21 September 2012

Brendan, Let Loose the Kids Please!

The last year that Liverpool Football Club won the league was 1990; and it has been 22 years too long since! Gérard Houllier and Rafael Benitez both came close when the club finished second in the 2002 and 2009 seasons, respectively. Instead of using these two runners-up finishes as stepping stones onto the summit, the club instead found itself floundering on both occasions the following season, weighed down as it has been these last two decades by its own history.

Granted, in the Spice Boys era under Roy Evans, off the field excesses by some of the players were well-documented. Granted, too, that there were seasons when the players brought in were, at best, really quite mediocre. But by and large in the Premiership era, however, the club has managed to stay in the top four; and finishing outside it has generally been regarded as disastrous.

In many of these seasons, the problem has been inside the players’ heads rather than in their abilities. Liverpool simply lost the psychological edge that it enjoyed over its rivals in the seventies and eighties.


In the late eighties, Manchester United was the team that wanted to be in Liverpool’s place. That it eventually got there can be attributed to Ferguson gambling on its youth champion team, the one of David Beckham’s generation. This was a team that had a winning mentality won from its successes in its age group; and furthermore it was unburdened by United’s own illustrious history.
Then, Liverpool was notorious for being slow starters; but would get its act together at the turn of the year. Whoever was top of the table after December would be nervously looking over its shoulders and would ultimately be unnerved at seeing the name of a proven champion slowly but surely climbing up.

Manchester United fans will know exactly what the feeling is all about, as United has enjoyed the same psychological edge in the Premiership era. It was United, of course, which pipped Liverpool to the title in 2009; just as Arsenal did in 2002.

Last season was as disastrous as a season has ever been for Liverpool in the Premiership era; and the eighth-place finish led to the sacking of Kenny Dalglish from the managerial position. Now it is the Irishman Brendan Rodgers at the helm, bringing with him the philosophies that earned so much success for modest Welsh Club Swansea City.

It is early days yet in the new season; but four matches without a win is not a pretty statistic to ponder. I saw the home games against Manchester City and Arsenal; and while there are signs of an improvement, calls for patience from the owners are, indeed, well-founded. The Arsenal match, in particular, showed the old fears surfacing.

I did get up for the Europa Cup encounter away to Swiss side Young Boys Berne to get a glimpse of the youngsters; and after watching, I say Brendan, the time has come to let loose more of the youngsters!

I know; Berne is not exactly what one can call a top continental side. That was still as vibrant and aesthetically pleasing a Liverpool performance as I have seen in years! A bit of naiveté, perhaps; but the youngsters were unfazed by the occasion and looked perfectly comfortable.

If anything, it was the supposed veterans who were not living up to their reputations. Stewart Downing gave possession away too frequently in the first half, not what one would expect of a full England international. Jose Enrique, as everyone who saw the match knows, was responsible for a classic case of footballing idiocy when gifting Berne with its first equalizer. Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher looked well past his prime, easily cast aside in the counterattack that led to Berne’s third goal.

Raheem Sterling has been winning all the plaudits for keeping Downing out of the first team; but there is another youngster, the 18-year old Spaniard Suso, who is also aching to be let loose. The lad is quick and skilful; and would have – should have – scored late in the first half if he had pulled the trigger after making space for himself inside the box.

This was a Liverpool side that was unburdened by history, playing with the exuberance of youth. Sahin – the Turkish international on loan from Real Madrid – and Assaidi – a Moroccan international – put on eye-catching displays. So did Dani Pacheco who, like Suso, is also a Spanish youth international. The England youth international, Andre Wisdom, looked solid and even scored on his senior debut.

Even the frequently maligned Jordan Henderson looked an altogether different proposition. In the first team, Henderson frequently defers to Steven Gerrard and – consequently – fails to stamp his mark on matches. Against Berne, he was liberated from Gerrard’s seniority and played not only tirelessly but with a leadership heretofore unseen.

The team looked vulnerable at the back; but that is, perhaps, something that I do not agree with about Rodgers’ approach. However, going forward, there was speed and precision – something any Liverpool fan wishes the first team has more of. There were also five goals, a commodity in short supply for the first team.

The loan of Andy Carroll became more curious because, in Berne, Liverpool had so much width and put in countless crosses. A tall and dominant in the air center-forward would have been logical. While the team in Berne played well on the floor, it also lacked height and may not cope well with set pieces against sides like Stoke City in the Premiership.

That said, what I found most remarkable was the fearlessness of the performance, most particularly so after Berne had taken a 2-3 lead. It was the performance of a team that was not weighed down by expectations; or did not care about these.

In the late eighties, Manchester United was the team that wanted to be in Liverpool’s place. That it eventually got there can be attributed to Ferguson gambling on its youth champion team, the one of David Beckham’s generation. This was a team that had a winning mentality won from its successes in its age group; and furthermore it was unburdened by United’s own illustrious history.

Although Assaidi and Sahin have been brought in from other clubs, Pacheco, Suso and Wisdom are all from Liverpool’s successful youth sides of recent seasons; and so, therefore, come with a winning mentality. There are more: Conor Coady, Adam Morgan and the German youth international Samed Yesil. Others like Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and the crowing jewel, Raheem Sterling, have played for the first team already.

Dare Brendan Rogers take a leaf from Alex Ferguson’s book to restore Liverpool to its effing perch? Please do Brendan! Please do!

[Postscript: Swearword originally from Alex Ferguson.]











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