An Insane Summer: Hopes and Fears, and Something Special to Savour

Posted by Paul Tomkins on July 1, 2005, 09:54:23 AM

Summer: season of silliness. This year it coincides with what has to be the shortest close-season in the club's history. So, an extra-silly season this time around.

There seem to be two distinct approaches to being a Liverpool fan this summer. The first –– a category into which I place myself –– is to sit back and lap up the rather surreal summer sensation of being European Champions. While it's only the start of the journey (on the Benítez Express), we've arrived at an unexpectedly wonderful destination. It makes sense to step off the train and wander around in a dazed state, taking in the surroundings, with silly smiles on our faces.

We'll always be able to say that we've been here, of course, and we'll have documentary evidence to back it up; but we won't remain here forever.

The second approach is to generally panic, and worry about where we go from here; and express consternation over why Benítez hasn't signed a busload of world-class players. I've witnessed some staggering moaning about the quality of possible signings, and bitter comments on the direction of the club, before the mist from the bottleneck of the celebratory champagne had even evanesced.

While I've spent a few recent summers worrying about who will arrive, I just don't see the need at present. I don't have a blind trust in Rafa, but I'm prepared to wager that he knows what he's doing. He knows what he wants, but negotiations take time. Especially for good players. Today –– July 1st –– is also when thousands of players' contracts end. So this is when things start to get serious.

Last year the problem revolved around Rafa's late(-ish) arrival, and how little time it left him to fully assess the squad, and identify weaknesses. With Deadline Day looming, and the Premiership season already underway, he swooped for Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso. The rest, as they say, is history.

This time we are in a far stronger position. As Champions of Europe, the club's cachet could not be more enticing. Although the Champions League qualifying campaign begins before most seasons' pre-season matches commence, prospective signings are going to consider that the club is 'in' the competition proper. Certainly only the third qualifying round presents the possibility of any significant hurdle. Lesser teams can cause a shock in one game, but the two leg process is plenty of insurance for a good side like Liverpool.

There is no need to panic about signing players before playing TNS. The club's main aim has to be to have players signed in time for the Premiership, and the group stage of the Champions League (should the Reds make it). Let's face it: if they can't beat TNS with the quality already available –– which is, as it stands, the Champions League-winning squad minus a few fringe players –– then the club won't deserve to progress.

New arrivals will take time to get used to the methods at Liverpool, and to understand the intentions of their teammates', so there's a downside to throwing in new signings straightaway. As it is, Benítez can add Morientes and Cissé to the team which won the Champions League. He has Alonso and Gerrard, both of whom missed almost half the games. Even without additions, Liverpool should be much stronger this time around.

A broad mix

A few weeks ago I stated how Rafa needed to get out and sign some of the world's most promising teenagers, to compensate for a lack of genuine top-class talent coming though the ranks. I didn't mean £15m 19-year-olds, but pre-contract 16-to-18-year-olds. It was no great revelation: Rafa had himself hinted that it was an area in need of urgent attention. 

Strangely for someone so keen on recruiting young players, Gérard Houllier struggled to attract the best teenagers to Liverpool. Only Flo and Tony Le T arrived with any great reputation, in comparison to Arsenal's litany of overseas kids, most of whom put the homegrown ones to shame. Ideally Liverpool would have a collection of outstanding Scousers; in their absence, the best players, full-stop, will suffice.

In a matter of weeks, Benítez has moved to procure Lincoln's giant centre back, Jack Hobbs, and 18-year-old Antonio Barragan from Sevilla. You sense Rafa is far from finished. While older, the über-quick 20-year-old Chilean winger, Mark González, is another with huge potential, but who has come closer, given his age, to fulfilling it.

But it needs a broad mix of additions: the quick, the tall; skilful, hard-working; English, continental; young, old. Balance, depth and variety is what every top squad needs. Boro's impressive 28-year-old, Bolo Zenden, offers a more robust version of Vladimir Smicer (Zenden has been far more consistent in the Premiership), and Dirk Kuyt, Zenden's compatriot, is a bulldozing centre forward in contrast to the super-quick Cissé and the more subtle Morientes.

World-class skill is always to be welcomed, but most crucial is a world-class blend, and an unbeatable attitude. AC Milan proved to us that having the world's best players will win you only half of a game; the other half is down to attitude and unity.

The 'Liverpool way' was for the club to never rest on its laurels. And that's still the case –– this is the time for the club as a whole to build, not to stand back and admire its handiwork. I don't expect Rafa to be basking in the glory –– he has a job to do, and he more than anyone knows that. This is one super-dedicated man.

But our job as fans, for the moment, is to relax.

Let's savour the achievement of Istanbul. Otherwise what's the point of success? You don't spend 21-years trying to get hold of the world's most sought-after bottle of wine, only to remove the cork . . . and leave it untouched.

To alter the famous phrase, "Wine for my men –– and no rush, lads, as we have almost two weeks before riding at dawn"

©Paul Tomkins 2005

Golden Past, Red Future: major developments with availability

Things are starting to kick into gear for the book. Copies have started arriving in Australia, Canada, USA, Singapore and Malaysia, but as yet, the postal delivery to Ireland seems strangely slow (don't ask me why!). On average it has taken two days to get to mainland Europe, and three days to get to the rest of the world. Feedback is coming in thick and fast, and thankfully everyone so far has been extremely positive. Sales are continuing at a fairly brisk pace on, especially as word-of-mouth filters through.

Amazon: 24 Hour Availability due today or Monday

Earlier this week Amazon, who (much to our frustration) had not been stocking the book in their warehouse (leading to availability problems), ordered several hundred copies, so the book can now be listed as "Availability: usually dispatched within 24 hours". I had an email saying that it takes up to five business days upon receipt of the books for this to be the case, and the books were with them on Tuesday morning (28th June). People ordering from Amazon up until now have had to wait for a while for their copies, but that will hopefully change today. Even if you order before the availability update, you will get your copy very quickly from now on, as they will be in a position to post copies from Monday, if not before.

Hillsborough Justice Campaign and "Golden Past, Red Future"

Copies have been sent to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign shop on Walton Breck Road. From the cover price, £4 from every sale goes to the HJC. The book also carries a free ad on its last page for the HJC wristbands. Unfortunately they cannot stock many books, given the size of the shop, but I will be sending more copies as soon as they sell the current ones.

Bookshops in Liverpool

WHSmiths do not deal with independent publishers, but have told us that individual stores have the ability to choose to stock books, especially if of local interest, so we are hoping WHSmiths in Liverpool pick up the book. Clearly it is in their interest. I will confirm if they decide to sell copies. We are also approaching Borders and Waterstones, but nothing is straightforward with these major retailers.

We have sent sample copies of "Golden Past, Red Future" to all the independent bookstores in Liverpool, along with order forms. I will update on those stores which opt to stock the book.

Ottakar's in Ormskirk have requested a few copies (with a view to more, if those sell quickly), and we've had one-off orders from customer requests in other Ottaker's stores across the country. Anyone ordering from a bookshop will get their copy within a few days of the shop ordering it from us.

Right, that's it for now!

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