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Archive for March 2011

Anfield Forever

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011 by Paul Grech

It was the fear that did it.  When it was first mentioned that Liverpool were looking to move away from Anfield a group called Anfield 4 Ever (A4E) set about presenting the opposing view, one that argued that Anfield should be redeveloped rather than demolished.

Yet theirs was a lost battle.  Not because of any forceful argument that highlighted the unfeasibility of their position but simply because of fear.  What did it for Anfield was the fear of being left behind and financially edged out without a home that could seat more people.  Those who said otherwise were labelled as antiquated sentimentalists who still hankered for an era that had long gone.  Their views were pushed aside - not only by the owners but also but the vast majority of fans - and, eventually, forgotten.  Not even the website that presented their case remains: www.anfield4ever.co.uk is now a rumour site (and one that hasn't been updated for years).

The original, un-imaginative, design for the new Anfield
Never mind that the first plans were for the construction of a soul-less bowl that showed no vision and had nothing to set it apart or show that it was to be the home of a special club.  The most important thing was that it could contain more people and, therefore, make the club more money which would result in success on the pitch.  That is all that mattered.

The rationale of this argument is easy to follow but that does not mean that it is right, at least not completely.  What was not being said at the time was that building a new stadium would result in onerous loans that would take years to be repaid.  Perhaps it was because that there was still the hope and belief that new owners, ones rich enough to undertake such a project from their own finances, would be found.  Again, a simplistic line of thought but not one as ingenious as had been made out to be.  Indeed, it is a plan that nearly killed the club.

Yet, despite so many promises going unfulfilled, strangely, the wisdom of leaving Anfield was never been debated.  It was considered a given truth, one that no liar's words could taint.  Largely fuelled by the desire to match Manchester United and Arsenal on game day revenues, the decision was made and wasn't about to change.

But it can (and should) change, at least enough to look at possible alternatives to increase capacity.  And these plans have to be bold and imaginative as they to try and offer a solution, because surely there have to be ways to increase revenue without leaving everything behind.

The memories of great days and nights at Anfield
are part of what makes Liverpool special
Indeed, what is most surprising in this whole story, is how easily a departure from Anfield has been accepted.  What makes Liverpool FC great is, in part, down to Anfield and the memories that it holds.  There is a special feeling about this place, as if the collective shouts from great moments at this stadium still resonate.  Teams come and buckle under the pressure of playing in front of this crowd, they fear Anfield, its history and what it represents.  Opposing fans, especially continental ones on European nights, leave the ground happy even in defeat because they can boast to having experienced the Anfield atmosphere.  That is what would be lost, that is what the fear would lead to.

But that would be wrong.  Anfield is Liverpool's home and everyone should be working to keep it this way, not casually throwing.

Any views can be shared with A Liverpool Thing on Twitter


Positives From A Youth Cup Defeat

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Monday, March 14, 2011 by Paul Grech

It is said that true winners are seen not in victory but in how they react to defeat. By that truism, it will be interesting to see what happens next after Liverpool’s defeat in the quarter final of the FA Youth Cup.

This was a disappointing game for Liverpool; disappointing not because of the nature of the defeat or the name of the opponents but because of the way that the team played. There were too many long balls, too many wayward passes and too many players making wrong decisions for anyone to be happy with how it progressed. After all this is a side that in previous games had dominated through its ability to move the ball around with accuracy and speed.

Not on this occasion, however. Merit, of course, goes to Manchester United who showed the kind of strength, pressing and tactical intelligence that Liverpool hadn’t faced in any of the earlier rounds. It forced the Liverpool players to have to think harder about what they did and, often, the solutions they came up with were lacking. Punting the ball towards Raheem Sterling in the hope of him creating something far too often became the default option as did giving the ball to Suso without other players moving to support him.

This is why it is so difficult to judge players of this age. Or, rather, why it is always wise not to rush into judgements. Many were disappointed when Raheem Sterling wasn’t given some playing time in the Europa League after he had helped tear Southend apart in the previous round of this competition. Others would have picked the Spanish midfielder Suso for the first team within the first month of his joining the club, so impressive was he whenever he played for the reserves.

The reality is that there is a huge gap between the level of football they are used to playing and that which they would be facing in the first team. The strength of players they would be playing against, their experience and the speed with which they would punish any mistake or hesitation is far greater than what they’ve ever come against.

That is why ensuring that these talented teenagers make the progression from youth team to senior football is the biggest challenge out there. It is why the Spanish model of having a second team playing in the lower leagues – giving young players the opportunity to come up against older, more experienced ones – is favoured by some.

In some respects, the Youth Cup defeat can even be a positive thing. There was so much hype around some of these players that they were bound to start thinking ahead of themselves, that they were good enough. This shows them that they’ve still got a way to go and it will make them listen closer to what their coaches have to say. Learn from it and they will improve; dismiss it as bad luck or bad refereeing and the next time a similar occasion comes around the same mistakes will be made.

Any views can be shared with A Liverpool Thing on Twitter.


The Right Attitude

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011 by Paul Grech

There have been few, if any, managers in the history of the British game who could match Bob Paisley’s genius in spotting players. The man who built three Champions’ Cup winning teams did so not by outspending others but by identifying before anyone else players with the talent to play in his sides.

Few instances illustrate this better then what happened when Ray Clemence decided to move to Tottenham in 1981. The act of replacing arguably Europe’s finest goalkeeper with Bruce Grobbelaar, someone who had only fleetingly played league football, seemed utter folly to most yet Paisley felt that it was the right move.

Grobbelaar’s success in a Liverpool shirt over the next decade proved the wisdom of Paisley’s judgement. As did Ian Rush, Steve Nicol, Alan Hansen and Ronnie Whelan; all of whom came to Liverpool when they were complete unknowns.

Yet there was more to their success than just talent. Each of those players spent months playing for the reserves, a period that is often described as being fundamental in their development. Those months helped determine not only whether they were good enough to play for Liverpool but also whether they had the character to do so.

Rush’s case was typical. He had become English football’s most expensive teenager when he joined Liverpool so probably expected to be involved in the first team from the off. Instead he found himself in the reserves and famously went to ask for a transfer after a number of months so disillusioned was he with his lack of progress.

It was at this point that Paisley suggested that Rush be a more selfish finisher. More than anything, this was a subtle test, a way to see how the striker would react. Petulance on his part would have certainly seen his wish for a transfer being granted. Instead, however, it got the reaction that was required and soon Rush started getting the opportunities he wanted.

To Paisley, Rush had proven that not only did he handle criticism but could react positively to it. And it was at that point that there really was the conviction that he could do it, that not only did he have skill to play for Liverpool but also the temperament.

Further proof of the important role a player’s character had in the determining a player’s ability to play for Liverpool comes from Alan Kennedy. “Paisley knew my family as he was from the same village as my mother,” Kennedy says of what led t his transfer to the club. “He knew what he was getting; he knew that I was a hard worker.”

As he would go on to show, there was more to Kennedy than that yet that insight into his character provided added comfort to Paisley.

In time, the importance of such attributes seemed to diminish. At least, they did in the minds of those charged with making the decisions. Graeme Souness felt that a player with as questionable a disciplinary record as Julian Dicks was Liverpool material whilst Roy Evans allowed players to dictate when they were willing to attend training.

There cannot be a better example of the laxity in this regard then El Hadj Diouf. Blessed as he is with talent and skill, Diouf should have gone on to become one of the finest players in his generation but instead he’s spent most of his career bouncing between middling clubs. He’s also managed a feat that no one in living memory has: become a hated figure among Liverpool fans.

Not that it should have been difficult to predict. His reputation in France was as an egotistical player more interested in his own personal position rather than of his team. Liverpool were concerned about this – Houllier apparently enquired with former assistant Patrice Bergues who by then had become sporting director at Lens – but still pressed ahead.

It was a huge mistake, the biggest in a disastrous summer (Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou were also signed that year) that ultimately killed off Gerard Houllier. Jamie Carragher would, much to Diouf’s apparent irritation, later comment that he’d never come across a player as disinterested in winning as the Senegal striker.

Sadly, Diouf is far too typical in modern day Liverpool. The club has struggled because there have been too many average players in the side. Yet that doesn’t completely explain it: there have also been far too many who didn’t have the right attitude. How can any player justify playing pass the pound during games? Or the ‘win or lose first to the booze’ mentality of the nineties?

Character isn’t something that a scout can easily pick up on. Then again, far too often warning signs have been ignored. Players have been bought despite the blemishes in the personal history with the vain hope that they will change. Others have been brought in and been overwhelmed by what was expected of them. And Liverpool continue to struggle as they will until this negative circle of not looking beyond a player’s technical abilities is broken.

This article initially appeared in Well Red magazine.  Any views can be shared with A Liverpool Thing on Twitter.