurizio Pellegrino put on a Liverpool shirt in January 2005, no Argentine footballer had ever played for the club. All that has changed with Rafael Benitez in charge as he has brought in a total of six Argentines over these past five years: Mauricio Pellegrino, Gabriel Palletta, Emiliano Insua, Javier Mascehrano, Sebastian Leto and Gerardo Bruna.

Of these, two have been a success (Mascherano and Insua) whilst the rest haven’t been so good. Yet it is easy to see why Benitez appreciates Argentine football as the players are technically gifted, they are more than capable of handling themselves physically and, when bought directly from Argentina, tend to be relatively cheap which you would think is a major plus point for given the financial constraints under which he has had to work.


It all makes Argentine football that little bit more interesting to watch which is where the recently launched The Enganche comes in handy.

The brainchild of three Argentina based sports journalists Joel Richards, Sam L. Kelly and Sebastian Garcia, the site promises to be “the definite place to find out all you wanted to know about Argentine football but was never available in English.” And, at first glance, it looks as if it will come good on those promises.

If that is not enough to get you to take a look, then perhaps this will: one of the first features on the Enganche is an interview with Liverpool’s own Emiliano Insua where he explains how Rafael Benitez is the best manager there is and admits that going for the South American Under 20 World Cup last season was a mistake.


Good Gam Bad Game [vs Aston Villa]

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009 by

Despite the title, this isn’t going to be the usual player-by-player analysis but rather an overall look at Liverpool’s season so far. The truth is that the defeat against Aston Villa was too deflating and my thoughts are still too clouded to really sort out those who played well from those who didn’t.

Actually, that’s not really correct: I don’t think that anyone played particularly well on the evening. At the same time, no one played that badly. From the moment that Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Steven Gerrard contrived to outdo each other in finding ways not to score early on you realised that it was going to be one of those games where no matter how hard everyone tried, it wasn’t going to be.

By the look on Gerrard’s face after Friedel had side-footed his shot away, the players seemed to think so as well. And the theory was proven when Villa scored their two goals. Then, when at last the margin had been narrowed, Gerrard himself foolishly gave away a penalty to effectively kill off the game.

Indeed, it has been that kind of error strewn and misfortune plagued season so far. Liverpool were second best for most of the game against Tottenham and deserved to lose. But can anyone say that, hand on heart, Assou Ekoto will manage to hit a volley as sweetly as he did against us to score the first goal for them? Or that Aston Villa will score a luckier goal then they did through Lucas’s deflected header?

It will sound like a desperate search for an excuse but Liverpool have been incredibly unlucky so far this season.

Yet that tells only half the story. Looking at the games so far, Liverpool haven’t played anywhere as good as they can. Much of the blame for this has, predictably, been apportioned to Xabi Alonso’s absence but that’s hardly been the case. Conveniently, everyone seems to have forgotten that Liverpool started last season playing worse then they have this season but got results because of individual flashes of brilliance and some good luck. Neither has happened so far this time round.

At the same time, it is impracticable for the team to lose a player of Alonso’s abilities and expect to retain the same tactics. Much as he tries – and I really feel that he is a decent player – Lucas will never be good enough to carry out the same role. Benitez probably needs to re-jig his system but the difficulty is that the best option is to withdraw Gerrard backwards: a move that would leave Liverpool lacking options up-front. It is the kind of dilemma that underlines just how much Liverpool miss that financial ability to go out and buy a player like David Silva or David Villa to boost the team.

There is also another factor: pressure. The fact that, despite such a magnificent record, Liverpool failed to win the title last season has upped the stakes with the feeling being that unless Liverpool win all their games they won’t win the league. Expecting them to do so, however, is unrealistic and is simply hindering the players from doing as well as they can.

Yet, again, the players seem to think so as well which is why Benitez’s biggest task over the coming days is to boost his team psychologically. They have to shake off the negativity surrounding the opening three games and go to Bolton willing to fight to get a result.

It won’t be easy but Liverpool have it within themselves to do so. And, with a little bit of luck, they can do so. That, for my sanity, is what I’m hoping for.


Shape Up or Ship Out

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Monday, August 17, 2009 by

On days like this, it is perhaps advisable to avoid talking about football. You know what’s coming following Liverpool’s insipid display at Tottenham yesterday: complaints and whingeing at best, stupidity at worst.

It is also a given that there will be a lot of finger pointing going on. Already I see that Jamie Carragher (in particular) and Martin Skrtel have taken something of a lashing for what was, admittedly, horrendous defending whilst Xabi Alonso’s absence has also been widely blamed for the defeat.

Conscious of all that, I realise that what I’m going to say in the next few lines will sound just as much of a knee-jerk reaction as all of those mentioned above. Only that they aren’t. And, in any case, the sole purpose of me writing here is let off some steam and that’s what I’m about to do.

Because I can’t really stand Ryan Babel for much longer. Sure, he worked hard yesterday but I’m really exerting myself to think of anything good he did apart from that. At no point did he beat his man, his passing was generally atrocious, he dithered whenever he got the possibility to shoot and his movement off the ball was nonexistent thus greatly limiting the possibilities Liverpool had when going forward.

It is true that Babel wasn’t the only one who had a bad game against Tottenham but he was continuing on last season’s pattern. Whereas once Liverpool could rely on Babel to come of the bench and create something, now that no longer seems to be the case. It is as if he has set himself a very low standard and then gone out trying desperately hard not to achieve that. Whatever creativity and power there was in his game seems to have fizzled out.

At the start of the summer it was rumoured that Liverpool were willing to sell him but the player begged the club to stay. Whether that’s true or not, the likelihood is that Benitez found no one willing to spend what he had invested on the Dutch player. And that it would take much more to replace him then he was ever going to get back.

Yet Ryan Babel as he is playing at the moment is of no use to Liverpool. Apart from giving people like me reason to complain and grumble on the morrow of a disappointing game, that is.


San Jose Off to Bilbao

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Saturday, August 15, 2009 by

In a surprising move, young defender Mikel San Jose has been loaned to Atletico Bilbao for the coming season with the Spanish club holding an option to buy him at the end of the twelve months.

Following the departure of Sami Hyppia, it was expected that San Jose would get his opportunity having impressed both for the reserves and for the Spanish youth sides. However, it would seem that Rafael Benitez has decided otherwise following the impressive pre-season performances by Daniel Ayala and Martin Kelly.



A Look At: Red Race

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Friday, August 14, 2009 by

Book Review: Red Race by Paul Tomkins

If you're a fan of American sport (something that I have to admit I'm not) then you'll be familiar with the love affair that there is with statistics and how numbers are used to explain almost everything.

Up till a few years back such an approach was alien to football where the only numbers you were likely to get were those pertaining to the scoreline. Not anymore, however, as most top-flight clubs (and many others beyond) now have match analysts who have developed shopisticated ways of spotting patterns and drawing up conclusions from an endless flow of numbers. To the extent that they seem to have replaced scouts as managers' most trusted aides.

It is easy to see why: whereas an opinion can be distorted by one's own mood it is difficult to dispute numbers.

That, at least, seems to be the reason why Paul Tomkins is so enamoured with numbers. As someone who visibly loathes the off the cuff opinions that seem so prevalent today, in numbers Tomkins seems to have found the perfect ally to back up his own thoughts. You can easily criticise zonal marking when the defence lets in a goal from a set piece, for instance, but the reality is that this only happens on a couple of occasions during the season. And it is such statistical facts that Tomkins will look out for rather then knee-jerk reactions.

Although perhaps not as obvious in the past, this is still the case in his latest book 'Red Race'. Myths such as Benitez's reliance on rotation, for instance, are attacked and crunched down to size.

Another staple of Tomkins' writing, his prevalently positive views, is the other main feature of this book. Which is fair enough given that 'Red Race' is a look at Liverpool's bid to win the league championship.

Indeed, it acts as a review of last season and a preview of the next. Which means that, perhaps contrary to Tomkins' other books, this one has a limited shelf life: a couple of bad results and people will no longer be willing to look forward to the coming months. Indeed, his praise of Alonso (obviously with stats to back this up) as Liverpool's 2nd most influential players last season already has a gut wrenching feel to it since, obviously, the player has since decided to leave.

Such twists of fate are always likely to prematurely age books like these. However, it would be foolish to dismiss this book because of it. For Tomkins has done an excellent job of highlighting exactly where Liverpool stand be it by looking at the amount of money spent or by examining the average age of the team.

As with anything that Tomkins writes, you have to be a fan of his style. Criticism here is very rare and there is an overly positive outlook throughout. But if you're aware of that and don't mind it, then this is a book that will not only be enjoyed but will also fire up the belief that number 19 is around the corner.

Red Race is only available from Paul Tomkins' own website. A sample chapter can be read here.


Asia In Liverpool's Sight

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009 by

By all accounts, this summer's trip to South East Asia was a huge success with particular attention being given to building a relationship with the fans over there. It is an encouraging sign, one that shows that these aren't trips made exclusively to make money in the short term - although, admittedly, that is a huge plus - but also at ensuring that the right things are done to build Liverpool's reputation in the area.

It is something - really establishing a foothold in Asia - that many have tried to do in the past and failed. Liverpool are taking a slightly different approach both in the manner in which they planned out this trip but also in other ventures that they're putting in place in the area. This is typified by the football centre that the club set up in India in a tie-up with the Abhijeet Kadam Memorial Foundation.

The 'Abhijit Kadam Football Development Centre', to be based within the campus of Bharati Vidyapeeth University here, is aimed at allowing aspiring young footballers combine their studies with football under the guidance of Liverpool FC coaches. The students enrolled at the centre will be taught a number of football related courses, which are to be delivered in partnership with some leading colleges in United Kingdom.

It is a bold move by Liverpool, one where they are being aided by a company called Kickworldwide which, according to its website, "export and internationally exploit soccer brands in emerging football markets". We spoke to Steve Bellis, a director at Kickworldwide about this initiative and what makes it so special.

How did this venture start out?
The Football Development Centre concept was originated by myself in 2003 during one of many visits to China. It was clear there, as it is in India, that developing countries (in football terms) need much more than just academies to develop the game to the highest level, they need a fully industry infrastructure. The FDC aims to assist with the creation and sustainability of that infrastructure. The key of course is to find a like minded Football brand who genuinely cares about football development and has a long term approach to developing markets like China and India. Liverpool are the perfect partner because of their attitude to the game and its supporters

What will it involve?
The FDC will have an academy where boys with real talent can develop their game under the guidance of LFC coaches but those that fail to make the grade (and we all know how high that percentage is likely to be) will be given the opportunity to stay in the game by developing a career in one of the following faculties: Coaching, Refereeing, Sports Science, Sports Turf, Football Industry Management and Sports Law.

What will be the extent of Liverpool's involvement? Are they simply lending their 'name'?
Whilst the Liverpool brand is obviously important, the club is doing much more than simply lending its brand. LFC coaches will oversee the academy and audit all football content.

What is so special about the whole venture? Has anything like this been done before?
The venture is unique. Lots of the world’s top clubs have set up academies in developing countries but no club has become part of such a comprehensive centre that aims to create industry professionals for the long term benefit of that particular country.

Many clubs have embarked on trips in Asia but few have made a lasting impact. Do you think this will help change the situation?
Too many clubs have demonstrated a short term approach and the Asian market is sophisticated enough to see through this. Hopefully this project will set Liverpool out as a club that is demonstrating a sincere, long term and responsible attitude to one of the world’s biggest growth markets for football.

Similarly, there is the perception that India is more of a 'cricket' country. How accurate, or not, is this idea?
Cricket is without doubt the major sport in India but in terms of participation, football is huge. There are third tier cities like Kholapur in Maharashtra that get more than 40,000 paying fans to watch an amateur final. Major games in Kolkata regularly attract more than 100,000 fans. The problem is that India does not have a football icon as they do in cricket. We are currently working on another project with Liverpool that will assist in the creation of those icons.

How will the venture's success be measured? What are you and Liverpool looking for?
Initially the centre will be measured by the outputs in terms of all the courses. It is hoped that a large number of the students will be able to continue with their respective studies in the UK and the n return to India with the knowledge to enhance the football infrastructure. It is also possible that the centre could unearth some exciting on field talent but we have to be realistic about that. One important issue for the club is that the FDC is something real and tangible that ordinary people in India can visit and touch. It is a real extension of the LFC brand giving supporters in India the opportunity to interact with the club especially when the LFC coaches are in town. All of the partners are in this for the long term and are certainly not interested in any short term financial gain. As for Kickworldwide, we want to develop a reputation as a genuine organization that can offer real assistance in the development of football in emerging markets and can offer life changing opportunities for a number of talented young footballers.

Are there more such ventures planned for the future?
We are already at an advanced stage of negotiations in China, again with Liverpool FC. This should be announced in January 2010. The grand launch of the India centre, when students will commence their studies will be in September of this year.


Thirst of New Challenges an Insult for Liverpool Fans

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Thursday, August 06, 2009 by

Footballers tend to turn to cliches when forced to explain something that they really don't want to talk about. So let's give Xabi Alonso the benefit of that excuse for coming up with the "a few months ago I took that decision as I thought it was the right moment to find a fresh challenge, to look for a new club."

Because otherwise, he would be admitting that midway through a title challenge he decided to jump ship, that the challenge of winning the league title for Liverpool wasn't good enough for him


Ferguson Right About Owen

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Monday, August 03, 2009 by

Increasingly, every time Alex Ferguson talks about Liverpool it is to put a negative slant to something that was said or done. It is, I guess, a form of praise as it show that he sees us as a threat.

That said, there is an element of truth in his latest rant where he implies that Liverpool should have taken better care of Michael Owen when he first made it into the first team.

With one significant difference. Whilst Ferguson indicated that he would have used Owen more sparingly after the Under 20 World Cup in 1997, what Liverpool should have done was do their best to stop him from making that trip with England in the first place.

Traditionally, Liverpool have always been more than accomodating with international sides. Whereas Ferguson invented every excuse possible to prevent Ryan Giggs for turning out for Wales, Liverpool allowed a still recovering Jamie Redknapp to play in Euro 98 where he promptly re-injured himself and never fully recovered.

Even recently, Liverpool have been overly liberal. Typical is the ease with which the likes of Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel were allowed to go to the Olympics, something that screwed up their pre-season and arguably, their whole season. Or Emiliano Insua who was freed up for the South American Under 20 championships when he was starting to establish himself in the side.

At least this summer we have seen a shift in that trend. Martin Kelly was supposed to join up with the England U19 side for the European Championship but instead opted to go with the first team's pre-season training camp. It was a sensible move: with Sami Hyppia gone there was an excellent opportunity for him to make his mark in the first team.

Of course it could be argued that he missed out on the opportunity of being crowned European champion, seeing how well England eventually did, yet on the other hand he could have injured himself as Kristian Nemeth did last season, an injury that effectively wiped out the Hungarian striker's season.

Kelly ultimately did what is best for his Liverpool career which is what really matters. Hopefully, it is the start of a new approach which would mean that Ferguson can stop worrying on the futures of Liverpool's young players.