First is everything, second is nothing and targets are for the titleless

Posted by Don Vito Corleone on July 14, 2004, 11:34:03 AM

"First is everything, second is nothing"

Remember that old saying? Not strictly true is it, not in football anyway, not any more. Well not at least for the majority of football clubs where it's ok to meet "targets", to tread water, balance the books and try to keep some of your better players.

Or possibly the most depressing target of the lot, qualification for the "Champions League".

This pale imitation of a once great competition has now become a pale imitation of an excuse for underachieving clubs. It's a get out clause, and a ridiculous one at that. How can a team who finishes 30 points off the pace then be admitted to the "premier" club competition in Europe?

Many chief executives (I hate that word in relation to football clubs) would have been loathe to remove a manager who had hit his "target" of 4th place, albeit more down to the lack of quality of the teams below them.

I remember the last game of the season, and the "lap of honour" and to be honest I was just happy to have "qualified" for the Champions League as were most around me that day, when in fact there was little to celebrate. We hadn't won anything of note, just a ticket into the big G14 love in.

Previous seasons had seen us fall further behind the fantasy football of Arsenal and the football by numbers of the PLC (until they signed Ronaldo). It wasn't good enough but was overlooked and glossed over as we were getting annual trips to Cardiff. Tellingly, we didnt get one this year.

After the season ended I spoke to a few people who had previously wanted change but had come round to the idea of Gérard staying another year, having achieved the minimum acceptable "target", but if the truth be known something was drastically wrong and improvements had to be made.

Much was made of Gérard's friendship with Rick Parry and David Moores and it was assumed that they would be reluctant to remove a man they regarded as a friend. It must have been a hard decision, not one taken lightly, but a decision was made. It was a brave one and I think already we are seeing that it was the correct one.

I was one of Gérard's biggest supporters, and I still have immense respect for the man and the improvements he made to our club. However, I'm sure in time if you asked him  he would admit himself that change was needed. I realise this now, although I won't pretend I wasn't gutted when he went.

Had there not been a change at the top we would now be a captain and also, in all probability, a world class striker short. Regardless of the changes implemented and money spent under the Houllier regime we could have only gone backwards because there is no one in the world who could do what Steven Gerrard does for Liverpool.

That isn't to say we are a two man team; there IS a fantastic team hiding somewhere in the fortress that is Melwood, one which we saw only fleetingly for one reason or another in the last couple of seasons. Given the correct coaching and direction this could be a football club worthy of the badge of Liverpool, without having to go out and spend a fortune. Just a few quality players in a few positions are needed. It isn't the same situation was when Gérard took over and we needed a totally new XI.

Immense credit has to go to Rick Parry for the work he has put in for the club over the last few months. He has had some massive challenges to take on and he has overcome them all with distinction. His appointment of Rafael Benitez was a masterstroke, conducting and concluding the deal privately and away from the prying eyes of the media who were busy with their new darling Jose Mourinho and Chelsea.

Speaking of Chelsea, now they are a side I can see struggling this year, I don't know why, its more of a gut feeling. Maybe it's because they lack a few genuine world class players, and have too many football mercenaries (I would wager that half of their playing staff wouldn't have even heard of Stamford Bridge a few years ago), and if they capitulate, it would be no more than that slimey, devious gits deserves.

Anyway I digress, back to my bit about Parry. Ahh yes, Steven Gerrard, captain of Liverpool, superhero, and all round good guy (in the end anyway). I don't know what was said behind the closed doors of Anfield, but Parry earned his money that week because Steven Gerrard WAS a Chelsea player. It was as the media put it a "done deal". Even if it was Benitez that changed Steven's mind, it still reflects well on Parry as Rafa is "his" man, and I am now extrememly confident that any promises/assurances that were made to Steven that day will be delivered as I trust Parry implicitly (how many chief execs could you say that about?).

One of GH's favourite subjects when talking about the club was the "culture". Well over the past few weeks there has been a change of culture, actually more a reversion if you will.

Talk of gradual catch up and 5 year plans have gone out the window. What we have instead is a statement of intent from Rafa the Gaffer that we will "fight" for the title. I love that word "fight", that's all I want to see.

I don't mind losing, or even losing heavily as long as we battle to the last. A bit of passion can go a long way and I can see that passion burning in Senor Benitez's eyes. The man is a winner. From what can be gathered from his previous clubs he doesnt take fools gladly and we unfortunately have a few at our club at the moment. That isn't though to say those players won't be given a chance to put things right under Rafa and prove a few people wrong, but let them be warned.

It's not good enough to be "one of" the best teams in England, not any more. It's time that we were THE best team in England and I believe we have the man to take us there.

THAT should be the only ambition.

I'm not saying that things will change overnight, not at all, but what I am saying is that I'm as optimistic now as I was when we finished 2nd behind Arsenal when it seemed like it was predestined that we would win the league under Gérard. But as Ringo Starr once said "that's a different story".

Hala Benitez!

© kaizer sauze 2004

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