As the end of the Premier League season approaches, and as Liverpool are left with nothing to play for but pride in what has been a dismal league campaign; the focus of all those at the football club has turned to the summer transfer window. With glaring holes in the back four, holding midfield, and a lack of consistent quality, ever-ready within the current squad depth – Liverpool have a lot of work to do despite signing talent in Philippe Coutinho & Daniel Sturridge in January.
To go forward, often we must look back, and the same can be said for LFC who have felt the heat after 3 awful summer transfer windows, that have resulted in world class players being replaced by those who are mediocre in comparison. Alonso. Arbeloa. Mascherano. Benayoun. Kuyt. Torres. Rodriguez. Meireles. Aurellio. Babel: have won 64 major honors between them. Add in the retirement of Sami Hyppia, who won 12 honors throughout his career, and that number goes up to 76 trophies leaving Liverpool since 2009.
Their replacements by comparison in Aquilani, Jovanovic, Poulson, Konchesky, Downing, Henderson, Carroll, Coates, Allen, and Borini have a combined trophy tally of only 27.Ten trophies come from Christian Poulson who won 5 trophies with Sevilla in 2007. Eight of that number comes from Milan Jovanovic, whom won 6 trophies in the Belgian Pro League during his time with Standard Liege & R.S.C. Anderlecht.
If Liverpool’s 2012 League Cup win and Christian Poulson’s tally are excluded, only 4 trophies can be claimed from Europe’s top 5 leagues between 10 players.
The opposite can be said for the first group of players who collected a staggering 53 of 76 trophies within Europe’s top 5 leagues. Alonso, Torres, and Arbeloa have won a World Cup and are twice European Champions with Spain. Javier Mascherano was a part of Barcelona’s incredible quintuple in the 2011 season. With the exception of Maxi Rodriguez & Fabio Aurellio who have gone home to their respective countries in South America – all of that group of players are still striving for the highest standard at some of the best football clubs in the world.
Coupled with the inevitable aging of Steven Gerrard & Jamie Carragher, it’s easy to see how Liverpool has suffered its recent decline.
There has been much talk about how Liverpool went from Champions League semi finalists and 4 points from a Premier League title to 8th place 2 years later. A failed ownership. A managerial turnstile. A poor scouting network. Sure. But the failure to replace top talent is the real reason that Liverpool have suffered while new rivals have emerged in Tottenham and Manchester City. The validity of this argument is proved with Chelsea who have had 7 managers since 2007, but have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League since then, despite having their fair share of controversy.
The players are the petrol. They power the engine that fills stadiums, pockets, and hearts. It’s players that Liverpool need to reach the pinnacle of the game once again, not speeches, tv specials, or second chances. You cannot replace proven players of world class caliber with unproven players that are merely have the potential to be great. Perhaps, in years past, this was true. But in a football climate currently dominated by money and short attention spans – keeping up is everything.
Liverpool are at a disadvantage compared to other top European clubs. They play in the Barclay’s Premier League where the competition for Champions League places has truly been whittled down to 1 open spot. Manchester United will qualify as long as Fergie is breathing. They win games before a ball is kicked, much like Liverpool did in the 70s and 80s. Chelsea have too much money to fail for more than one season, Roman Abramovich sees to that. The only hope for football purists is that he gets bored soon and sells the club – this may only happen if he goes through the remaining 4 managers in Europe he hasn’t driven from CFC, and would actually want to deal with him. Manchester City have more money than fathomable, they aren’t going away unless FIFA actually enforces FIFA Financial Fair Play – which seems to only apply to poor clubs who don’t pay their wages in the first place.
That leaves a single place for Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham & whoever else is having a good season to fight over in order to be in Europe’s premier club competition. At the risk of sounding like a spoiled, whiney child: it’s not fair. But it’s reality. So Liverpool, like all Premier League clubs have to deal with it. Lucky for Liverpool, LFC is an established club. We have a fan base that will never go away, therefore guaranteed revenue. We have a history that will always attract quality players, so we don’t have to deal with the rollercoaster of relegation. Liverpool fans by nature are always looking up at a golden sky, and our club being the best again is always on our minds. We’ve only began to look down again as others around us cast their shadow. With Tottenham, Manchester City, and Chelsea annually acting on ambition, spending millions on players at the drop of the hat; Liverpool will have to sign talent on integrity, and get rid of players who do not perform.
Xabi Alonso and Christian Eriksen are two players everyone wants at Anfield next season. If Eriksen doesn’t arrive, predict a riot, because there will be one from Liverpool fans across the globe. Ian Ayre & co should be doing whatever they can to sign the talented want-away Ajax star. If Xabi Alonso came back to Liverpool, he would be welcomed with open arms. Liverpool is craving consistency above all else, and no one can ever doubt Xabi Alonso’s quality. He is often the very first name on Jose Mourinho’s team sheet at Madrid, as he was for Liverpool, and the same can be said for La Seleccion. Alonso manages the game from the first whistle to the last, and controls the ebb and flow of momentum in a way that is worthy of the FIFA World XI.
After sorting out the attack in January, and hopefully the midfield with the aforementioned players – Liverpool also desperately need to plug the gaps in defense. Far too many goals have been let in from simple defensive errors. An errand backpass. A missed marking assignment from open play and set pieces. A simple offside trap squandered, resulting in a 1 v 1 with the keeper, which many teams have finished against Liverpool this campaign.
There is a strong argument that the midfield is not offering the back four the kind of protection they need to be solid throughout. This is also glaringly apparent when playing with two wingbacks in Glen Johnson & Jose Enrique. When a player sees number 3 or number 2 storming up in front of them, they should instinctively know that there are only two players behind them to defend a swift counter attack. Other than set pieces, Liverpool have conceded a majority of goals this season from counter attacking play, against the games’ momentum.
Martin Skrtel has repaid the signing of a new long term deal at Anfield by, quite frankly, playing awful. This is worrying as he was Liverpool’s player of the season in 2012. He seems to have lost some pace, but has also made some glaring errors in defense. Bad mistakes. Poor on set pieces. Holding players onside. He’s cost us more goals than anyone, resulting in Jamie Carragher being restored to a starting centre back role. Skrtel isn’t the only one. Carragher is aging, and has lost that half step that has allowed him to make tackles of legend in the past. His lack of playing time early on in the season has seen him have to shake off some of the rust. Daniel Agger has been average all year. He has been healthy. He has been better than Skrtel, but Agger is not on form, and Liverpool desperately need him to be excellent at the moment. Coates is missing. Apart from hanging out with Lucas and Luis Suarez – he’s only made 10 total appearances in four competitions this season. Only three of those games have come in the league.
Some would argue that apart from a quality goalkeeper, an ultra reliable centre back is the rarest commodity in the game. Spurs have benefited from signing Jan Vertonghen in the summer; he has easily been their best player apart from Gareth Bale. Spurs have always scored goals, but they also conceded them until this season. Liverpool will truly be ruing a missed opportunity in not signing that player, especially as Spurs will look on to qualify for the Champions League next season, appeasing the player’s ambition. Without some miracle, Liverpool will not be able to say the same.
I am not afraid to admit that I haven’t had time to do the research on which quality centre back Liverpool should sign next season. I’m not just going to throw names out there everyone else is saying. I don’t believe in that sort of compromising of integrity, if I suggest someone, then I believe the club should sign them tomorrow. What I will say, is that whoever we sign must have three qualities. They have to have pace – Brendan Rodgers style leave us open on the counter attack. We need a centre back that’s able to recover. Martin Skrtel can’t do that, neither can Jamie Carragher, or Coates – it’s a main reason we’ve been conceding goals this year. It’s not enough for only Agger to be able to keep pace with a striker because Enrique and Johnson are halfway up the pitch.
They have to be able to contain, and tackle without fouling. It’s a given. However, if you look at the goals Liverpool have been conceding this year, defensive positioning has been dismal. Despite no new players adding to the back four, the chemistry between Agger, Skrtel, Carragher, Johnson, and Enrique has been terrible. Martin Kelly’s injury has had a big impact, because he’s a consistent player that offers another option. It is rumored that he may be given Jamie Carragher’s iconic number 23 next season. A lot of missed tackles have resulted in the defense being caught out, and an opposing team gaining an advantage on the break.
The most important quality of any footballer is their decision making ability. It only takes one second to win or lose a game, and the stakes aren’t any higher than at the centre back position. Go left, go right, push up, move back, risk a yellow card – or not. By nature, defenders are at a disadvantage, because they are continually reacting to the opposition with no room for expression. Attackers are the creative ones, defenders try to crush their muse. Often the center defenders are the smartest players on the pitch because usually they are facing opposition who are better on the ball, and faster. Being intelligent is their only advantage, other than brute strength; if a player relies on the later they will concede fouls, earn cards, get sent off, and plateau their level of football before the elite level. Liverpool need to find themselves an elite centre back, or one who has the mental and physical discipline to keep pace with the Premier League.
The lack of being able to build through midfield, and dominate the center of the pitch, coupled with gaps in Liverpool’s defense see them losing against West Brom, Swansea, Stoke, Aston Villa, Oldham, and Southampton. Drawing games instead of winning, after conceding poor goals. All the while, dominating possession in every match played so far this season. Another glaring factor is Liverpool also aren’t physically dominant, in a physically dominant league.
Some teams get by in the Premier League on their physicality alone, being able to run 90 minutes, go shoulder to shoulder, win headers, and create space by shielding and using their bodies, etc. Liverpool have the youngest squad in the Premier League with an average age of just over 23; at one point at the start of the season, 5 teenagers were rotating in and out of the starting squad. Players like Joe Allen, Suso, and Sterling are still growing into their bodies. Andre Wisdom has really only become a beast of man-child in the last year, and is also working on body control, along with Henderson. Being able to deal with 90 minutes of physical play is something that Liverpool has struggled with all season.
Liverpool will never settle for 8th place, or 5th really. Fourth is a consolation prize for a club that will always want to win the league. We came close in 2009, but after that our quality of play has sadly dissipated. What happened? We did not replace our star players, and our rivals have become stronger. This has resulted in poor league form.
The key is players. The last two seasons have been an opportunity to reflect on what has made us so strong in the past. The quality of players is everything in football. Very rarely is there a player who has their best game every single game. Liverpool want players whose average game is still better than almost anyone else. The only way to get back to that point is to win games. The only way to win games is to plug holes. The only way to plug holes in the grind of a 4 competition, 9 months season, is to sign great players – the cycle begins again. Liverpool have a chance this summer to change their cycle; if we spend the money, and sign the quality of players the club needs to qualify for the Champions League outright – LFC will start a cycle of domination once again.
I woke up at five in the morning to watch the draw. My hands were shaking as I navigated shoddy internet streams as the 2009 Champions League knock out phase draw was being held a half a world away. In my room it was 5am. My mother was awake, getting ready for her job at the local hospital. I will never forget her face as she watched me bite off my fingernails in front of a tiny computer screen. I watched the draw from the start, knowing that Liverpool FC could be drawn at any time to a number of great opponents. My eyes were wide as the tiny lottery ball was cracked open and the piece of paper was unveiled to the world.
There was an eruption. An eternal burst of positive energy and great joy that possessed my body at that moment in time. I jumped out of my chair, sprinted down the hall into my mother’s room and jumped on her bed. I ran back and forth, gave her a hug and danced in a jubilant celebration that could only be brought on by football. My mother was oblivious. She knew it meant a lot to me, but not why it meant a lot at 5am. I was in tears, but the best kind of tears are always tears of joy. I was going to watch my beloved Liverpool FC in Madrid.
I had decided months before I was going to take a six week trip to Europe. In fact, I had put off college and been saving all year to go to what I thought would be Italy, an essential travel destination for an American abroad. But as I saved, and the money in my account slowly started to balloon something miraculous happened that no young fan of Liverpool will ever forget.
It was the 2008-2009 season and Liverpool FC were flying. We were bossing the league, fantastic in the Champions League. The only blip along the way had been the Carling Cup & FA Cup. We were the Spanish reds, four players in our starting line up had come home European Champions, Steven Gerrard was in his prime. Fernando Torres had finished the last year with over 30 goals, and this season he looked as though he would get 30 more. Xabi Alonso and Stevie G were enjoying neat combination play and brilliant passing in midfield. Alvaro Arbeloa was refreshing as a left back striding forward to spring the attack, but also crucially aware of his place in defense. Javier Mascherano stunted every attack from his role in defensive midfield. Carragher was putting in countless outstanding performances, and Pepe Reina was inspirational stopping almost everything in front of him including more than a few penalties that year. I enjoyed my time falling hard for Liverpool, a club I had already accepted into my heart and acknowledged being madly in love with.
I would wake up early weekend morning and drive to Anna Liffey’s in my local city of New Haven to find Gary behind the bar in a red kit, Pat the owner sneaking in with a cup of coffee, an eager look in his eye awaiting kick off behind his casual demeanor. There was John, Matt, and the other regulars including myself in the kopite corner as it was in those days. Despite being a lady, I was probably the loudest of the bunch. We joined other Liverpool fans, and fans of other clubs as well as the season panned out. It was during these mornings between Guinness, Irish breakfasts and new friends that I knew that Liverpool was something I could never forget. Not even for an instant. Not in the off season. Not while other more popular sports were being played. College football took a back seat. Baseball was no longer a priority. UCONN was second rate, blasphemy when you’re someone from my state. I was all red. My curiosity about a sport I didn’t know had blossomed into the passion and the fervor felt all around the world for big matches, and I didn’t miss a beat in Connecticut.
When Liverpool drew Real Madrid in the knock out phases of the Champions League, I knew I was going to Spain. We were Liverpool, but also the Spanish reds. Rafa Benitez was our manager. Some of our best players were from sunny Spain. Our new Anfield hero Fernando Torres was our leading scorer and had the catchiest song to ever waft across a football pitch. It was Torres homecoming. A rematch of the 1981 European Cup final. It all fit.
So I went by myself. A girl alone to a European football match. No one else could think of a reason to go in February. I spent my life savings to go, and enjoy my many weeks in Spain. The moment I knew I was going was that first instant when UEFA revealed the two teams that would feature in the match. It was fate, and I’ve always known in my heart that fate is something you never mess with.
The anticipation of history was what got me out of bed to watch every Liverpool game I could that year. The anticipation of brilliant goals, broken records, great performances, inspiring character on the pitch and in the terraces is what kept me coming back for more. When I paid three times the price for a Champions League ticket online on some shoddy website, I knew that HD television would never be enough for me again.
I had to wait the best part of two months to go to sunny spain. Which was still sunny, even though it was cold in February. I didn’t care. It was still paradise compared to the New England winters. The anticipation of the match, seeing my boys for the first time in person put a lasting smile on my face the entire time I was in Madrid. I frequented the official Liverpool supporters club in Madrid in the build up to the game. I even won trivia! Not bad for some american girl from the states. I will never forget the looks on the faces of those men gathered in the pub that day. The only other girls were bartenders and girlfriends, but great conversation was made anyway. Many people packed in to watch the Tuesday night’s games before Wednesday’s Liverpool fixture. Due to a family friend, I was able to stay at a hotel close to the Bernabeu and was able to see the stadium each day as I made my way to the metro station in the morning to explore Madrid. I couldn’t sleep before match day. I needed to pack because I would be leaving for Barcelona the next day, but how could I think about that? How could I think about anything but Liverpool?
I will never forget the sound of Fields of Anfield road wafting over cobblestone streets in Sol. I will never forget the Plaza Mayor littered with Carlsberg, footballs, scouse accents and people of all ages. I’ll never forget those I talked to, and the stories they shared. I’ll never forget holding the Rafa Benitez banner. That iconic image I saw flying over the Kop every week on tv, and now I was holding it in my hands in Madrid. I’ll never forget the kindness and welcoming spirit of the Liverpool supporters who always welcome those who respect the club as one of their own. Knowing my football was enough for them, and being respectful to the history and legacy of Liverpool Football Club.
The 90 minutes that night was the longest of my life. I had traveled all that way. Spent all that I’d saved. Placed all my hopes and prayed that Liverpool would win in Madrid that day. I’ll never forget the lights, and the way they flashed around the Santiago Bernabeu. Nervousness was perhaps the only reason I didn’t cry when I heard the Champions League anthem, or maybe it was because I was surrounded by guys.
It was 0-0 into the 82nd minute, and then the little Israeli Yossi Benayoun brought a fit of pure exuberance to 6,000 joyous scousers to the highest point of the of that stadium. For 90 minutes we had out sang the Madrid faithful from our point tucked high away in the nose bleed section of the stadium. We sung all through the first half, and louder in the second, before nervousness began to take over. When Yossi scored, relief washed over us and the songs began again. I’ll never forget the way kopites sing. In that moment, when the goal went in that most of us couldn’t see, I was jumped on by a bunch of guys with the same expression in their eyes as me, and I knew that for the rest of my life I was LFC. I would never walk alone.
If there were any doubts, any logical circumstance that would let LFC ever dissipate from its proper place in my life, then that moment in Madrid erased it. I’d never wanted something more in my whole life, and at that moment neither had anyone else. I had waited for months, suffered a terrible exchange rate from that stupid recession, and braved Spain as a girl alone… but it was all worth it to see Torres get a win back home, to see Xabi Alonso almost score from half way, to see a quality performance from Stevie & co away in one of the hardest football grounds to ever play.
The anticipation was worth it for that day. That night. When kopites shook Madrid subways, and sung louder than anyone could ever sing about Spanish players come home to play in front of friends and family, and a country they had made celebrate.
I feel that way about Boston next week. I know it wont quite be the same, but the best part of LFC is the camaraderie. I can’t wait to meet reds from all over the world and the USA and talk about the Liverpool way. I can’t wait to laugh and joke about LFC, and not have to explain national teams don’t play in the Premier League. I’m anticipating a moment that will be all about LFC, an indulgence in culture that will always be apart of me.
I can’t wait for Liverpool vs AS Roma at Fenway next week and meeting all the traveling reds from all over the country and the world. It should be a great time at the Phoenix Landing and the after party, and it wouldn’t be Liverpool if we weren’t singing songs in the streets. Looking forward to meeting you all, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
“He has everything.”
Xabi Alonso - True Elegance - Real Madrid - 2011/2012
Brilliant compilation, some of Xabi’s most breathtaking passes, crucial tackles & classy defense
Red card foul from Hübschman on Xabi Alonso. The players would limp off the pitch. Spain were cruising at 2-0, and there was no need for this needless challenge on Alonso, 10.7.11. [video]
● Xabi Alonso ● Best DM In The World ● by N1ghtwolf ●
Xabi, el amo.
Xabi Alonso you’ll always be a liverpool player in my soul