“WHO are you giving the job to? No, let me tell you. It’s Graeme fucking Souness, isn’t it?”
Phil Thompson and Souness never really saw eye to eye and here was ruthless Bob Paisley bestowing the gnarly Scot with the Liverpool captaincy so cherished by Kirkby’s finest.
The Reds, with six wins in 17 league games, lay 12th in the old First Division after a Boxing Day defensive shambles in 1981. Thompson’s form, culminating in a 3-1 horror show against Manchester City, was a worry but more to the point, the whole team needed a shakeup. Demotion to the ranks was a blow to Tommo’s solar plexus. The wafer-thin local hero didn’t speak to his teammate for months but knuckled down for the sake of the team.
Liverpool, with Souness and Thompson in the lineup, hammered league leaders Swansea 4-0 in the next game and the rest is history. The Reds marched up the Wembley steps in March, where Souey and Tommo respectively collected the league and Milk Cup trophies, and then sauntered to the 1982 league title with a game to spare; a match before which they all got royally pissed in the afternoon and still got a draw.
This was Paisley’s managerial intervention at its finest. A tough, radical decision was taken to stop the rot. It worked in the short and long term, and the league title was the first of three in succession held aloft by Souness.
Liverpool’s implosion at Spurs last weekend reminded me of that ‘80s Manchester City pasting. A chastened Jürgen Klopp spent much of the last Wembley half hour withdrawn, contemplative perhaps, but his mind no doubt racing as The Reds succumbed to a second thrashing of the campaign.
The disappointing, inconsistent start this year has many echoes of the abovementioned 1981-82 season. Although The Reds had progressed in Europe, Paisley was getting it from all quarters, the goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was throwing them in from all angles, and after nine league games our stats read:
P9 W3 D4 L2 — Pts 13.
Halloween is nigh, but that’s spooky in its own right, no?
At the early season juncture, about nine games in, a reflective but quiet Paisley did his talking by way of another big call so that twin colts Ronnie Whelan and Ian Rush were thrown in to replace the waning Ray Kennedy and David Johnson. The Geordie’s infusion of youthful zest took a while to settle in the stomach of the team but once Souness assumed the skipper’s role The Reds were soon back to rude health.
Last Sunday, Liverpool were again bereft of leadership on the pitch and direction from the bench; the withdrawal of a hapless Dejan Lovren aside. A lack of second-half fight, in tune with inert managerial body language in the last half hour, was reminiscent of the preceding tonking at the Etihad. It looked and felt like surrender. If it wasn’t that way and there was actually a battle lost but still being vainly fought to the death, explain away an empty visitors’ section with 10 minutes still to play.
I suspect many of you will already disagree with the tone of this piece, so it’s worth pointing out my opinion isn’t any more valid than of someone who takes the time to read this. That’s football. The ball is round.
But, something needs to be done to put this season back on track. It’s not too late, the campaign is still in its infancy and there are no calls for the manager’s head.
What we should see, however, is the removal of hangdog expressions. There must be acceptance that poor results will bring criticism. Hearts should be beating inside the dressing room instead of worn on sleeves, a united front presented to the media even if bollockings and frank exchanges of views — between players and manager, and legitimately aimed in both directions — are being dished out behind the scenes.
While the recurring sentiment for some fans is one flavoured by déjà vu, the attitude stemming from those picking up wages with their drooping heads, rueful smiles and expressions of incredulity currently smacks more of “woe is me”.
Ripping the armband from Jordan Henderson’s arm would be a harsh call, but it is an option for Klopp. As The Anfield Wrap’s Neil Atkinson wrote this week, Klopp has a free hit this with his selection this weekend after last Sunday’s debacle.
Henderson’s current form is erratic, the captain’s shirt once more apparently carrying a backpack full of bricks. Like with Thompson, whittling away the big responsibility of the armband might prove a blessing in disguise for our pristine Mackem.
Admittedly, should Klopp consider a need to change the captain, there is a paucity of choice. Perhaps a returning Sadio Mane, a real streetfighter, could lead from the front in due course. Or, maybe bequeathing the honour to Phil Coutinho – still our best player – isn’t the maddest of shouts as he further contemplates his Anfield future free of any real pressure.
Picture Coutinho leading Liverpool out and tossing the coin and think about the psychology of such a move. Again, its mere opinion but I think either option — Coutinho or Mane — is preferable when it comes to presence and first impressions.
If that’s too kneejerk for Klopp; team surgery doesn’t always have to be so invasive as to sack the skipper. There are examples of Anfield shakeups and parallels as far back as you want to go.
Bill Shankly was forced to eventually call time on his mid-’60s heroes. Keeping faith with boys he genuinely loved until the end of the decade was a mistake and in spite of the spell he cast on Liverpudlians, supporters’ misgivings were aired at the time. In his own words he admitted being slow to “rip it up, start again”.
When Kenny Dalglish saw Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy bugger up the early phase of the Double season, literally out they went – to new clubs within weeks. There’s little chance of Klopp’s lads regressing at the hands of old Father Time but the point persists that sometimes when it’s broken, it needs fixing.
Manage a football team to poor results, unhealthy league positions and it’s on you, mate. If you care to read through the letters pages of the Football Echo in September 1985 you might be amazed to see references to a “clueless” Dalglish after defeats at Newcastle and draws at Oxford. Think too about when Gerard Houllier was labelled “Toulouse Le Plot” and Rafa’s days of FCUK Rotation and BBC Question Time’s devoted to the ghastliness of zonal marking. And what about “The Shackles” Benitez purportedly borrowed from some wizened Bristolian pirate.
Arl Rafa, at the end of his first European Cup-winning season, was forced to recognise Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia and co were too easily bullied away from home. In came a more physical goalkeeper, gangly sinew in midfield, and height up front. Pepe Reina stayed the course but Momo Sissoko and Peter Crouch were low-cost, short-term gambles that paid off.
Brendan Rodgers arrived espousing the idea of Liverpool holding and “resting on the ball”. After buying Daniel Sturridge and giving Raheem Sterling his head, thought was required how best to shoehorn Luis Suarez into the attacking mix.
Suddenly, it was bollocks to the Northern Irishman’s ideal of suffocating possession. Instead, there was a high press without the ball and speculative long passing from deep. Steven Gerrard’s mid-season switch to holding hands with his centre halves added some much-needed protection at the back and enabled The Reds to spring that devastating front three on the break.
Rodgers wasn’t shy of burning his principles. When the goals dried up the following season, a switch to three at the back was required to stop the defensive bleeding. It’s largely forgotten now but the new formation brought 10 wins and 13 games unbeaten.
On the excellent TAW Player Overview show this week, the lads discussed options at Jürgen’s disposal to arrest this mini-slump. One idea he may have is to pick the same team, bare his teeth and tell them to buck up their fucking ideas.
Or, he could do any of the following.
See if Ben Woodburn is the new Robbie Fowler. Wonder if we do need an actual striker and think about Dom Solanke and have a word with his staff about why Rhian Brewster and Harry Wilson can’t stop scoring. Consider ditching false nines. See if Danny Ings still has a Henry Tudor haircut and if his face too is now covered in ink.
“Last year we had two England internationals playing full back… this year we’re playing Moreno and a kid” 👀
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 25 October 2017
The current situation at Liverpool was discussed at length on our Overview show, which you can listen to if you subscribe to TAW Player.
Roll the ‘keeper dice again and see if he can throw a six, instead of throwing up. Embrace the idea of an actual holding midfielder, mostly charged with screening the defence. Contemplate whether a brief switch away from 4-3-3 might recover some of its potency later.
Other alternatives include asking James Milner if only playing where he wants to is written into his contract. Ask Joe Gomez has he ever gone dizzy after taking Ibuprofen and does he fancy the role of not doing a Swan Lake at a ball going 10 yards over his head? Employ a kindly vet and have poor old Sturridge put out of his misery, maybe with the strong-arm assistance of my mean old dad who has hated him from the word go. Finally, tell Joel Matip if he wants to stay in team, he’ll have to play with an alarm clock in his jockstrap.
Jürgen — crack on, mate; and remember the whole world isn’t against you.
Just chill and stop pulling faces at spotty hacks asking nasty questions. Wear a mask, or get on the tables and practice a poker face. Be comforted that fingers are generally pointing elsewhere, at Michael Edwards and Fenway Sports Group, and at the players in whom you’ve invested your faith. Come January, remember that once-upon-a time the budget for a centre half was cut overnight to £2million. I doubt Sotirios Kyrgiakos was ever anyone’s first choice but he still came in and did a job.
The Klopp I’ve observed in recent weeks might need reminding that for the vast majority, the sheen of those Bundesliga shields still bathes him in holy light. At Anfield, two cup finals and qualifying for the Champions League has him still in enough credit to afford at the very least this season and next without getting the tin tack.
But Kloppo, it IS time scratch your head; show some of your old brio and have the glasses falling off again.
Failing all that, if you’re listening upstairs Bob, send forth a dollop of your Quiet Genius from above.