By Karl Coppack
THE Christmas programme marks a vital period in any season. Those three or four games can transform a mid table team to one pushing for the European places or shove another towards the relegation places. It takes just days for a pretty good start to fall to dust or elevate a club from poor to okay. No one wins the League at Christmas but it can set a tone.
On this occasion, LFC have seen a decent return with nine points from four games and it could have been better had it not been for the gutless display at Stoke – a game which was a blueprint on how to beat us with highlights being ‘get in their face, stand on their toes and want it more.’
Those nine points represent the best Christmas period since 2005-6 when the European Champions took 10 from 12 points and 2008-9 which yielded 7 points from a possible nine. For the lowest haul in the last decade you have to look back to last season (5 pts from four games) and, for the underlay of the cellar carpet of a Christmas return, Hodgson’s three points from four games, which included a home defeat by a side absolutely begging to be relegated. Sour times.
The Christmas fixtures also marks the halfway point of the season and the 2012 stats tell two different stories. While we’ve done well recently, the first half of the season yielded a nugatory 25 points, the joint lowest for decades. Joint lowest with…well, guess.
It’s rare to take more points in the second half of the season than in the first and, the Hodgson/Kenny season apart where Kenny amassed eight more points than the first half total, it’s never by much. Unless we can defy the odds we’re looking at a points tally in the low fifties – roughly the same as last year. Not quite the Year Zero we looked forward to last May.
Of course, no one expected miracles. We have an inexperienced manager with his own ideas and a first team who don’t seem overburdened with heart or brains. For every fearless young shaver gamely thrown in in front of capacity crowds, we have the lily-livered shithousity of Stewart Downing and for every piece of genius Suarez can seemingly summon up at will we have the lumbering grace and nodding dog performances of Jonjo Shelvey (I know he’s still a kid but there should be more to his footballing brain by now).
Brendan has had a lot to contend with thanks to the scrawled suicide note of the last transfer window and his necessary reliance on youth over fresh signings and the main problem sits squarely in Massachusetts. If the club were prepared to draw a line in May and apply a fresh structure to see in the new age, they’ve done it in name only.
Alarm bells began to ring when the plan to have a Director of Football was shelved. Appointing some redoubtable character with years in the game to work with a young manager and effectively combine energy and experience was a good idea but was dropped about three weeks later when, with respect, the manager of Swansea wanted something else. That something else being exactly the same system that seemingly failed under Dalglish. Year Zero looked suspiciously like Year 130.
That said, one FSG element has been satisfied and that’s to have a younger man at the helm. Brendan wears the rose of youth upon him and can develop his own model and philosophy upon the club in more time than Kenny, who maybe only had five or so years in him before being replaced. (Incidentally, ‘philosophy’ just means a way of doing things and is used in the way that high-minded journos used to bang on about how Tony Adams ‘ponders’ when they meant ‘thinks’ so let’s not pretend otherwise. Every manager has a philosophy. Sam Allardyce has a philosophy.) Fenway like young players and young managers. Ask Clint Dempsey. Ask Kenny Dalglish. Ask, well, Jen Chang.
That’s a perfectly acceptable standpoint. As has been mentioned on the podcast in recent weeks, football clubs are like sharks – they need to keep moving to survive. We don’t want to be in a position where we’ve got six first teamers over thirty and nothing coming up behind them but you do need a blend of the two. After all, that price experience? When Houllier had Owen, Carragher, Gerrard, Heskey and Fowler in 2001 he recognised that an old head in the changing room was a good idea. Brendan has Carragher and a somewhat taciturn Gerrard in that department but what happens if and when they move on? If we’re not buying the odd 29 year old because of the lack of sell-on fee where are we going to be in Year Five? Not everything is divisible by a spreadsheet and a solid end of year report to the board. In 77 we had Ian Callaghan and in 86 we had Hansen. It’s better to have a player on the pitch who has experience when we’re holding on to a flukey one nil against a team who are battering us than a bunch of kids whose every fibre is panicking about winning a game they shouldn’t even be in.
The biggest criticism of FSG, now that the fires of Kenny’s sacking have been reduced to embers, is the lack of club based CEO. Who is Brendan reporting to and how often? Henry and Werner have barely been to a game this season to oversee their manager’s new ‘philosophy’. How much can you govern by email and phone calls? Ian Ayre can run between Boston and L4 but there are gaps all over the place. Take the documentary, for example. Being Liverpool wasn’t made for us, it was made to beg for fans and overseas sponsorship, but giggling at blowjob jokes and advice on motorbike maintenance delivered by the highest LFC employee in the city was embarrassing. I’ve no beef with the documentary as such save for the odd cringeworthy moment but there should have been someone at Anfield who could see the potential pitfalls. Someone to say ‘Ian, no one’s interested in your bike and it’s not really relevant.’ Ian just wanted to show what a cool guy he is and it’s his say.
The signing of Sturridge was (eventually) done well so maybe there’s an upturn in their performance. It’s been a learning curve both for the young manager and the inexperienced owners but Liverpool isn’t a club for dress rehearsals. There are no friendlies with which to experiment. We’ve just had our lowest half term points total and although the fans are patient the rest of the League is running away from us with some speed. The club needs its owners now as much as we didn’t need the old ones. They need to come across the water and look at the battle we face. If they think it’s fine without them we’re looking at six pointers with Villa and Stoke rather than capitalising on the errors of teams with whom we used to compete.
Our players have a psychological issue with going behind in games and rarely fight hard for first parity and then victory. We can afford the odd bad game as Stoke proved, that happens, but we can’t afford our owners to do the same. Come on, pilgrim, come and govern us.