Liverpool: Silencing the "Specialists"

Posted by Garstonite on July 12, 2005, 09:47:00 PM

We’ve all done it.  Come on, admit it.  You’re surrounded by bits and bobs, desperately trying to figure out how to fit them all together.  You’re practically on the brink of giving up until – wait for it – you do the sensible thing and read the guide.  They easy step-by-step plan makes everything so much easier.  For the futile pundits and so-called experts out there, they simply haven’t learnt. 

It was the 16th June of last year.  Rafael Benítez walked through the doors of Anfield for the very first time.  The European Championships were, at this point, well underway, and the BBC held the right to cover the Greece-Spain game (which incidentally ended 1-1). 

The men from Benítez’ homeland led the game 1-0, via a goal scored by a certain Fernando Morientes who, six months later, would become the boss’ sixth recruit whilst at the helm.  The pundits sat there comfortably, not particularly bothered about the game they were watching.  The panel was made up of Mark Lawrenson from Ireland, Ian Wright from England, and Alan Hansen from Scotland (a team that have less hope reaching a major competition that we do of not seeing Colleen Mcloughlin appear in a paper for a week, no make that a day). 

The subject, inevitably, was on other matters, and the only other thing that really mattered: that Liverpool had finally made their decision.  Rafael Benítez, a man who had dominated Spanish football for three years, as well as bagging a UEFA cup, was now the new gaffer in charge at Anfield.  What else could you ask for, blood?

If I remember correctly, Ian Wright, him being the intellect that he is, branded it a “sticky decision”.  Firstly, what’s that mean in English anyway?  Secondly, anyone who takes his opinion on board need their brain tested.  Just for the record.  You would at least think that Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen, two of Liverpool’s fiercest critics during Houllier’s reign would at least be pleased, wouldn’t you?  They also called it a “backward decision” by the Liverpool board; the general consensus after wading through the pundit-speak was that Benítez was far too defensive a coach. 

Get your facts right, fellas.

To put things into perspective, they were simply criticizing Benítez, and his Valencia side, for conceding few goals.  OK, at first, he was solely renowned for his defensive coaching abilities.  His side won the La Liga title in the 2001-2002 season, only managing to score 51 goals.  But so what?  They won the title and that is only thing of importance.  Can Real Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Barcelona, Celta Vigo and Atletico Bibao say, “So what, we scored more goals that them?”  Not without making fools of themselves, no.

Besides, isn’t that what all good sides, and managers, at the beginning of a new era do – build from the back?  It’s like making a house: you have to do it brick-by-brick, but soon your hard work will start to show.  You first have to prevent the opposition from winning the game, before you can win it yourself.

When Benítez won his second title, in the 2003-04 season, his side conceded the same amount as they had done when the first won it in 2001-02, a miserly 27 goals.  The salient fact though is they accompanied this with scoring twenty more.  Only Real Madrid could boast a better scoring record than them.  And perhaps Real Madrid might have won that title if more of the “galacticos’” energy should had been spent on winning games 1-0 or 2-1, rather than playing their left and right backs as extra strikers, trying to win it in style, 3-0 or 4-0.  Of course, that is none of my business ...

Admittedly, the word “uncontroversial” and “pundit” go together about as much as “Everton” and “European Champions”.  It’s their job; that’s how they got into it, and that’s how they stay there.  But, wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear, one day, “I don’t know much about him, so I can’t really comment”.  Of course, it is never going to happen.  They would much prefer to pretend they know everything.  It’s like the boy at school, lying about the wealth of his family in order to make friends.

I think we all agree that this was Liverpool’s most successful season for a long while.  To be fair, it wasn’t made “good” until the 25th May, yet it was still ridiculous to hear such things, throughout the campaign aimed towards Liverpool.  This was, allegedly one of the worst sides in recent memory, and the Sunday Mirror, labelled our beloved manager “Beni Hill”.  Aren’t they just so witty, eh?

I’d love to see them come into a new country -- with a different language, a different lifestyle and even something as petty as a new currency – manage a side with so much expectation and not make any mistakes.  The truth is they haven’t got the balls.  “Ooh, what if I make a mistake?”  “What if I am not perfect?”  It’s easy to sit down in a studio, on a comfy seat, and analyse a game.  Try standing down at the dugout in the p*ssing rain, with 40,000 fans calling for your head! 

That’s the kind of pressure that Gérard Houllier was under, in the first two and last two years at his seven year stint at the club.  Did that stop ex-players criticizing his every move?  Of course it didn’t.  I understand that pundits need to right about what is going on at that particular moment in time, don’t get me wrong.  But whatever happened to a little bit of constructive analysis, not to mention a hint of realism?  It's one thing saying Liverpool are rubbish and they need to do this, this and this, but it is another to actually do it.   

Look at Tommy Smith, who writes regular columns for the Echo.  You see him ranting every week, but does anybody complain about him on a regular basis?  No, simply because he is beneficial in what he states, no matter how scathing his attack is. 

When Benítez guided this so-called “awful” team to our 5th European Cup win with his “awful, defensive” techniques, a la Houllier, what really went through the minds of the critics who wrote Liverpool off after being beaten 1-0 by Grazer AK in August?  They were no doubt thinking at half time of their witty little puns for the morning papers.  By the time the game was over, I could almost hear, amidst the screaming, the sound of paper being scrunched up into a ball, and being thrown into the nearest waste-paper bin.  Is it fair to say that, now, we are victims of our past success?

At times, most definitely.

We find ourselves being constantly compared to the former greats,  as well as being negatively downtrodden by certain members who were apart of those great sides.  It seems, to the paranoid, that everybody wants Liverpool to fail.  We’ve had our turn in the spotlight, now it’s somebody else’s turn.  Manchester United in the 1990s, now Arsenal and Chelsea seem to be the teams to beat. 

When we slipped down into 5th place, by our standards mediocrity, again the critics had a field day.  David Moyes, as well, likes to point out the fact every second of the day that his side finished above us for the first time since 1986.  What Everton manager wouldn’t?  But for all that our 5th place last season and comparitive lack of recent league success gives freedom for some criticism, it shouldn't be used as a prop for lazy punditry.

It’s nights like 25th May that separate us from the rest.  Everything about what we do defines who we are, and what we stand for.  We are lucky to support such a wonderful club and we have shown our loyalty and devotion throughout the years.  There are few clubs in the world, which have the best traditions, as well as having on the greatest pasts.

Richard Keys said, rather poignantly, in his coverage for Sky television on that awesome night: “it’s time for Liverpool to, not be haunted by its past, but inspired by it.”  How right he was. 

Can Liverpool reach the heights of their halcyon days?  Only time will tell, of course.  Should we do so, I hope to see humble, honest pundits who will come out and say; “I was wrong.”

Of course, there’s more chance of Benítez not saying the word “possibilities” for the entire 2005-2006 season.

Roll it on.

© Garstonite 2005

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