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Archive for January 2010

Looking Back at a Dark Chapter in Liverpool's History

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Friday, January 29, 2010 by

Book Review: From Where I Was Standing by Chris Rowland

No one more than Liverpool fans knows that the grief over losing someone you love at a football match never goes away. It might appear that it has quietened down but then all it takes is one image or word and all the emotions start flooding back.

It is for that reason why no one really likes to talk about what happened at Heysel. There seems to be a fear to mention it, an ingrained reluctance to re-open that chapter for fear that what is said might be seen as hurtful to those who lost family and friends in that tagedy.

It is that responsability that Chris Rowland has decided to shoulder in his book 'From Where I Was Standing: A Liverpool Supporter's View of the Heysel Stadium Tragedy'.

Inevitably, it isn't an easy book to read, just as it must have been a difficult one to write. The early chapters, those which are lighter and describe the fun of planning for a trip to a European Cup final are hard to take in because of the reader's knowledge of what lies ahead, something that the author was oblivious to at the time. But, they are just as necessary as the ones that describe what actually happened in the stadium because they help push home the fact that on that night, whatever innocence Liverpool fans had before was lost.

Rowland accepts that much of what happened in Heysel was due to the Liverpool fans and does not pull back from saying so. But at the same time he also mentions the shortcomings over which Liverpool couldn't do anything, the oversights and lack of preparation which UEFA and the authorities conveniently swept aside.

Given its subject it is unlikely that 'From Where I Was Standing' will be a best seller. Indeed, it had been due to be serialised by the Liverpool Echo but then Hillsborough came along and the project was shelved.

This makes the decision by Paul Tomkins to go ahead and publish it all the more courageous. The truth is that, for the library of Liverpool books to be complete there has to books even about dark chapters such as this one. Certainly deserves to be a must read book for all Liverpool fans, up there along with Hillsborough: The Truth.







Good Game Bad Game [vs Wolves]

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010 by

Having played with such determination and passion in his absence, Steven Gerrard's return should have boosted Liverpool to build on last week's win over Tottenham. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Whatever momentum had been built was lost and the rhtym of the side thrown off key. That is not to say that the team no longer needs Gerrard but, rather, that his inclusion from the first minute when he was coming back from an injury is simply sending out the (wrong) message that the team is reliant exclusively on him to do well. That is what they tried to do yesterday - witness him taking all free-kicks and almost all corners - despite the fact that nothing was coming off for him.

More than that, this insistence in playing Gerrard so high up the pitch is mystifying. The system worked last year when there was a fully fit Fernando Torres alongside him and Xabi Alonso pulling the strings behind them. That isn't the case this season but still the same tactic is adopted.

Talking of mystifying, the fact that only one player was taken off in a match where Liverpool were playing so poorly cannot be explained. Surely it was worth risking taking either Lucas or Mascherano off in order to put in Aquilani? Or Maxi to replace him with Degen?

For some reason, Benitez saw it differently and the result is another two dropped points. After the hope that came out of last week's win, it is back in the depression zone this time round. With games running out, Liverpool finishing in the top four is looking increasingly unlikely, no matter what guarantees are given.

Good Game
Constantly booed by the Wolves fans, Pepe Reina had his usual good game. He didn't have to make any major saves but he did have to be well placed in order to thwart a couple of half-chances Wolves had.

Two of the only players who kept up last week's level were Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. They might not be the finest of defenders with the ball at their feet but they make sure that nothing gets through them which, at the end of the day, is the most important thing. Indeed, the Greek defender was - for the second week running - my man of the match.

Emiliano Insua wasn't exceptional by any stretch of the imagination but he was always alert to possible dangers and was in the right place to clear serious danger on a number of occasions.

Taking off Albert Riera was a surprise choice because up till that point the Spaniard had been one of the few giving Wolves at least some problems with his crossing and his shooting. Unless he was injured, he should have stayed on the pitch.

Forced to work on scraps, Dirk Kuyt did his best to get something going but far too often he looked ahead of him to make a pass or cross only to find that no one had made the run.

Bad Game
Played at right-back, a position he clearly doesn't like, Jamie Carragher struggled especially as he had to deal with a player who was way faster than him. He did his best as always but ultimately had a poor game - one where he offered Liverpool nothing going forward - and whatever reason Benitez had for sticking with him for ninety minutes, it plainly didn't work out.

Javier Mascherano is a fantastic player but it is difficult to imagine why he stayed on for all the game, and not only for tactical purposes: his passing was attrocious. Similarly, this wasn't that bad a game for Lucas Leiva only that Liverpool needed at least one of their central midfielders to create something, to get hold of the game and start dictating the pace.

Apparently not fit enough to play anything more than a few minutes the week before, Maxi Rodrigues suddenly got his first start and saw the game till the end. Unfortunately, he showed little to justify that faith and, if anything, the feeling is that he was a step backwards from Philip Degen.

Nothing he tried on the night seemed to come off for Steven Gerrard. Indeed, he seemed to blunt Liverpool's attacking movements. Even worse was his corner or free-kicks that never got to a red shirt. A night to forget for him.

Substitutes
Benitez opted for just one change and in all fairness David N'Gog did add something else to the Liverpool game with his pace and work rate even though he, like Kuyt before him,only had scraps too feed on.


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Top Grounds to Visit

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Monday, January 11, 2010 by

Living as I do away for the heartlands of football, most of my consumption of the game is through television. And whilst the spread of football’s popularity is such that today it is practically possible to watch any game that takes you fancy, it is still merely a shadow to the experience that is seeing a game with the fans who are there in the ground.

This thought has been gnawing away at me over recent months, which is what first brought me to draw up a list of grounds that I would like to watch a game in. And seeing that most self-help manuals suggest that the best way of making sure you follow through with your goals is to share them with people you know, I’ve decided to publish my list here.


Excluded, for obvious reasons, is Anfield: there is no need to state the desire to watch every Liverpool game in the flesh. Similarly, the choice of stadia does not take into consideration the size and stature of the club but rather the passion of its fans. It is why some of the world’s best known football chatedrals have been excluded.

For this reason, some of the choices might surprise as will some of the omissions. It is not my intent to be controversial but rather to be honest to myself for it would be impossible to get through this list if I were to do otherwise.

San Mames (Atletico Bilbao)
Part of the attraction here is down to Atletico Bilbao’s insistence on having only Basque players. This has undoubtedly hampered their progress and is a policy that will come under increasing stress the more they fall back in Spanish football but it is impossible not to admire given the current climate where there regularly are games with no home born players on either side on the pitch. Other than that, the San Mames is a fantastic little stadium with, as you would expect, a seriously passionate set of fans.

Stadio Marassi (Genoa / Sampdoria)
For the most part Italian stadia are huge, soul-less bowls where athletics tracks impose barriers between the fans and the players. Whilst the exterior to some might be impressive – the San Siro – and fans might still manage to light others up with their passion – Napoli and Roma spring to mind – there is no Italian stadium that can match the attraction of Stadio Marassi.

With Genoa proud to be considered a club with British roots – despite Benito Mussolini’s best attempts to eradicate this – it is hardly surprising that its ground has a distinct British flavour to it. It is this, and the resulting relationship that is fostered with the players, that makes it so alluring. Both Genoa and Sampdoria have endured some tough times in recent years but the hardcore elements of fans always stood by them and the Marassi was still regularly filled up. Is there a better sign of loyalty than that?

Bombonera (Boca Juniors)
There is something special about Argentine football. Despite the fact that European clubs are increasingly depriving the local clubs of their talents, the passion of the fans remains undiminished. The name of the ground – which means fruit bowl – is part of the fascination here but in reality it is largely down to the atmosphere that the fans create on a weekly basis that spikes my desire to see a game here.

Stade Velodrome (Olympic Marseilles)
As with Feyenoord, Olympic Marseilles fans don’t really have a reputation for being among the more friendly but, given what they’ve had to endure over the past couple of decades, a certain degree of mistrust for outsiders is perhaps understandable. With Marseilles being a port, there is a lot of resonsance with Liverpool since the fans hail from similar background and that, if I’m being honest, is probably why I’d like to go there. Not to mention that they can make a fair bit of noise as well.

Celtic Park (Celtic)
Perhaps the only ground on this list that would make it into most conventional top ten lists, the soft spot that I, as most Liverpool fans, have for Celtic plays a significant role. But, aside from that, this truly is a fantastic stadium.

Gelsenkirchen (Schalke 04)
My admiration of Schalke 04 began in 1997 when they managed to win the UEFA Cup final against Inter. Hearing about the history of the club and what it meant to the people of a city that is largely working class – mining being the main industry – again struck a chord given the similarity to Liverpool. The arena itself, a huge bowl that is regularly packed with fans who have witnessed their side snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on countless occasion but who keep going on nevertheless.

De Kuip (Feyenoord)This is a highly personal choice. Feyenoord fans do not exactly have the best reputation and the sort of antics that they get to normally are a trigger to loathe rather than respect. The thing is, however, that when I was much younger I had a Dutch pen-pal who was a mad Feyenoord fan who would regularly write to me about his club and their games, something that left me with a soft spot for them. Much as I try, I cannot remember his name yet to this day every weekend I still make it a point to try and find out how they are doing. Watching them play at home would very much be the fulfilment of a childhood dream.


Forever in our Hearts: Patrick Berger

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Thursday, January 07, 2010 by

He might not have reached the heights he originally hinted he could aspire to but Patrick Berger was still a fine player. Criminally wasted early on in his Liverpool career - with Roy Evans never really certain of where he should play him - it took Gerard Houllier to really get the best out of him. His creativity and technical skill lit up many an afternoon, much more so when he let fly one of his trademark shots. Ultimately, his persistent injuries cut short his Liverpool career but the passion that he always showed on the pitch made him a fans' favourite.

And that passion didn't go away when he left the club: his public advice for Gareth Barry to join Liverpool killed off his career at Aston Villa.

The times and sides he played in mean that Patrick Berger can never be tagged a Liverpool legend. But in an era that delivered so little, he was one of the few bright spots that made watching Liverpool that much more bearable.


Doing African Football Justice

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010 by

Book Review: Feet of the Chameleon by Ian Hawkey

Every two years, managers from across the continent seem to join forces in their criticism of that which has become the most despised competition in European football: the African Cup of Nations. Being deprived of some of their best players for up to a month in the middle of the season can have a highly unnerving effect on managers, particularly if results start going against them during that period.

Yet the criticism for the competition and the suggestions put forward show not only a deep misunderstanding of African football but also acute lack of respect. For, while the European clubs might rightly claim that they are the ones offering African players a route out of poverty, a bye-product of this migration of players is not only that the local fans don’t ever really get an opportunity to watch their players but that they are shifting attention to the European leagues which in turn is killing off interest in local competitions.

These points are drilled home by “Feet of the Chameleon”, Ian Hawkey’s journey through African football. Not that he forcibly aims to drive through any agenda but rather his style is to simply tell the story of how the game evolved in the African continent.

It is a job that he does brilliantly. Despite the incredible amount of research that must have gone into a work of this nature, this is never allowed to weigh the writing down but rather it provides the backbone of the whole story.

Just as it should. Because Hawkey never loses sight of what he is ultimately doing here: telling a story. This he does by narrating what went on over the years but also by talking to some of the people who actually made the story of African football. This adds perspective to what is being said whilst also adding more flavour to the overall narration.

Hawkey also manages to avoid being either condescending or patronizing to African football. Indeed, his tone remains practically neutral throughout something that might seem as a recipe for a boring read but in reality is anything but: Feet of the Chameleon is an enthralling read.

Here, finally, is a book that does African football justice. One that can immediately be considered as a classic of football literature alongside the likes of Tor and Morbo. If you get to read only one book this year, then this has to be it.


Spreading the Word: All in Reserve

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010 by

Up till a couple of years back, information about Liverpool's reserves and youth sides was limited to those who could actually go to watch them played. All of that changed almost overnight when LFCtv was launched and made it much easier for people to actually see whether the players that had been billed as the next big thing were in reality any good.

That, however, doesn't mean that it is any easier to get across decent articles about them. In fact, it is probably harder because those who used to provide most reports before don't really see the point of doing so now. That void, however, is being partly filled by Matthew Cain's blog (don't blame me with un-creative editing: that's actually the blog's name) where reserve games, and the occasional youth one, are analysed to determine who played well and who didn't.

True, the look of the blog is a bit spartan and it isn't easy to navigate but the content more than makes up for it.


Should He Stay or Should He Go: Fabio Aurelio

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Monday, January 04, 2010 by

There are two scenarios that normally come into play when a player enters the final six months of his contract: either panic because of the imminent loss of a player for free or else relief at the realisation that someone who wouldn't otherwise be shifted is about to leave.

Deciding which end of those two Fabio Aurelio fits into, however, isn't that simple.


For a player who arrived at Anfield having won Spanish league titles with Valencia and with the promise of being as good a passer as Alonso, he has decidedly disappointed albeit through little fault of his own: an apparently neverending list of injuries has instead seen to that.

Then again, on those occasions that he has been able to play with some regularity he has shown that he could be quite a good player not to mention an ace free-kick taker. The problem with Aurelio is that those occasions have been far too infrequent. Every time he starts getting some momentum, he is out injured.

Which causes a number of problems for Benitez. Realistically Aurelio cannot really aspire to hold down a regular spot but, at the same time, it is equally debateable whether he can be considered a good backup if he is injured when he is needed. It is, perhaps, why Emiliano Insua keeps his left-back spot despite struggling in recent weeks whilst Aurelio has been getting minutes filling in on the left side of midfield.

And it is also why Liverpool have been so reluctant in granting him a new contract. A pay-as-you-play deal, something that has been rumoured, seems to be the most sensible way forward except perhaps for the player himself.

Even so, from his side of the fence there must be some doubt whether there is any other club out there willing to offer him a contract that exceeds one season. For Aurelio has had too many minor problems for his injuries to be written off as merely down to ill luck: his body simply cannot seem to handle playing regularly. And that's without taking into consideration the challenge that comes from playing to actually win things which is what is on offer at Liverpool.

Fully fit and capable of handling a full season, there isn't much doubt that Aurelio would be a very good player. Unfortunately, his fitness is too much of an issue to really consider him a vital player in the squad. Losing him would hurt Liverpool - not least because it would mean that money would have to be spent to bring in someone as back-up for Insua - but unless the terms of any new contract can take into account his injuries then it will be a sacrifice that Liverpool will have to make.

Does Fabio Aurelio deserve a new contract? Or is he too injury prone? Join the debate on twitter.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Reading]

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Sunday, January 03, 2010 by

In a season that has already delivered so many lows, Liverpool contrived to dip even further. Having made public the importance of the FA Cup given current form, the players put on a pathetic performance, one for which they should appologise to the fans who made the trip to Reading to watch them play.

Reading played as you would expect them to play: put pressure in midfield, use the flanks and loft in balls to their target man. What was surprising is that such basic tactics were allowed to prosper.

Liverpool, on their part, started with a theoretical 442 but, in reality, no one seemed to know where they should be and without any proper wingers or pace on the flanks, there was no one to exploit the chasms on either side of Reading's defence. It was a total shambles and hadn't it been for Steven Gerrard's goal, this could easily have been a repeat of recent FA Cup humiliations against Barnsley and Burnley.

Good Game
One fantastic save by Pepe Reina in the second half kept Liverpool in the game because, had that gone in, there's no doubt in my mind that the game would have been lost. Reina also did well to handle Reading's punts into the box especially as most of the time his defenders seemed reluctant to do anything.

Defensively, there is no doubting Steven Darby's abilities as he proved here once again. It is when going forward that his game falls down and, despite a decent performance here, he doesn't look Liverpool quality. That said, he should be praised for holding his own when so many around him faltered.

One major exception was Jamie Carragher who is back to his best after a difficult start to the season and who put in an innumerable amount of last ditch tackles to prevent Reading from hurting Liverpool even further. My man of the match.

A good goal and his usual effort means that Steven Gerrard did his job here without really excelling or playing as well as he can. The same applies to Fernando Torres who might have failed to score - and he did have some chances to do so - but at least gave the Reading defenders a torrid time.

David N'Gog was full of running in the first half and tried his best to kick-start something. Sadly, it looked that he and Torres weren't on the same wavelength as this feeble attempt at forming a partnership upfront fell flat.

Bad Game
Having lost his spot in the first team, this was the ideal opportunity for Martin Skrtel to prove his worth but instead he was easily outbullied by Gregory Rasiak and far too easily flustered by the running of Simon Church. Much worse, however, was Emiliano Insua's handling of Jobi McAnuff with the Reading winger leaving him for dead time after time. How he stayed on till the end is a mystery.

Lucas Leiva's
job was to win the ball and then push it on to the next Liverpool player. He did the first part of that well enough but when it came to passing the ball, he simply didn't get to grips with the concept. Far too willing to pass it backwards rather than try to create anything, this was a game that really exposed his limitations.

It isn't Fabio Aurelio or Dirk Kuyt's fault that they are being asked to play in positions - on either side of the midfield - for which they aren't suited but are they so poor that they can't play well in those positions against a Championship side? Then again, that is something of a rhetorical question given that neither one has any semblance of pace or ability to beat their man.

Substitutes
Some sections of the press have already labelled Alberto Aquilani as a flop and, sadly, his cameo here will give them plenty of reasons to confirm their hastily formed opinions. Yossi Benayoun was brought on to try and add some sparkle to Liverpool's game and he did cause a bit more confusion in the Reading defence, although nothing too significant.