Is Liverpool's 2005/06 Premiership campaign already under threat?

Posted by Paul Tomkins on June 8, 2005, 10:44:53 AM

Crazy doesn't even begin to sum it up. While we all want Liverpool to be in the Champions League, how many games do Uefa expect the Reds to play? A fixture backlog appears a very real possibility. Next season, things could get as backed-up as a severely constipated overeater following a month-long junk food binge.

   Although nothing is confirmed at the time of writing –– a decision is pencilled in for this Friday –– the smart money appears to be on Liverpool starting at the first knock-out phase, which seems a slightly bizarre way to enter to the top seeds and holders. Yes, apparently we should be grateful just to be in the competition, but no one expected to have to start out at the first qualifying phase. Didn't we play 15 qualifying games last season, by virtue of actually winning the damn thing?

   Last season ended two weeks ago, just days before the beginning of June. Since then, we've seen a selection of friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. At this rate, the new season will be upon us before we know it: a first qualifying game for the Champions League, should we be required to enter at that stage, will take place in early July: just one month away. Six extra games will be tacked onto the start of the season. At least the players won't have much time to get fat and lose their conditioning on the beach over the summer.

   So how does this impact on the pre-season tour of Japan? It's the lowest priority, given they will be mere exhibition games, but the club has made a commitment. Organisation this summer could be a logistical nightmare. As it stands, the European Super Cup clashes with one of the Champions League qualifying games –– after all, no winner has ever before had to qualify this way.

   Then there's the issue of the club missing a Champions League group stage game (if it makes it that far) while in Japan with the World Club Championship in December.

   (As an aside, how lucrative will that be? Yes, we want to win it, but I am not sure there's as much kudos attached to being 'world champions' as there should logically be: the competition already has a slight stigma after the debacle of 2000 and its subsequent mothballing, and let's face it, if we have to schlep halfway around the world for a week in the middle of the season, it would be nice to think it would earn us a few million quid. Much will depend on how seriously it is taken by the media. Hopefully the competition will be successful this time, and we can add it to our burgeoning trophy room.)   

Impending disaster?

Of course, it doesn't have to spell doom and gloom. The early start to the European campaign could help the Reds get off to a flying start next season in the Premiership. The problem will come over the winter months, when the fixture list is already traditionally overcrowded, given that Liverpool will have had an exhausting December, with part of it spent in Japan. Of course, Japan could be a more pleasant place to be than an England winter, and it could end up as a valuable team bonding exercise and glorified training camp. Time will tell.

   One further downside is that however well the Reds start the league season, the final Champions League qualifier (usually late August) has in the past clashed with a midweek league fixture, and with the rearrangements possible as a result of the European Super Cup, it is conceivable that Liverpool could be two league games behind their rivals by the start of September. I am assuming that one or two further Premiership games could be lost due to the World Club Championships.

   Some players, like Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Harry Kewell, Chris Kirkland and Djibril Cissι will be less affected, having missed significant chunks of 2004/05. While Jamie Carragher is due a well-earned rest, many of the other major players will be in the mood for more football as quickly as possible. Kewell could still suffer: I felt that his last chance at Liverpool was to finally get fit in order to get a flying start to next season, but the earlier it starts, the less time he'll have to be fit after his groin operation.

   Providing Rafa gets the chance to rotate his players (meaning he needs to add to the squad, and hope everyone stays fit), it could yet turn out to be a blessing in disguise. If the team is sharper than the competition when the Premiership commences –– allied to the fact that confidence will start out sky-high (unless there's a disaster in qualifying) –– it will help build on the momentum of Istanbul.

   As it was, Rafa had already decided to bring forward pre-season training by two weeks, in the hope of getting into gear quicker than last season. Much of the tone of a season is set in the opening weeks. Last year we started well at home in the league, but lost narrowly away at Bolton: and the rest followed suit.

   Still, at least it looks like we'll be allowed back in to defend our title, and whatever the implications, that's the main thing.

   In the meantime, Everton need to show some respect –– shouting the odds about not wanting to share the television money five ways instead of four smacks of new boys in the European big time. It is in no small part down to Liverpool that there are four teams qualifying from England and not just three.

   If it was just the top three who qualified, Liverpool would be automatically entering the group stages as winners, and Everton would be in the Uefa Cup. That's how bizarre the rules are. (Although, of course, Liverpool wouldn't have qualified for the Champions League last season had there been just three teams, but as the entry of four teams was partly down to the Reds' success in Europe in recent seasons, then they had at least helped to 'earn' that privilege.)

   Everton should realise that Liverpool now have the highest coefficient of any English club –– the last five years have seen the Reds win the Uefa Cup and progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2002, before, of course, winning it this year –– and as such, Everton owe much of their participation to Liverpool's success since 2001.

   It's a glorious statistic: the last two European trophies won by an English club both ending up at Anfield –– and this time, the big one is there for keeps. Five European Cups, and three Uefa Cups. There is a mirroring of the 1970s in that the Uefa Cup was followed by the European Cup, but there's a long way to go before the team is as dominant as it was in those days –– if indeed that is possible, given there are now four very strong teams in England.

   As for Everton, I have no problem with going in, as much as I think the FA chose the wrong option: but the FA should now be fighting to get Everton instated as the 5th team from England, and doing so having given precedence to the Champions of Europe. Uefa's rules were wrong, but it should have been Everton, who achieved less last season, who had to fight for the extra spot: the winners have to be the first name in the following season's competition. That will certainly be the case once Uefa changes its rules.

   It just seems a little classless the way they are kicking up a fuss about our possible participation taking a share of the group stage money –– especially as they haven't even qualified, and with a European coefficient ranking of precisely zero, will face seeded opposition in the two-leg play off. (There'll be some top teams in the draw.) Liverpool actually added quality and interest to the competition last season: television audiences were turned back on to football. Everyone is protecting their own best interests, and fighting for their share of the pie.

   This summer could be a very short one indeed . . .

© Paul Tomkins 2005

"Golden Past, Red Future" - News Update June 8th

On June 20th the cost of "Golden Past, Red Future" when bought from our website is going to go up to £12.99, which is what we had announced some time ago as the R.R.P.

As previously mentioned, we are currently speaking to a number of book retailers and online stores, and selling it ourselves at £9.99 is confusing issues a little, and causing some logistical problems which could make it difficult for us to use a couple of these outlets. Obviously we want to be able to reach as many people as possible.

Instead of just immediately bumping up the price to its RRP now, we'll wait until the book is officially released on 20th June. That gives everyone fair warning.

People who were really keen and have already ordered should of course be perfectly happy at this news, and hopefully everyone will now have the option to buy at the current price, or wait until it's released knowing it will cost the RRP.

The wheels are in motion, and the presses are rolling! Can't believe it - it's finally happening. Saw a digital mock-up of the book (a proper made-up book, but run out digitally, and not on the press) and it was great, finally seeing it as a proper 'book'. It suddenly felt very real! It will look even better when it rolls off the presses and gets matt laminated (a classy looking finish) and has the 'spot UV' laminations applied: basically, a star with the numeral '5' will be applied to the bottom right-hand side of the cover in an ultra-gloss varnish. Not everyone will agree, but we've tried to make it a thing of beauty! 

The book should be with us for sending out at the end of next week (17th June), or the Monday after (20th). All the envelopes for orders received thus far have been labelled and are ready for stuffing (missus). Those who have requested signatures/dedications may have to wait a little longer, as obviously it takes time to do that.

The ISBN number is 0-9549580-2-0. The ISBN number has only just been assigned to the book in the last few days, and it may not show up on the system for another couple of days - I will make it known when it is 'cleared' on all databases, from which point those who wish to order it from book stores can do so.

Our website has had in excess of 10,000 hits in just two months, and thanks again to the top bods at RAWK for hosting it, even though it's only a tiny site in terms of file sizes.

I'll keep everyone posted with updates, and thanks to everyone who has ordered, and to those on RAWK who have helped out with some last minute proof reading


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