Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Posted by E2K on May 9, 2007, 09:43:26 AM

Thereís a clip in a film (I believe itís one of the Bill & Tedís) thatís always stuck in my mind. One of the characters is watching an episode of Star Trek, where Kirk is marooned on an alien planet. Exploring his surroundings, the captain and leader of the USS Enterprise finds precious stones strewn everywhere in the otherwise barren landscape, but nothing that could aid his escape. Eventually, Kirk sits down and shakes his head. ďA fortune in stones and riches,Ē he comments aloud, ďand yet I would trade them all for a hand phaser . . . . .Ē

Donít ask me why that line stayed with me. Itís been years since I saw either Bill & Ted film, and youíd have to pay me (a lot) to watch one now. Itís a good line, though (from a legendary character, Captain James T. Kirk), to describe those times in life when what you have is of no use and what you covet is agonisingly beyond your reach. Hell, weíve all been there, am I right?

It seems to me that this could easily apply to Sralex Ferguson right about now. Having crashed out of the Champions League last Wednesday night at the hands of AC Milan, the manager of Manchester United finds himself ending a European campaign empty-handed for the twelfth time out of thirteen attempts at landing the big one, the most prestigious trophy in club football. And letís be honest here, only the World Cup truly matches the Champions League in terms of importance in the world of football. At least this time, he has the Premiership to fall back on. That's his ninth league title.

And yet canít you just imagine Sralex in a quiet moment sitting on his bed, shaking his head and saying ďA fortune in Premiership titles, and yet I would trade half of them for just one more Champions League.....Ē

I mean, maybe Iím wrong, but Iím sure Sralex realises that the true greatness of a manager, his legacy, is measured in trophies. And thereís no doubt that Ferguson is up there with the very best after turning Man. Utd back into a real force again, nabbing nine league titles, five FA Cups and a European Cup in his twenty-one years at the helm.

Yet Iím sure he wonders to himself whether his legacy will be damaged by his repeated failure to get his team into another Champions League final. Donít get me wrong, I realise that Shanks never won it and Busby only won the one, both wonderful managers. But contrast Fergieís record with Bob Paisley (who won three in five years), Jock Stein (who got to two finals in four years, winning one) and Brian Clough (who put two back to back) and it becomes clear that thereís a rather glaring chink in the Scotsmanís aura of greatness. With this in mind, I think itís safe to say that Sralex would give a lot to win just one more European Cup (after all, he said as much in an interview back in March when he bemoaned Man. Utdís relative lack of success in Europe).

It seems an obvious point, but you wouldnít have thought so listening to United supporters this past week. I thought getting knocked out so close to the final would have been as much of a crushing disappointment to them as it was to their esteemed manager, but apparently not. Any Red Devils fans Iíve heard or read on internet forums have let it be known that - hey - it was the league they wanted all along! Yeah! The Champions League is an inferior competition to the Premiership, much like the Carling Cup. Itís only a cup tournament, after all. Aye. Sure. Thatís why they went apeshit when they beat Roma 7-1.

It goes without saying that I donít particularly give a shit what any United supporter says. These are the people who regularly call Liverpool supporters murderers over Heysel. Yep, I was five at the time, but if Iíd been able to make my way over to Brussels, Iíd have been murdering Italians, no doubt about it. Because Iím murdering scum, apparently. Anyway, at this point it seems that the wonderful supporters of the Old Trafford club are either (A) stupid or (B) liars. And given the fact that the majority of them are saying that they wanted the Premiership over the Champions League, I think itís fair to say that itís a little from Column A, and a little from Column B.

Iíd feel sorry for them if they werenít such horrible c*nts (pardon my language). Theyíve tried thirteen times to win a Champions League under Ferguson, and only managed it once. Iím delighted for them if the Premiership title sustains them for this year (certainly they wonít be as suicidal as they were in 2005, when they won nothing). I donít believe it for one second, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

But Iíve got news for you guys, if youíre reading this. Giggs, Scholes and Van Der Sar will all be retiring pretty soon. Now, how youíre going to replace those three is anybodyís guess. Part of the reason why United never got to another final after Ď99 was the loss of Schmeichal. He was never adequately replaced. Neither was Ď99-vintage Beckham, who soon began to pale into a shadow of his former self. Van Nistelrooyís goals papered over the cracks, but he too is gone now. Roy Keaneís departure may have been the biggest loss of all. Whoís replaced him? Carrick?!

Now Giggs, Scholes and Van Der Sar, three super pros, are on the way out. There certainly doesnít appear to be anyone coming through in their place, and buying ready-made replacements will cost millions. Now, while Iím sure that none of us would question Sralexís judgement (Kleberson, Veron, Taibi anyone?), itís certainly not a good sign that heís paid over the odds for Michael Carrick. A club thatís in as much debt as Manchester United can hardly afford to waste money unnecessarily. Donít get me wrong, Carrick is a good player whoís made a difference. But he ainít worth £18m. And it really seems like Bayern have seen him coming as well as far as Hargreaves goes.

What am I trying to say here, guys? Iím saying that Unitedís chances of winning a Champions League are getting slimmer by the day. In many ways, this year was their best chance. They had an easy draw right the way through (F.C. Copenhagen, Celtic, Benfica, Lille and Roma arenít exactly world-beaters). The right gameplan in Milan, and they would have been in the final against Liverpool, a team theyíve beaten five times out of seven since Benitez came to England. Instead, there was a familiar tactical breakdown (which Iíll get to later) and Manchester United (Englandís best, hahaha) were handed a footballing lesson.

Itís ok, though. Their supporters are happy, in spite of the fact that Liverpool have reached a second final in three years while in transition and will soon have enough money to compete with them in the transfer market. Fair play to them. Me, Iíd be worried. Very worried. Like their manager who, as Iíve said, would more than likely give his penis for one more European Cup (he has no use for it anymore anyway). Thatís all speculation, though. For now, letís just assume that heís as ecstatic as they are that Milan did them a favour and knocked them out.

What isnít speculation, however, is that Manchester United supporters are not the only ones who seem to think that the Premiership is more important than the Champions League. Thereís been a chorus (not necessarily a minority, either) who have been insinuating (and flat out saying) ever since Liverpool beat Barcelona in the Nou Camp in February that Rafa Benitezís team are everything from lucky to boring to unattractive to, er, lucky again. Seemingly, Rafaís achievement in leading a work in progress to two Champions League finals in three seasons is unworthy of much respect in some quarters. And itís as if a large majority of the football-watching public believe itís Rafa who should be saying ďTwo Champions League finals in three years, but Iíd trade them both for a title challenge.Ē

Letís examine, shall we?

I donít think I need to tell anyone here that last Tuesday night was another wonderful chapter in the history of Liverpool Football Club, the kind of night that every club craves yet few are lucky enough to experience even once, never mind the amount that weíve been blessed with. In some ways, it was better than Ď05. On that occasion, Chelsea came and absolutely battered us for ninety-six minutes. They did everything but score. This time, we were the ones who battered them. Despite the delusional rantings of their manager after the game, thereís no doubt which team deserved to win. They were wearing red. 2005 was all about a team of underdogs upsetting the odds. 2007, on the other hand, was about a team proving itself to be amongst the very best in the world. Somehow, it makes the taste of victory just that little bit sweeter.

Already, however, many people have tried to take the night away from us, piss all over the achievement. Just like 2005, it seems that Liverpool have been ďlucky.Ē Yes, friends, it appears that football really can come down to pure, unadulterated fortune sometimes. Now, how these people - fans, pundits, journalists, players, managers, etc - decide whether success is down to good fortune and barefaced luck or the result of talent and skill is anybodyís guess. Maybe someone could enlighten me? Whatever the answer, it seems that every bit of success Liverpool have had since 1990 is down to luck. Seventeen years, three FA Cups, three League Cups, a Champions League, a UEFA Cup, two European Super Cups, two Community Shields.....all luck, amigos.

But why?

Well, the answer is simple. Those are all cup competitions! Yep, cup competitions. In fact, the only trophy that doesnít come down to luck, the only one that can be won by skill rather than fortune, and pretty much the only one worth winning according to some people, is the Premiership. Thatís all. Everything else, forget about it. Go fuck yourself. Youíre a cup team (thatís a bad thing?). Twelve trophies in seventeen years? So what?! Win yourself a Premiership, then weíll talk.

Pardon my language, but do me a fucking favour.

In any case, this seems to be an attitude that has emerged increasingly over the past few months the closer Liverpool have gotten to the Champions League final for the second time in three years. Itís almost as if the achievement of going through Europeís finest not once but twice, the feat of besting Juventus, AC Milan, Barcelona, Chelsea (twice), PSV Eindhoven, Galatasary, Real Betis, Deportivo, Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiakos, etc, not to mention outlasting the Man. Utdís and Real Madridís of this world, means nothing because itís Liverpool that did it. And Liverpool canít win a Premiership, therefore they donít deserve to win a Champions League.

We should be ashamed of ourselves, really. Weíre tarnishing the greatest cup competition in.....oh wait, no, itís a cup competition. Itís already tarnished by its very nature. Never mind.

Itís not just Mourinho thatís saying it. Heís got a lot of people agreeing with him in the media and amongst English televisionís esteemed pundits. Naturally, when Arsenal reached the final last year, there was no talk of them being a cup team or of them being lucky, but that was different, right? They won a Premiership in í04, after all. Never mind the fact that they finished over twenty points off the pace last season. They were worthy finalists, it seems, because they won a Premiership two years earlier. Not lucky at all. Meanwhile, Liverpool were dismissed during the whole Gerrard ďwill-he-wonít-heĒ saga of a couple of years ago as only being capable of winning a Carling Cup, a useless competition. It was only when Man. Utd won it last season that it suddenly became chic again. But itís ok, because they won a Premiership in 2003, so theyíre not a cup team and are great.

OK, folks? Are we all understanding the rules so far? We need to win a Premiership first before we can be considered as worthy of anything. The Premiership is more important than the Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup combined. And its aura will keep you going for at least four or five barren years.

Well, allow me to express my opinion, for what itís worth. Every Liverpool supporter wants a Premiership title, and Iím no different. But does that make it more important than the Champions League? Oh HELL no. The European Cup is the greatest club competition in the world bar none, and it is every bit as hard (if not harder) to win as the Premiership. No doubt in my mind. It may not be as much of an endurance test as the league, but the quality is infinitely higher, the punishment for mistakes of any kind far harsher. There are no Middlesboughís or Boltonís in the Champions League. Only the best (as Vinnie Jones said in Snatch, ďonly a dose thatíll make you wish you were born a womanď). You wonít be playing against Jon Stead or Lee McCulloch, but Kaka and Andrea Pirlo. Thatís what makes it so hard to win.

Donít believe me? How many cracks has Sralex had at the Champions League now? Thirteen by my count. Heís won one. One out of thirteen for the man who won eight Premierships in eleven seasons. One out of thirteen for the man whoís won five FA Cups in his time at Man. Utd. And whatís more, heís only gotten to one final. Hard to believe that the kings of English footballís Sky age have a Champions League record like that, isnít it? Staggering, Iíd say, especially since he was able to spend £30m on Ferdinand, £28m on Veron, £25m on Rooney, and £18m on Van Nistelrooy and Carrick over the years specifically to get his hands on that very trophy. Ah itís ok, it just means that they havenít been blessed with as much luck as Liverpool, thatís all (funny how OíSheaís last minute winner at Anfield in a game where theyíd been annihilated is put down to ďresilienceĒ but anything Liverpool do in Europe is largely put down to ďluckĒ).

How about that other great Premiership master, Arsťne Wenger? Heís had nine shots at the worldís premier club competition, by my reckoning. Heís won precisely none. Nada. Zip. Zero out of nine. One final. Not a great Champions League record either. But heís won three Premierships, so itís ok.

This brings me on to Josť Mourinho. He won one, of course, with FC Porto (what a bunch of cheats they were). He then arrived at Chelsea and was able to spend whatever the hell he wanted to create a fantasy team that would make owner Roman Abramovich proud. So he spent millions. And millions. And millions. And, er, millions. Did I mention he spent millions? Adding to the nucleus of expensive talent that was already there when he arrived (Terry, Lampard, Duff, Cech, Gallas, Gudjohnsen, Joe Cole, Crespo), he proceeded to bring in the likes of Drogba, Carvalho, Ferreira, Kezman, Robben, Makelele for huuuge money. This incredible array of big money signings was then augmented over the years by Essien, Wright-Phillips, Ashley Cole, Shevchenko, Ballack, Mikel. In particular, the arrivals of Shevchenko and Ballack indicated what Abramovich wanted: the Champions League.

So, with a team worth in excess of £200m, Mourinho set about winning it. Three times he tried. Three times he failed. With a team worth over £200m. Itís ok, he won two Premierships. Plus, they didnít have as much ďluckĒ as Liverpool either. By the way, isnít it interesting that the Premiership alone doesnít satisfy Abramovich anymore? After all, isnít that the only trophy worth winning nowadays?

The Champions League consumes the three aforementioned managers, people. They want it so bad. So bad. And yet, despite winning thirteen Premierships between them since their arrivals in England, they have one Champions League between them. One. In what is a combined total of twenty-five attempts. Now Iím a relatively intelligent guy, so Iím going to go ahead and extrapolate what that means for ya. Here it comes:

ďThe Champions League is harder to win than The Premiership.Ē

No Boltonís or Charltonís here, people. Just the cream of European football. Itís a competition that Liverpool have managed to rise to the top of five times, and if they do it again this season, that makes six. It would also mean that Rafael Benitez has as many Champions League victories in his career as the aforementioned clubs have won in their entire histories. But he doesnít have a Premiership yet. And until he wins one, it seems that heís doomed to have his achievements (and those of his team) questioned.

Iíll say again, I want Liverpool to win a league title. I crave it. But people seem to forget that Sralex was in the job some seven seasons before he won one. He didnít even win a trophy until his fourth season. Wenger, meanwhile, won a double with a mostly-inherited team in his first full season, then won nothing for another three. And Mourinho had a quality nucleus already in place, then was able to spend some £200m adding to it. And he still hasnít been able to win a Champions League!!

Rafa, on the other hand . . . . .

When Senor Benitez took over Liverpool in June 2004, the job ahead of him was huge. He simply didnít have the squad or the money to compete with Chelsea or Manchester United in the Premiership. The squad left behind by his predecessor Gerard Houllier was staler and had more holes than a seven year-old piece of Swiss cheese (and it stank just as bad). £14m of the clubís money had just been wasted on a player he didnít want (Djibril Cissť). Two of his star players wanted to leave (Owen and Gerrard). The club had just finished thirty points behind Arsenal. A Premiership title looked an impossibility in the foreseeable future, and yet he had to balance this knowledge with the expectation levels of a club which had grown accustomed over the years to winning trophy after trophy after trophy. The equation was one that looked as if it had been devised by some kind of demented Einstein: Not enough cash + poor squad = we expect to win trophies.

Itís a time in the clubís history that a lot of pundits, supporters (both Liverpool and otherwise), managers, players, etc are all too eager to forget about. Three seasons ago, we finished thirty points off the top. Two seasons ago, we finished thirty-seven points off the top. And yet there seems to be this kind of incredulity that we havenít made a real challenge for the title yet. There seems to be an attitude that ďhey, if Benitez is so good, why hasnít he been able to put together a Premiership challenge, eh? Does he understand English football or what?Ē

My reaction is always the same when I hear idiots like that on TV or read them in the paper. ďItís been three seasons, people!!Ē Rafa has spent a nice bit of money in that time, but heís had a squad to rebuild. Unlike Manchester United (whose team has been largely the same for five, six seasons, and who have enough money to fill holes as they arise) and Chelsea (who can buy who they want, whenever they want), Benitez pretty much had to start from scratch. And now, three years later, the rebuilding still isnít finished (I mean, Salif Diao and Le Tallec are still on our books for fuck sake!!) Of the squad which greeted him on his arrival three years ago, only Finnan, Carragher, Riise and Gerrard are still regulars. And Kewell may reclaim his place when he regains full fitness. Thatís five players out of a squad of twenty-five to thirty players. Thatís a lot of building, especially when the money isnít really there to buy quality as well as quantity.

Let me give you an example. When Chelsea wanted a winger, they bought England international Shaun Wright-Phillips for £24m. Liverpool, on the other hand, couldnít afford Simao or Alves, so they had to settle for £7m Pennant. When Man. Utd need a midfielder, they were able to spend £18m on one (Carrick). See what Iím saying here?

The reason Chelsea and Man. Utd have pulled away from Liverpool again this season is that Rafa had to spread his money over Kuyt, Bellamy, Pennant, Gonzalez, Paletta and Aurelio this past summer. That lot came to about £25m. Or the price of Wayne Rooney. Less than Shevchenko cost. Meanwhile, United shored up the centre of their midfield by spending £18m on Carrick, thereby bolstering a weak point. Itís meant that they donít have to play Alan Smith there anymore. Thus far, that (along with £8m Vidic finally settling in) has resulted in United crucially improving their points tally, and theyíre top.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have deteriorated. Why? Well we all knew that Bellamy and Pennant were risks, and it turns out that they havenít really improved the team. In fact, of all Rafaís signings last summer, only Dirk Kuyt has had a sustained impact. Therefore, as United (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea) have improved and gone forward, Liverpool have stood still, even slipping backwards a tad. Itís not rocket science. Add to this the fact that the bar has inevitably been raised by all the millions spent by the top teams in the past few years, and you have a title that needs more sustained consistency than ever (in 1999, their treble year, Man. Utd won the title with 79 points. Last season, that would have got you fourth place).

Bearing in mind the facts, folks, Rafaís achievements have been simply staggering.

Itís a wonderful achievement to win the Premiership, and as much as I hate to say it, United have been fabulous at home this season and deserve the championship. But all this Sky-driven bullshit about it being the be-all and end-all of everything has grown tiresome. The overall quality of the Premiership is mediocre. Itís harder to win the league than ever because the top teams are able to spend more, but everyone below fourth place is just average. Much of a muchness. For example, Wigan and West Ham were deadly last season, now theyíre fighting relegation with much the same team. Is it because they slacked off? No. Itís because the likes of Reading (from the Championship) were at the same level as them when they came up. When everyone is at around the same level and seven other teams improve while two stay the same, thatís what happens. Newcastle and Portsmouth spent millions to get to mid-table. Wigan and West Ham couldnít do that.

I look at the Premiership and Rafaís record in it, and itís quite good, really. Like I said, in 1999 when Manchester United were being lauded as incredible, awesome, amazing, they won the title with a points tally of 79. Well folks, last season Liverpool surpassed that with 82. This season, theyíll finish with 70 if they beat Charlton at the weekend. Not bad totals for a work in progress, a team which hasnít had a Drogba, a Van Nistelrooy or an Henry to score consistently over the course of a season. Not a bad return from a manager who hasnít been able to spend anywhere near what his main rivals have spent and has been reduced to picking up free transfers like Aurelio, Zenden and Fowler to bolster his squad.

Allow me to make one crucial point here: if Sralex Ferguson and Josť Mourinho had to depend on the likes of Aurelio, Zenden, Fowler, Bellamy, Pennant and Gonzalez on a regular basis, where would they be in the Premiership? And would they have dragged their respective teams to two Champions League finals (one of them with Djimi Traore at left-back)? Here are the correct answers:

3RD OR 4TH and NO WAY

Go get yourself a beer if you got them right. Anyway, thatís my response to those wondering why Liverpool havenít mounted a title challenge yet. And Iím sure it will come. With Rafa now seemingly having some real cash to spend and the nucleus of the squad in place, 2007/08 or 2008/09 should bring a concerted effort to land number nineteen. In my humble opinion, it isnít far away at all.

Whatever happens, the time for excuses will soon be at an end. Not from Rafa, mind you, one man who very rarely (if ever) shifts blame or offers lame reasons when Liverpool lose or his team plays badly. I mean excuses from people like me, who believe that this man is in the process of building a dynasty and is the one who can lead Liverpool F.C. forward into a new era of success that will last far into the future. Iím not biased when it comes to Rafa, nor am I blinkered. What I am is fair. I think the points Iíve made about why we havenít won the league yet are balanced and valid. But with enough money now coming in for us to compete vigorously in the transfer market, thereís really nothing Iím going to be able to say if we donít achieve the kind of success we crave. Luckily, I donít think it will come to that. But if it does, there can be no excuses.

Excuses, however, seem to be in vogue right now. Mourinho and Sralex, aided and abetted by large sections of the media, have bemoaned the sheer amount of games theyíve had to play as the seasonís reached its climax. Chelsea have played the most. By the time the dust settles on the 2006/07 season, they will have played every game there was to be had in every competition (including the Community Shield) bar the Champions League final. United (the scratch selection that saw them eliminated by Southend in the Carling Cup now a distant memory) wonít be far behind. An awful lot of games, no doubt about it. Arenít Liverpool lucky all the same?

ďWhat? Whatís that?Ē I hear you ask. ďLiverpool lucky? How?!Ē Why, allow me to elaborate, friends. You see, weíre only in the Champions League final because Chelsea were tired. Yeah! While weíve been playing friendlies for two months and resting players because weíre a small club who arenít good enough to win the Premiership or go for more than one trophy, Chelsea have been busting their asses in all competitions, game after game after game after game where theyíve had to play the same players, all the time. Is it any wonder we beat them? While we were up in our air-conditioned penthouse suite sipping champagne and eating caviar, they were battling across a desert without even a drop of water to wet their whistles!! We should be ashamed, really. We took advantage of Chelsea. Those brave soldiers, those courageous young men. Liverpool are cowards, you understand? We ambushed gallant Chelsea. We were too gutless to go for all the trophies. We should have laid down and let them beat us, because Chelsea in the Champions League final was the only right and proper way for this season to end.

Ok, ok, you might think Iíve slapped on the sarcasm a little thick there, but Iím not so sure. Firstly, much of what Iíve said there came directly from the mouth of Josť Mourinho in the build-up to our Champions League semi-final. I really donít feel the need to dignify anything that clown says by dealing with it in any great depth. But others have dignified it AND agreed. BBC, RTE, Sky, newspapers both English and Irish, the talk about the semi-final surrounded, revolved around, hinged upon Chelseaís fatigue. Nothing else. It was almost as if any potential victory we might achieve was tarnished before it even happened. At times it was ridiculous. One idiot I heard stated that Rafa has been resting players for the Champions League since Christmas, for crying out loud! Many applauded how heroic Chelsea have been, and while they never overtly criticised Liverpool, the inference was obvious. In comparison to Chelsea, weíre unworthy of any kind of respect. And naturally, after the game, their tiredness was again trotted out as an excuse for the defeat.

Nor has it ceased. Anybody see the ďemotional scenesĒ at the Emirates on Sunday as Chelsea surrendered their title to Manchester United? I donít know how many times words like ďtired,Ē ďfatigue,Ē freshnessĒ and ďgallantĒ were used in reference to Chelsea, but Iíd love a count. I thought Andy Gray was going to actually start crying at one point. It was ridiculous to listen to, and itís the final proof that if Mourinho is to be held accountable for ending this season with a couple of minor  domestic cups (at most), it wonít be by the good people at Sky. Theyíve anointed him a hero. His players too. It seems that the loss of the Premiership and the Champions League can be excused in this instance.

Well let me make an obvious point here. Chelseaís squad cost well over £200m. Carvalho cost £16m. Wright-Phillips £24m. Shevchenko £30m. Drogba £24m. Makelele £12m. Ashley Cole £5m + Gallas. Robben £10m. Essien £24m. You can add Cech, Mikel, Ferreira, Boulahrouz, Lampard, Terry, Diarra, Bridge, and Kalou to this list. Cudicini, their sub-goalie who rarely plays, would walk onto most Premiership teams. They have the deepest and highest quality squad in the history of the game yet they couldnít come to Anfield and defend a 1-0 lead against an ďinferiorĒ team because they were ďtiredĒ? Well then, simply put, Abramovich has wasted his money, and not just on the players but on Mourinho too. Chris Bascombe made the point two years ago that if Benitez had been Chelsea manager, theyíd have won the Champions League and Premiership while Liverpool would have won nothing. The same could be said this time around. For all his bullshit, for all the money spent on his team, Mourinho and Chelsea failed on Tuesday night, and fatigue canít be blamed for that.

The time for cheap excuses is over. One Chelsea away goal at Anfield, and Liverpool were beaten. But they only had one serious attempt in the 2 hours, and that was Drogbaís shot in the first half. They didnít even look like they wanted to score a goal. What was that down to, tiredness? Complete and utter bullshit. In 2005, Liverpool played 38 league games, 15 Champions League games, 6 Carling Cup games and 1 FA Cup game. Thatís 60 games, and with a far inferior squad to the one Chelsea have now. In addition, Cissť was out for six months, Alonso missed three months, and Garcia, Gerrard, Kewell, Baros, Hamann, Warnock, Mellor and Pongolle all missed significant portions as well. In one Merseyside derby alone, Warnock, Hamann, Morientes and Garcia all went down with injuries in the first half. And, in April of that season, the club contested 10 matches in 30 days. Thatís an average of a match every three days, and yet we still ended that period by knocking Chelsea out of Europe.

Benitez never moaned about injuries or fatigue. Indeed, it was only earlier this season in retort to Mourinho (who only draws attention to these things when he feels like it) that Rafa mentioned 2005 and all the injuries we had to deal with. He could also have mentioned (as Iím about to) that Mourinho has never managed (and would never manage) to get to two major cup finals and come within a hairís breadth of a top four finish with players like Igor Biscan, Djimi Traore, Anthony Le Tallec, Vladimir Smicer, Josemi and Antonio Nunez in the side.

But (and Iíve said this ever since his first season at Chelsea) the majority of the media and press in England will give Mourinho the benefit of the doubt nine times out of ten. They seem to forget how much money heís spent assembling that squad. Neíer a word is spoken regarding the systematic cheating of players like Drogba, Robben, Gudjohnsen, Joe Cole, Duff, Carvalho and Terry. Liverpool get it in the neck constantly because weíre not in the top two and we play ďboringĒ football, but weíre never given any credit for not being cheats. But most of all, what annoys me the most is this attitude that ďhasnít Mourinho been a breath of fresh air for the Premiership?Ē

That makes me laugh every time I hear it. Well, lads, heís been a breath of some kind of air, but it sure as hell isnít fresh. Matter of fact, it smells like a big steaming turd. Let me give everybody a refresher course in the kind of individual Josť Mourinho is. He lied about Anders Frisk and Frank Rikjaard meeting in the tunnel at half-time in the Nou Camp in 2005, and suggested that Drogbaís sending off was as a direct result of this. Frisk (and his family, for fuck sake) subsequently received death threats, and the referee (one of the best Iíve seen) had to call a premature halt to his career. This past season, he told everyone whoíd listen that young Stephen Huntís terrible collision with Petr Cech was deliberate, thereby lying and attempting to cripple a top-flight career thatís still in its infancy.

What else? He threw a fit over Wenger and Benitez refusing to shake his hand at various times after giving them every reason not to. He spent the lead-up to the first leg against Liverpool saying that we would try to get Drogba booked out of the second leg, neatly forgetting that Gudjohnsen did exactly that to Xabi two years ago (and also tried to get Carra booked out of the final). He called Cristiano Ronaldoís education into question, a low act. He spent Chelseaís title celebration last season bemoaning the fact that he never got a manager of the month award. He called Liverpool a long ball team, then proceeded to play just that way against us every time weíve met. In short, Mourinho has been hypocritical, arrogant, spoilt, petulant, nasty and egotistical ever since his arrival in England. A breath of fresh air? Aye. Sure.

If he is to leave Chelsea and England this summer (and thereís no guarantees either way), it seems fitting that itís Rafael Benitez who has knocked him out of not one, not two, but three major cup semi-finals in a row. In particular, if Mourinho does go, it will be down in no small measure to those two Champions League exits. And itís fitting because in stark contrast to Mourinho, Rafa is not the egotistical sort. Remember the sign on the Chelsea team bus in 2005, ďtwo down, one to goĒ? Canít imagine that ever being put on the Liverpool bus, can you? What about the FA Cup semi-final in 2006, when Rafa suggested that Abramovich was far more important than Mourinho, and the thin-skinned narcissist dropped Cole, Duff and Robben just to prove what a tactical genius he was only for it to backfire spectacularly?

And this season. Despite all his protestations to the contrary, Mourinho showed what trophy he really wanted when he rested most of his team for the Bolton game at Stamford Bridge three days before the game at Anfield. Why did he do that when he was telling anyone whoíd listen that he wanted all the trophies? Well, Iím sure the narcissistic, egotistical craving to finally get one over on Rafa had something to do with it. The fatal flaw of every narcissist, you see, is the need for recognition, in this case recognition that heĎs a better manager than Rafa. Mourinho threw away the Premiership title because he wanted to beat Rafa, and once again it backfired. Under the severe pressure of knowing that their season was about to collapse, his players were never out-fought, but their manager was (once again) out-thought. The egotist undone by his own shortcomings.

Pah, enough about him. As usual, what has disgusted me most over the past few weeks isnít what Mourinho has said (the rantings of a narcissist), but the fact that the media has largely let it go and, in some cases, actually been sympathetic. I canít believe the amount of sycophantic nitwits there are, I really canít. Having sympathy for Chelsea for trying to win all the trophies and coming up short is kind of like saying ďAww, poor Hitler. He tried to take all the countries, but I guess his army just got tired in the end. Those fucking Americans and Russians, though, eh? They were able to rest for the first five years of the war while the Germans were taking France, Hungary, Holland, Denmark, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Thatís the only reason they defeated them, people. The Germans were so unlucky. Fair play to them and Hitler, though, bravo.Ē

Yep, those Yanks and Ruskies were lucky, and so are Liverpool and Milan. Yep, itís not just us, Milan are fortunate as well. Why? Well, you see Chelsea arenít the only ones who have been gallant and heroic and misfortunate in their failure to reach the final. Manchester United were as well.

Man. Utd could have been called Moan Utd (bo-boom) for the past couple of weeks. Vidic, Neville and Ferdinand all picked up injuries, you see. Earlier in the season when John Terry and Petr Cech were crocked for Chelsea and they were haemorrhaging points, Sralex was strangely quiet about injuries (as Mourinho recently was when Unitedís troubles mounted), but in the run-up to the second leg in Milan, Man. Utd were suddenly dealing with a crisis of immense proportions. And Fergie was all too quick to tell anyone whoíd listen, bizarrely claiming at one stage that they only had twelve fit players. Getting his excuses in early, as did Mourinho before the Liverpool games.

It wasnít just injuries that had United running scared, it was tiredness too. Ah yes, the same problem Chelsea had. Milan, you see, have been out of contention for the Serie A title for months, and have been able to rest key players while United had to play everybody week in and week out in order to keep their treble dream alive. Aww, poor ickle Mancs. God forbid Milan (who were handed a fifteen point deduction at the start of the season) might actually have had to put their full strength team out each week to guarantee a top four finish. Nah, they must have been resting people. The title is out of their reach, after all. Inter are twenty-five points ahead!

Like Liverpool, something tells me itís been exaggerated. Like ourselves, Milan have only secured a top four finish within the last few weeks, so as far as resting players goes, I doubt theyíve really had that luxury for too much of the season. Also, their impressive league form since Christmas would tend to indicate that theyíve been going pretty hard on the home front. But hey, to hell with the facts when thereís an excuse to be had. By the way, would fatigue not be more of a factor anyway for players like Maldini, Cafu, Inzhagi, Seedorf and Nesta, who are well into their thirties (and in some cases pushing forty) than it would be for the likes of Rooney (the white Pele, according to the t-shirts) and Ronaldo (better than George Best, dontcha know?) who are young and full of energy?

Pundits are funny creatures, really. Before the semi-finals, the age of Milanís team (average age, 32, I believe) was advanced by most of them as a surefire reason that United would beat them. And, in fact, if you watch the second half of the first leg at Old Trafford, Milan were absolutely out on their feet. They were wrecked. Not one word about Man. Utdís fatigue, not one. Suddenly, the Mancs go to Milan, are bent over and buggered in front of a global audience, and whatís the main reason offered? Fatigue! Tiredness! Yes, yes, some token references were made to how well Milan played, but every time this was tempered with comments about how many games United have had to play. Again, I would expect someone as full of shit as Sralex to make comments like that, but it pisses me off when people earning big money to be ďexpertsĒ come out with such crap.

By the way, wasn't it strange hearing everybody commending Sralex for giving Milan credit and being dignified in defeat after the game? I don't know what all of these people were watching, but the first thing I heard the old purple-nosed crone say in his post-match interview was that they'd given two goals away cheaply (his exact words: "their goals cheaply"). He then went on to repeat this four or five times, and also mentioned fatigue a couple of times. Ah yes, the David O'Leary/Sam Allardyce school of giving credit to one's conquerors.

Bah! Enough bullshit! Allow me to explain, if you donít already know, why itís Liverpool Vs. AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final.

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Match One: Liverpool Vs. Chelsea

Chelsea, a team worth over £200m, are out for revenge and keen to secure a place in their first Champions League final. In the first leg at Stamford Bridge, they target young Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger. Long balls are repeatedly pumped towards Drogba, and he gives Agger a torrid time. He sets up Joe Cole for the only goal of the game in the first half. Reina also makes a quality save from Fat Frank Lampard before the interval. In the second half, Chelsea inexplicably fall back and give Liverpool possession. Benitezís team are unable to make the possession count, however, and lose 1-0. Chelsea have but one shot in the second half, again saved by Reina, and appear to have settled for one goal. Will this be a mistake? Letís find out, shall we?

Yes, it was a mistake. At Anfield, the most expensive team ever assembled look unable (or unwilling) to try and get a goal. They have but one chance in the game, a shot by Drogba that is well saved by Reina. Liverpool, meanwhile, score through Agger, hit the post through Kuyt, have a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, force two good saves from Cech, and largely boss the game. They eventually win on penalties, and deservedly take their place in the final in Athens. Many, including Chelsea boss Josť Mourinho, mention fatigue as one of the main reasons for the defeat, despite the fact that he rested many of his players three days earlier against Bolton Wanderers. I thought Rafa was the only one who could afford to do that?

Match Two: AC Milan Vs. Man. Utd

United, admittedly missing some key defenders, are dismantled in the first half at Old Trafford. Losing 2-1 at half time, they are aided in the second half by Milan wilting. The last thing that appears to be an issue for United is fatigue as they chase down the Italians and force them into errors. They win 3-2 and everybody agrees that they look good to go through.

In Milan, Ferguson gets it all wrong. He puts Rooney upfront on his own, not a position to get the best out of his most dangerous player. He believes the hype about Ronaldo, who proceeds to go missing for most of the game and gets absolutely destroyed by Gennaro Gattuso. No Matt Jacksons here, Cristiano. He puts on Nemanja Vidic, who hasnít played for weeks, and his rustiness leads to two Milan goals. Kaka seems to have the freedom of the San Siro, and Englandís finest (hahaha) are overrun 3-0. Now, in the aftermath, fatigue is offered as the reason. Milan havenít had to play so many hard games, they say. Itís impossible to go for all the trophies. Milan and Liverpool are so lucky, arenít they?

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Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Both Ferguson and Mourinho were completely out-manoeuvred and out-played by two superior managers, yet all of the sycophants in the English press and the English media are loath to admit it. Theyíve paid the price for going for too many trophies, they say. Well whose fault is that?! Before our game against Chelsea at Anfield, I would have gladly swapped places with them, gladly. In the thick of the Premiership race, in the FA Cup final, and nursing a 1-0 first leg lead? Iíd have snapped your hand off, and so would Rafa, and so would most Liverpool supporters. And I can guaran-damn-tee that Ancelotti and every Milan fan on the planet would have swapped places with Ferguson before their second leg. Fatigue?! Fuck off with fatigue!!

Last season, Barcelona were able to win the Spanish League and the Champions League. Were they tired? Iím sure they were, but it didnít seem to matter. In Rafaís last season with Valencia, they won the league, the UEFA Cup, and got to the quarter-final of the Copa Del Rey. Tired? Oh, Iím fucking sure they were. How about Liverpool in '84? Three trophies and forty-two (not thirty-eight) league games. Tired? Yes. Whinging bastards? No. United won the treble in Ď99. Tired? Doubtlessly. But not one word was uttered about fatigue. Yet Iím sure thatís the reason that would have been given for a shockingly bad display in the Champions League final had Bayern Munich held on. It wasnít, though, because they won. And fuckers like Ferguson and Mourinho only mention injuries and fatigue as excuses when things go wrong. Never when they win.

Rafa doesnít seem to have these luxuries. Maybe itís because he doesnít go looking for them. As Iíve already mentioned, in 2005, Liverpool played 60 games. In the Champions League final, Jamie Carragher and Vladimir Smicer became paralysed with cramp. Harry Kewellís groin snapped. Steve Finnan had to come off injured at half time. Last season, 2005/06, we played 38 league games, 6 FA Cup games, 1 Carling Cup game, the European Super Cup, 2 World Club games, and 14 Champions League games. Thatís 62 games. In the FA Cup final, Steve Gerrard was destroyed by cramp. Did anyone give us any sympathy? Fuck no. More to the point, our manager never asked for any, and itís that kind of attitude that makes me love and respect him even more.

Hey, just thought of something. We lost the title by nine points last season having played 62 games, and having had to take a jaunt to Japan in the middle of the season. You know what that means? We only lost the Premiership because of fatigue!! Surely we can at least say that weíre up to 18 and a half now? No? Oh yeah, forgot, we're not moaning bastards. My bad.

Ok, enough about Chelsea and Manchester United. A season that began with myself and other Liverpool supporters looking unrealistically at a Premiership challenge has ended in dťjŗ vu, back playing Milan in the Champions League final in a Mediterranean country having knocked Chelsea out at the semi-final stage. And the parallels with 2005 are many, mainly the bullshit poured forth in the media. Two years ago, both Leverkusen and Juventus were going to annihilate us. With the Germans out after being hit for six goals, all of a sudden their injury problems were mentioned, like we didn't have any. After we knocked out Juve, it was said that the Italians had "froze." And it was said that we only beat Chelsea because Robben and Duff weren't on the pitch.

Naturally, knocking out the European and Spanish champions this season was thoroughly dismissed after it happened (Ronaldinho, Messi, Deco, Eto'o, Thuram and the rest seemingly became bad players as soon as they lost to us). We were so lucky to then get PSV in the quarters, despite the fact that United had an easier draw than us throughout the tournament. And Chelsea? Well, we've already covered Chelsea. The poor little fellas were tired. Bless 'em.

They can come up with all the excuses they want. Liverpool F.C are in their seventh European Cup final (to Man. Utd's two, the same amount as Stade de Reims, and Chelsea's zero, the same amount as Accrington Stanley). Once again, my hat goes off to Rafa. Gillett and Hicks have called him a genius, and maybe they're onto something. While everything he does might not always meet with everyone's approval, reaching two Champions League finals in three seasons with the raw materials he's had is simply amazing. His achievements are only matched by his humility. In 2004, Chelsea hired a manager who fit them like a glove. So did Liverpool. And if it isn't to be and we lose to Milan, then you can be sure that Rafa won't be reaching for lame excuses.

We'll leave that to the knight of the realm and the special one. And their buddies in the media, of course.....

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