lallana

Adam Lallana: are we finally signing the right quality?

 

I love science me. I get excited by the unexpected and bizarre avenues it can take me down. I love the fact that apparently random and chaotic symbols on a chalk board can describe the world and everything in it; even though they are like hieroglyphs to me.

I am often perplexed an amazed by them. Rumour has it the Liverpool squad felt the same way about Roy Hodgson’s tactical scribbles.

Science also tells us that when we gaze at star light, we are often looking at celestial objects that are no longer there. It takes the light so long to reach us from these distant bodies that the source has often winked out before it hits our eyes. Amazing huh?

Our players’ Brazilian odyssey felt a bit like that for me. By the time I got round to watching them, their hopes had already vanished from view. Never mind.

The problem for me though, is that my brain isn’t really equipped for the heavy mathematics that goes into working all of this stuff out.  I might know that E=MC2, but I couldn’t tell you how Einstein got there. Instead, it’s the weird theoretical stuff that really floats my boat.

I love those crazy thought experiments that just blow your mind, like if a player falls down in the box and he’s not a foreigner; is it really a dive? We may never know the answer, but doesn’t it make you think?

Then there’s the Daddy of them all, the ‘Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox.’ Stick with me here; you’ll see what I mean soon honest.

Erwin Schrödinger suggested that if you trap a cat in a box with some poison, you can’t know if it’s alive or dead until you open the lid. In fact, he went further and said that it is the act of opening that lid that forces the cat into one of the two states.

It’s actually far more complicated than that and I’m hoping no actual scientists are reading this. Anyway, the point is that it’s because of the musings of this Austrian physicist in the 1930’s that I love this part of preseason.

You see, to me, Liverpool right now are just like that moggy trapped with the poison. It’s only when we open the lid and get a look at them in action; that our season becomes either alive or dead.

Until then there is just as much chance that we will be champions come May, as there is of us enduring another trophy less ‘lap of honour’.

To be honest though, this summer’s optimism feels a little less theoretical. Even for me, one of footballs eternal optimists, this is the first time in 20 years that I can see some evidence that we might actually push on.

Of course we have been here before. Three times in the last fourteen years to be precise. In terms of how we managed that important ‘next step,’ history doesn’t bode well. We begin our analysis in the summer of 2002.

Bruno Cheyrou: The New Zidane?

Bruno Cheyrou: The New Zidane?

This was a world cup year. Kopites had gone into the summer basking in a second place finish. It represented yet more progress under Gerard Houllier, who had followed up the treble season by finishing just seven points adrift of Arsenal and pushing United into third. We were standing on the brink of history, or so it seemed.

When it comes to transfer windows, Liverpool has had its share of turkeys. However this one, for me, was the mother of them all. This was the window that brought us Bruno Cheyrou. He was heralded as the new Zidane. He wasn’t.

Liverpool signed six players in total that summer. Between them they managed 178 appearance and just 10 goals. This included Alou Diarra. Remember him? If you don’t, you can be forgiven because he didn’t manage a single appearance in a Liverpool shirt.

The following season was sadly the beginning of the end for Gerard. Despite defeating the ‘Mancs’ to lift the League Cup, there was familiar gloom in the league. From finishing 7 points short the year before we now languished in 5th, 19 points adrift of champions United.

You can’t keep us down for long though. You don’t need to be a scientist to recognise where the cream always ends up and in 2009 we came damn close again. What a season of contrasts that was, full of Infuriating draws and sublime victories. Two draws and four points dropped against Stoke robbed us of number nineteen.

The football we played in the second half of that season meant that, once again, we jetted into the summer with high hopes. What we couldn’t have legislated for was ruinous effect of the ownership problems and political infighting. There was to be no silver linings.

This was the summer of Alonso and Aquilani. It was also the transfer window that saw our central defensive linchpin leave. Of all the players that joined that summer, only Glen Johnson remains. Aquilani managed only 1 goal and 18 appearances.

Alberto Aquilani: failure to launch

Alberto Aquilani: failure to launch

 

The following season our fall from grace was astonishing in the context of the highs we had experienced under Rafa. With the team in 7th place and 23 points adrift, the writing was on the wall for our Spanish manager.

So here we are again. After a season in which the title came so close we could taste it, we are once again riding a wave of optimism. Is history about to repeat its self? Or are we on the thresh-hold of a momentous breakthrough?

For me the club seems to have learned from the mistakes of the past. Einstein said madness was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This summer I am genuinely excited that the club are finally ‘going for it.’ They seem to recognise what a golden opportunity this is for us to crack on. Our activity in the transfer window has been swift, decisive and for once successful. One by one the targets have been hit and there are more to come. Finally all seems harmonious off the field too.

The fact that I feel so optimistic, even in the face of losing our star player, tells its own story. The progress the club is making is far from theoretical. There is hard evidence all around for me.

Of course we won’t know if I am right until we lift the lid on the 2014-15 season. That’s the beauty of the now, according to Schrödinger anyway.

Yes the detractors will paint this as yet another Liverpool fan saying “next year is going to be our year.” Our rivals may seem like immovable objects but I’ll quote another scientist in reply.

Archimedes said there was no such thing as an immovable object. You just need a good place to stand and you can move the earth. This summer we look to be in a very favourable position to me and we don’t need to move a world, only Manchester City.

Is this man fit to replace Luis Suarez

Is this man fit to lace Luis Suarez’ Boots

It’s official now. We knew it was coming but despite the huge fee there’s a tinge of sadness and a little anxiety in the air. Luis Suarez is undoubtedly irreplaceable. There are literally just two players in the world who would be fit to lace his boots. We know who they are and £75 million would not prize them away from their respective clubs.

In order to deal with this problem the club should look back to when Luis arrived. In January 2010 we were facing up to losing Torres, who was very much the finished article. Suarez on the other hand was not, but importantly he had the potential to become a superstar.

Liverpool parted with a relatively modest £22.8 million for his services and he chipped in with four goals in 13 games. The following season he managed eleven and was criticized by many pundits for having a very poor shot to goal ratio. We were also treated to commentators claiming he ‘was not a natural goalscorer’. Of course, such claims seem ridiculous now, but there are lessons for us to learn in all of this.

The club are reportedly looking at a number of striking options to replace Luis Suarez. One name that has caused uproar among a section of our support, is Wilfried Bony. The objection seems to be that he is not of the quality of Luis Suarez. Well, no he isn’t, but neither was Luis himself three and a half years ago.

What we can say with confidence is that Bony is a natural goalscorer. After joining Swansea City in 2013 he has plundered 25 goals in 48 games. This is better than a goal every other game. He has achieved this with a team that finished 12th, winning just 11 games.

More importantly, from Liverpool’s point of view, he has done it in one of the toughest leagues in in European football. Therefore signing Bony,  means no frustrating period of adaptation. This is surely crucial if the club are to kick on quickly and take that important next step to the title.

Another argument against signing Bony is that the club needs a ‘marquee signing’ in the aftermath of the Suarez sale. Aside from PR, I really can’t see why this should factor into Brendan’s thinking. Of course a big name signing can work wonders. It can also sell shirts.

They can also spectacularly back-fire. Ask Chelsea fans. I am sure they were jubilant with the signings of Shevchenko and Torres, who cost a combined £85 million. It remains to be seen whether Paris Saint-Germain fans will be pleased with their recent Marquee signing, David Luiz. The only thing a marquee signing guarantees is an empty transfer kitty.

In any case such talk ignores the tremendous progress of other players in the squad. Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson will all improve next time out. I would expect them to contribute more goals. Sturridge will also relish being centre-stage. His 21 goal haul last season was nothing to be sniffed at.

There will also be improvements in defense. We may not need a 30 goal a season striker if we were to concede 20 goals less than we did last year. We may be better served, if we spent the  bulk of the Suarez windfall addressing our obvious defensive frailties.

In the end Liverpool may or may not take Bony to Anfield. There are also links to Benzema, Martinez and Griezmann among others. The point is none of these players are at the level of Suarez. What matters is what can they offer the first team now? Can they improve under Brendan Rodgers? If they can and are able to reach even half the level of Suarez, they will be worth every penny we spend.

This article by me was also published by http://www.live4liverpool.com

Lucas: On his way out of Anfield?

Lucas: On his way out of Anfield?

Speculation is rife that we are about to lose our Brazilian number 21. He has removed Liverpool FC from his Twitter profile and rumour has it his former boss is waiting to take him to Napoli. He has always divided opinion, but should we be in a rush to let him go?

Lucas was born in 1987. At around that time I was about to start my first full time job. I didn’t sleep much the night before my first day. Would I be any good at it? How would I fit in? What if I was no good and I got the sack.

I was only a bus ride away from my place of work and pretty much the only thing I had to worry about, was getting there and back. I had a ready-made network of friends and family all around me.

Twenty years on and the story for a young Brazilian kid, Lucas Leiva, was very different. At 20 he was travelling 5 ½ thousand miles to take up a new job at Liverpool Football Club.

He was entering an entirely new culture to the one he was used to. He didn’t speak the language and worse still he was very far away from his family and friends. It was a far greater challenge than I ever faced.

Rafa Benitez had scouted the young midfielder, who had begun his career at Gremio. He looked an exciting prospect. He had already played at International level and had become the youngest ever player to win the prestigious Golden Ball Award. Previous winners of this accolade included Zico and Falcao. It’s hardly the Golden Samba, but still…

At the time his new manager spoke of his goal scoring ability, but also his character and tenacity. We haven’t seen many goals from Lucas during his spell at the club. However we have seen character and tenacity in spades.

Adjusting to a new time-zone, culture and language was actually the least of his problems. In order to break into the team he had to compete with the likes of Mascherano and Alonso. His problem was made worse by the fact that, rather than see him as a young understudy, many unfairly compared him to those two midfield maestro’s.

Despite this he put in an impressive 39 appearances in his first season (19 coming from the subs bench). Like many young players, particularly those desperate to make an impression, he was prone to errors and lunging into tackles recklessly. This saw him booked 5 times and receive 1 red card. A certain Steven Gerrard, no stranger to this in his early career, would doubtless sympathize.

However, fans and pundits quickly grew impatient with him. Not many of us, myself included, fully understood that he was also adjusting to a new tactical position. At Gremio he had been a box-to-box player. Benitez seemed keen to deploy him in a holding role.

In his second full season, 2008-09, those frustrations boiled over during a terrible 0-0 draw against Fulham. In what was, to my mind, an unprecedented step, a section of Liverpool fans actually booed one of their own as he came on as a sub.

It would have been entirely understandable if he had folded at this point. It’s bad enough living half way around the world and trying to learn a new language. Throw in trying to adapt to a new position and getting stick off your supporters and most would at least consider their options.

Not Lucas. Where some would have called it a day, he chose to get better. He used that experience to drive himself on and prove his critics wrong. Here was the character and tenacity Benitez had spoken of.

Lucas will never be regarded as a world beater, but all the best teams have a player like him. Back in 1987 we had one just like that. Always the fans whipping boy, Ronnie Whelan was regarded by his fellow professionals as an indispensable member of the team. Most fans only really knew what they had, when he was gone.

Lucas’ team mates certainly appreciated what he brought to the team. Eventually he won the supporter sover too, picking up the Kop’s Golden Samba award in 2011.

The following season we were given a graphic illustration of his importance to the team. Under his new manager, Kenny Dalglish, Lucas started in his now familiar position in front of the back four. This was a transitional year with Kenny still picking up the pieces from Roy Hodgson’s ill fated spell at the club.

Just as he was getting into his stride, Lucas sustained a season ending knee injury in a League Cup game against Chelsea at the end of November. He had been one of the best players on the pitch; in a game the Reds won 2-0. The injury would prove to be a huge blow to Liverpool’s league campaign.

Prior to this Liverpool lost only 11% of their matches, conceding 0.88 goals per game. Following his injury they were defeated in 37% of the remaining fixtures, conceding 1.15 goals per game. In the first half of the season Liverpool consistently hovered around the European places. By the end they were a dismal 8th.

In typical fashion Lucas battled back from this, but further set-backs and a change in playing philosophy under Rodgers have seen him fall out of favour.

To make matters worse he now has another world class player ahead of him in the pecking order. Steven Gerrard’s switch to a deeper role has restricted his opportunities for playing time. Still, are we right to let him go?

Next season, Liverpool will be battling on four fronts. There will be many more games and rotation will become a greater factor than it was last season. For me, Lucas could offer much needed depth in that position. He would also offer a defensive option when looking to close games out.

However, it seems he is now available for transfer, if the right offer comes along. Will prove the right thing for the club in the long term? I can’t help wondering if we’ll only come to realise the player we had, after he is gone.

This article by me was also published by http://www.thisisanfield.com

Lovren has shown a lack of class

Lovren has shown a lack of class

John W Henry gave us a great insight into the world of player  transfers and get out clauses recently. He was talking about Arsenal’s embarrassing pursuit of Luis Suarez last summer.

“We realised contracts in football don’t really mean anything, so we chose to ignore it.” I paraphrase slightly but this was the gist.

We all hailed his approach. Here was a player showing us the ultimate disrespect by demanding to leave us after all we had done for him. Then to add insult to injury we had some club from London taking the proverbial with a ridiculous bid. How dare they? How dare he?

Of course we forgave Suarez and the adulation he received from the Kop rose to new heights last season. Now we are back where we started and we really don’t like it. There is so much cynicism in football today that you can’t blame supporters for tiring of it.

Apparently the average wage in the UK is around £26k per year. Therefore, it should come as no surprise, when fans ‘kick-off’ in the face of such disrespect.  After all it’s their hard earned cash that helps to inflate those supersized salaries.

Of course Liverpool fans are not on their own in this respect. What must Southampton fans be thinking this morning? They have already watched three of their stars leave the club and now they have another agitating for a move.

They may have forgiven Lambert. After all he left for his hometown club. Who could begrudge him that? He also spoke glowingly of Saints fans. Lallana also left with dignity, paying for a full page thank you letter in the local paper.

Sadly the same can not be said for Reds target Dejan Lovren. We woke this morning to read reported comments the player made in an interview with ESPN. He spoke glowingly about Liverpool and The Kop but not of the team he is under contract with. He did claim a change of direction and broken promises were behind his rant, but that will cut little ice with Saints fans.

Many of our supporters have taken to social media to register their approval.  Is this not a little hypocritical?

The ‘Saints’ were a revelation last season, playing some great football. Nobody could have predicted their final league position last August. It’s because of this that their key players received international call ups. It’s also the reason that Liverpool noticed Dejan Lovren.

This is a fact apparently wasted on their central defender. He owes his club and supporters far more respect than he has shown them. Southampton have every right to hold him to his contract if they so wish.

It is also their duty to maximise any potential fee if they choose to sell, just as Liverpool are seeking to do with Suarez. His head might be in Liverpool but he owes Southampton some respect, at least until a deal is done.

This may all sound a little naive. After all sometimes we benefit from it sometime we lose. Maybe this is just all part of the dance, but I have to say I’m not Lovren it.

This article by me was also published by http://www.thisisanfield.com

Ayre faces first real test as CEO

Ayre faces first real test as CEO

Ian Ayre has faced many challenges since joining the board of Liverpool Football. Often vilified by sections of the clubs fan-base the Liverpool Chief Executive has remarkable staying power.

This is a man who, operating as the clubs commercial director escaped the fallout from the disastrous Hicks and Gillett regime. It’s interesting to note that following the sale to New England Sports Group (who later became Fenway Sports Group) that both Purslow and Ayre offered their resignations. Only Purslow’s was accepted. Ian Ayre was eventually promoted to Managing Director.

Then came the Suarez-Evra controversy. Many, including myself felt that some of the crap that ultimately hit Kenny probably should have rolled uphill to Ayre.

Whatever your views on whether our number 7 was guilty of racism, what is beyond doubt is that the club could and should have handled it better. Surely Ian Ayre bore some responsibility for how the club responded in the immediate aftermath and the subsequent FA hearing. Yet our MD escaped the brunt of criticism.

For supporter their major gripe is his handling of transfer business at the club. In this department he is viewed in much the same way as Rick Parry was.

The general feeling is that he is too slow to act, and ultimately inept at negotiating, often low-balling the selling club and then refusing to ‘go the extra mile’ to get the managers targets.

To be fair to his critics we have had a couple of disastrous transfer windows under his stewardship. The deal that took Carroll to West Ham without a viable alternative secured was one that upset all, including the manager.

The club has also missed out on targets such as  Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa, Willian. The ultimately futile attempt to sign Conorplyanka at the eleventh hour of the January transfer window, was seen by many as the last straw.

Suarez may be about to give Ayre a big headache

Suarez may be about to give Ayre a big headache

Were all of these failings entirely his fault? Only those at the top of the club really know. We can only speculate as to how much of a free hand Ian Ayre has in transfers. He will certainly have limitations placed on him by FSG.

Before moving for a player he will be told how much he can spend. He will also be working to clear terms of reference as to the structure of any deals.

Then there is the target himself and his demands. Ayre will not, I imagine have the final word on how far he can go in terms of wages etc. There are so many variables in a transfer deal and a club with limited resources will always win some and lose some.

FSG clearly don’t share the supporters doubts and have recently promoted their MD to Chief Executive, abandoning their ‘worldwide search’ in the process. Ayre has had his share of success.

Commercially the club is in much better shape thanks to numerous sponsorship deals. Yes he will have been aided greatly by the teams improvement on the field, but he has also worked wonders in more difficult circumstances.

The Standard Chartered and Warrior deals were rightly hailed as master-strokes. Liverpool were hardly a by-word for stability when these deals were struck, so securing such levels of investment under those conditions is worthy of praise.

FSG & Henry have put a great deal of faith in Ayre

FSG & Henry have put a great deal of faith in Ayre

We also seem to be seeing movement on the stadium and Ayre has played a big role in getting this moving. None of this could have been achieved if the man was the complete buffoon he is painted to be. Could it?

I am undecided, but I am certain that our Chief Executive is about to face one of his biggest ‘acid tests’. Today Sky Sports News revealed, albeit two days after it was revealed on Twitter, that Ayre is locked in talks with Barcelona chiefs.

In transfer terms he is going toe to toe with the ‘big boys’. The transfer of Luis Suarez (one of the top three players in world football) to Barcelona with Alexis Sanchez possibly coming the other way is one of the biggest deals in the game. There will not be a bigger transfer this window for sure.

Barcelona may have felt they had the upper hand. The fears of most were that the FIFA ban could be used in an attempt to drive down the fee. However, Liverpool know the player and the buying club are desperate to get the deal done. We also have an ownership who have shown they can play hard-ball when needed. Ask Arsene Wenger and Stan Kroenke.

Early indications are that talks are progressing smoothly and it appears that all parties will end up with a deal they can live with. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Ayre will be pilloried if he fails to get this right. However, a more interesting question may be what if he get’s it spot on? Will we as supporters be prepared to give credit where it is due?

These are certainly testing times for Ian Ayre and he just might be about to pass them with flying colours.

Article by me also published on http://www.live4liverpool.com

Do we really expect these men to act as role models for our kids?

Do we really expect these men to act as role models for our kids?

This article by me was also published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

According to FIFA one of the reasons Luis Suarez was punished so heavily was that he failed in his duty as role model to the worlds children. It was an accusation bandied about by our nations pundits and some still in the game.

David Dean, former chief executive of Arsenal was interviewed in the immediate aftermath and bemoaned the terrible example set to children everywhere. The implication is clear and we should all be braced for an epidemic of biting in playgrounds up and down the country. You would imagine that something akin to ‘World War Z’ is about to unfold in Uruguay.

There’s a lot of pressure and expectation placed upon footballers. They carry the hopes and dreams of entire countries on their shoulders at times. True they are often handsomely rewarded for this, but do we have the right to expect them to help us raise our children too?

What is a role model anyway? In my life I have used both positive and negative role models to help me choose my path. In the same way as some inspire, others show you how not to behave.

One of my heroes, Graham Souness famously floored an opponent (breaking his jaw in the process) in a European game at Anfield in the 80′s. I was in the Kop that night. We all saw it but the referee didn’t.

Strangely I felt no desire to go out and repeat the feat with my classmates the next day. Nor do I remember any reports of an increase of broken jaws turning up in emergency departments across the city.

Joey Barton  confronts Arsenal's  Gervinho

Joey Barton confronts Arsenal’s Gervinho

 

It’s for us to choose who to follow and who we should ignore. Of course parents and teachers guide us along the way, but not in my experience footballers.

If we genuinely expect these young men to set an example for our kids, then we are the real mad men (and women) in my view. Take a tour through the autobiography section of any book store and you will get my point.

The life stories of our footballing heroes are often punctuated by addiction, gambling, violence and mental illness. The joy in reading them is often in how the human spirit triumphs over the demons. Yet some of these same people are incapable of cutting their fellow pro’s any slack when they stumble.

There are many sporting icons who have rebuilt their lives and gone on to have successful careers, either in the game or the media. Take Paul Merson, Stan Collymore, Roy Keane for example. Some continue to struggle like Paul Gascoigne and others sadly lose their battles, like the late George Best.

Footballers are human beings. This is a fact often lost in the murky world of punditry,  a land infested with hypocrisy and occasionally downright bigotry.

Andy Gray and Richard Keys were able to rebuild their careers in the media, despite being outed as disgusting misogynists. What kind of example does this set?

Role Models? Keys and Gray

Role Models? Keys and Gray

Sometimes the bigotry is a bit more subtle, but no less offensive. Throughout Uruguay’s game against Colombia we were treated to a tour de force of racial stereotyping from Andy Townsend and Adrian Chiles.

Apparently, according to these two the entire nation of Uruguay are “masters of the dark arts” and “nobody likes them but they don’t care.” Chiles concluded the show by declaring “nobody is especially sorry to see Uruguay exit the competition.”

What are our nations school kids to make of the demonising of a whole country based on the behaviour of one man? It seems we don’t hold TV presenters to the same standards as Uruguayan strikers. Strange that isn’t it?

It’s actually hard to think of an area of public life where key figures haven’t set a bad example. Whether it be art, music, film, politics or journalism. They are not role models any more than sports stars are.

If we based our behavioural norms on the activities of celebrities, then civilisation would be truly lost. Learning to become a good person (whatever that means) is far more complicated than that.

Luis Suarez will serve his ban. He deserved to be punished for what he did. He will continue to be a great footballer, whether it be in England or Spain. This is what he was born to do.

He will inspire kids all over the world with his skill and work rate on the football pitch. He probably won’t teach them any lessons in social etiquette, but then few footballers ever have. After all that’s not their job is it?

FSG have big decision to make

FSG have big decision to make

This article by me was also published on http://www.thisisanfield.com

Ian Cotton, Liverpool’s press officer from 1996-2012 was famed for the brevity of his press releases. He would have been proud of today’s response to the FIFA ruling on Luis Suarez.

“Liverpool Football Club will wait until we have seen and had time to review the FIFA Disciplinary Committee report before making any further comment.”

It’s a tough one for the club. It is also a massive distraction at a time when we should be focussed on taking the next step.

Uruguay have already nailed their flag to the mast and announced their intention to appeal. Without Suarez it’s difficult to see them progressing to a World Cup Final. It feels like a last throw of the dice and it probably is.

For Liverpool this ban will leave a very bitter taste. It almost certainly punishes the Reds far more severely than the players national team and I would argue than they deserve.

Luis will be eligible to play in the Premier League again on the 1st of November. However the severity of the ban means he can’t even train with his club until then. He will almost certainly need a pre-season before he could actually play, which means we are not likely to see him until December.

This is harsh considering the crime was committed whilst on International duty. It feels even more unjust given the investment Liverpool have made in keeping a lid on the players behavioural issues.

One possible way out for Liverpool would be to try and offload the player. In doing so they almost certainly empower any buyer, who will surely take full advantage of the clubs predicament and attempt to drive the price down.

In any case why would any team agree to pay the players wages when he can’t play for four months? Surely it makes more sense to let Liverpool pay him and then swoop in January.

If there is any legal avenue open to them, then the club will certainly consider an appeal on the basis that they are being disproportionately punished. If they get it lifted at club level a transfer that benefits the club and the player may be possible.

However, in doing so they risk the media portraying an appeal as us condoning the players actions. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

What if we accept the ban? Take the hit and move on? As unpalatable as it is, this may be our best and only option.

The hope being that some stellar performances throughout December could help restore some of the players value. January is a terrible month to get deals done and tends to see the selling club profit most.

It’s all a far cry from the end of season awards ceremonies just over a month ago. It seems in Football, a month is a very long time.