Saviour or urban myth?

Posted by john_mac on December 22, 2004, 09:24:03 PM

I’m definitely here to be shot at, but I must admit that I just cannot see what others appear to see in Milan Baros. Hardworking, certainly, direct and awkward, most definitely but a team player and a player to build for the future on, I’m sorry but I just don’t see it.

To me, whilst being a superior player, he has more in common with Camara and Rosenthal than he ever has with the Michael Owen’s, Robbie Fowler’s, John Aldridge and Ian Rush’s of this world. All of those players understood the importance of their team-mates and while they all had an un-nerving knack of finding the net they never relied on unpredictability and every team mate in the squad knew their strongest points.

When Dalglish picked up the ball around the half-way line there was nothing more predictable than where Ian Rush would be, pushing onto the final defender, awaiting a through ball. As McManaman  hit the by-line there was nothing more certain than Robbie finding space around the penalty spot, and like it or not, with the ball at Sami’s feet Michael would go shoulder to shoulder with the opposition’s deepest defender.

Liverpool fans appear to have this peculiar knack of adoring strikers that are nowhere near the best. Aldridge was constantly compared to Rush, in a derogatory manner, during the 87-88 season. Only after his departure was he truly appreciated. Fowler’s partnership with Collymore was perhaps the most peculiar. Far and away the best striker circa 95–96, the Kop instead chose to idolise a player who consistently under-performed, often letting both himself and his team-mates down with a thoroughly unprofessional attitude. ‘Gifted but flawed’ could not have been more apt than for Stanley.

It was only with the departure of the dogger and emergence of the wonderful Owen that the Kop finally started to show Robbie some appreciation. Interestingly the timing corresponded ‘co-incidentally’ with feverous attacks from many toffees around the city on the Liverpool number 9. Support for Robbie reached fever pitch, when he was past his best, but for the idiots around there was always a Robbie versus Michael decision to make, which Michael inevitably suffered from. Even the correct decision to sell Robbie, was met with mass derision amongst some red fans.

Soon after his departure Milan arrived, with a massive reputation for one so young. I think he has set some record by playing for the Czechs at numerous levels within a number of months and scored at everyone. He arrived overweight, demanding a game, blaming the then coach Thompson for everything under the sun. The coaching team at Anfield were all keen to unload the player.

The following summer saw him return with a vastly improved attitude towards the coaching staff and his team-mates, many of them established internationals that he had shown little respect. His pre-season performances were amongst the best at the club. Although his performances were fleeting, he began to build a rapport with ‘the most knowledge-able fans in football’ (a self appointed title if ever there was one), at the same time they were virtually ignoring the European Footballer of the Year. Often his most successful performances would be coming off the bench; but support from the fans still grew even more, especially as derision at the choice of Heskey grew.

He started last season in good form. His performance at Goodison Park was easily his best to that date and he actually found his strike partner for Michael to bury a cracker. Of course, injury at Blackburn could not have been worse timed, but he never looked like being effective or worthy of a place on his return. Michael Owen was the main striker at the club, a world class player worthy of the title, even if Liverpool fans were only rarely to accept it, but whilst the players at the club had accepted this for a number of years, Milan never could. He struggled, like many had before him, to put together any sort of rapport with Michael, and was generally unwilling to play second fiddle to him, an attitude that some may see as admirable, but not if it is at the detriment of the team. Personally I believe this attitude was to both Milan’s and the teams detriment - the manager certainly saw it this way.

Milan’s performances in the summer were excellent, in a team with quality passing midfielders playing with a withdrawn striker, and given adulation and top billing he excelled. A lifelong Barcelona fan, of course he was interested in a move there, unfortunately they and their biggest rivals had eyes on bigger (or smaller) fish. Still Michael’s departure finally gave Milan the top billing he had craved since his arrival, at least till Barca come knocking again.

I don’t think that Rafa quite saw it this way, devasted at the loss of Michael and Camacho’s change of heart over Morientes he was left short. This was exacerbated by the refusal of Valencia to even speak to the Liverpool manager. Still he had a much sought after striker up his sleeve, one already written off by many of the ‘most knowledgable fans in football’. We’ll never know, but I suspect that Rafa would have kept Michael and sacrificed Milan at the drop of a hat.

The tactical set up as stands now suits Milan, and we have seen that in recent weeks. He will excel as the main striker and he will benefit from good passing midfielders. He loves to be the ‘main man’ and the adulation he receives at Anfield and in is home country. He is a very good player, fast, strong, unpredictable, with an eye for goal and a determination to hit the back of the net as often as he can.

The question that we must answer is if he is good enough for Rafa to build around, perhaps to the detriment of others? There is no doubt that he had doubts at the start of the season, regularly choosing others to lead his line, but Milan has certainly played the best football of his Liverpool career, most notably in the games against Palace and Newcastle. I can’t help but feel that on too many occasions he chooses the wrong option, head down, being shepherded towards a corner flag by players with a fraction of the ability.

He remains young but could anybody honestly compare his progress to Rush, Owen or Fowler at the same age? I can’t, and as sad as it is seems, Erik Meijer owns the same number of championship medals as two of that illustrious trio. Of course he can improve, and he has done just that during his time at Anfield, but there are far, far better players around. I just cannot see players flourishing alongside him, I cannot see players coming through the way Robbie did next to Rushie or Michael in turn did next to Robbie.

It is not an attack on Milan, he is a very good player, but a player I cannot help but feel is seeing out time at Anfield, and perhaps a key to open up the treasure chest that Rafa wants to get his hands on. As good as he is, there are better around and a look at Cisse’s development often looking lonely and distraught does not give me confidence that he has learned how to become more of a team player, and you will never win the league without them. He must be so frustrating at time to play with - who of us were not surprised when he pulled the ball into Mellor’s path on Sunday?

I’m sorry but I just don’t see him as the world class striker some appear to; I certainly do not see him as the key to all our problems. He is the best we have available at the moment, but think that may not be the case for much longer and I certainly won’t be surprised if we don’t see him around in the longer term.

Rafa knows what he wants and knows what he needs. His hands may be more tied than he would like but whilst there will always be room for individuals within a team, Rafa will want players that play as individuals within the framework of the team. Too much unpredictability will never allow that; if your own players do not know what you are going to do, their life is going to be far more difficult, and their ability to dominate a game will be affected.

Go ed ……… tell me how wrong I am - I hope that Milan and Rafa prove I am.

© john_mac 2004

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