Symphony Number Six?

Posted by Garstonite on May 22, 2007, 06:00:43 PM

The great Bill Shankly is responsible for many great quotations, which are still perfectly relevant today, despite the alterations football has undertaken since the days he traipsed pitch-side at Anfield with his desires to develop his Liverpool side into ‘a bastion of invincibility’.

Thousands of fans who have made the pilgrimage to the Olympic Stadium, as they did to the Attaturk two years ago, would happily agree with perhaps his most quote of all, that ‘football in not a matter of life and death. It’s much more important that that’. Football loses people jobs. Splits marriages. Bankrupts them for life. It puts people on an emotional roller-coaster, from the lows of relegation, to the highs of unmatched life experiences such as Istanbul. You ask people who were there that night whether it was worth it. They’ll say you bet your bloody life it was!

Such a perfectionist as Benitez won’t put up any arguments over his philosophy that, ‘first is first, and second is nothing’, either. Win, lose or draw in Athens, Benitez will come home just as determined to plan a proper assault on the Premiership title next campaign. Many of you will have seen the video from Spanish television that displays the technological set-up Benitez possesses at Anfield and Melwood, and read the quote from Paco Lloret’s book on the Spaniard’s time at Valencia, saying ‘he would lose track of time’ scrupulously studying opposition tactics. You'll recognise this dedication as being akin to Shankly’s. It may be an old cliché, but if ever there were men that ‘breathe football’, it is Benitez, and it was Shankly.

Indeed, the quote from Tommy Docherty on Bill Shankly appears to be equally applicable to our modern-day manager: ‘If he [Shankly] had been paid overtime, he would be a millionaire’.

For me, though, the greatest Shankly quote of all time is one that will forever be appropriate to football. Even in the year 2900, when managers select their players’ attributes from a database to convey into metal androids internal storage capacities in preparation for the inter-galactic Championship, I have absolutely no doubts that this will remain relevant:

‘If Everton were playing at the bottom of my garden I’d draw the curtains.’

I have no doubts at all.

OK, in seriousness, here is the quote I really had in mind: ‘Football is like a piano. You need eight people to carry it, and three people to play the damn thing!’ I feel this is so true, I believe every manager, at every level, should use it as a platform to work from. You need grafters, but you also need a small number of players that prove the difference between winning and drawing or losing.

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean the eight people carrying the piano play like a toddler on Prozac: they can be Rick Wakeman’s or Keith Emerson’s, leaving the Joplin’s and Liberace’s to flaunt more extravagantly.

It’s a basic rule of thumb that has helped significantly in securing our past successes in Europe. Rome ’77, our pianists, I’m sure many would agree, were Case, Keegan and Heighway. Wembley ’78, we had Case and Heighway again, with Dalglish replacing Keegan. Paris 1981 is an intriguing one, for we didn’t particularly have any stand-out ‘pianists’ with the exception, of course, of Dalglish. Case played a smaller role which left the responsibility on the shoulders of Souness and McDermott, who played key roles, scoring frequently in the rounds leading up to the final to make the transition into more adventurous forces. In Rome ’84, we had Dalglish, Rush and Whelan (with an honourable mention to Craig Johnston) and, eventually, Istanbul ’05, the responsibility fell to Garcia, Baros and Kew… er, Smicer.

So who will it be today? With Rafa’s infamous rotation policy, who knows? Kuyt, Crouch, Bellamy, Kewell, Pennant… perhaps we will even see the transition of Gerrard into one of these, just like, in my humble opinion of course, McDermott and Souness did in ’81.

People argue that winning the European Cup is a tougher test of a team’s mental resolve and it is no real surprise that Benitez has kept a core of seven or eight players throughout the European campaign. Reina, Finnan, Agger, Carragher, Alonso, Gerrard, Sissoko/Mascherano, Kuyt… Players that are well-drilled tactically and know precisely what is required of them from the manager.

Next season, with the financial investment and the pulling-power that a European Cup brings, we can add serious quality to our team. Last time round, in 2005, perhaps squad rebuilding stood in the way of the possibility of adding Chopin’s and Beethoven’s to our squad, but we are in a position to bring them in now and the key to sustaining our hopes is to keep allowing the unsung and undervalued amongst our squad get on with their business quietly and when possible, they can have a go on the grand piano that is this club, LFC.

Come on Redmen!

© Garstonite 2007

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