By Karl Coppack
‘Oh, you know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs…’ – The Dude
RECENTLY I was talking to a few mates about the rise and demise of LFC over the past few years.
We discussed how it’s possible for us to go from dicking both Man United and Madrid in a week to being in the bottom three with a winger partnership of Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic in just 18 months.
Sure, we’ve made mistakes but is there more to it than that?
The last ten years have been moderately successful for LFC or, had this been another club, pretty damn good.
Six major trophies in a decade where we’ve been absolutely woeful, absolutely outstanding and absolutely average, have undergone regime changes, lost key players to rivals and lived through a very strange managerial appointment is not at all bad but could it have been easier?
Let’s look at luck, starting with our most successful year since 1984.
2001: A Treble winning season. Lots of goals, great away days home and abroad, winning the FA Cup Final despite being battered for most of the game, the development of a future captain and legend and back into proper European football for the first time in years. A good start.
2002: A runners up spot, finishing ahead of United just three seasons after they’d won the lot and threatened to leave us for dead and a decent Champions League run. Our last three League finishes had been 4th, 3rd and 2nd leaving only…
2003: Gerard Houllier brings in Diouf, Diao and Cheyrou and ditches Anelka despite a good loan spell, promising that the new lads ‘will keep you on the edges of your seats’, presumably in prayer. We have a winter-long ‘blip’ (five points in 11 games) ended by a scrappy winner at Southampton which is treated like Rome 77 by the management. All impetus lost, back to square one. We finish 5th.
Of course, there’s nothing unlucky about buying shite players who fans can see through in a couple of games (and Carragher half an hour if his book is to be believed) but there’s not a lot you can do about what happens next.
2004: Roman Abramovich’s fickle finger of fate picks Chelsea out of his Rolodex and gives the manager of his new plaything the equivalent of the Gross National Product of half of Africa to play with. Luckily, this doesn’t mean too much at this stage as Arsenal’s greatest ever team (arguable, I suppose) turn up and demolish everyone in the land. Houllier is sacked.
I’m not defending Houllier’s dismissal but there’s a certain amount of bad luck about his last years. To build a team with young players, some local, instill the discipline that went missing under his predecessor and nab some trophies only to have it all undone by a multi-billionaire and a frankly freakish Arsenal team is pretty galling to say the least.
And that’s before you even look at United.
To make matters worse Michael Owen decides that the grass is greener elsewhere just as we, and our new manager, are really up against it.
Thanks Michael. I’ll lend you the DVD of the final if you want.
As much as there’s been ill fortune we’ve also dodged a few bullets. Silvestre nearly signed for us but we got Sami instead. Then there’s the bewildering refereeing decision at the Roma game… Swings and roundabouts?
Titles are won by managers using players and tactics in the right way. This can go wrong too. Who knew that Charlie Adam would completely forget how to take corners the second his pen touched the contract?
At least Charlie’s scored a few though. It’s fair to say that the Liverpool career of Stewart Downing has not been a rollercoaster of goals, hat-tricks or even crosses.
One goal against a lower league team on their knees does not make up for a litany of poor performances but it could have been so very different.
Take his debut.
A blinding run and a shot from four miles out that smacks the bar. If that goes in we’re off to a home win and the massively overpriced winger gains some goodwill and loses a bit of pressure instead of the other way around.
A few weeks later he hits the post at The Hawthorns. Then he hits the bar at Fulham. A couple of inches lower and he’d have rescued a point on a pretty shocking night and no doubt would have been carried off the pitch on the shoulders of his team mates.
If all three go in we’d be four points better off. That said, had the other 428 woodwork strikes gone in this season we’d have already won the League and be resting players for the next season’s Charity Shield but life isn’t like that.
Three shots at the bar or post and Downing’s performances nose dive with the £19m transfer fee beating both him and Kenny every time he slumps off the pitch.
Is that bad luck or is he just not very good? Possibly both.
It goes the other way too. Luis Suarez, the footballer not the story, scores a spawny debut goal which the Stoke defender has half an hour to clear but chooses to wrap his legs around everything that isn’t the ball.
Result? A great start and he’s up and running to a successful, non-controversial Anfield career. Ahem.
Likewise Andy Carroll. A 30-yarder against the best non-Spanish goalkeeper in the country who forgets that he has to dive until it’s too late.
Maybe Carroll isn’t the best example to use but look what’s happened to that lad he replaced. That’s different though. That’s funny.
Whole seasons can rely on ricochets, deflections and defenders falling on their arses at the wrong time.
Rafa Benitez once said that three late goals can ruin a season’s work. Gary Player once remarked that the harder he worked, the luckier he became.
So have we had more good luck than bad?
What happens if Henchoz is sent off in the Cup Final and they get a pen?
If Dida holds onto Xabi’s penalty?
If John Henry sweeps into Anfield, likes the look of the manager with the mouse-like hair and gives him five year contract extension because he knows nothing about the game? (Not as unlikely as it seems given Purslow’s new remit of managerial recruiter).
We’ve had an average to unfortunate season in many ways, what with the home draws, the woodwork love-in etc, but one day we’ll be incredibly lucky, maybe one season.
As Bette Davis once said ‘I’ve been lucky. I’ll be lucky again.’
Hard work and good luck. That’s the remedy.