It’s Time To Move Forward, As One

It’s Time To Move Forward, As One
May 20, 2012 Paul Tomkins

I can’t stand the noise. Please, make it stop.

In the old days we wanted Liverpool FC to do its business in private and only release it to the world when it was complete. Now, in life in general, no news is bad news. Indeed, no news is terrible news. No news is an excuse for mass hysteria.

I’ve been guilty of it, too; Twitter, in particular, does that to you. You stare at the screen as it updates … and still no news! It’s been five seconds! Refresh, refresh.

It turns you into a lunatic. The modern, internet age – of which I am proud to be part – has so many benefits, but as much as I love what Twitter can offer, it can turn every aspect of football into a circus. It never stops, it never rests, it never sleeps; it’s a monster that needs to be fed, and we love to feed it. We can’t help ourselves.

I can mostly handle the stream of abuse that comes my way on Twitter, but the constant state of unrest is arguably more disconcerting. Add the two together, and do I need it? I’ve reached the conclusion that I don’t. I’ll set up an account to follow the views of the select few writers I respect, and use the pre-existing one to post links to this site, but I don’t have the energy to cope with everything the Twitterverse throws at me (good and bad). It steals my time, and it steals my mind.

We’re addicted to new news – the latest news – and the number of ways we get our news, and how quickly we get it, just continues to grow apace. And once a wave of unrest starts to ripple, it’s hard to resist.

When, just a few days ago, fans started panicking about the number of people being sacked/let go by the club, I was caught up in the unrest. But we need to stop and think, take a step back. Passion is great when you want an atmosphere at a football ground, but it makes us stupid and irrational.

Everyone knows that a wide-ranging review was in place at Liverpool FC – that was hardly a secret – but did we really have to know who was undertaking it? And when it was complete, did we expect the owners to make decisions about letting people go, and not bother to bring anyone in? Was the plan simply to sack people?

A new structure is being put in place; I know this for a fact, although I don’t know any of the details.

(Dion Fanning has written a superb piece on the issue.)

I’d imagine that undertaking such a task – which amounts to an overhaul – is not straightforward. God-knows whether it will prove to be the right structure, or contain the right personnel. But we’ll know in time.

From what I witnessed last week on Twitter, the idea of FSG making a managerial short-list, as well as the varying reported lengths of it, has been ridiculed. Limiting their options was daft, and keeping their options open was daft. The idea of not having a manager in place when sacking the existing one is ridiculed, when the idea of having a manager in place when sacking the existing one (especially one as revered as Kenny Dalglish) would cause outrage.

The notion of Roberto Martinez – no trophies – was ridiculed, and the same people ridiculed the notion that the club (allegedly) dare approached Pep Guardiola (who, incidentally, had no top-level managerial experience before Barcelona).

No ambition and too much ambition, all in the same day. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This is the poisoned chalice of making decisions in football. The same applies to managers: their every last call is micro analysed. We can’t help ourselves; it’s what fans do. But the discussions that once took place in private are now everywhere. And yes, of course I’m as guilty as anyone on this. But removing myself from the Twitterverse might help me regain my sanity.

Maybe FSG will evolve the old the Liverpool way, but it’s about getting a balance between core values and modernising, in the way that Barcelona had to get to grips with a decade ago, and how, as outlined in the aforementioned Dion Fanning piece, Newcastle started doing a year ago. Roy Hodgson didn’t get the Liverpool way to such an extent that it was painful; but he’s something of a dinosaur (who is bloody good at setting up low-ambition teams using a rigid system).

The modern football landscape has changed, and the fact is that all players aspire to the Champions League. I’m old enough to remember when the domestic cups were very important, and 4th meant nothing, but it’s a bit like when a player wins the ball with a studs-up tackle and the hoary old ex-pro says “that’s never a foul, he won the ball!”

Things change. We might not like that change, and we might fight against it, but once in place, and until it changes again, you have to play by the current rules.

You move with the times. These days, winning a cup (aside from the Champions League) is like a national side beating Brazil in a friendly; but finishing 4th is like winning qualification for the World Cup.

Of course the club exists to win trophies. But the club cannot easily attract the best players, and pay their wages, without the Champions League. The European Cup is the trophy that everyone wants (which I type with gritted teeth, after last night), so you need to be in the top four (or reigning holders) to have a chance of winning it. And no-one has won the league in the past 20 years without first finishing in the top three.

Personally, I’d have labelled the season a big success had Liverpool won two trophies and finished 5th. One trophy and 8th is a different story. I don’t think it meant that Dalglish had to be replaced – I didn’t expect FSG to be that brave (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) – but I don’t think that for the longer-term picture, winning the Carling Cup is better than being in the Champions League.

Big name or up-and-coming?

I don’t know who the new manager will be, nor do I know who should definitely get the job. There are those I’d be happy with, and those I’d be less sure about.

What I will say is this: doing well at a small club does not automatically mean that a manager can do well at a bigger one; this is the classic mistake so many people make. But equally, doing well at a small club does not mean that is the limit of a manager’s abilities.

And albeit with a project he inherited mid-season, Roberto Di Matteo has just won the Champions League (and FA Cup) without prior big-club management experience. But when he was at West Brom, I am on record as saying that I thought he had the right approach to succeed at a bigger club. Roy Hodgson may have ended up doing fractionally better than Di Matteo at West Brom, but Chelsea wouldn’t touch Hodgson with a bargepole; he just doesn’t have that big-club approach.

This article by Zonal Marking perfectly illustrates how someone like Roberto Martinez can make brave, clever decisions to solve problems. He’s ahead of the times; switching to a formation that’s on the rise across Europe. It’s not like he’s stuck to the same approach, year after year.

Whether or not that makes him suitable for Liverpool I don’t know; but you can’t write him off based on his Wigan record. He’s not been at a club riding the euphoria of promotion, or one that has large fanbase, an intimidating atmosphere or any money to spend. Presumably he’s being spoken to based on his sharp thinking, not his win percentage at a club aiming to scrape by each year.

Wigan sell their best players to keep stay afloat, receiving fees far in excess of what will be reinvested. Also, you can probably escape relegation more easily when playing football like Stoke (while playing football like Stoke won’t get you a job at a bigger club, where playing football like Stoke would be abhorred.) Martinez wouldn’t be my first choice, but just as some players at small clubs are at the apex of their journey, others can join the elite.

The assistance of an experienced football man in a kind of General Manager role, to help co-ordinate a lot of the stuff that can sap a manager’s time and energy, would mean that a less-experienced manager with bright ideas would presumably stand a better chance of succeeding. In theory it makes sense, but you can never know until it’s tried.

I’d obviously like to see Rafa Benítez at least considered, as the only current inhabitant of Merseyside to have managed a team to the Champions League. It was too soon for him when Hodgson was fired, and I frequently told people on this site that I’d only discuss Rafa returning after Kenny had gone. (The amount of begging emails and tweets I received in relation to trying to help bring Rafa back was incredible; but until last week I fully expected Kenny to remain in position, and then, to me, the issue was moot.)

An altered structure behind the scenes might actually help Benítez, although the relationships with those around him would have to be solid. He’s great if people are on the same wavelength and pulling in the same direction.

Iberians make sense, as the Spanish flavour has worked well at Anfield in the recent past, and the Academy set-up employs two important figures from the Barcelona system, brought to the club by Benítez three years ago. Perhaps Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell will rise to the first team picture, and take an overview of the whole club.

Whoever gets the job, the structure should provide an assistance rather than a hindrance.

“Advising” FSG

Finally, on a personal note, I’ve seen it said that FSG should be talking to a wider variety of fans than just me and one or two others.

First of all, as well as presumably downplaying the number of fans they converse with, this seriously overplays my influence. Also, I’ve been told that I speak only for myself, and not as part of any organisation.

As much as I gave my full backing to Spirit of Shankly in the fight against the previous owners, and as much as I believe in the importance of fans having a voice, I’m not sure they’d want to be contacted with a one a.m. request as to how to create a Guardian chalkboard, or where to find certain statistics. Does it really need a committee to do that?

On the sporadic occasions when asked, I gave my opinion on football matters, but I also outlined the what other fans were saying (if different from my view), and gave the contact details of experts when the issue was beyond me. I’m not someone who’ll bullshit when lacking an answer; quite a lot of the time, I just don’t know.

Beyond answering, every now and then, a few football-based questions, I’ve had no direct input whatsoever. As I said in my statement, I am free to email John Henry my views on footballing issues, but that doesn’t mean he’ll pay any attention.

As for a group of fans having a dialogue with the club, I assumed that was what the committee, chaired by Bill Shankly’s granddaughter Karen Gill, was set up to do:

The last time I heard her speak on the issue, a month or two back on the excellent Anfield Wrap podcast, she was very positive about the committee. I presume that, as intended, the club listens to these people, although as I’m not involved, I don’t know how it all works.

I’m a not a political figure by nature, and try to retain my independence, so that I am not tied into any one direction (not to be confused by being tied to any of One Direction, something I’d find equally unappealing.)

While I don’t particularly appreciate being named in the SOS letter, even though they kindly forewarned me and said no malice was intended, I do continue to support their existence; I think it’s important that the union remains together for situations like those we saw a couple of years back.

However, I don’t think we are anywhere remotely near that stage.

They have every right to push for information, but the club also has a right to only release information when they think it’s pertinent. This is not a criticism of SOS or a defence of FSG, simply what is supposed to be “the Liverpool way”. You can’t simultaneously communicate openly and keep everything behind closed doors.

Like anyone, I’d love to know what’s happening with the stadium, but equally, it’s hardly proved a straightforward issue for anyone over the past dozen years at the club. FSG have a track record of getting this side of things right in America, but perhaps things are easier to facilitate in Boston. We don’t want to wait forever, but with at least £50m wasted on failed attempts, the club need to get it right; and for that, I’d rather wait a bit longer. (Even if, by waiting longer, I am not saying that it will definitely be resolved; I have no idea.)

My only true wish now, as a Liverpool fan, is that the fan-base finds some common ground, and gets behind the next manager, whoever he is; and that, hopefully with stability and an improving team, FSG can successfully sort out some of the other issues with at least a modicum of goodwill retained. Failure on the part of any of those involved – fans, manager, players, owners – will just lead to more heartache. And we’ve had our fill of that.