I WATCHED with amusement and frustration as Manchester City’s players, having been beaten by Juventus, avoided speaking to the media in the Etihad Stadium last night.
All of the classic tricks were performed. Samir Nasri, refusing to make eye contact, nuzzled his chin into his breast as if it was really cold and he was wearing a heavy coat with a deep collar. Yaya Toure promised, “Next time, next time.” Raheem Sterling, in fairness, politely said no and had his photograph taken with supporters instead.
Patrice Evra, meanwhile, was tempted but quickly reminded by a Juventus press officer that he was late for the bus as one of the last players out of the dressing room.
It seemed as though an hour had been wasted waiting around. There have been many of them over the years. It once took more than eight hours to get less than 10 minutes with an unapologetic former Liverpool manager who’d been appointed that day. I’d best not reveal his identity. It ended unhappily for him anyway.
Yet in the car on the way home it struck me how many recognisable people were in the Juventus entourage. Pavel Nedved was there with his voluminous, youthful hair. He sits on the Juventus board as its youngest member. Then there was the bespectacled and slightly bedraggled looking Giuseppe Marotta, the club’s chief executive, who has more than 30 years’ experience running professional football teams.
I began to compare this to Liverpool. Juventus have endured a poor start to the Serie A season but are in the Champions League and look like they will remain there despite parting with two of their best players this summer with Andrea Pirlo going to New York and Arturo Vidal to Bayern Munich.
Like Juventus, Liverpool has a brain trust of ex-players with wisdom and foresight that could help. At Juventus, Nedved is the link between the boardroom and management. At Liverpool, it is not Tom Saunders, as it was before: a person who maintained his principles when others around him may have lost theirs. It is not Jamie Carragher, as it could be — nor John Barnes — or even someone as thoughtful and pragmatic as Jan Molby. It is no one, in fact.
This is a time when Brendan Rodgers struggles for arguments that support him. Soon enough, on a personal level, there might not be one left; they will all be used up. But whoever Liverpool’s manager is will walk into the same organisation — one where there is nobody at boardroom level with experience of what it takes to make a football team and a club truly successful.
Since Liverpool was sold in 2007 to American owners the club has won one trophy — the League Cup in 2012 under Kenny Dalglish.
It has appointed three managers and signed 78 players for the first team in that time. Damien Comolli was recruited and sacked within 18 months having been given a new-fangled title that didn’t really mean anything and undermined his importance.
The reality is, there is no need to put a title on anyone in that position. It only encourages pressure and scrutiny. It would be simpler for Liverpool if the mysterious and draconian-sounding transfer committee were replaced by a scouting department. Involved somewhere, again, could be an ex-player: someone who more than anything appreciates the demands of what it takes at Liverpool.
Presently, the university-educated data analysts reign supreme.
Of course, Gary McAllister has been brought onto Rodgers’s coaching staff, replacing Mike Marsh — another former midfielder. Marsh’s responsibilities before his sacking amounted to working with the substitutes and others not in the squad, keeping their morale at a motivated level.
Will McAllister take on the same limited role? Is his presence, indeed, purely cosmetic — Liverpool’s way of saying it is keeping its connections with the past without really using the benefits properly? It must have frustrated Marsh. Maybe it will frustrate McAllister, too.
Clearly, there is a lack of trust between Liverpool supporters, manager and the club he works for and it is driving some fans away. I read with interest last week’s debate on the Anfield Wrap between Dickie Felton, who was so fed up with Liverpool and modern football, that he went to watch Marine and decided to stay there; and Rob Gutmann’s equally impassioned response, defending the way things are generally across the game.
Politically, liberalism is almost dead and without it there is a search in society for the good and the bad; claim and counter claim with not much room for anything in the middle — where the truth really resides.
Football is no different, an extreme space. Football is black and white. Shades of grey do not exist. Rafa Benitez is either a hero or a villain. Steven Gerrard is either the greatest of people or the worst. There’s an extraordinary desire to narrow success or failure down to the binary: one or the other. Football is the best or the worst: maybe a choice between Premier League football and non league.
Dickie says he’ll never return as a regular to Anfield. Maybe he would if someone he trusted was involved.
It is time for Liverpool to reflect upon how it is run and that goes beyond talk of the manager’s position.
Pics: PA Images & David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo