Great Expectations, Grave Disappointments

Posted by Paul Tomkins on August 9, 2005, 01:52:02 PM

So what did you want this summer? Were you hoping for Wright-Phillips, Torres, Aimar? Or maybe bigger signings still? Zidane, Ronaldo, Ronaldhino? To top it all, maybe you were even hoping to discover the Holy Grail left lying about in your garden shed, or create nuclear fusion when lighting the gas hob?

I've been reading a few comments regarding fans' disappointment over transfers. I'm just not sure what they were expecting. How could Rafa overhaul the squad in any other way?

Let's face it, with the exception of teenage rookies heading initially to the youth team, Liverpool signed only international players this summer, all from two of the top three leagues in the world. I mean, what does Rafa think he's doing there?

The best signings don't have to be those whose arrival has us purring with delight. The history of the game is littered with cases of 'great signings' that didn't pay off, and left-field buys that surprised all with their effectiveness. Of course, there are the opposite examples in both cases, too. That's life.

Just remember that John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge were all signed in quick succession in 1987, and yet none probably filled Reds with as much hope and expectation as the arrival of Paul Ince a few years later. All four of the aforementioned players signed by Kenny Dalglish had question marks hanging over them, and three were from small clubs. Ince was a title-winner for United, the England captain and signed from Inter Milan.

So my point remains: wait and see. You don't know what you are judging yet.

Look at it this way. An egg in my hands is just an egg: you might get an omelette from me if you are lucky (and if you are extra lucky, you won't spend the next week in hospital with salmonella poisoning). An egg in the hands of Gordon Ramsey is an ingredient which leads to many possibilities. (Not least an object to throw in anger at the sous chef, but that's another story.)

Rafa hasn't finished in the transfer market, with two players still being sought, but given his budget and how far he has to stretch it, any subsequent signings won't be exciting those who crave only high profile players. Liverpool can only compete with Chelsea by getting the best blend, not the most expensive players.

Fair deal?

Can we ever accurately judge what a player gives to the team, or are our opinions too bound up in what surrounds the player, be it hype, the enduring image of their predecessors, or the scale of their transfer fee? Can we ever be fair?

Are we ever able to make a dispassionate judgement, and put our emotions to one side, in the way the top managers can? After all, we all have our favourites, even if those players aren't cutting it. I'm as guilty as anyone on that score.

That's what sets many of the best bosses apart: they make the kind of tough decisions we would avoid. They pick their sides on what they feel is needed, not what others want.

They are closer to the players, physically –– they spend the week in their company, sit together at lunch, share the same hotels, coaches and planes. Unlike us fans (with the odd exception), they know the players as people.

But we are closer to the players, emotionally. Managers are close, but distant; we are distant, but close. What the manager is looking for, and what we are looking for, are two different things.


Expectation is pressure. It means you cannot go quietly about your business –– it means you have to dazzle, and dazzle straightaway. New players don't have it easy.

In "Golden Past, Red Future" I talk about how I felt Djibril Cissé would benefit from a disappointing first season, in that it lowered expectations. When he arrived we expected miracles. In fact, the only miracle he delivered was to recover so quickly from injury. What worked in his favour was that his first season wasn't a failure due to his own inadequacies (although he had made an indifferent start), but because he didn't play enough games.

While Harry Kewell played on with niggling injuries, and saw his form dip to critical levels, Cissé's reputation was spared further damage in absentia. Kewell's injury problems saw him booed off in Istanbul. Cissé was a hero.

Kewell reminds me a bit of John Barnes playing for England. Something's not quite right, physically and mentally, but at the same time, doing the basics well and playing his part in team successes will never be enough. Booing morons at Wembley expected John Barnes to repeat his Brazilian wondergoal every game, too blind to see the true contributions he was making.

Will we ever be satisfied with Kewell, or does he now need to work wonders every week? There were times early on last season when I felt he'd played really well, but it was never enough for others. I'm sure I was hard on Emile Heskey when he played his part for the team, but didn't do what I hoped he would with the ball.

It might be beneficial lowering the fans' expectations, especially if they have grown unreasonably high; losing their trust completely is another matter (as that can be hard to recover).

It's a similar story with Morientes –– we hoped for so much, and now some people have given up on him. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a player's form cause such widespread concern as much as a month before the start of the league season, when the first grumbles of 2005/06 appeared.

And still the doubts exist, after four pre-season goals in seven games (some of which he hasn't started, or hasn't played beyond half-time), which is pretty respectable at the best of times. Let's wait until the league season gets into full swing before writing anyone off.

Morientes had the kind of reputation that made him a perfect signing to many (and at a price that was, for once, very reasonable); and yet so far he's seen as failing to deliver. When we do sign new players, be they big names or up-and-coming stars, we need to give them time. Not too long, but long enough.

Regarding the wisdom of any signing this summer, let's wait a bit longer, and see who ends up with egg on their face.

© Paul Tomkins, 2005

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