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Archive for November 2009

Looking Out for Lucas Leiva

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Saturday, November 14, 2009 by

I don't make it a habit of watching England games but I'm tempted to try and catch today's friendly with Brazil. Not to actually see England play, you see, but rather in the hope that Lucas Leiva gets a game in the Brazilian midfield.

It speaks volumes about his game this season that Lucas is no longer being constantly pilloried by the fans (well, at least the majority of them) and, without wanting to replace Alonso, he has made a good job of filling in the Spaniard's old role.

Most fans now see this but that doesn't seem to be the case with the rest of England, including a good number of the members of the press. Whatever he does, for them Lucas remains a midfielder who is symptomatic of Liverpool's lack of quality and another bad buy for Benitez.

Which is why I'd like to see him play against England; so that he can show he ability against the best that the Premierhip can offer. Knowing Benitez's luck, if Lucas were to do well then fingers would be pointed at Benitez for not getting the best out of him. Either way, it is difficult to see the manager get any credit.


"He was Integral to Everything Liverpool Achieved"

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Friday, November 13, 2009 by

Earlier today, we featured the review of the book 'Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout' which, I think is a must read for all Liverpool fans. Now here's a chat with the writer of the book Simon Hughes about what went into the writing of the book. We hope you'll enjoy.

How did the idea to write a book about Geoff Twentyman come about?
Geoff’s son, William, runs a barbershop in Crosby. Jamie Carragher is one of his clients and one day William got talking to him about his father and his role within Liverpool Football Club. Around 18-months ago, Carra suggested writing a book and told him to speak to the Liverpool Echo.


Eventually, William came to the LFC Magazine who I work for, and presented his father’s original scouting diary. (The magazine is part of Trinity Mirror – a company that also owns the Echo),

I had a look at the diary and realised that it was a unique writing opportunity because it was a field of Liverpool’s history and football in general that had never been explored in any depth before.

The diary itself looks like a lost artifact of football history and at a first glance could be an aged family photo album. Inside, there is a year-by-year account of scouting activities with notes by several scouts including Geoff on a variety of players.

William had toyed with the idea of publishing a book about his father for years, but it was only after speaking to Carra that he realised it was a really good idea.

Was it daunting to write a book about the life of someone you hadn't ever met?
Initially it was. It was very important to research his character thoroughly to gain an understanding of what Geoff was like firstly as a person, then secondly as a professional. His personality was important because Bill Shankly only employed people he could trust implicitly. To gain a greater understanding of the man, it meant speaking to hundreds of different people.
The story of Liverpool Football Club as we understand it today started in Carlisle, 1949, when Shankly was appointed as manager of Carlisle United and appointed Twentyman, who was a player there, as his captain. I had no appreciation of Carlisle history, so research on that aspect of the story took the most time - although that isn’t the main focus of the book.

As it turned out, was it difficult to write?
I quickly realised that I didn’t want the book to be a collection of memories or solely a tribute book to one man because different people all saying, ‘Geoff did a great job at Liverpool – he should be recognised more,’ would become repetitive.

I decided that the book should be divided into three separate parts, detailing Geoff’s story on how he arrived at Liverpool at the beginning and the legacy he left at the end with an analysis on how scouting has changed in the modern day game at the end. The centerpiece of the book involves interviews with more than 30 players that he scouted, many of which never ended up signing for Liverpool. I have tried to steer that part of the book away from Geoff and treat them as a mini-autobiographical account of their careers.

What sort of help did you get from the club as well as Geoff's family?
From day one, Geoff’s son William was very enthusiastic. He put me in contact with dozens of family, friends and scouts that worked with his father. He was on the phone every day for 12-months. Without his influence, the book would never have been written. His brother, Geoff Twentyman jnr, who played professionally for Preston and Bristol Rovers, also helped too.
There is a bit of controversy surrounding Geoff’s departure from the club so certain people still there preferred to keep a polite distance. Having said that, all of the players and backroom staff were forthcoming.

Jamie Carragher in particular was very helpful. The book includes an interview with him at its conclusion and he also helped with the initial launch, which was held, at his restaurant back in August.

It must have been quite interesting to get to talk to all those Liverpool legends. Were they all willing to talk?
All of the players that he scouted agreed to an interview. After all, they were indebted to Geoff – particularly Phil Neal who was considering part time football with Kettering just before Liverpool approached Northampton about his availability.

All of the ex-Liverpool players are media savvy so they were all happy to divulge some interesting stories. Through work, I have learnt that interviews with former footballers always provide more entertainment because they can be more reflective and open about their careers. On the other hand, current players are usually protected by their clubs, agents and publicists so there is a limitation to how much they can reveal.

Personally, I found it just as interesting interviewing legends from other clubs – people like Trevor Francis, Gordon McQueen, Martin Buchan and dare I say it, Tony Cascarino – who had a colourful and checkered career but has been very critical of Liverpool lately in the media. Francis Lee was a funny one too, as was John Gidman who was very open about the mistakes he made during his time at Aston Villa, Everton and United.

There was only one player that Geoff scouted who refused to be interviewed. I wont say who he is, but unsurprisingly he’s still involved with a Premier League club.

Was it surprising to find players that Liverpool didn't sign being complimentary about the club? Or was that you editing out the criticisms?
The only time we edited anything out was because it was in danger of being libelous. Otherwise, I let each interview flow naturally as they happened. Andy Gray was probably the only one that was reluctant to say many positive things about Liverpool because he became a success when he went elsewhere – particularly at Everton. The big surprise was Martin Buchan, who captained Man Utd in the 70s. Twentyman had a strong interest in him but decided not to pursue a deal due to the emergence of Phil Thompson. Buchan had a reputation off the pitch as a tough man that didn’t suffer fools. But he spoke well about Liverpool because he clearly admired how they went about achieving success. Many of the players weren’t aware of any interest from Liverpool so it came as a shock. Cascarino in particular couldn’t believe that Kenny Dalglish would consider him a Liverpool kind of player –maybe with good reason.

Liverpool used to spot a lot of players from the lower leagues both in England and Scotland. That no longer happens. Why do you think that is the case?
It comes down to the globalisation of the game and the advent of academy systems. Part of it is also down to owners, directors and a new breed of football fan demanding instant success. There is a lack of patience in football today and that results in many young players being let go by football clubs at an extremely early age.

There is a desire by clubs in the modern game to swallow up the best talent around at the age of 10. By the age of 17 or 18, players need to be the finished article otherwise they are usually released. Speaking to scouts in the game today, I get the impression that there is a school of thought that if you haven’t been spotted by a club’s scouts as a teenager, it’s impossible to develop to the required standards even after a couple years first team football in the lower leagues.

I’m sure there are players in the lower league that could become great players in the modern game. But that would mean allowing them time to settle and in Premier League football today, managers can’t take the risk of waiting because of the demand for instant results.

When Liverpool were successful, many of the lower league players they signed were afforded time in the reserves before being plunged into the first team. Again this takes time, and a degree of success on the pitch beforehand to make this system work.

Terry McDermott, for example, had to go through this process. He was one of only two players in a Kirkby boys’ team that wasn’t signed up by a football club when he was 16. The star of that team was John McLoughlin, who eventually played around 50 games for Liverpool. Terry had to sign for Bury because even though a lot of First Division clubs had a look at him, they felt that his body wasn’t going to grow enough to deal with the demands of top-flight football. He was on the dole when a Bury scout came knocking at his door offering him a contract. Terry signed for Liverpool at the age of 22. By then he had grown into a man by playing lower league football with Bury before going to Newcastle. He learnt his way around a football pitch and learnt how to handle himself. It toughened him up and he eventually became PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
Years earlier, they made a judgement on him before he was even allowed to grow. It happens to thousands of young players now – in an environment where it is even tougher to shine because of the demands of instant success. Once at Liverpool, he had to wait 18-months before gaining a regular position in Bob Paisley’s first team. Bob, of course, could only adopt this approach because his team were winning trophies so the pressure to put Terry in his side was irrelevant.

The other player in that Kirkby boys’ team considered too lightweight for a contract with a league club was Dennis Mortimer. And he captained Aston Villa to the European Cup in 1982.


Why is it important that the contribution of Geoff Twentyman be remembered?
His role in targeting players was integral to everything Liverpool achieved in the 1970s and 80s. From the 11 players that started the 1977 European Cup final, Twentyman and his band of scouts had spotted six of them, initially playing in the lower leagues. In 1984 against Roma, nine of the 16-man squad had been brought to the club on Twentyman’s advice.

I wanted to make sure that the book didn’t romanticise Twentyman’s contribution by saying that he had a role that was any more important that other employees at the club. But I wanted to highlight that he did his job better than any other scout around.

I think the most important thing to remember is that Liverpool’s success was spawned from a collective responsibility that Bill Shankly instilled into the club. Each person’s role was important as the next and they were trusted to make an informed judgement when they had to. Bill Shankly trusted Bob Paisley absolutely while they trusted Geoff to spot the right player. Equally, Geoff trusted all of the scouts that worked for him.

It proves that when everyone is pulling in the same direction, a football club can achieve great things.

Is he remembered enough within the club?
No – but I suppose that was the nature of his work. It is only because I have seen his original diary that I can really understand the extent of what he did. Equally, scouts only seem to find the headlines when a number of players turn out as failures. Geoff’s record was phenomenal and nearly every player he signed proved to be either successful or profitable when they were sold on.

Because he had a distinctive surname, I think I lot of proper Liverpool fans remember that he worked for the club in some capacity but didn’t really understand his role.

The problem with scouting, especially in his era, was that it took months and months of research by a number of people before Liverpool agreed to sign a player. Tom Saunders, for instance, who was a great Liverpool servant, is sometimes credited with spotting Steve Heighway and Bruce Grobbelaar. In part, that is true, but several club scouts went to watch both players before the club financed a deal.

Again, Andy Beattie, who had known Bill Shankly for years and years and managed the Scottish national team was the scout that first saw Kevin Keegan play for Scunthorpe, rather than Twentyman. His note on the player in the original scouting diary said something like, ‘Played in midfield. Would be better as a forward.’ After that, Geoff went to watch him play several times before recommending him.

Personally, I think it’s a shame that someone who contributed so much towards the greatest period of success wasn’t recognised properly before he left the club. Including his playing career, he gave 25-years of his professional life to Liverpool – enough to earn two testimonials.
You only have to see a decline in success in the club’s transfer policy after he left to understand how important a role he played.

When he died, Geoff’s family was sent a letter by the then manager Gerard Houllier so I suppose it indicates he was still remembered by some people behind the scenes.

Liverpool fans are often accused of living in the past. Do you think that books like this pander to the nostalgic element and as such confirm that impression that outsiders have?
No. The book isn’t just about Liverpool’s history and the re-telling of its glory years. That has been done many times before. I hoped it would appeal to Liverpool supporters and fans from other clubs as well. There are interviews with many players that didn’t play for Liverpool and each interview attempts to focus on the players’ career rather than just what was happening at Anfield. I’d like to think the book is a comprehensive review of the scouting scene in the 60s, 70s and 80s analysing why Liverpool managed to do it better than anyone else.

Any more books planned?
Hopefully. I have an idea for something a little more contemporary but it could be another 12-months before it’s out.



A Look at the Secrets of Liverpool's Glory Years

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Book Review: The Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout by Simon Hughes

Now this is an intriguing book. Whilst most of the key architects of Liverpools's lasting success over the four decades after Bill Shankly took over avtively shunned publicity, most were still pushed into the limelight.

Even so, a book looking at Liverpool's chief scout doesn't exactly spring to mind as a plausible idea.

Yet that is what Simon Hughes has done with 'Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout' in which he takes a look at the life of Geoff Twentyman. A task rendered all the more complex by the facts that Hughes never actually met the man about whom he is writing and Twentyman having died five years ago.

Strangely, however, the book works extremely well. Much of the merit for that is down to Hughes himself who has intelligently threaded together the various aspects of Twentyman's life to ultimately show both how he worked and also his genius.

Fittingly he does so in a manner that mirrors that adopted by the man he is writing about: a large deal of legwork. For Hughes has tracked down not only most of Twentyman's best picks but also those players he looked at but who ultimately ended up elsewhere.

The latter are often revealing as it emerges that most of these players have a genuine respect for Liverpool and most are left wondering about what could have been.

Aside from that, perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is the uncanny similarity in the limitations imposed on both Bill Shankly and Rafael Benitez.

“The brief was to find the best young players Liverpool could afford and with the potential to develop in the future.” Sound familiar? Of course it does: it is what Benitez has been doing in recent years. In reality, however, is that this is what Twentyman had to do at Liverpool where there simply wasn’t enough money to spend to buy the most promising youngsters in the country. So Liverpool and Twentyman had to be sharper than the rest by spotting players with potential rather than those that were clearly set to do very well.

Which raises the question as to whether it is still possible to achieve success in this manner. Possibly but would the fans be as patient with the players as they were back then? Would they accept not seeing the club linked with big names? Somehow, I doubt it.


The Victimization of David N'Gog

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009 by

These have probably been a very uncomfortable couple of days for David N'Gog. The dramatics with which he won the penalty against Birmingham might be lauded as cunning elsewhere but, as many have been eager to point out to him, they aren't as celebrated in England.

The flip side, of course, is that the penalty got a point for Liverpool. It is easy to be sanctimonious but the only ones who really have a reason to be outraged are the Birmingham fans. The reality is that there isn't a team in the Premiership that doesn't try to trick or pressure referees into giving decisions their way. And does anyone complain when it is done in an England shirt? Of course not.

Sadly, however, that won't stop David N'Gog from being labelled a cheat something that is going to be very hard for him to shake off. You can sense that the next time he goes down, the referee will think twice before giving a decision in his favour: that suspicion is part of human nature.

Hopefully all of this won't affect N'Gog's confidence. The penalty quickly erased the memories of what happened just moments before when he sprinted past two Birmingham defenders in a move that was lifted straight out of Fernando Torres' manual (remember his goal against Marseilles?). It is that move which forced Lee Carsley into his lunge which - and this has been overlooked as well - got nowhere near the ball and could have seriously injured the player hadn't he jumped.

Indeed, N'Gog's performance has was one of the few bright sparks from that game and the season so far. His goal against Birmingham involved terrific skill - how else can hitting the ball with such power and precision before it hits the ground be described? - but his overall play has improved beyond recognition. There is an added sense of maturity around the way that he plays and he knows what is doing as well as what he should be doing.

Of course, confidence plays a critical role. That goal against Manchester United has fuelled the belief that he is good enough to play for Liverpool. That is not something which the player himself ever doubted but now even the fans are starting to believe it and that belief is something that he will feed on during games.

Naturally there are still aspects of his game that need improving. His control isn't the best, for instance, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts when things aren't going as well as they are at the moment. Above all, he needs experience to enable him to exploit certain instances during the game. Which probably means learning to drag his feet a little bit better when there is a tackle on him in the penatly box.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Birmingham City]

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009 by

When David N'Gog scored so early on, the game opened itself perfectly for Liverpool: this was the ideal starting point, the launching pad that could lead to a much needed win. Then came the inevitable defensive lapse that resulted in a conceeded goal which was followed up by the sucker punch of Cameron Jerome's splendid but somewhat fortiuitous goal and suddenly it was a repeat of so many games this season.


In the second half, as in the first, Liverpool continued to dominate but, even so, there never was the confidence that this game could be turned. Indeed, the players lacked the conviction needed to really cause Birmingham problems: if anything they looked frightened at the prospect of dropping points.

Fair play to Birmingham who came with a game-plan and executed it well. But for N'Gog's dramatic fall in the box, they could have even won this. Then again, that would have been too harsh on Liverpool

Good Game
Daniel Agger's ability with the ball at his feet adds another dimension to Liverpool's play especially in games like these were he needs to play as an added midfielder. Martin Skrtel hasn't yet reached the same levels of last season but he was good enough for most of the game. This was a solid, if unspectacular, game by Emiliano Insua who is making improvements with each game even if he needs to pay more attention so as not to keep players onside when the others have moved forward.

The highlight of the night was Glen Johnson's performance as the right-back was quite simply sensational. Time after time the tore a hole in the Birmingham defence and they never really managed to quiten him. Liverpool have missed him in recent games: my man of the match.

It is in games like this that Liverpool need a more creative midfield force then Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva. Neither one of the two played badly but the truth is that playing two essentially defensive midfielders against a side with no real intention to attack is an invite for trouble.

Albert Riera wasn't having a particularly good game until he left the pitch injured (and, judging by his reaction, it doesn't look good) yet his presence on the left was stretching the Birmingham defence and leaving a lot of gaps for the midfielders to exploit. Yossi Benayoun, who eventually went to fill that role once Riera departed the pitch, doesn't have that same sort of skill yet he did well enough with his usual movement and flair. Unfortunately, given the way that Birmingham were playing - with eight players in the penalty box - it was difficult for him to run past them or thread through that telling pass.

David N'Gog scored, won the penalty (although, in fairness, it shouldn't have been given) and made a decent fist of a couple of half chances. Even allowing for a number of mis-controlled passes, this was another promising game by the young striker who is continuously improving and is developing nicely into Fernando Torres' deputy.

Bad Game
Birmingham had two shots on goal and both of them went in. So it is hard not to say that Pepe Reina had a bad game. In truth, he could do little about the first but for the second he was caught too far away from goal and that is why Jerome's shot went in.

There is no faulting Dirk Kuyt's commitment yet sometimes more than that is needed. For all his huff and puff, Liverpool needed a bit more guile from him - occasionally beating the full back would have been nice - and they didn't get it here.

Substitutes
Steven Gerrard was a welcome sight but, despite scoring the penalty, seemed a bity rusty. Hopefully, he will be back to his usual form by the end of the international break. After last week's goal, there was an element of surprise in Ryan Babel's exclusion from the starting line-up. When he did come on, however, he did very litle to justify Benitez having more confidence in him.

There was another cameo appearance for Alberto Aquilani and once again he showed so excellent touches.


Gerrard Out, But Why is Johnson In?

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Monday, November 09, 2009 by

If you go by what has been written and said about Glen Johnson over the past few months, then you probably wouldn't have a very good opinion about the right-back.

Not good enough defensively, prone to lapses in concentration that leave him as well as his fellow defenders exposed, he is England's weak link and it was madness for Benitez to pay so much (whatever that 'much' is) for him.

Yet, if that is the case, why is it that Johnson has been picked for England despite missing so many recent games due to injury? Is it that Fabio Capello is so desperate as there aren't any other right-backs available?

Or is it, perhaps, that his ability to add another dimension to attack makes him a valuable part of the team? Surely not.

Of course, it would be much better for Liverpool if Capello were to take heed to what the talking heads are saying. The last thing that is needed right now is for the player with whom Liverpool have been so patient in getting fit to be injured yet again playing in a game that was set up purely to line the FA's pockets.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Lyon]

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Thursday, November 05, 2009 by

A kick in the stomach. There's no better way to describe a game where, with a squad decimated by injuries, Liverpool went to Lyon and totally dominated. With better finishing, the contest should have been over by half time and when Ryan Babel scored, it looked as if Liverpool were going to get a much merited win. But it wasn't to be as the only mistake of the night resulted in a Lyon goal that makes it highly difficult for Liverpool to win.

The hope, now, is that Liverpool take heart of this performance and take this attitude into next Monday's game against Birmingham. Win there and then it will start to look a little brighter after what has been an attrocious month.

A final word about Lyon: they're a decent side, it has to be said, and have a very good goalkeeper. Yet they're also as lucky as hell. Take away two minutes from the end of both games against Liverpool and they would have three points less. Instead they're already through to the next round. Let's hope that they take something from their game in Florence. A win for them would be fantastic but a draw would leave Liverpool what that glimmer of hope (provided that Debrecen are beaten, of course).

Good Game
He didn't have much to do but Pepe Reina was always alert to what was going on and pulled off a fantastic save midway through the second half. Could do nothing about Lisandro's goal even though, agonisingly, he touched the ball. There is a rumour that Daniel Agger didn't sit for most of the trip to Lyon so as not risking aggravating his back injury. Whether true or not, thank goodness that he played as he was absolutely fantastic. What a boost it would be to have him available for the whole season.

Jamie Carragher was, yet again, ask to do a shift at right-back and he did a decent enough job. At least defensively because going forward he offered practically nothing. The same cannot be said of Emiliano Insua who was bright throughout the whole game and looked back to his best after a couple of games during which his confidence seems to have been shaken.

Is there anyone who still doubts Lucas' quality? That's a rethorical question - of course there are - but that probably is down to stubborness. For once again he was brilliant here: his anticipation, passing, tackling, movement were all spot on. His performance is one of the reasons why Liverpool managed to get a stranglehold of midfield.

Another reason was Javier Mascherano. Ever since Argentina qualified for the World Cup he has been completely transformed and his performances have been on par with those of two season back. This was the case once again here as he never gave the Lyon players any breathing space. My man of the match.

Yossi Benayoun tried as hard as he could to unlock the Lyon defence but he couldn't make one of his incisive runs. Even so, his intelligent movement and eye for a pass caused the defenders plenty of problems. Similarly Dirk Kuyt who, as always, worked as hard as possible for the team. Without a right-back with whom to dove-tail it was harder for him to create much but he still put in a couple of very good crosses.

One half chance is all that Fernando Torres got and, had he been fully fit, he would have probably put it away. Yet, despite his injury, he still fought hard and cause Lyon problems - so much that they often resorted to surrounding him with two or three players - as his mere presence can cause defences to panic.

Bad Game
He should have done better for the goal for which, Stolis Kyrgiakos has to shoulder a good share of the blame. In general, he was good and held up well against Gomis but then had brief moments where he made the most stupid of mistakes which could have easily resulted in goals against Liverpool.

It seems harsh to say that Andriy Voronin had a bad game because he did try hard. Yet you cannot have an opportunity like the one he had in the first half and not put it away.

Substitutes
Ryan Babel came on and looked as if he was going to continue in his recent vein of poor form. Suddenly he found that metre of space and smashed in that fantastic goal that deserved to be a winner. The question is why doesn't he show that sort of talent on a more regular basis.

David N'Gog came on for Torres in a move that was clearly aimed at running down the clock. Even so, he did well in the few minutes he was on the pitch.


"Liverpool Fans Don't Make Knee-jerk Reactions"

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009 by

Over the past few days I've been reading the book Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout which deals with the life of former chief scout Geoff Twentyman (review of this should be online early next week).

Author Simon Hughes has done an excellent job of rounding not only players that Twentyman helped bring to Liverpool but also those that ended up elsewhere. One of these is John Gregory, the Aston Villia (among others) midfielder and manager who had this to say about the Liverpool fans.

"Fans are funny, aren't they? Sometimes they don't help. Your lot at Liverpool are the best, though. They're fantastic because they back the manager and the team. Liverpool fans don't make knee-jerk reactions and they give people the chance to prove themselves. Kopites really do get behind the team throughout the whol game - not just for 10 minutes like at some places. They're real fans."

This is how outsiders - those whose judgement isn't clouded by petty rivalry - really see us. Let's hope that they can still hold that view of us after tonight.