STUCK for something to do on a cold Sunday night, I decided to see what this “Blue Planet” thing on the BBC iPlayer was all about.
To be honest, when I first saw the title of the show I assumed it was some Evertonian fantasy where all the “Redshite” had been eradicated and Bill Kenwright was president and unquestioned ruler of the world.
All remaining football fans were forced to switch allegiance to Everton, all the world’s best players were immediately transferred to Anfield, which Kenwright had taken back for the Toffees in an act of defiance 125 years in the making, and yet somehow they still managed to finish seventh in the league.
Anyway, the show was actually all about fish and things, which was a nice twist to my admittedly far-fetched assumption.
There was a scene in episode one that showed some birds landing on the water, only for some sneaky fish to leap out and grab them in their mouths, consuming them whole like Neville Southall consumes pies and Tories. Incidentally, Big Nev would have been vice president in my version of Blue Planet.
It was quite difficult watching these poor unsuspecting birds get chomped one by one, but then they later showed examples of when it doesn’t work out for the fish. The bird is playing silly buggers and dares it to have a go, then flies out of the way just in time as the fish leaps out of the water, misses completely, and splashes back into the sea with all the grace and elegance of the drunkest bloke at a stag do.
Watching that moment in slow motion immediately led my mind to thinking, “I wonder how Dejan Lovren is getting on for Croatia.”
We all remember what happened at Wembley. As Lovren was made to look a fool time and again by Harry Kane and company, our collective patience in him wore so thin that there was only relief when he was hooked on the half-hour mark. Jürgen Klopp was entirely justified in his decision to take off a player who was having as bad a game as it was possible to have, whether there really was any injury involved or not.
For many, myself included, it raised serious questions about whether Lovren had a place in Liverpool’s first team from then on, even considering highly-inexperienced centre back Joe Gomez to take his place.
Then days after the hammering by Tottenham Hotspur, it emerged that Lovren and his family had received a death threat on social media. A death threat, because he had a bad game of football.
The 28-year-old posted a direct message he had received from a user on Instagram which read “I’m gonna murder ur family u Croatian prick”.
Lovren replied with “horrible what kind of people we have,” before adding in another image, “I don’t mind when people talk shit about me, it says more about them! But I cannot ignore when my family is threatened. I just can’t and won’t accept that. Disgusting.”
He is of course absolutely spot on. We can debate the merits of players being good enough for Liverpool, but that is a shocking way to address any human being, let alone one who plays for the team that the individual supposedly supports.
Pointing out that emotionally-stunted trolls like the one who attacked Lovren need binning is like shooting fish in a barrel. (Lot of fish talk today, that David Attenborough’s got right in my head.) This isn’t a general call to our fans to not threaten to kill players who make mistakes, a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever have to write on a football website.
However, there is a more general issue with all football fans, not just Liverpool’s, about the way we write off underperforming players.
Klopp summed it up best when he said following the Tottenham defeat and Lovren threats: “I don’t wish one of you to have your mistakes discussed in public. You cannot even imagine how it feels. The boys are in the first place still human beings but you look like you are watching an accident and you are the kind of people standing around with smartphones instead of helping. I’m not this kind of person.
“Of course it’s not the nicest week in Dejan’s life but it’s only football. People don’t become a better or a worse person through making a mistake in a football game. If I think about Dejan, I have much more positive things than negative things.”
There is no doubt that Liverpool’s defence needs improving, and I am still of the opinion that an ideal first-choice Reds defence doesn’t contain Lovren, but does perhaps have him as an option. However, to try and destroy him because his form has taken a dip seems incredibly counter productive.
For all those reading this now just saying to themselves: “Nah he’s shite, get rid asap”, just look at Alberto Moreno. Sure he’s still not the perfect player, but there was a time not all that long ago that the majority of Liverpool fans would have rather fielded a scarecrow at left back than him. Now he’s putting in consistent performances that have seen him earn a call up to the Spain squad.
The same with Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto. Two players completely written off by Liverpool fans as not good enough to tie Jean-Michel Ferri’s bootlaces before they were moved on, now also justifiably in their national squad having been standout players in La Liga and Serie A respectively.
I saw Lovren and his Croatian teammates celebrating their qualification for the World Cup last night after a 4-1 aggregate win over Greece. It was nice to see him smiling again, and it could well be a turning point on his way back to confidence and form.
Klopp intelligently gave him the last few minutes at the London Stadium last week to shake off cobwebs and get back into the right mental state to play for his club again. There’s a good chance he’ll be lining up against his former team, Southampton, next weekend. He’ll get roundly booed by the visiting fans, which affected him at St Mary’s a couple of years ago to the extent that he had to be brought off at half time. If they can be drowned out by supportive home fans, maybe it can spur him on to prove a point against them.
Dejan appears to wear his emotions on both sleeves. During his best moments in a red shirt he has clearly been pumped up and pushed on by general positivity and momentum. The two times in 2017 where he dominated Romelu Lukaku at Anfield, he looked like a man on top of his game and ready to tackle the world. When he’s been in a negative atmosphere/mindset, he’s struggled. That’s a characteristic that probably keeps him from being an elite defender, but it means we as supporters can play our part in helping him along.
Let’s not forget that until that Spurs game, the partnership between Joel Matip and Lovren was statistically quite promising, and will likely be the main unit of choice for Klopp until he’s able to bring in Virgil van Dijk or similar.
Lovren is a front-foot defender, one who attacks the ball and tries to be proactive in stopping danger before it happens. This means that when it goes wrong, he’s invariably caught out of position and his error often leads to a goal or clear-cut chance at least. More passive players might find themselves in more natural positions and looking more in control, but they can also be found guilty of not snuffing out an opportunity before it has escalated to a shot on goal.
Something that would also give Lovren more benefit of the doubt would be if he contributed more at the other end. After THAT header against Borussia Dortmund, he appeared to finally be accepted by many Reds fans who had been sceptical until that point. Not many goals have followed since then (just the one I think), in spite of the fact he’s very good at getting on the end of corners, just not all that good at directing them into the goal. Add more numbers in that column and people will likely forgive the odd brainfart at the other end.
He’ll make mistakes again, as will all of our players, and we’ll rightly be pissed off at it, but just as we want Lovren to keep his head in key moments, we must do the same. To paraphrase the manager, shattering our own players’ confidence by vociferously criticising them in the stands and on social media “makes no sense”.
Like the Giant Trevally fish, I’m sure big Dejan will be successfully chomping birds again in no time, another sentence that I didn’t expect to write.