An Open Letter To An Idiot

An Open Letter To An Idiot
January 27, 2009 Paul Tomkins

I get quite a few emails every day, some of which are supportive and in full agreement, some of which are asking for fair-minded debate because of differing opinions, some of which are already leaning towards unfair-minded debate, and some of which are just plain offensive. 

The last category obviously get binned. While I read all emails, those who write 1,000 words, in praise or in criticism, and expect me to answer all their points are almost asking me to write an individual article just for them. With all due respect, get real!

Yesterday I got an email from the third category – ill-informed, bordering on confrontational, but not resorting to personal abuse. At first I thought I’d respond, then seconds later I decided to just bin the email as the recipient wasn’t worth my time. Then I concluded that I could get something constructive (a blog that would be fun to write) out of it, and hold it up as the kind of depressing nouveau fan shortsightedness that, alas, is all too common. 

My initial suspicions that it was from an Evertonian were dispelled by the email originating in France, from a Msr Frank Miguet (, and let’s face it, their global appeal doesn’t stretch far beyond Birkenhead. And anyway, it’s indicative of what a percentage of Liverpool fans think as they drag the good name of our club through the mud.

Dear Mr Tomkins,

I discovered your most recent article on the Liverpool website today when reading through threads in the forum. You might be interested in seeing some of the reaction.

Er, no. In truth, I couldn’t care less. I’m sure there are some very intelligent posters on there, some of whom will agree with me and some of whom won’t. But forums are places that breed knee-jerk spouting off from 13-year-old kids who wouldn’t know their arse from their brain (perhaps because both are full of shit). I’ve not visited that forum since one brief look in 2005, and have no desire to do so. The club’s research shows that 90% of people are silent in their agreement but that it’s always the very vocal 10% who kick up all the stink.

There are no right or wrong answers in football, as in any sport really, everyone has their differing opinions about how teams should and shouldn't play which makes it all the more interesting. I am willing to listen to most people's side of every argument.

You, sir, are indeed a saint. I am honoured by your patience.

However, with that in mind, I do take exception to your Proof of Progression article which falls quite a long way short of the requisite standard of proximity to reality. 

Okay, a fair challenge I will rise to. But I had to laugh at your version of reality a little later.

As a Liverpool fan, I think you are deluding yourself with the majority of the points you highlight, and the fact that you have somehow got it published on the Liverpool website annoys me because some fans will read that and believe it to be somewhere approaching the truth. 

Well, I began writing articles for independent sites back in 2000, when I was still a season ticket holder and every-week regular. I wrote hundreds of pieces purely as a hobby.

Since 2005 I’ve written around 200 articles for the official site, over half of which were unpaid (I now get a relatively small monthly fee), and I have written seven books on the club in the same time, which have drawn acclaim from football publications (no review less than 4 stars in FourFourTwo), journalists and people within the game. 

I may not be correct in everything I say, but I feel I’ve earned the right, through sheer hard work and a refusal to be a knee-jerk, to have my opinion in the public eye. I can list hundreds of season ticket holders who regularly email me their agreement, and fans who’ve been watching since the days of Shankly who really appreciate what I write. I have also been asked to appear on tv and radio shows, but my health prohibits this. So it’s not like I’m some Johnny-come-lately.

Your analysis of the recent cup clash made me wonder whether you had actually watched the game. "Liverpool kept moving the ball, using the width with intelligence" and "While Liverpool attacked and attacked" and to top it all off " I don't think there have been many more one-sided derbies since Ian Rush scored four".

Well, I think Liverpool had 75% of the possession, and 74.99% of it in Everton’s half. By width I mean getting the full-backs into space, doubling as wingers. Granted, they didn’t use the ball too brilliantly, but Dossena and Arbeloa were very proactive in their runs. Liverpool tried to go through the middle, and also down the flanks.

We lacked any sort of creation and invention, and created one clear cut chance in the whole of the second half. If this is how you define one sided, then I wonder whether you actually watch football at all.

If you’re going to talk facts, I can name at least three great opportunities in the second half: the goal, the close-range shot from Gerrard that was palmed over and the shot from Torres from about 10 yards that beat the keeper but was blocked on the line towards the end of the game. I’m sure there were more.

What evidence are you going on also to make you think there was a gulf in class between the two teams? Everton had every right to come to anfield and make themselves difficult to beat. If we just pass it around in front of them the whole game like we did, then that is our fault for not taking the initiative. A high percentage in terms of possession does not equate to dominance of a football match. The number of chances is the true indicator of whether a team is dominant.

There are numerous ways to determine dominance, and possession and territorial possession are two of them. The number of chances can also indicate dominance, but equally it can show one or two counter attacks which were the only time that team touched the ball. I think Liverpool had about five times as many shots, and that is another indicator.

Also, I never said that Everton didn’t have a right to come and sit back. They did. And it was up to Liverpool to break them down. But for two outstanding centre-back displays, which I acknowledged, that might have happened.

I'm sure you will disagree, but there is just no way we are going to win the Premiership with Rafa in charge. 

Ah, back to your “which falls quite a long way short of the requisite standard of proximity to reality”. So you’re a psychic. Why didn’t you say earlier? Your certainty marks you out as a fool, as nothing is certain in football. 

He has shown himself up on a number of occasions this season, and if it were not for Man Utd's bad start, and Chelsea's transition between managers, the league would reflect this. Indeed, by the time sunday comes, we could very well be out of the picture completely. 

“If it were not”… Well, if it were not for Torres’ injury, Liverpool could be 20 points clear by now. Who knows? If it were not for Liverpool hitting a bad spell, just as United did at the start of the season, Liverpool could be 20 points clear by now. Who knows? And to be completely out of the picture by Sunday would take some doing, with only a few points likely to separate the teams and 50-odd still to play for. 

He falls short in terms of his decision making, which is not flexible enough… 

Funny, I thought few managers have as many different approaches as Benítez, who switches between different players and different systems.

….he will rarely make a substitution before 65 minutes…

That’s his style. However, his substitutions have often proved successful. See here.

He gives the players a chance to respond to his advice/pep talk at half-time and to go back out and do what he wants them to. If they don’t, he changes things. 

…his man management of players leaves much to be desired, Agger, Alonso, Crouch, Keane to name a few…

Yes, Alonso is having a terrible season, isn’t he? Jesus, Rafa must really have handled him awfully.

And Agger? Well, Rafa wants to keep him, but the club haven’t sorted his contract. How can that be the manager’s fault unless you are vindictive and have an agenda?

Crouch was surplus to first-team requirements once Torres arrived, and as for Robbie Keane, well you may have a point, although no-one knows what’s gone on behind the scenes. 

But equally, Keane has not performed to the expected levels and what would you be saying if he kept perservering with a player out of form? Something like “he only plays him because he cost £20m” and that he won’t acknowledge his mistakes by refusing to drop him.

… his transfer policy, not only has he spent millions, but many of his players that he's brought in have been sold on. 

Wow, some players have been sold on in a 4.5 year spell? That’s never happened before or elsewhere. (See my list of United and Arsenal flops in the article you belittle). 

Most managers’ singings end up leaving for much less than they arrived, and I don’t think Liverpool made a profit on hardly any of their surplus players, or even their better signings, between 1990 and 2004.

The difference is that Crouch was sold for a £5m profit, Carson was sold (and loaned) for £4m profit, Gonzalez sold for a £1.5m profit, Bellamy sold for £1.5m profit, Sissoko sold for £3.5m profit, Paletta was swapped for Insua, Josemi was swapped for Kromkamp and then his sale raised the money that bought Arbeloa, etc. 

This raised funds to reinvest in better players, like Torres, Mascherano and Riera. All managers will get stuff wrong, because there is not the room in the team for everybody to be a success, while some will fail for unforseen reasons, like homesickness, serious injury, or simply a failure to adapt to English football, which even some of the supposed world ‘greats’ like Seba Veron and Andrei Shevchenko failed to do.

And to have signed as many good players as he has in 4.5 years, with a budget less than that of his two main rivals, is pretty damn good: Torres, Mascherano, Alonso, Reina, Crouch, Sissoko, Garcia, Arbeloa, Insua, Nemeth, Riera, Agger, Skrtel, Babel and Aurelio.

I see that you are a student of history, then please tell me this, when has a negative manager with a "make sure we don't lose first" attitude ever won the premiership? When has he ever taken a game by the scruff of the neck ala Mourinho and Ferguson and turned a defeat into a win. 

You, my friend, are a whopper. Or whatever the French is for whopper (getting into Pulp Fiction territory, Le Whopper?). 

First game: Man City at Anfield, 1-0 down, won 2-1; Fulham away, 0-2 down, won 4-2; Olympiacos at home, 1-0 down, need to score three, win 3-1; Istanbul, 3-0 down, drew 3-3 to win on penalties; Luton, 3-1 down, won 5-3; FA Cup Final, 2-0 and 3-2 down, drew 3-3 to win on penalties. These are famous comebacks. There were others, too.

And this season, lest you forget (and really, come on, how could you?), 1-0 down to Manchester United, won 2-1; 2-0 down away at Manchester City, won 3-2; Middlesbrough at home, 1-0 down, won 2-1; Marseilles away, 1-0 down, won 2-1; PSV away, 1-0 down, won 3-1; 2-1 down to Wigan, won 3-2. Points were also rescued from losing positions in a number of other games, including Arsenal away. 

In almost all of these instances, substitutes and tactical changes won the game. So thank you, I don’t think I’ve ever been given the ammunition to disprove someone’s crank theory quite so easily. Merci!

His overall philosophy about how football should be played in my opinion is not the optimum way to gain points and ultimately challenge for a title. Would he still be in charge if it was not for our runs in the champions league? I think the answer to that would be no.

What, so you haven’t seen how a team 30 points off the leaders in 2004 when he arrived have, year on year, got closer and closer to the summit? Or should he have won the title in his first season, despite far wealthier clubs ahead of the Reds? Come on, get real. United have never been stronger and Chelsea had never been richer.

As I stated earlier, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when someone's opinion is plastered all over the website, and is quite honestly so unbalanced and biased as yours is, I feel that it should be pointed out. I hope you come round and see Liverpool under Benitez for what they really are and write a fairer article next time.

Liverpool under Benítez are not perfect nor the finished article, but almost every fact, from European ranking to league points-per-season and average league position shows an improvement on the last 20 years. You’ve written off the league table, yet Liverpool are in the mix, joint-top at the time that you write. 

Rafa’s league win-percentage is virtually identical to his European record. Therefore he is equally good at winning games in both competitions. His league win-percentage is better than Fagan’s and Shankly’s, and equal to Paisley’s. Only Dalglish has a better win record, and he was criticised from 1989 onwards for being too defensive and trying to avoid defeat. 

I would be interested to hear your views. 

Well, here they are. Enjoy.

I shall write to you again soon.

Oh joy.

"Tomkins not only shows why he is a prolific, talented writer but also cements his status as very knowledgeable and passionate Red. In my opinion this is Tomkins' best work to date; a thoroughly excellent read."

Vic Gill, Shanks' son-in-law and former LFC trainee

“The project that Tomkins has taken on here is highly ambitious: assessing each of Liverpool’s managers since Bill Shankly. He does this in his own irrepressible style of analyzing in detail every area that falls within a manager’s remit. And whilst Tomkins has a talent for such a task, where he excels here is in approaching each manager without any apparent pre-conceived ideas.”

Paul Grech,

"A unique analysis of the club's managers, which is no mean feat given the extensive bibliography of the club… informative … another perspective on the last 50 years at Liverpool."

Programme & Football Collectable Monthly