Liverpool Podcast – Dalglish, FSG, new manager and season review

I had the pleasure of recording a special Liverpool FC podcast with Simon Furnivall (@SFurnivall) and James Owens (@_Maleven) talking Kenny Dalglish’s sacking, FSG, who our next manager should be and LFC’s 2011-12 campaign. The podcast comes in two parts, with the first part dedicated to Kenny and the managerial situation, the second to last season.

Would love people’s thoughts, so give it a listen and let me and the others know what you think. Nice one.

Part One – http://lovelyleftfoot.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/LFC-Podcast-Special-Part-1.mp3
Part Two – http://lovelyleftfoot.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/LFC-Podcast-Special-Part-2.mp3

Anfield a fortress – if you’re the away team

It’s an obvious statement to make, but in football it is often a team’s home form that decides their season and depending on how well you do in front of your own fans, you could potentially win enough games to make up for any number of away day failings.

This is why teams and their supporters make such an effort to make their home as intimidating as possible. Some play ominous music from the Requiem For A Dream soundtrack as the players wait in the tunnel, some wave flags and some place away fans closer to their own ground than the pitch (yeah, I’m talking about you Newcastle!).

It’s all done to get that slightest of advantages that can make all the difference at the highest level; the small details that could put off any visiting player that isn’t quite on their game. But of all the Premier League intimidation tactics, there is one sign that has been synonymous with the word fortress in English football and it simply reads THIS IS ANFIELD.

Three words that would strike fear into opposition players as they trotted up the steps, out onto the pitch and into a cauldron of noise as the lyrics of You’ll Never Walk Alone rang around perhaps the most iconic stadium in the country.

Visiting Anfield was a daunting prospect, a trip in which the away team knew they’d be in for a tough game no matter what the form or quality of the side in red. In fact, Liverpool’s dominance in L4 used to be so strong that three points were almost a formality.

But that was then and this is now, and the days in which visiting teams feared a trip to Merseyside are long gone as the Reds lie in 8th with just 5 wins from 17 league games at home this season (a damning statistic that looks even worse when you consider that Liverpool look set to finish the campaign with more wins on the road than at home).

It seems that the team that fear playing at Anfield the most now are LFC.

But whilst it’s easy to put Liverpool’s home struggles down to the poor finishing that has haunted the team throughout 2011-12, could the team’s Anfield problems be more complex?

It’s often been said that it takes a certain mentality to play for a big club, especially one such as Liverpool FC in which expectations are so high and tolerance of mediocrity is low, and over the years although we haven’t always had the necessary quality to lift trophies, we’ve always had players with the bottle to play at Anfield and take it to the opposition.

Liverpool’s recent signings have been much maligned, in particular the British contingent of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. But in my opinion it is not match-winning quality they are missing but the mental strength to play in front of a demanding set of supporters.

Of the four Andy Carroll has shown by far the most character;  recovering from excessive mockery to score two winning goals in a week and going a long way to establishing himself as a key attacking player for Liverpool. The fact he has been able to shrug off the £35m jibes and remained confident is a testament to him.

New recruit Charlie Adam is a player whose attitude has always undermined his ability and after a promising start he has seemed woefully out of his depth on several occasions this season. The first 10 minutes of a game appear to be crucial for Adam and if he makes a few mistakes in that period then it’s inconceivable that he’ll recover and go on to have a good game.

One thing you can say for Adam is that no matter how many times he gives the ball away, he’ll always make himself available and demand he’s passed to (even it leads to yet another mistake). This is a far cry from fellow midfield new-boy Jordan Henderson, who seems to have a completely different type of mental problem to Adam.

A young player with all the talent in the world, all Henderson seems to lack is confidence and having spent much of the season on the right flank he is only inches away from the moaners occupying the Main Stand and the Lower Centenary. And at just 20 it’s not crazy to assume that he’s been affected by being within an earshot of some of his critics and decided to play it safe to avoid more flak.

Lack of atmosphere is another problem that has emerged over the last few seasons as frustrations have boiled over, and many fans now sit on their hands expecting rather than standing up and cheering on their side. The now infamous ‘where’s your famous atmosphere?’ chant has become a regular fixture of our home games as the Kop are out-sang by the likes of Norwich and West Brom.

Although it can be argued that a noisy crowd doesn’t necessarily lead to better home performances, hearing your own fans supporting you has got to be better than prolonged periods of silence broken only by groans when a pass is misplaced. This is especially crucial when it comes to the likes of Henderson, who need the support of the fans if they are to become the confident players we so desperately need.

While tactics could have been different and shots could have been more accurate, we’d give our team a much better chance if we as fans could bring ourselves to get up for games other than United and Everton (we’re all guilty of it at times), re-introduce the wall of noise that has been known to ‘suck the ball into the net’ in the past and get over the fact we might not hear the Champions League anthem for a few seasons.

Despite everything we’ve got a lot to sing about (Europa League football secured, League Cup success and an FA Cup Final to come) and while the league season may now be a write-off, the whole point off You’ll Never Walk Alone is that we cheer the team on through thick and thin.

It’s going to be a long road on our quest to become a top four side again but making Anfield a fortress would give us a much better chance of doing that. It may be too late this season, but come August we need to start making the sort of noise that sends chills down visiting players’ spines because our ground is still Anfield and we are still Liverpool.

Perspective needed in season of transition

It wasn’t meant to be like this was it? 10 points off 4th place with 12 games to go, Champions League qualification hopes seemingly over, and the aside from the possibility of further cup success, it looks set to be another season filed under ‘transition’ and ‘must do better’.

Much was expected as Fenway Sports Group followed up a storming second half of last season under Kenny Dalglish with a real show of intent in the summer transfer window, spending an estimated £60 million on seven new recruits. With King Kenny back at the helm after two decades, there was a sense that anything could be possible, and this served to heighten expectations still further.

But missed chances, fluffed penalties, misfiring signings and a bizarre tendency to hit the woodwork have seen Liverpool’s dreams of a return to Europe’s top table dashed, and with fans frustrated at the team’s inability to make the most of their rivals’ inconsistency, there have even been suggestions from some quarters that the King may not be the man to take us forward after all.

Kenny’s return in January 2011 began with mere hope, and the delight at the former number 7’s return to the dugout was matched by relief at Roy Hodgson’s departure. Roy’s reign may have been short, but it felt like it lasted as long as the nomadic 36 year managerial career so often the subject of his compulsive boasts, and at one point it seemed as though the damage he was doing was beyond repair.

Hope isn’t everything in football and you need a darn sight more than that if you want to win things. But if you haven’t got hope, you haven’t got anything, and that is what made Kenny’s return and Roy’s exit were so important. Under Hodgson, a scrappy away win over Bolton was a ‘famous result’ and the mere thought of a win at Goodison ‘utopia’.  In the space of weeks, it felt dispiritingly like we morphed from an underperforming heavyweight into a genuine mid-table outfit, and Oh Campione’s refrain of ‘they say our days are numbered, we’re not famous anymore’ was threatening to ring true.

But the appointment of Dalglish changed all that. This is a man who knows only how to win and a man who will never let the fans believe they should settle for anything less than what they expect. Our belief was back and just as quickly as the club’s fortunes seemed to be fading under Hodgson, they were on the rise under the King as the Reds steamrollered through the opposition to end the 2010-11 campaign in 6th as the league’s form team. Six months earlier, the prospect of such fluid, free scoring football and equally impressive results would have been unimaginable.

Liverpool's big summer buys (and Doni!) may not be the glamour signings fans hoped for but they have strengthened the squad and added much needed depth.

However, winning a few games when there is nothing left to play for is an entirely different proposition to playing out a whole campaign from scratch under the weight of new expectation, and with several new signings to bed in it was always going to be difficult for the team to match the supporters’ lofty ambitions.

If you asked most Kopites to summarise 2011-12 to date in one word, I suspect the most common answer you’d receive would be ‘frustration’, since the team have had chance after chance to make 4th place their own only to let it slip. After three years without the continental glamour ties we became accustomed to under Rafa, restlessness for a return to the weeknights when the Champions League anthem reverberated around Anfield is inevitable.”

But perhaps we thought it would be too easy. Perhaps we underestimated just how well we did in the second half of last season, and perhaps too much was expected of a team that Dalglish has only just started to rebuild. Maybe Kenny even did too well, because a season that should probably have been seen as the start of a slow climb back to the top was expected to be the campaign in which we reclaimed our place among the domestic elite.

That probably does a disservice to the teams above Liverpool, because there is no longer simply a ‘big four’ competing to finish in the four Champions League qualifying positions in some order. There are six teams (including Liverpool) who all feel they have to be playing Champions League football, and the reality is that we started this season at the back of the pack.

Manchester City and Tottenham have both improved immensely since we last qualified for the Champions League, while Manchester United remain the team to beat in the Premier League. And for all their problems Arsenal and Chelsea still possess strong squads and are more than capable of beating anyone on their day. All five teams had an advantage over us coming into this season and it seems many thought it would easier than it’s turned out to be.

The short-termism within football only ever seems to intensify, and it has created a climate in which fans and chairman have little patience when it comes to managers. The term ‘rebuilding job’ often seems to be met with an attitude of “what? We have to wait for success? But we want it now!”

It’s easy to get carried away when large sums are spent, but the fact of the matter is that for all the disappointment and impatience, Liverpool are probably where they should be when all things are considered. We are still emerging from one of the most depressing and destructive periods in our club’s history, and the size of the task that Kenny Dalglish took on should not be underestimated.

We’re playing catch-up and even after bringing in nine new players in the last 18 months, there are still positions where match-winning quality is lacking, and it was never going to be possible to strengthen in all those areas over one summer. But while Adam, Henderson and Downing may not have been the exotic marquee additions craved by the Football Manager aficionados, their arrival has given the squad something it lacked for a long time: strength in depth.

In the past we have spoken about only needing one or two ‘big signings’ and how we were ‘almost there’, and while it may occasionally have been true, often we were underestimating the weaknesses that needed addressing. But we now have a squad with genuine depth upon which to build, a couple of top quality signings in the summer could see Liverpool build a side more than capable of mounting a strong challenge for the top four.

In January of last year, most of us were more worried about finishing in the bottom three than the top four. Barely a year on from that bleak period, we find ourselves in the in the quarter finals of the FA Cup with Europa League football next season guaranteed courtesy of our Carling Cup triumph. That’s a heck of a turnaround and it’s one that King Kenny should be lauded for. When it’s looked at with a little perspective, it’s clear that our situation isn’t so bad after all.

For now though, it is still about rebuilding, and repairing the damage that was done under the old regime. Bedding in several new players, changing their mentalities and overtaking clubs who don’t have such problems isn’t easy ,and Kenny needs time to get his system right and decide how he wants to approach next season.

Yes, it may be a season of transition but it’s a transition from darker days to a brighter future, and it can’t happen overnight. Kenny has done brilliantly to take us this far so quickly, and questioning his suitability to continue the good work since his return should be unthinkable to any Liverpool fan who survived the Hodgson-era. Champions League football will be back soon enough, and in the meantime, let’s enjoy picking up all the domestic silverware that nobody else seems to want!

Arteta making it easy for Gooners to forget Cesc

Spain and Barcelona’s dominance of international and club football respectively has redefined the way people view the game, especially in Britain, and for the first time in recent memory our management, players, media and fans are thinking “maybe we have been going about things the wrong way after all.”

For years the words you would hear in relation to both the England national team and clubs sides were ‘passion’, ‘grit’ and ‘determination’ and although sides have been lauded for their skill and attacking verve, it seemed  almost a bonus that was secondary in importance to the superlatives I have just listed.

But the Spanish have changed all that, now we are all obsessed with 4-3-3’s, high pressing and possession statistics and a team is seen as incomplete if they do not have a 5ft 7in maestro pulling the strings in midfield. There was no better example of this than the top English sides’ summer transfer activity.

Chelsea spend £24 million on Valencia wizard Juan Mata and were also on a relentless pursuit of Tottenham’s Croatian creator Luka Modric, Manchester United couldn’t go a day without being linked with Wesley Sneijder and Manchester City spent £35 million on attacker Sergio Aguero in order to compliment the skills of playmaker David Silva.

But amongst all the extortionate fees it could be Arsene Wenger who has once again got the bargain of the season as he swooped to sign Mikel Arteta on deadline day for a fee of reportedly just under £10m. While the former Everton star had undoubted quality, his talents were downplayed as some fans struggled to get over the loss of captain Cesc Fabregas and cast envious glances at their rivals who boasted more glamorous Spaniards in Mata and Silva.

While Arteta may not be as flashy as some of his fellow countryman, the best signing for a team is not always the most expensive or the biggest name player, and as Arsenal fans are now well aware it is often the players that initially go under the radar that shine brightest in the end (just look at £2.5m signing Robin van Persie!).

Schooled at the famous La Masia training complex in Barcelona, Arteta grew up learning to appreciate the ball and his teammates and as he began to develop he was earmarked for the ‘pivot’ role in defensive midfield that Pep Guardiola had mastered before him. Arteta never got the chance to emulate his hero at first team level though and having spent 5 years in the B-team and 2 years on loan at Paris Saint Germain, it was only in 2002 that he officially left the Nou Camp.

His next destination was slightly unorthodox for a young, technically gifted Spanish midfielder as he moved to Glasgow to play for Rangers. It proved to be a wise decision as he learned the more physical side of the game and got an opportunity to finally play first team football at a team he could call his own. During his 2 years at Ibrox Arteta became a fan favourite as his controlled midfield displays helped the club to a league title in 2003 as well as the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup.

Arteta’s impressive performances in the SPL had attracted attention in his homeland and in 2004 he earned a dream move back to the Basque country where he grew up, as he signed for Real Sociedad. Unfortunately his dream soon turned into a nightmare as his good friend Xabi Alonso left for Liverpool and he himself failed to make an impact on the Erreala first team, making just 15 appearances before being made available for loan in January of 2005.

It was his next move that would define and save his career, as David Moyes offered him a lifeline at Everton with a loan subject to a permanent transfer. At Goodison Arteta would finally fulfil his potential, flourishing in a more advanced midfield role as well as on the flanks and becoming the heartbeat of one of the best Blues teams of the modern era.

Like all great Spanish midfielders he had perfect ball control and dribbling ability, an eye for a killer pass and the skill to find the strikers from almost anywhere on the pitch. But what set Arteta apart was the fact he was slightly taller than a lot of Spanish playmakers (around 5ft 10in) and knew how to take a bit of punishment after his spell in Scotland (at Everton in 2006/07 he was the most fouled player in the Premier League).

Arteta’s grace and beauty coupled with his physical attributes brought him great success during his 7 years on Merseyside but after spells out with injury he struggled to recreate his best form and when Arsenal came in for him this summer, he may have felt it was his last opportunity to play at the very top level.

Back to the present and Arteta has emerged from the shadow of Cesc Fabregas to become one of the Gooners’ most important players, with his experience and calming nature helping Arsenal to become much more assured when they have the lead. Although the team may not be quite as dynamic as they used to be, they now seem to have the ability to kill teams off and grab those scrappy victories that many didn’t previously associate with Arsenal.

An early season blip has now been well and truly forgotten at the Emirates as they look like favourites to make the top four once again and remain one of only two English sides still in the Champions League.  While van Persie rightly takes many of the plaudits, Arteta has quietly gone about his business, sitting deeper and allowing Alex Song to get forward more than ever and if Wenger’s team continue their current form then come the end of the season fans may be saying “Cesc who?” as they hail their new Spanish midfield maestro.

Are Carroll and Suarez finally starting to gel?

It seems strange that having signed Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez during the January transfer window that only now, at the end of October, are we starting to see the first signs of a partnership between the two. That says it all about the bad luck that Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish have had in trying to get both their big money strikers into the team at the same time, but it now seems that the Reds luck has changed and the pair are finally starting to hint at forming the formidable partnership that had fans drooling 8 months ago.

 

Read the rest at AnfieldIndex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next For Glen Johnson?

It’s not very often that England produce a special player who is a bit out of the ordinary, that player who not only does his job but also brings unique qualities that make him one of the best in the world. I’m talking about a cultured centre back who can bring the ball out of defence, a fullback who can own an entire flank a la Dani Alves or a number 10 that makes everything just look easy. It all seems to be so cookie cutter when it comes to English players, dozens of the same but never what we need. Or maybe this is of our own doing and we just ignore those players that don’t fit the mould we have created in this country.

 

Read the rest at FourAddedOn.

Suarez isolated as United frustrate Reds

The most memorable visual of Liverpool and Manchester United’s recent Anfield encounters has been of an early onslaught, a tidal wave of Red attacking the United back-four from the off, giving the visitors from the other end of the M6 no chance to settle on the ball or go about their own gameplan. The two biggest thorns in United’s side last season were Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt, whose tireless running and unpredictable movement made the league’s toughest defence look like chumps, and if the Champions were to have any chance of avenging that defeat this season then they knew they’d have to weather the first-half storm.

Read the rest at AnfieldIndex.

Kiyotake to follow in Kagawa’s footsteps

Last season was a landmark one for Japanese football as Atsuto Uchida became the first player from the Land of the Rising Sun to play in the semi-finals of the Champions League, as he started both legs of Schalke’s eventual battering by Manchester United.

While Uchida hardly covered himself in glory it was encouraging to see a Japanese player plying his trade at the very highest level and was symbolic of the footballing progress the country has made over the last 10 years

 

Read the rest at Asian Football Feast.

Álvaro Recoba: Lovely Left Footers

The diminutive South American forward picks up the ball in his own half, ball glued to his trusty left-foot as he glides past defender after defender with relative ease, throwing in a body swerve here and nutmeg there. As he bears down on goal there is certain inevitability as he blasts the ball into the back of the net, adding another beautiful goal to his vast collection.

Upon reading that opening paragraph you would be forgiven for thinking I was waxing lyrical about Lionel Messi, the greatest player in world football. Barcelona’s number 10 is not the subject of my affection however; I was describing Uruguayan genius Álvaro Recoba, a player that could have been just as good as the Argentine had it not been for unfortunate circumstances which were mostly of his own doing.

 

Read the rest at Lovely Left Foot.

My Favourite Players: Matt Le Tissier

Having lacked inspiration to write for a long time now,  I have decided to start a new series on the Red Samurai where I look at my favourite players.  The series will not be limited to Liverpool players and it will not simply be the best players I have seen. First up is Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, a maverick attacking midfielder whose collection of great goals for a lesser club will probably never be matched and a player that gave my some of my first football memories.

The Dell hail their hero.

Overweight and lazy, Matt Le Tissier is not too different from your average pundit as he coasts his way through Soccer Saturday week after week making little effort to appear interested or insightful.  It infuriates me that a man I idolised as a young football fan has now turned into someone that forces me to either mute the TV or change channel when I see his face. It’s saddening because at one point in the 90s there was no player in world football that could excite fans with such unpredictable brilliance or inspire with his loyalty to his club, Southampton.

The way I described Le Tissier the pundit in the opening sentence is probably not too different to Le Tissier the player, aside from a few crucial differences. A far cry from the toned and chiselled athletes that are commonplace in the modern game, Le Tissier was a player who relied solely on his technical wizardry to win games and it was always surprising to see a man who had the physique of a normal bloke but skills that very few players could ever dream of having.

Le Tiss would stroll about the pitch for majority of games, barely breaking a sweat, but then the ball would arrive at his feet and he would explode into life, embarking on mazy dribbles, unleashing piledrivers from long range or playing a pass that nobody else on the pitch could have seen. It was remarkable to see a player with such effortless talent, who genuinely seemed to be able to do great things without even trying, and I think it is that which drew me and so many others to him.

Le Tiss' most famous fan.

One man who may be able to challenge for the title of “Matt Le Tissier’s biggest fan” is Barcelona and Spain maestro Xavi, who shocked many be stating his admiration for Le Tiss last year. He said of the Guernsey-born attacker: “The man I absolutely loved watching as a kid was Matt Le Tissier after seeing the highlights on TV of his extraordinary goals.

“His talent was out of the norm. He could dribble past seven or eight players but without speed — he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.

“We had a programme on Spanish TV with the best goals from around Europe. He was always the star.”

A one-club man, Matt spent his entire career at Southampton and although he must have had several opportunities to play at a higher level he always stayed loyal to the club and it was fitting that his last goal for the club was the last goal at The Dell, the stadium where he had wowed fans for over a decade. His goals never won trophies but at times he single-handedly kept the Saints in the Premier League, making his mean that little bit extra and cementing his place as the club’s greatest ever player.

Matt’s loyalty to Southampton was in my opinion admirable, but not everyone saw it that way and Le Tissier was often accused of lacking the mentality to play for a top club. The term “big fish in a small pond” was never too far away when Le Tiss was brought up and it was thought that he enjoyed being at a club where there was never any pressure to win or achieve as long as he scored the odd great goal. That type of contribution would not have sufficed at club such as Manchester United for example, where he would be expected not just to lose weight but to perform at his best every week.

We can only speculate about whether Le Tissier would have succeeded at a bigger club, but what we do know is that he had the talent to change games and if he had applied himself he could have been one of the great English players.  Although Le Tissier insists that he has no regrets when it comes to his club career, he must be disappointed with how his international career (or lack of) turned out, as he collected just 8 caps for his country.

It seemed like he would finally get his chance to go to a World Cup in 1998 after he struck a brilliant hat trick in an England B game against Russia, but despite his goalscoring exploits Le Tiss was overlooked by England manager Glen Hoddle and after having his dream crushed, he was never the same player again.

It’s a shame that a player with such talent never got to strut his stuff on the biggest stage but in truth it is no surprise that England managers never took to the talents of Matt Le Tissier. The Southampton legend is exactly the sort of player that people hate in this country, a maverick, and you can only imagine what the calls from the crowd where when they saw Le Tiss ambling around the halfway line waiting for the ball. “Why isn’t he getting stuck into them?” “Run about a bit more!” “Stop those fancy flicks and get the ball out wide!” England  have never appreciated a true number 10 and we will probably never see another like Le Tissier in this country, since it appears that attitudes to players of his type have still not changed after all these years.

It is telling that a Spaniard, Xavi, is one of very few players to come out and state their admiration for Le Tissier and perhaps Le Tiss would have had a more fruitful career had he been from Spain, where flair players are hailed not hated.

An ode to such a great player should not end on a sour note though and despite all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ Le Tissier had a wonderful career. As an attacking midfielder he scored 210 goals in 540 games for Southampton, an astonishing achievement considering the quality of team he was playing in and the fact that he wasn’t an out-and-out striker.

A rare England appearance.

Many of those goals were penalties and it is from the spot where Le Tissier gained a formidable reputation, scoring 47 out of 48 attempts with his sole miss coming against Nottingham Forest when Mark Crossley made what he calls the save he is most proud of, such was the rarity of a Le Tissier missed penalty.

Of his other 163 goals for Southampton I am sure at least 150 of them are spectacular strikes, such was Le Tissier’s consistency in scoring great goals, and this is ultimately why he is one of my favourite players. Whether it was his 40 yard lob against Blackburn or his mazy run against Newcastle he always entertained and if you type his name into YouTube you will not find a player with a more impressive collection of wonder strikes. After all, there is a reason the Southampton fans call him “Le God.”

Le Tissier’s career was almost Roy of the Rovers stuff, a normal looking bloke who scored countless great goals for one club without even trying. How can you not love that? Just don’t ruin the memories by watching him on Sky Sports News.

 

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