WHEN the most successful manager in the history of Everton Football Club passes away, thoughts inevitably turn to Liverpool FC’s relationship with our city rivals. It was a nice touch to see so many tributes to Howard Kendall over the weekend, with many Reds commenting on the great sides he managed at Goodison Park and how the success of both Merseyside teams in the 1980s helped to give people hope in some dark times to live through.
I was fortunate enough to interview Kendall when he was Sheffield United manager and I was studying in the city. On hearing my accent, he immediately asked: “Red or Blue?” And on confirming I was on the right side of the divide, he added: “Well you won’t like me then!” To which I replied: “No!”
I soon did. He was engaging, friendly, and happy to give up his time. And unlike many in the game, there wasn’t a hint of ego. The Hawaiian shirt he wore that day at Bramall Lane was a bit mad if truth be told, but before we started talking football he made the effort to ask about me, why I was studying journalism, what I wanted to do, where I was from and what I thought of the Reds at that point in time.
He even talked about his own family, mentioning one of his daughter’s career aspirations. It was an unexpected openness but it transformed a tense situation for a raw wannabe writer into an enjoyable experience.
Given that he’d won three league titles at Everton — one as a player, two as a manager — the FA Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup I’d expected him to be full of his own self-importance, the old ‘well listen here, son’ routine, but there wasn’t a bit of that, he was a lovely fella.
The respect for Kendall from Liverpool FC, the ex-players and from supporters of a red persuasion has been heart-warming after the sad news and echoes the brilliant and unrelenting support of Everton and Evertonians for the fight for justice for Hillsborough.
It’s also a welcome change from some of the more ugly displays of the rivalry between the clubs that have become increasingly common over the years. No one wants, or expects, Reds and Blues skipping down County Road holding half and half scarves singing “Merseyside” on Derby day; there should always be needle between the clubs — we’re rivals and the atmosphere that hangs over derbies will forever remain on and off the pitch.
But equally there should be some level of respect between the clubs and the supporters from both sides of Stanley Park. Most Reds in the city have Evertonian friends and family and vice versa, and while we’re all passionate about our clubs, some of the vitriol in the last decade or so in particular has stepped way over the line.
It’s good then, to sometimes see the other side of the coin, even in sad circumstances.
Among the many tributes to Kendall, one line from an Echo interview with Kenny Dalglish stood out: “There was always a fantastic relationship between the two clubs. And Howard was an integral part of that.”
That’s how it should be. Kendall was always happy to engage in a bit of stick for the Reds but he knew where the line was.
Liverpool can boast of being the most successful footballing city in England with the two clubs racking up a combined 27 league titles. Howard Kendall played a big part in that. Rest in peace.
SHOUT TO THE KLOPP
THE Jurgen Klopp effect was apparent on Saturday as various views began to fly around on proceedings at White Hart Lane as supporters headed for home.
A 0-0 draw against Spurs has left Liverpool still languishing in 10th place in the league, eight points behind leaders Manchester City. And while there were positives to take away from Klopp’s first game in charge — the pressing, the heart, the desire — some of the same old failings were still on display, particularly in terms of a sustained threat on the opposition goal.
What is interesting is how they are now perceived. With a manager on the touchline that was almost universally regarded as a good appointment, the mitigating factors, the aspects outside the manager’s control, they are now top of the list for consideration rather than being waved away as excuses from so called ‘apologists’ (like we don’t all want Liverpool to win….).
An injury list comprised of Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke, Jordan Rossiter, Danny Ings, Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan was almost presented as a positive by some filing out of the ground because, they said, imagine what Klopp can do when they are all available?
And what about when he’s had more time to work his magic, when the players get fitter, when he isn’t fielding a striker making his Premier League debut in the shape of Divock Origi?
With Brendan Rodgers in charge, this result and this performance would have been met with a fresh round of enthusiasm-zapping inquests around a regime turned stale. Now, with the reset button firmly pressed, a 0-0 that bordered on the fortunate given Simon Mignolet’s saves from Clinton Njie and Harry Kane is a reason to be cheerful.
From the upper tier of the South Stand it was hard not to allow your eyes to be drawn to the Liverpool bench as the action unfolded. And it was clear that while some of what was on display in front of Klopp’s eyes pleased him, he felt frustrated by much of what was served up by his new team.
The German’s actions were easy to interpret, even from that distance. He wanted the ball released quicker in attacking areas. He wanted his players to look wide not just straight ahead in the final third, with Philippe Coutinho a particular target for this message.
It looked, too, like he wanted his players to go direct at times, to end the habit of extra passes when just one will do.
As a start, it will do. It’s an old cliché, but most would have taken the draw before kick off, so when that was the result afterwards it felt like a job well done. Something to build on.
Liverpool were fired up, and has now been well documented, ran and sprinted more than Spurs, whose own game plan is built on hard work.
Adam Lallana epitomised the new-found desire to chase, harry and tackle, and his recovery slide, alongside that of Emre Can’s, were among the highlights for a support that thrives on displays of passion and determination from the players.
As Klopp himself said, “I am not sure how many games you saw like this from Adam Lallana? What do you think?”
Among the other positives, the cameo from Jordon Ibe also seemed telling. The 19-year-old has looked a world away from the player we have seen in flashes in recent times but despite only being on the pitch for a matter of minutes, he looked full of promise once again. Something to do, perhaps, with a bollocking issued by his boss just moments before…
Jordon Ibe, who was laconic in getting ready to come off the bench, copped it big time from Klopp – "Hey! Do you want to come on or not?!!"
— Daniel Garb (@DanielGarb) October 17, 2015
The away end didn’t ever manage to nail quite what song to sing for the new manager in his first match in charge but already, just 90 minutes in, fans and players are playing to the Klopp tune.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo.Com