A Fresh Start
Despite thinking I might actually get back to my blog, I ended up not doing so. There were really a couple of reasons for that, with the biggest being lack of time. However, not far behind that was the fact that last season was a “fresh start” for Liverpool. I did put up a couple of posts early on, but quickly realised that it was all too easy to be sucked into a false hope, with unrealistic expectations. So rather than post about our obvious top four finish, followed by top ten being a better expectation, I just figured I would abstain.
Now that the season is over, I thought it safe to go back and revisit it in one whole go. This will stop short of this summer transfer dealings, as I hope to put up some posts on that at a later stage.
As any sports fan, and in particular a Liverpool fan, you go into any season hoping for success. However, success has varying forms, which unfortunately, in this day and age where people want instant gratification, was something that was lost on many people. We may be the most successful club in English history, but this does not entitle the club to future success. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting the team to win every game, and winning every trophy, but for the support to remain healthy for all involved there has to be some realistic expectations. Before the season started, my expectations were that we would maybe win a domestic cup, but by no means did I expect it, and I though that we would miss out on Champions League football and maybe make the Europa League. I wanted to give the new man a chance to settle in, and prove himself before starting to figure out if he had been a success, or even if he would be a success.
Transfers (Players and Manager)
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers to me the realistic choice. Many fans have complained that the club was aiming too low. We had gone from the greats of Shankly, Paisley, Dalgish and Rafa to coming down to a choice of Martinez and Rodgers. Both of them relatively inexperienced, both of them with limited knowledge of what it would take to lead a club to European participation, let alone glory. This sort of thinking, for me, fails to take everything into account. Yes, Rafa was keen, but did the fans really expect the owners to appoint a man based purely on the fans’ growing shouts of approval? They did that when they appointed Kenny Dalglish to take over from Hodgson and that back-fired on them. This time around they wanted to make sure they made the right choice for them, as well as the club.
Another name being thrown around was that of van Gaal. He was reportedly very keen on the position. However, there were in my opinion two issues with bringing him in. The first is that he IS a huge name in football. That may seem like a good thing, but with the big names also comes massive expectations. With the squad and funds that we had there was never going to be much scope for van Gaal to do a lot that first transfer window. When a bad run happened, the fans would have been that little bit quicker to jump on the Sack this Man Now bandwagon. I felt that early on in the season Rodgers escaped that primarily because he was a lesser experienced manager who needed a bit more time. Then of course there is the age issue. Yes managers can go on past their 65th birthday, but with van Gaal at 61 years of age, was he really a good future plan? Say it took him two or three season only to turn things around (and by that I’m talking about making top four). That gives him maybe another two to three years to bring in steady success (making top four two out of three years). That wouldn’t even necessarily mean even coming close to a title, and by the time he laid those foundations he would be on the way to retirement, or possibly even a new challenge. With him being a big name in football, even one good season at Liverpool would likely have seen other top clubs looking to lure him away.
Both Rodgers and Martinez were younger managers, looking for that first big job. Giving it to either of them would not only mean potentially a man who would be in the business for a few at least a couple more decades, but it was also a chance to instill a huge aspect of loyalty. You give the job to a man with plenty of past success and should he succeed he can be forgiven for thinking I turned it all around that was all me:
Should another offer come in from another club they might well say, yes I’ve succeeded here and I can move on with my head held high. On the other hand, if a man like Martinez or Rodgers managed that same success, there is always the chance of that big thought in the back of their minds that “This club gave me my one big chance, they gambled on me. I’ve rewarded that gamble but I should give them a bit more to reward that faith in me”.
The biggest issue I had with the final selection was that it unfortunately happened in a summer when the Euros were taking place. The process had to be lengthy, in order for the owners to make sure they were getting the right man for the job, but by the time Rodgers came in, it was always going to be difficult for him to assess what we had, with so many away for international duty; and it was equally going to be difficult to buy players when they too were involved. In the end, we sold a few, loaned some more, but purchased very few, which led us to what many felt was a thread bare squad.
That threadbare squad, however, was directly responsible for giving youngsters a chance. That chance may well have been the only difference between players such as Sterling staying with the club or moving on.
It also meant that the squad was able to start to gel together, with limited squad players available for any sort of squad rotation. That started to show early on in the season, when the team started to play some impressive football. The results, unfortunately, were not going well, but it was possible to see that there was hope of an even more successful season than I first hoped. That pretty much led to me not blogging about the season any more. I could already start to sense that feeling of “oh hello we could be in the top four here” and I wanted to keep a sense of perspective.
The inconsistencies kept going throughout the rest of 2012. Decent performances were being balanced out with that odd mistake here or there leading to poor results. We did have one world class player doing it on the pitch though. In the previous season, Luis Suarez was guilty of being wasteful. He must have worked hard in the summer, because he decided to do something about it. Of course being Suarez he didn’t do the obvious thing, and just work on being less wasteful. No, he opted to just up his shots per game ratio. Here he was slaloming his way through a multitude of defences, taking shot after shot. If you’re going to waste nine out of ten shots, then all he had to do was take thirty shots a game and get a hat-trick each time. It seemed to work, as he was well on the way to the golden boot by Christmas.
Of the new signings, none had really shone at all. Borini seemed to be constantly getting injured, Assaidi never really seemed to get much of a chance, and Yesil was always supposed to be one for the future. Joe Allen bright start, was quickly replaced with frustration. Yes he could pass a ball, but he was poor in the challenge. His experience led to a number of pointless freekicks that ended up determining results in the oppositions’ favour.
January Transfer Window
The brightest moment in last season was, at least for me, the January transfer window. Given past January transfer window dealings, it was easy to feat this going into 2013. Here we were in a bit of results wise, and hardly a glowing history in terms of January purchases. We knew we needed to build on the squad, if for nothing more than to add some depth to get us through the rest of the season. I was quickly going to be proved wrong. Rodgers and his team were able to buy two quality players, for relatively low money.
Coutinho was a steal for the 8 million that we paid for him. Here was a player with incredible talent on the ball, still young with a bright future ahead of him. The only thing between his value being single digits and astronomical was his passport. Here we were having to settle for a lowly Brazilian…. if only we could afford those much sought after English guys. How low we had to stoop eh?? *rolls eyes in overly sarcastic way that only an online poster can*. Would he fit in to the side, would he get any games? Was he one for the future? Could he couple with the English game??
Maybe. Who really knew at that stage…. what was needed here was to balance out any possible “OHH EMMM GEEEE he’s not British” hysteria with another signing… and so we were able to secure a young English striker from Chelsea.
I have to say I was surprised that Chelsea would sell Sturridge to us. I was even more surprised that he came for a relatively low fee. What was certain was that we finally might have a striker that could easily take over some of the burden from Luis Suarez, and in Coutinho we also had a midfielder that could create those chances for both Suarez and Sturridge.
So how good were these signings? Coutinho was an almost instant starter. He may look tiny, but he seemed to posses an unbelievable strength in the challenge, at least he did when he actually got caught in possession. He always just seemed to get that flicked pass out just before he could be closed down. Sturridge managed 11 goals in his 16 appearances, which is some indication of his early success, he also looked like a striker that could link up with Suarez and Coutinho, but more importantly he also looked to be filling in that need of a striker “willing” to be in the box to mop up the chances that fell from deflections, parries and miscues.
That hope was starting to build again, would we make it to top four? Control yourself already, lets wait and see.
Whilst results continured to improve, and we started to look like a team that could play some wonderful football, it wasn’t going to be enough. It became clear long before the end that top four was defintely out, and chances were Europe would be a tough ask as well. Out of all cup competitions, meant that league position was the only way. However, teams above us were just that little bit more consistent than us.
Then of course came that moment. A man hungry for success, leading the golden boot chart bared his teeth, Whether out of frustration, an attempt to force a move, or maybe just plain red mist, Suarez bit Ivanovic in the game against Chelsea. it almost didn’t even need the replay, you kind of felt that as soon as Ivanovic made the motion to the referee that he had been bitten that the writing was on the cards. There’s no excusing what he did, it’s just plain mad… even less excusing it if it is to be believed that he did it to force Liverpool’s hand in the transfer market. In the end, Suarez was forced to swallow his medicine with the league handing out a ten match ban. Sturridge was happy to take that opportunity for the last four games but by then there was mostly nothing left to play for. The season kind of petered out, and all that was left was to see what would happen in the summer.
So, no Europe for next season, a mid table finish beneath Everton, and no sugar daddies to bankroll our immediate success. Where next for Liverpool? The summer dealings would definitely see the loss of one Liverpool great. Jamie Carragher was stepping down, and with him a wealth of experience, spirit and heart was leaving the club. The chances of replacing our number 23 are close to none. Sure there is a chance of getting a quicker defender, or one more composed on the ball; maybe it was possible to find one that could match his passion, or even come close to his love for the club, but we would ever get that in one package? Unlikely.
Then there was the whole Suarez issue. What to do with a player that was going to miss over a month of the next season. More importantly what was to be done with him and his attitude. That he was a phenomenal talent with the ball on the pitch is not in dispute, but with that talent came a lot of baggage. Yes the media does have it in for him, but then when somebody is single-handedly throwing skip loads of sardines into the sea, one must expect some seagulls to take note and make some noise, right Eric??
Truth be told, it was a disappointing end to the season. It had started of with so much promise, and it had that shot to the arm in the January transfer window, yet to finish so low in the table, and nothing to show for it in the trophy cabinet, it was like finding out what Everton fans must have been feeling all these seasons. However, was it really a failure? Here we have to go back to the start of the season, and take stock of it all as a whole. For this I took to using Twitter as a gauge to understanding the success of the season. When Rodgers was appointed there was a huge uproar that the club had no ambition. The expectations were low. At the end of the season, the fans were voicing their disappointment at a failed season. Left at just that, it would indicate that those fans were maybe right, however one has to delve a little deeper.
During the season, the Liverpool “twitterverse” (I hate that “word” with a passion but if the pile of crap moulds round the shoe, then so be it) was taken on a huge rollercoaster ride. Early performance had those same fans hailing Rodgers as a genius…. the results hailed others to call for his head. Come Novermber time people were expecting top 4, come December time they just wanted decent signings to carry us through to the end of the season. The signings were obvious signs that sliced bread had nothing on Rodgers, but the returning inconsistencies meant that bread was getting stuck in the toaster and burning. Sturridge and Coutinho showed the club’s bright future, before Suarez bit a massive chunk out of it.
It may seem strange but to me, the disappointment at the end of the season points towards Rodgers having a decent start to his Liverpool career. Yes many fans expected a poor season with no trophies, and standings wise that’s what we got, but let’s be honest, this was the first season in ages that I actually enjoyed watching Liverpool play. There were times when I was at a loss for words as to how we could have lost that particular game, or how that passage of play once again seemed to bring off superman style goalkeeper performances from the oppositions. This was vastly different to recent season when I could sit there and think… well we just didn’t try hard enough to attack; it was always going to be about that one mistake because we just can’t score; for fucks sake Charlie Adam run after the ball as though it is the last burger in town. I could slightly console myself in the knowledge that the team was playing well together and that it pointed to a rosy future. That never happened under Hodgson, and rarely happened under Kenny’s second stint. They both had an element of puzzling squad decisions that made bad results seem inevitable.
My only wish is that the majority of the fans could just get behind the whole club and give Rodgers a chance. I feel that he’s put in a solid first year. He has the team playing like a team, he’s bringing in players that will help that team plan. He’s even started to bring out the best in players that many fans had given up on. Jordan Henderson started to show what he can bring to the team, and Downing has started to amend his game to fit the Rodgers plan. The summer comings and goings will maybe establish what sort of season we have, but, for me, there is plenty to look forward to, particularly with one of the youngest squads in the league.