YOU’VE paid your money, settled into your seat and the match is about to kick off. As the referee draws breath on his first whistle what do you want? What do want to see from your players?
What is it that will have you out of that seat, clenching a fist, letting a roar out, giving it a “come on!”?
Goals, sublime skill, a breath-taking pass or a bone-crunching tackle can all have the desired effect.
But much can depend on the identity of a club as to what really lifts a crowd. Some supporters love a showboater, or a fancy dan. A player full of the flicks and tricks. Widening out the theme, it’s why certain managers have never truly been accepted at certain clubs — there’s an unconscious pre-programming about what fans think they should — and shouldn’t be seeing. It’s why Roy Hodgson was quickly rejected and why, elsewhere, Sam Allardyce has struggled to win friends for his football.
Players-wise, we like the skill and the thrills at Liverpool but only to a point. Because it’s got to be in the right place. And at the right time. And if it isn’t? Well sorry, mate, you’ll soon know about it. Ask Luis Garcia. And, as poor as his Liverpool career ultimately turned out to be, perhaps this is what happened to Stewart Downing. All those times when he turned back and played the easy ball inside? Well he knew, didn’t he? Knew what was coming his way if he got it wrong. He wasn’t mentally tough to try to do what he was employed to do and instead went with the easy option. And that’s not accepted either when the fans know you have more in your locker.
Some players don’t care of course. See Camara, Titi. But not many can get away with that kind of behaviour. Most, despite some of the protestations from the pros to the contrary, will be wary of the fans around them and adapt their game accordingly. How the crowd reacts to a player must be vital for his confidence. It’s got to be. Who wouldn’t rather operate in a positive atmosphere than a negative one? Jordan Henderson has referenced being aware of what is said about him at the match and while we can’t draw one-size-fits-all conclusions, it’s fair to say it must count for something for most players.
Which brings me to yesterday and Danny Ings. Danny Ings had me out of my seat. Danny Ings had me clenching a fist, willing him on.
Because he scored? Well yes, that helped, and it was a lovely finish and a lovely celebration. No moody sulky, too-cool-for-school bollocks on show. Just sheer joy. And a moment he wanted to share with the supporters. But it’s more than the goal, it’s that he’s recognised another way to our hearts. Hard work. Passion. Graft. Playing like it matters. Playing like it means something. Showing the fans that, basically, you’re arsed. Like they are. That moment when he punched the ball in frustration after rounding the keeper but running the ball out of play? Knew how he felt. And it was great to see he felt the same.
More than perhaps anyone else at the club right now the 23-year-old striker seems to have recognised the importance of having the fans onside.
In the summer, he revealed how he had knocked back the chance of wearing the seven or eight shirt at Liverpool. Some took the decision as a cause for concern; a sign that he didn’t back himself to cut it at Anfield.
I took it the opposite way. As a rare sign of a player who doesn’t think merely signing your name to become an official Liverpool FC employee makes you a success. As he said himself: “Obviously I am going to work my socks off to earn that number one day. For now I will take a high number and work hard.”
And we love a grafter. Remember the banner? “Dirk Kuyt works hard”? Or how about the other one? “Momo is boss.” What both Kuyt and Sissoko had in common was spirit and fight. Nothing left out on the pitch. If a game was there to be won then they would do their damndest to make it happen by sheer force of will. Craig Bellamy was another to show that spirit. And it’s been good enough even for some of the biggest names in the club’s history. No one ever accused Kevin Keegan or Ian Rush of not putting it in.
We saw that spirit from Ings in his cameo as a second-half sub. He was desperate to impress and impress he did. Every loose ball was chased. If there was an opportunity to close down, he was taking it. And if there was any chance of keeping a ball in to make a Liverpool attack happen, he was leaving nothing to chance. He was sprinting, sliding, harrying, pressing — it was like a 45-minute attempt to better the moment Steve McMahon kept that ball in on the line, fell into the advertising hoardings and returned to the action to tee up a goal against Arsenal.
It’s within every player’s gift to at least try all this but it’s not always in evidence. Some might not have the mentality, others might not have the fitness. For some it might be considered beneath them. Maybe they consider themselves more cerebral for conserving energy for the right moment.
But maybe the wrong moment is the right moment. You’ll never know unless you try.
We loved Kevin Keegan. We loved Dirk Kuyt. And one of the reasons we loved Luis Suarez – aside from his world-class skills and that – was his willingness to work and work and work. It’s an attitude that is infectious. And an attitude that is refreshing to see when there’s so much that is depressing about Liverpool right now.
It’s still early for Ings and who knows how his Liverpool career will pan out. What we do know – already – is that success or not, it won’t be for the want of trying. And for now that’ll do.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo