09 March 2010

Tie the rope and find some razor blades

It's no better a day later. Nothing will happen until the end of the season, but I'm afraid nothing's going to change either.

The list of parties responsible for Liverpool's poor season is overwhelmingly long, and includes any of the scapegoats you'd imagine. The manager, the owners, nearly every player who's pulled on the shirt, referees, and general misfortune. I'm sure I could come up with a few more if I lingered on the thought.

Yes, I do include Benitez. And I'm well aware I'm the ultimate apologist for this regime.

I still believe what I've written during the course of this ghastly campaign, and it's been kick after kick to the crotch that's put Liverpool in this position. Yesterday's match was quite bad, but Liverpool's been bad before. I haven't lost faith in Benitez overnight, but I'm afraid the players might have. Professionals don't all forgot how to play at the same time. The movement was non-existent, everyone's touch was poor, and the passing was even worse. It's like lightning striking the same place in five successive storms.

No matter who's responsible, the manager's the figurehead, and that's the head laid on the chopping block. What makes this so difficult to acknowledge, and what makes this different from the end of Evans and Houllier's tenures, is sometimes it seems as if Benitez is the only one at the club who cares about Liverpool FC.

The owners, piling on debt in the vain attempt to profit on Liverpool's legacy right before the economy went south (while lying about their intentions the entire time), clearly don't care. The chief executive, who's done an okay job, is only in place because RBS wanted a closer eye on the idiot owners who owe them loads of money. Only three players – Reina, Mascherano, and Kyrgiakos – have been exempt from criticism this season. Gerrard's already packing for the World Cup. Carragher's sniping in the press. Torres has been frustrated for long stretches, kicked by every defense he's faced – it's no surprise he's struggled with injuries – and not one referee protects him. The rest have been a shadow of themselves, whether down to injury or poor form. And yes, I include both Lucas and Kuyt, the two I so often defend. At times, those two, along with Ngog, Maxi, and others, simply haven't been good enough.

I firmly believe Benitez has stayed at Liverpool this long because he truly loves the fans and the city. And I truly fear what would happen if the owners got their man as manager. They wanted to hire Klinsmann, solely because they met him at some function, for Christ's sake! No other manager would have signed a new deal despite being given a net spending of approximately nothing over the last two seasons. And I'm still struggling to think of any top managers who'll walk into this situation.

But the football has been dire this season. Yesterday saw at least eight players who had forgotten how to play the game or just couldn't be bothered. That Liverpool were just as bad after the interval made me question whether Rafa even gave a team talk. Don't trust anyone outside of the dressing room who claims Manager X has lost Team X's dressing room, but the body language of both the players and Benitez told a story, as did Rafa's post match remarks.

The whole club needs an overhaul, from top to bottom. I'd infinitely prefer the owners were the ones booted out, followed by a fair few players. But, despite the financial penalties, it's still far easier to sack Benitez. Sigh.

The sky really might be falling.


drew said...

Honestly I think we've been spoilt the past few years, and a bit delusional in thinking that we could continue punching above our weight financially without repercussions. You simply cannot count on Champions League revenue unless you have an owner with deep enough pockets to make up the difference in case of calamity.

The old order at Liverpool knew that, given the ballooning cost of Premiership success, they could not fund the team as an ongoing concern, and they certainly couldn't afford the stadium that would make success possible going forward. But they seriously and greedily erred in selling to a pair who even a cursory examination would have shown up as being unfit owners for a club of Liverpool's stature.

This season may set us back five years or more. The value of the club will drop, and players may have to be sold, some at cut prices. We may lose some quality youth; but on the other hand we may gain more as they are hesitant now to go to clubs such as Man City where they will not get a look in.

There are three potential rays of hope.

One: this will give the banks leverage against our idiot owners, and force them to drop the clearly unreasonable price they are demanding for the club.

Two: Liverpool as a name still carries such weight that, should Benitez leave or be sacked, we will have a number of solid managers interested in the job and in the challenge of bringing us to a league title--and the lionizing that would accompany that feat.

Three: If a new appointment is made, whoever comes in will inherit far more talent than any manager since Dalglish, and younger talent at that.

Set against these sources of hope is the incredible difficulty of getting back into England's elite. The chance of getting a moneybags owner is basically nil, and an unhealthy delusion besides: our best outlook is to find a sole owner with the money to take on our debts, build our stadium, and allow us to get back on a sound, if not extravagant, footing. The reason we have not done this already is simply that the pricetag is too high.

Short of that I am immensely worried at who our present owners might appoint; the mere fact that they checked into Klinsmann at all shows how ludicrously out of their depth they are. A big part of me wishes Rafa had just walked at that point, when he would have gone with the respect of every Red, and the fury of the supporters might have been better marshalled. But that time is past, and now that fury is spent railing against individual players and misfortune.

Football is overwhelmingly now a game that is played in the boardroom. And we have lost nearly every match in that setting since the early '90s-- when we failed to capitalize on our brand in the way that United and Arsenal did--up till the day that our improbable 2005 CL title made us worldwide darlings again.

We have now squandered that goodwill, and 3-0 down to Milan is nothing compared to the gap we presently face. But our priority has to be getting the club out of the owners' hands. It's either that, or face the very real possibility that our future is Leeds' immediate past.

Marlon said...

Nate, I'm gonna be 100% honest and say that over the past two years I have been a big fan of your blog, but this season has made me so depressed I can't even get myself to read your posts. I just feel worse. It's come to this.

nate said...

I really hope that means Liverpool's just gotten that depressing, not that my arguments are inane (possible) or my writing's become worse (also possible).

Marlon said...

You know what I meant and I should know better then to give you room to be self deprecating.

Marlon said...

If it's any consolation I don't read my own posts at USA World Cup Blog either.

Ed said...

I never read my own posts, all I find are errors and self-loathing.

Ed said...

And for what it's worth, you're dead on about an overhaul. Hard to see where this combination of owners, manager, and squad goes.

nate said...

You know what I meant and I should know better then to give you room to be self deprecating.

Too funny, because it's absolutely right. Give me an inch of room for self-deprication and I'll find four miles.

keith.cygan said...

Not sure how topical this is, but it's certainly frustrating to see Liverpool spend gobs of cash for Johnson and Aquilani for very little ROI, while Everton is able to snag Donovan for a relative pittance and get such good production from him. I'm actually quite happy for Donovan (he gets way too much shit from USMNT fans in general), but have any of the players Benitez bought going back to last summer contributed much? Kyrgiakos had a good run... anyone else?

drew said...

Johnson was very, very good before picking up his injury, I don't think there's any way you can blame Benitez for that.

The failure to get a better second-choice striker has been most telling, there is no reason we should have had to pile as much pressure on Ngog as we have. I miss Crouchy. Hell, I miss Bellamy.

nate said...

Unless the Galaxy completely change course or MLS is locked out, Landycakes has one game left for the Blues. It'll take a good deal of under-the-table money from Everton or a lot of Donovan's agent bitching for Landon to stay. Such is life with loan signings. Wouldn't have done Liverpool much good in the long term, and who knows if it would have helped in the short term given how bad the rest of the team's playing.

I still think Liverpool misses the attacking midfielder upgrade – Silva, Lavezzi, Krasic, whomever – I was so certain would sign in the summer. A striker wouldn't have hurt to be sure, but yeah, either way, Liverpool needed another attacker. Not that it's the sole reason for Liverpool's troubles, but would have helped.

Transfer dealings over the past three windows haven't earned Benitez any plaudits, and have done Liverpool a fair bit of harm. Keane, Dossena, Aquilani (I know, jury's still out), etc. But I'll continue to remind that he's absolutely been short-sheeted by the owners as well.

keith.cygan said...

Was Johnson "very, very good"? I'd argue that he wasn't, with the caveat that my eye for judging the value of soccer players probably doesn't compare to your guys'. He seems to give the ball away quite a bit and from the little I saw of him, his defense wasn't particularly noteworthy. I should also say that I'm going from a pretty small sample size with both of these guys and would like to see more of them before completely 'judging' the moves.

Having said that, the two of them cost something around 35 million pounds, IIRC (wikipedia confirms this -- 17 for AA and 18 for GJ). That's not an insignificant amount, and for a team whose main issue the past couple seasons has been a lack of depth behind the two superstars, putting all of your eggs in those two baskets just doesn't seem like a good idea.

Some of this, it should be noted, is based in speculation. From the tea leaves and nate's writings it seems like Benitez and the owners don't have the best relationship. Did Benitez know that he only had 35 million to spend? It's a bit more forgivable if the rug was pulled out from underneath him immediately after the AA signing.

nate said...

Johnson was excellent early in the season, probably the best player for the first 4-6 weeks (something like 2 goals and 3 assists in the first 8 games), but stuttered before the extended injury. Still, he's a quality player.

From what I remember reading, it's unclear (surprise, surprise!) how much Benitez knew about the budgetary constraints. Seems to me having only £1.5m for a defender, leading to Kyrgiakos over Shawcross/Turner, came as a surprise.

Depth is certainly an issue, but from 2007-09 I remember frequently writing how Liverpool was a player or two away, and needed to concentrate on big-money signings instead of settling for the likes of Pennant, Bellamy, etc. and "depth." That was based on how paying a premium for Torres was worth it. Of course, that's when I was expecting someone like Silva signed. But still, seems like grass is always greener on the other side and all.