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Archive for June 2011

The Value of Buying British

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011 by Paul Grech

When Kenny Dalglish took over in January, there were many eager to portray him as a footballing dinosaur who had lost touch with the game after a decade out. This was a sentimental choice, we were told, and he would soon be found out.

As Liverpool improved beyond recognition in the following months, those who had been critical slunk away. Yet the doubts haven't died out but merely replaced by new ones.

The sad part of this is that whilst those initial doubts had largely emanated from those who had hailed Roy Hodgson's appointment and were now looking for a way to vent their frustration following the dismal failure of their man, the source for this new wave of doubt is closer to home: the club's fans.

Not that too many have been overly critical - and the presence of Damien Comolli does provide them with an easy alternative target - but you can still feel a growing undercurrent of discontent.

The reason is that Dalglish seems to favour English based players. Why go for Stewart Downing when Juan Mata is available? What's the attraction of Charlie Adam when Javi Martinez is available? And why Scott Dann when there's Simon Kjaer?

Those are questions that keep getting asked, usually in a rhetorical mode. Because the implied answer is that Dalglish is a footballing dinosaur still stuck in an era where you could only buy from other English teams.

What is being missed is that there are significant benefits in buying players who already know the league. Sure, you pay more for them but you also get players who don't need time to settle and get to know the style of play. And, for Liverpool, having the new players settle in quickly could play a crucial role in the coming season.

With competition for a top four place being tougher than ever before, Liverpool need to be on top from the start of the season. Which wouldn't be likely if there were one or two crucial players trying to get to grips with the speed and aggression of the English game. Because for haevery Luis Suarez that there is - players who quickly find their feet - you will find others like Edin Dzeko or Marouanne Chamakh who struggle to adapt despite their obvious talent.

There is no debating that a player like Stewart Downing isn't as exciting as Juan Mata. Yet Downing excelled at Villa last year and clearly is a player who will always do well in the Premiership, especially if supported by better player than the ones he has at Villa. Mata might be the kind of player Liverpool look at in a year or two when the team is more settled and, hopefully, more successful which always makes it easier for someone to settle in. At this point in time, however, Liverpool don't have that luxury.

Is this enough to justify Liverpool's apparent strategy of making most of their signings from the English game? That's difficult to determine - ultimately it depends on the success of the players signed - but it does at least show that there is a reason behind such moves.


Spreading the Word: Blasted French

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Friday, June 24, 2011 by Paul Grech

Perhaps it is because I was never any good at drawing but I'm always in awe of people who are capable to create visually stimulating pieces of art.  There are a couple of excellent designers who combine such a talent with their passion for Liverpool FC, Kitster being one; the people at LoveConquerFollow others.

Recently a new name has popped up.  Dan Leydon, who goes on Twitter with the handle Blasted French, has been putting his unique designs on-line.  A Liverpool fan, most of these look at the club's icons like Bill Shankly and Kenny Dalglish.  Dan also has a (understandable) fascination with Barcelona, who also feature in his designs.

A Liverpool Thing caught up with Dan as he spoke about his inspiration and future plans.


How did you start doing these pieces?


In a fairly routine move, I started my blog as a homage to Heat magazine. Football has basically turned into a soap opera and I thought that gossipy cheap way of examining it would provide a hefty wedge of funny material. If you look at the first blog posts on the site they are done in the form of a Heat magazine cover and feature outlandish stories such as Messi becoming player manger of QPR and Neil Warnock having a breakdown due to it. From there I began to think of more ways to comment on football and one day I did the Xavi poster that depicted him as a carnival show passing machine. From there I just started doing more and more. 



Which is your favourite piece?
My favourite piece is probably not a poster itself but my character Chavi who is Xavi but with a burberry cap. He tours council estates getting ASBO's and playing long ball football. If I had to pick one poster I'd say the King Kenny one. It just seems the most balanced.


What has the feedback been like?
I've had the full range of feedback from in depth emails showing appreciation to comments on new posters that consist of nothing but 'POSTER FAIL'. It's fun hearing peoples opinions on them though. That's why I love designing football related art. So many people love football and people are visual creatures. To have football culture presented in a slightly different or thought provoking way is a great thing and there is so many profound and unique types of art out there on the net.



From where do you get inspirations? And what is the creative process like?
I get my inspirations from everything. I carry a notebook with me and write down whatever pops into my head. I also practice exercises from Edward de Bono books on how to exercise your creativity. They're great for generating piles of ideas. I buy and read a lot of football related books too. Usually I can pick up around 5 or 6 books second hand for the best part of 25 euro. I'll read anything though. And I pour through a lot of graphic design books to figure out how certain artists come up with different types of results. Luckily though graphic design is everywhere you look nowadays so you can learn wherever you are. 


As for the design process it won't take long if I have a clear idea on what I want to do. For example the last poster I designed, the Liverbird European Cup, didn't take too long but arranging the liverbirds took up 99% of the design time. I'm happy with how it turned out though.


What next for you? What are you looking to achieve and what will you be doing with the designs?
Next for me? I'm clueless as to what I'll be doing next. A few months ago I didn't even have a website so in the next few months who knows. Ultimately I'd love a job in design with some connection to football. Nowadays I think if you want to be completely happy in your work life you have to go out and make a job for yourself. That's far more fun than looking for one that already exists. It's what I'm trying to do. I'm looking at setting up the website in a more professional way and getting posters and shirts for sale through it. I'd have to say my immediate ambition is to play right midfield for Liverpool though. That's what I'm aiming for.


Too Early for High Expectations

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by Paul Grech

As it always is whenever England take on an international tournament, there is bound to be a fair degree of hype over the Under 17 team taking part in the World Cup in Mexico. And with six Liverpool players in the English squad, expectations will inevitably rise especially if England do well.

Yet the reality of this tournament is that it doesn’t really provide a gauge for future success. You can look at a player like Cesc Fabregas, who won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player (and finished as top scorer) in 2003, and see this as justification for it’s predictive capacity. But then you look to two years earlier and see that Florent Sinama Pongolle won the same honour.

By that time, Sinama Pongolle was already (virtually) a Liverpool player and the ease with which he dominated the tournament – the nine goals that he scored remains a record total - was seen as confirmation of his world class potential. Eight years later, however, and he’s just spent a season on loan at a mid-table Spanish side where he scored just four goals. Sinama Pongolle has turned out to be a decent player but nothing more than that; certainly not the kind of player that so many had predicted he would become.

What happened to him was injuries and lack of playing time at a crucial stage in his career stunted his development. Also, nature happened as he failed to develop enough physically which that he wasn’t suited to play as a striker where he had initially impressed whilst he lacked the skill to really make a mark as a winger.

There have been as many players who have turned out like Sinama Pongolle (Sergio Santamaria from the 1999 edition) as there are those who have gone on to excel (Anderson from 2005). And that’s simply by looking at the Golden Ball winners. Dig deeper and many more such stories emerge.

In 2003, the Spanish team containing Cesc Fabregas lost in the final to Brazil. Apart from Fabregas, out of the twenty-two who began the final only Brazilian midfielder Sandro has really made much of an impact. Move forward to the next final and only Anderson has emerged as a top class player and he was on the losing side. Carlos Vela and Giovanni dos Santos, on the other hand, were outstanding as Mexico won yet neither one has delivered on that promise.

All of this has to be kept in mind this summer. Regardless of whatever England do, other than added experience that helps in their development, it means very little for the players’ futures.


The (Transfer) Judgement Days

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011 by Paul Grech

There's nothing as brutal as a football forum during the summer.

Sign Brad Friedel as a back-up to Pepe Reina? Well, why bother, he was "garbage the first time round"? A promising midfielder like Jordan Henderson? "£13M ++ for a youngster who can 'do a job' sounds a bit steep.." Or someone like Connor Wickham? "Seen him play twice. Did f**k all in both games." Scott Dann? "FFS. What is it about managers trying to show us how clever they are in the transfer market. Is he better than Agger or Kelly?" As for Stewart Downing,well he's "average, one paced, very little ability to beat a full back". Yes, those are actual quotes picked off a couple of fora. And, no, they weren't the most viscous.

It goes on and on. Invariably there are those for whom nothing bar players of established repute are good enough. Anything else is immediately criticized and hacked to pieces. As are those who express diverging views, particularly anyone trying to inject a dose of realism.

Whilst the underlying sentiment might be reasonable enough - far too often in recent seasons Liverpool fans have tried to reassure themselves that the players being bought were good enough (Paul Konchesky was portrayed as being a good option) - it is the vehemency and absoluteness with which the verdicts are delivered that amuses. Players of whom, realistically, only occasional games have been seen are nevertheless criticised because they failed to win the game singlehandedly. Or because they weren't as involved as anticipated. Or because, quite simply, they failed to control a pass or two.

Factors like the level of opposition faced, the atmosphere round the game or whether the player was fully fit don't even register.

Strangely, foreign players seem to be excluded by this viscous criticism. Juan Mata or Mahmadou Sakho are praised and deemed as being potentially excellent buys which is reasonable enough because both are exceptional prospects. But then you add in someone like Roma goalkeeper Alexandre Doni, who is far less reliable than Friedel, and barely a peep.

Regardless of nationality issues, this is a mentality that is partly a by-product of Football Manager and other management simulation games. There the qualities of a player are nicely laid out with numbers that determine whether he is good or not. Easy as that. So why should real life be any different? A player is either good or crap; no in-betweens or exceptions.

Of course that isn't the case. You have to see where each player fits in and not just what his play is like. Is he going to accept being a squad player, what sort of impact will his wages make, is there potential for him to develop, how does he fit in with the style of play that the club wants to develop, does he bring to the side an element of play that others haven't?

These are all questions that have to be asked before a player is bought. They are all points that those close to the deal will have reflected on. The real objective for them is to build a squad that has the right blend of talent, tactical intelligence, patience and determination. And they try to do this by working within certain parameters such as which players actually want to join the club, whether their club is willing to sell and how much money is available.

It is nice for fans to fantasize a bit about which players they'd like to see. Yet there is a big difference between dreaming of players you'd like to see and presenting them as the only acceptable option.

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