Lawro - What's His Beef? by Paul Tomkins

Posted by Paul Tomkins on June 11, 2001, 03:18:32 PM

I really don’t like Mark Lawrenson much, but then, who does? Even his parents probably look on at him in shame. Why do so many Liverpool fans dislike Mark Lawrenson, arguably our second greatest centre back ever? (although Yeats, Smith, Hughes, Thompson, and now Hyypia all tend to feature in people’s dream teams).

Alongside our greatest ever centre back, Alan Hansen, Lawro just looks as bitter and twisted as his moustache. But why don’t I like the man - once an integral part of perhaps our best-ever team, the 1984 treble-winning side? And here we are again, having won a treble. Only some people seemed less than impressed by this one. Sure, we’re not passing it off as the greatest treble ever, but three cup wins has to rank as one of the few outstanding achievements in the English game. Or you’d have thought. Ah - that’s why. Mark Lawrenson is a miserable bastard who just doesn’t seem to enjoy Liverpool winning.

LAWRO, MAY 2001: " for Fergie to drive them to success after success, trophy after trophy, season after season, makes it a truly remarkable achievement which sets them apart from what Paisley achieved. [How, Mark? Did we not have success after success, trophy after trophy?]. “ The man continues to dig the knife in: “I'm not in any way belittling Paisley's achievements, but Fergie deserves the highest praise possible for putting United on a different planet. Worryingly for the likes of Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool, while I can see them getting closer to United I can't see anyone toppling them. The only team I can see emerging is Leeds, whose youngsters and determination remind me of United in their early stages of development."

Lawro’s favourite moan is that the passing season was the worst top division in England ever. Despite three of the eight Champions League quarter finalists being English, and one making the semi final; and despite our progress past Roma, Olympiakos, Porto and Barcelona to reach and then win the final of the Uefa Cup. In England we now have over half a dozen of the French World Cup and European Championship winning squad. Top talent plies its trade in this country. I hate the way he makes out United are so outstanding, and the rest are just so appalling. It’s not the case.

I’ll state it now, but this is not about saying how good the current league is as a way of praising Man U. The European Cup failure (again) proves that they are not as good as they think - they didn’t win either of their group stages, and they lost both legs to Bayern Munich. They don’t seem cut out for European football, in some strange way. The influx of continental talent to this country is at the expense of a little of the ‘will to win’ attitude, which may be why the Mancs win the league, with their grafting British core, but why their tactical naivete sees them struggle to prove themselves in the European Cup (and let’s face it, Bayern should have beaten them in 1999). They are not as good as our old sides (the statistics prove that, surely?).

That said, it is impossible to fairly judge different eras in football, but I will say that there is more talent on display these days that in years gone by. But there is far more talent to choose from, and it is more evenly spread around. In our glory days, the league was there to be won, and we won it. We did so largely with British talent, as foriegn talent wasn’t as readily available. Man United won their first major trophies in decades thanks mostly to the likes of Kanchelskis, Cantona and Schmichael.

Another main reason is ‘team-building’. The Mancs, gallingly successful of late, have a settled team, and a settled manager (ah, but not for long - just as we start to look ominously good, Old Triffid faces a time of turmoil). No-one else has a settled team (Ipswich excepted, and there's their secret, too). Chelsea had a settled team(ish) but they are all old, and they have a new manager. No-one has the blend just right, apart from the Mancs, but we can only get better in this respect. The longer our team stays together, the greater the understandings.

But I digress. This is not about whether or not United are as great as they think they are. It is about Lawro slating the league, and in turns therefore slating us: as we only came third, eleven points off the Mancs (still, it was over twenty the season before). And it is about Lawro putting the achievements of Sour Alex Ferguson above those of Sir Bob Paisley. The man has no class, it seems.

The contempt of Lawrenson was driven home as I was standing in the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Feb 15, about 20 minutes after the end of the match, and Jockey was still getting an ovation from the travelling Reds as he exited the commentary booth - but not Lawro. He was ignored. Such a great player, but a man for whom affection cannot be mustered. He has upset too many people too mention.

Lawrenson has the kind of attitude that will not allow us to flourish - NO Liverpool team will match up to his era. Souness is the same, whereas King Kenny just loves the club (you see it in his smile, in the way he is still so defensive of the current team). Even Uncle Roy, with his occasional barbed comment, still comes across as loving the club (as seen on Sky’s Fanzone for the FA Cup final, where Roy’s task was to commentate on the match, along with Frank McLintock - as fans. Only Roy was too busy punching the air at Mickey’s second to be able to talk too much).

Lawro just loves himself, even if his face looks like a dog’s arse - a dog with diarrhoea’s arse. When Houllier spoke out about the number of ex-Liverpool players in the media who will not give us any kind of credit, he was surely referring to the likes of Lawrenson and Ian St John, who relish our failures, and not someone like Jockey Hansen, who can be harsh, but always fair. The TV footage of Jockey celebrating all of our goals (as Lawro looked disinterested) against Alaves sums the man up - the loves the club, but loves it so much he’s prepared to be honest with it. I never hated Jockey when he slated us in the past, as he was only saying what we were all saying in our cars on the way home, or in the pubs after the match. We were quite rubbish for quite a while, and he only ever said it how he saw it. You never get that impression with Lawro.

So, the league was poor? I like that argument in a way, as it fails to give Man U credit - but it’s not true, alas. Leeds, Arsenal and ourselves (again - all newly assembled or massively altered teams) have enjoyed extended runs in Europe and maybe Arsenal, used to flunking out at Stage One, suffered the consequences of this in the league (Arsenal are also in a state of flux). There is no denying that the Mancs are used to juggling both, but that doesn’t mean that the chasing pack won’t be better prepared next year. The Mancs’ experience has told in this respect, not necessarily their quality. Whereas we were all screwing up at times in juggling the league and Europe, they’ve had a few more years than us all to get used to that routine. And this season we managed to juggle three competitions, on top of making what turned out to be decent progress in the league.

Let’s look at the teams we finished above - not the big clubs (or once-big clubs) like Spurs, Newcastle, Everton, Chelsea and Sunderland. I mean the also rans:

A perfect example of the continued growth of the Premiership are Charlton. Charlton now have 10 internationals; their Premiership team of two years ago contained just one. Coventry had some talent at their disposal, with the lauded Moroccans, and David Thompson now in their ranks (and have 'recently' lost Gary Mac, Robbie Keane, Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin). They were relegated. Man City were also relegated with the likes of Wanchope, Weah, Kanchelskis and Huckerby having been in their side at various stages of the season - not the greatest ever players, but all players who reeked havoc in modern times in the Premiership. Derby are a team of experienced internationals (West, Eranio, Kinkladze, Burley, Poom, Strupar), and young British talent (Johnson, Oates, Christie). On paper, they have a strong team. And they struggled.

Compare that to six years ago, Lawro, and realise that the reason the whole league looks mediocre is because even the crap teams are now good. There is not the elite few, plus a load of whipping boys. United are walking it because they are one small level above the rest (not for long, believe me), but the rest are a very high level, and capable of taking points off of each other. Everyone can beat everyone else, and have done so regularly, explaining why the league was so compact for so long, with only a few points separating 2nd from 18th. It is precisely the strength of the league that makes United look good - but let’s not forget that they are also allowed to intimidate their opponents and referees, and get away with murder. Their players are clearly no better than ours, which suggests we can close on them once our team is more settled. The problem is if they go out and spend £60million over the summer as Sour Alex goes for one last attempt at Europe and glory. If they spend that well, on three world class players (and not 20, as Houllier had no choice but to spend his - he needed a whole new team, and a whole new set of reserves) we could be closing in, only for them to surge ahead again. It doesn’t help other teams that Man U have an aura of invincibility: Peter Reid spoke this season of looking at his players BEFORE the game at Old Trafford and knowing they were beat (and duly were, 3-0). If Peter Reid can’t motivate a bulldog-spirit side to play there, who the f*ck can?

But back to this being the worst top division is Lawro’s memory. A point I regularly think of is that we had a great team in 1990, but the nearest challengers, Villa, had Ian Olney and Ian Ormindroyd up front, two of the worst strikers you could wish to see, who would look above their station in the Vauxhall Conference now. That was the level of player playing for a top flight club before Italia 90, and the so-called “rebirth” of English football, when foreigners came over and our youngsters were finally taught radical things such as, say, how to control a football (instead of how to be very tall, run all day and kick the ball into the clouds).

Our 1990 team had quality, but it also had the likes of Burrows and Ablett - players who, if they were the still in their early twenties now, could not get away with it in the Premiership. Even now Budgie is only 32, and the perfect age for a full back (experience, not quite past it yet), and has been shown the door by a first division club that failed to win promotion again. Maybe the lack of quality everywhere else ended our reign, as it seemed that in 1990 we didn’t have to be that good to win it back then (unlike just a few years before - in 1987 - when we just oozed class). Maybe that’s why the likes of Speedie and Carter were signed around that time by Dalglish who, three years earlier, looked to Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge - world class players, replaced by utter dogshit (okay, slightly harsh in Speedie’s case, but you get my drift).

Chelsea are now a league of nations, with World Cup winners, etc, and yet five or six years ago they were a team of Cascarino, Fleck, Spencer, Minto, and various other players too frighteningly poor to mention. The league has moved on. It took GH to move us on. He quite clearly has taken us forward. You know that, and I know that.

This criticism of the league also relates to the constant sniping that Gerard Houllier was supposedly not taking us forward, as our league position now is more or less the same as under Roy. Let’s put it simply - are we a better team now than when we finished third in 1997/98? Of course we are. Let me remind you of our defence back then: Ruddock, Babb, Bjornebye, Harkness, Kvarme. How shite is that lot? So shite, in fact, that they are now in the First Division or lower (Ruddock is sinking like an overweight man in a broken boat). Babb is doing the comedy circuits in Portugal. Gerard has had to build to keep top three/four. Surely that is clear? In 1997/98 we finished third, but could we have won one cup, let alone the FA Cup (having beaten two of the three Champions League Quarter Finalists in winning it, and neither game was on home soil), or the Uefa Cup, for Chrissakes? Leeds have spent £80 million in the last three years. United have spent more, and Arsenal’s forward line cost a pretty packet. Within a short time of Roy Evans buying Sean Dundee, Arsene Wenger had bought Henry, Kanu and Wiltord. Notice the difference?

It’s not just more skillful, attacking players that come to England; whereas we only had British defenders in the past, we now have a crop of top international defenders. As well as Markus, Sami and Stephane, who are all top class, there is Stam, Desailly, West (I thought he was a joke, but look at Derby’s stats with and without him, and it’s frightening, with him they win and keep clean sheets, without him they lose - it really is that black and white. He cost us two points at Anfield).

Again, I am not demeaning our past, or glorifying United’s present (as I’ve said, I think there are extenuating circumstances for their success). Our past was glorious because we were the best team, with the best players and the best approach to the game - back then. But the game has changed in many ways, and Houllier is bringing us out of the dark ages - and by the dark ages, I mean English football in the 80s; sure they were some of our best times, but we were the only ones who played football whilst the others hoofed, and now everyone plays football, and plays football in a variety of ways, with managers and players from all over the world, and the tactics of yore are no longer enough (Bob Paisley, the greatest manager ever, said that they never even told the players what to do back then - just sent them onto the pitch in the knowledge that they were the best players around, and could work it out for themselves; it’s not that simple now for Gerard Houllier, is it?).

Then there is the way teams no longer condense play - remember games in the late 80s, when it was two teams stuck right on the centre circle, so the play was so condensed that no-one had any time or space? - then came the ball over the top, and it was an offside decision or a fifty-yard sprint to goal. I remember when we played PSG, Strasbourg and Celta Vigo away, all in the last four years, and the game used the whole of the pitch and it amazed me. This is only in the recent past. And the opposition on those nights simply waltzed through us. They spead the game, and tore us open. Now the game is spread over here too. And the games we played in Europe were stretched. But no one tore us apart this time.

Until recently, there was still a lot of clogging and hoofing; but that got found out. It was okay in lower divisions, but the skill of the Premiership meant it couldn’t survive. Look at Wimbledon - thankfully around no longer in order to sully the top flight. Who does play a long ball game now? No-one. We use it occasionally, but we are not a long ball team. After all, it’s a handy device from time to time. As Paisley said, football is not about the long ball or the short ball - it is about the right ball, and under Houllier we use the long ball and the short, to good effect.

Our teams were the best in their day, and you can be no more than that. We were ahead of our time in some repects, and simply ‘of our time‘ in others. From ‘65 to ‘88 we had some phenomenal sides, and some very, very good sides. Because football has moved on it doesn’t therefore mean Sourface is a better manager than Sir Bob, as Ferguson had years to get it right, and had the benefit of a crop of youth players coming through together in the mid ‘90s. Bob would have faced different problems had he managed now, but had such a good footballing brain he would have succeeded in today’s game.

But it’s not just Lawro getting things wrong. Souness has been at it as well. Souness has been moaning (yes moaning) about the amount of - get this - MOANING that foreign managers do. ”In my day this, in my day that...”. Exactly, Graeme - in your day, but times have changed. Does anyone out there really believe that the game is not far quicker than it used to be?

You would think that players who played for Bob would be busting a gut to preserve his memory. Any other country would marvel at a man who won three European Cups, and whose team, barely altered, won a fourth with Joe Fagan at the helm 12 months later; a man who instigated Shankly’s success, and who came back in 1986 to advise Kenny en route to the double. In the European game, Ferguson has done far less. As Jessie Paisley said when she opened the Paisley Gateway: it was harder in Bob’s day, as there were no second bites at the cherry, and every team was a champion. And the Mancs wouldn’t even have qualified in 1999, had it been the same criteria.

Some ex-players want to remember what Liverpool Football Club did for them.

© Paul Tomkins 2001

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