Morientes: The Scouse Sheringham?

Posted by Steve_M on January 4, 2006, 07:59:44 PM

Burden of expectation. 

Thereís a phrase to send shudders up the spine of even the most experienced of professional footballers. 

Since Alf Common in 1905 became the first player to command a £1000 transfer fee, thereís probably not been a professional club in existence that has not signed a player at some stage who has not been weighed down with that responsibility. 

The promise of what the future may bring always looms large for those that are held up as the golden boy of their generation.  For every Robbie Fowler (until injuries took their toll) that has assumed the mantle and blossomed, thereís an Alun Evans that floundered and sank imperceptibly. 

So when Liverpool FC revealed last January that they had secured the signature of Fernando Morientes, a certain weight must have shifted onto the Spaniardís shoulders.

At least as far as Liverpool fans were concerned. 

Expectation comes naturally when you have played for Real Madrid.  Even more so when you have three Champions League winners medals in your locker.  Add the fact that the Reds forward line seemed to have been decimated for most of the season (if not most of the team) and it seems most fans were thinking that they had signed a sure fire Golden Boot winner. 

Such was the fervour, I wondered if we had signed a combination of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Shevchenko.  In fact I donít think signing Roy of the Rovers would have generated such hype.  It was not just the fact that he was a big name capture, but more a case of the totally unrealistic perception that he would somehow be a direct replacement for the now departed Michael Owen.  Maybe it was something to do with the fact that Owen had traveled in the opposite direction which meant that direct comparisons (and unfair ones at that) would inevitably be drawn. 

Zinedine Zidane reckoned that the loss of Claude Makele to Chelsea was the root of a lot of the problems that have haunted the Real Madrid team over the last couple of seasons.  A player that played a specific role who was on the whole, unrecognised and received little acknowledgment by the fans.  And yet Zidane knew the real worth of Makele to the Madrid team and they havenít been the same team since his departure.  Thatís not to say the loss of Makele has been the only reason behind the decline of the European cup winning team, simply one of several factors.  And yet to compare the two Frenchmen needs a lot closer analysis because on the face of it, the two of them are like chalk and cheese. 

One, dynamic, mercurial and at times simply the best player on the planet.  The other a compact, tough tackler that appeared limited in terms of skill and yet commanded a huge influence on games. 

The obvious observation has to be that the two complemented each other and the other players in the Madrid midfield.  One was as vital to the other to allow the team to function at its optimal level.  And yet no-one really draws direct comparisons between Zidane and Makele.  We know they are very different sort of players.  Itís strange that as football fans we can understand that concept and yet at times, we still wish to make similar comparisons between other players, even when it is patently obvious they are totally different type of players. 

The media has to take some of the blame.  We all know they will print and say whatever they want to improve their sales and viewing figures.  If they pander to our needs and wishes, then it is easier to accept and the power of suggestion is very powerful.  Then there is also the Ďnowí generation of fans hooked up to their internet links and access to 24 hour sports news.  The quality that once existed in the media has become diluted as anyone with enough money to afford a radio franchise can broadcast any old garbage to the public and get away with it.  At one time you would have been laughed at for voicing your opinions on a player that you had never even seen play.  Never mind the concept of paying money and actually attending a game before making a pronouncement.  Yet now everyone has an opinion. 

Even me. 

And there is a danger that if enough people repeat something enough times, then it will become accepted as fact, such as suggesting and believing that Fernando Morientes was bought as an out and out 20 goals a season striker.  In fact itís a concept that I have noticed more and more about certain players.  That we latch onto someone and either give them the gold star treatment or create a monster that becomes a footballing pariah and a figure of mockery to the ĎEasy! Easy!Ē masses.  Stuff the facts.  Forget about individual thought and follow the sheep. 

The fact is that as fans, a lot of us seem to accept what we are told from uninformed sources and end up reaching conclusions and expectations which are not realistic and downright wrong.  With this in mind, you have to ask why some fans have raised their concerns about Morientes goal scoring ability.  What exactly were they expecting?  Why do these people that seem to think heís under-performing and why do they assume that he is? 

If you had been told a year ago that Morientes will probably only score 10-12 goals all season, but he will help set up another 20, would you have been so keen to sign him?  Or would you prefer he score 20 in the league and sets up another 5 for others in the team?  Were you aware before Morientes arrived that he was never a 20 goals a season player? 

Would you be surprised to know that Michael Owen never scored 20 league goals in a season for Liverpool?  Did Michael contribute that much to the teams overall play apart from finishing moves?  Did the fact that Michael was the number one striker hinder others around him?  Why does what Morientes contribute seemed to have to be justified in comparison to Owen when the only thing they have in common is that both are forwards?  As far as Iím concerned, itís the Zidane Ė Makele situation again. 

Donít allow yourself to fall into the trap of basing whether you regard Morientes as a success or not simply by looking at the scoring charts.  Certainly scoring goals is a prime concern for a forward, but not necessarily if it is at the expense of the overall success of the team otherwise Tony Hately would have enjoyed a long career at Anfield.  If you donít believe me, check the record books.  Shanks moved him on after he scored 16 league goals in the 1967/68 season.  Hard to believe, isnít it?   

If Baros was such a top player, why did we release him?  I predicted last season that we would be lucky to see Baros score 15 in the season.  Iím not 100% sure, but I think he ended up with 13.  Be honest.  Exactly how much did Milan Baros contribute overall to Liverpoolís performances in terms of winning games?  How much did he assist the other players around him?  Did he end up becoming more of a liability because of his shortcomings rather than the positive things which he could contribute.  Is that why Rafa brought Morientes in? 

Why does it appear that Cisseís days are numbered?  Is it tabloid rumour mongering or is he not the sort of player that we need?  Iíd suggest that it Cisse was signed as a direct replacement of Michael Owen, then he probably would score over 20 in a season, but I would have a lot of doubts that our overall team total would be that high, as so many chances would have to be channeled towards him.  If we truly want to control games and dominate teams then we need to force them to defend in their own half more and that tends to reduce space for our strikers (for every positive there is a negative).  However it also tends to mean that opposition defences no longer just have the lone striker or joint strikers to worry about, but also 3 and 4 other players breaking into their penalty area. 

It appears many fans have the mistaken belief that Morientes (and even Crouch) are somehow direct replacements for Michael Owen (and maybe even for Fowler, Rush and Keegan).  There seems to be a belief that if a striker isnít capable of 20 goals a season, then he is not worth pursuing.  I would argue that you can count on one hand the players in the Premiership now that are capable of that feat and probably none of them will either be in our price range or available to sign. 

So what are the alternatives? 

Remember teams are fitter and stronger than ever before.  Coaches are probably more tactically aware than at any time in football history with teams better organized and prepared. 

Is the day of the 20 goal a season striker drawing to an end or is it merely the current fad to encourage more midfielders to get their names on the scoring charts? 

Has the concept of the team reappeared at the expense of the talented individual strikers who helped to carry their teams? 

Could it be that the Teddy Sheringham or Peter Beardsley type of striker is now more highly prized than the Andy Cole or the Alan Shearer?  The all-round attacker than can hold the ball, can play the right passes and has that extra bit of vision is more valuable than the pure finisher?  Is it any coincidence that in the last 20 years, the most successful England teams were ones that contained a recognized striker beside a player that was less highly regarded, but seemed to know how to bring the best out of the players around him Ė Lineker and Beardsley (1986 and 1990) and Shearer and Sheringham (1996).  Maybe now is the time to have less emphasis on out and out strikers and more on attacking players that know how to score goals, but have more to their game than just pace and trying to shoot at anything that moves. 

Could it be that Morientes is in fact a younger Sheringham type player? 

Could it be that Morientes is in fact the Scouse Sheringham? 

Maybe Rafa believes that his system of play will involve more players enjoying scoring chances, rather than relying on one or two strikers who may suffer from injuries, inconsistency and bouts of lack of form. 

Maybe Rafa is still rebuilding the forward line and will bring in another main striker if he does move Cisse on. 

Maybe Rafa bought both Morientes and Crouch as forwards to support a totally different main striker. 

Maybe he really did want Owen back as the main striker to lead the line. 

Maybe the interest in Kuijt will resurface. 

And just maybe some of our fans will start to appreciate the quality of a player like Fernando Morientes. 

© Steve M 2006

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