THIS is how it works then. Or, at least, how it worked in this case. Don’t think I’m giving away any great secrets here, not exactly ‘pulling back the curtains on the Great and Mighty Oz’. There was a list. A ‘could you write about this bloke before a ball gets kicked’ list. With names. Their names and our names. A list of the bloke you were going to write about.
What? You thought we all just happened to decide to cover a different player each and somehow, accidentally, serendipitously, managed to take the entire squad into account? More to the point; you thought I *chose* Martin Skrtel?
No. I looked at the list and though ‘Skrtel? Why’d I get Skrtel? What am I bringing to the table that’s particularly Skrtel oriented that makes me the choice for this one? Is it just because everyone knows how much I repeat myself and, therefore, wants to torture me with writing the actual word ‘Skrtel’ hundreds of times just to see how long it takes me to write it as ‘Sktrel’ and not notice? You know that thing where you write a word and you look at it and it looks wrong? Or you write it so often that it loses all meaning and just becomes a random sequence of letters? Skrtel. First time, every time. And the original list spells his name correctly. With this weird little squiggle over his name. It’s not a ‘grave’, it’s not an ‘umlaut’ (he’d look even harder if it was); I don’t know what it is and I definitely don’t know how to do it. So I’m not going to try.
What are you supposed to say about Martin Skrtel? Bad season, good season, bad season, good season, bad season, good season, good season — hold on, he’s breaking the trend here, what’s going on? And yes, the maths may be shaky there and I may be forgetting that he was ‘terrible through the first half of’ whatever season pops up most in the comments at the bottom but you know where I’m going; Martin Skrtel is like Star Trek films, he’s good every other one but the inbetween bits can be absolute shockers. The inbetween bits are the backpass against City. The inbetween bits are the bits where you know you can’t trust him. Whisper this though. Tell you what, sod it, shout it from the rooftops. I trust Martin Skrtel.
I trust Martin Skrtel.
There, I’ve said it. There is genuinely no right-sided centre back on our books that I’d put in his place. I trust him more than Kolo. I don’t know Tiago. I trust Martin more than Andre.
I didn’t used to. I used to see him as an accident waiting to happen but the last two years have crept up on me — they’ve convinced me. It’s not even the lads on the books though; I’m in no hurry to go out and get a new lad to replace him. I like Skrtel. I trust him. I’m building defences on him, I’m sticking Mamadou next to him. I’m sticking Nathaniel out on the right and — go on, let’s go for it now shall we?
I’m sticking Joe Gomez out on the left and I’m going ‘that’s our defence’. I’m going ‘none shall pass’ and all that. I’m doing the pre-season mania. And in that mania I’m calling Skrtel the bedrock of this back four. I’m calling him the lad who’s not going to go wandering.
I’m happy with Clyne legging it down the touchline, that’s what I want my right backs to do. I’m more than happy, WAY more than happy, for Mamadou to stride forward imperiously and slide THAT pass through. You know the pass, the one where he just slips it forward and it’s gorgeous — if it was on FIFA you’d have hit triangle and you’d be screaming about how beautiful it was and he does it all the time and never gets the credit.
I’m happy for Joe to do whatever Joe does. I have no idea what it is just yet but I’m sure it’s great and why shouldn’t our left back be an 18-year-old centre back played out of position? Let’s have that one shall we? That’s nice and mad. But I’m happy because all this happens because Martin’s the lad who’s happy to just sit back and let them do that; happy not to go wandering. Apart from the moments when he heads upfield for the corners that is. When he goes up and he does the Arsenal thing again. When he does that thing where he towers over the other end’s back four and hammers home. Like he didn’t do last season. Like he did in that season that we all liked. Martin. On the end of crosses from Milner and Coutinho and Firmino and Hendo. Martin, the first centre back to ever get 30 goals in a season.
Sorry. Bit far with that one. But if the crosses are right, if the supply is there, if we’ve got him in the box, if we’re the Liverpool that we were then but with Phil and Bob and Jimmy supplying the balls in, why shouldn’t he hit double figures? Why shouldn’t we have goals from everywhere? Why shouldn’t Martin Skrtel be part of all the goals we’re going to score? There’s no reason is there? You’re having this aren’t you? You know it makes sense.
I saw him once. Up close. Real. In the flesh. Couple of years ago. Out on Speke retail park it was. Where I used to work. Not naming the shop (had a big dog on the front, sold music). Didn’t see him there though. Saw him in Costa. Actually outside Costa. Having a coffee. With his wife. Taller than you think. Most players ARE taller than you think. Not Aspas, he was actually shorter and less imposing in real life than he was on the field. Hard as that is to believe.
But Skrtel was taller. Taller and slimmer. Sat outside with his wife on a decently warm day, drinking coffee. Uninterrupted, unnoticed, uncommented on. Just there, doing something normal. Doing the same thing as the rest of us. And I think that’s the moment that my opinion of him changed. He wasn’t swanning round like a star, wasn’t attracting attention. Wasn’t parking a stretch hummer diagonally across three bays like certain players one could name (hiya, Djibril); he was just sat there, a woolly hat pulled down, attracting no attention.
I think there was talk of selling him at the time. Let’s be honest, there’s always been talk of selling him. Most of the time I was okay with that talk. That day I changed. He just seemed like a bloke out for the day, having a coffee. Just seemed normal. Looked like an athlete. All of which is a ridiculous thing to hang a liking of a player on but I hung my liking of him on that.
So, when there was talk of the new contract being based around appearance clauses that the club could easily manage to their advantage and Skrtel being ‘disgusted’ by the offer, I was with him. After a season where he was one of the few to emerge with any credit intact, it was no time to be testing out new contract models and he was quite resolutely not the player to test that model out on. Potentially losing him meant losing experience, meant losing stability, meant rebuilding our centre back pairing yet again when the last rebuilding hadn’t started to work yet. It meant a ‘no’ to me.
I don’t know what changed, I don’t know why he signed, I’m not interested in who he may or may not have turned down to re-sign for Liverpool but I’m glad he did. As signings go, that’s the best defensive signing we could make. No settling in, no learning the ropes, just a lad who knows what the club means. Just a lad who knows what his job is and will do it from day one.
And if he’s made vice captain? Yeah, cool. I’d have that. No problem with that. Him, Lucas, Milner — sound with any of them. Senior pros, experience on the pitch, someone for the kids to look up to.
Martin Skrtel? Yeah, I’m happy with Martin Skrtel.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo