By Paul Tomkins
The year 2011 began with Liverpool FC and its fans in the midst of a great depression, heading nowhere under Roy Hodgson. Before long we were losing our main goalscorer, and spending the £50m (plus the fee for Ryan Babel) on two new, young strikers. With Torres gone, and Steven Gerrard about to be sidelined for more-or-less the rest of the year, it was going to be no easy task for a new manager to drag the team from the bottom half of the table towards the top six. Kenny Dalglish did just that.
Dalglish had money to spend, of course, thanks to the arrival of FSG. But it was not a case of adding £100m+ to the squad; as part of the rebuilding programme, good players were sold (along with the deadwood), often to bring down the average age or increase the necessary English quota levels. (Hodgson had signed seven players, six of whom had an average age of 30, which only served to move the club backwards in the short-term, and offer nothing but problems in the long-term.) Had Liverpool spent £115m in 2011, but kept Torres, Meireles and one or two others, then that would be a different issue.
The two transfer windows under Dalglish and FSG have proved hit and miss, but very few clubs will have a large number of players come and go in a year, and see all of the new arrivals succeed, either immediately, or indeed, over the long term. Take the examples of Meireles and Henderson; essentially a 28-year-old central midfielder who didn’t meet home-grown criteria was swapped (£12m received, £13-16m spent) with a 21-year-old alternative.
Meireles was good, but not perfect, and in fairness, it took a while for Henderson to look even remotely of that standard; as a result, and in terms of results, Liverpool perhaps suffered a little. But with Henderson growing into the role, the decision now seems wise; his best days are ahead of him, and experience gained now is money in the bank for the future. Then there’s the fact that Henderson will not be on the wages that Meireles would have been entitled to, had he stayed.
Given the number of changes to the squad (and coaching staff), 2011/12 can only be regarded as a transitional season; although no-one likes acknowledging it when they see one (not least because, in the modern era, every season spent off the pace of the top four seems like a disaster). And the second half of 2010/11 was merely an attempt to for the club to dig itself out of a hole. It’s been a year of ups and downs, but after 2010, at least there are some ups in there, too.
To illustrate the level of improvement, Dalglish would need to lose the next fifteen games in a row to equal Hodgson’s points-per-game, so far ahead is he. (Hodgson’s level should not be the benchmark, but people keep bandying about erroneous stats; and while acknowledging that it shouldn’t be the benchmark, it was the reality that Dalglish inherited.)
So far this season, with just one game left in 2011, the Reds have the best defence in the league, and have had the most attempts at goal, suggestive of getting certain things right at both ends; the disconnect lays in between, in how many chances have been squandered, rather than any fundamental problem with the approach. (As an aside, look at how Spurs were struggling for goals last season, particularly from their strikers. Also, in 2010 they were 5th, with 30 points, after 18 games; Liverpool are now 6th, with 31.)
Anyway, enough scene setting. What follows is my full review of Liverpool FC’s fortunes over the past 12 months – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and how it all bodes for the future.
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