A Phone Call, A Pole Dancer, Rafa, Shanks and LFC

Posted by wembley78 on August 20, 2004, 08:21:19 PM

This post is the result of something I spoke with my Dad about last Friday evening. After the usual “Hi, how are you?” and checks on general welfare. Dad asks about his grandkids and I enquire as to where in the country he is now, and has he still got the pole dancer with him? According to him the pole dancer has gone. I’m not surprised really, what the hell would she want with him. It’s not like he’s loaded or anything, strange behaviour. But still I’d better get back to the subject at hand.

Once the pleasantries have been exchanged it’s down to the real business of the call. “What do you think about Owen leaving then?” After a short exchange of views we both realise we feel the same way. He was an important player but was allowed to drag a situation on too long and the ultimate decision was right. I then get a 5 minute lecture regarding it wouldn’t have happened in Shanks day, a lecture that I have heard about 12,986,543 times before, but hey, who’s counting.

He then asked about the Graz game, meeting places etc and where we were staying. Part of the conversation went as follows.

“Have all my Grandkids got the new kit?

“Yes, had it since first day of sale dad, what do you take me for!”

“Guess you bought it for them then?”

“No, the oldest two bought it themselves from the pocket money they saved up”

“That’s great stuff, what else are you doing when you go to ‘Pool then and where are your seats?”

“Taking in the stadium tour the day after the game, seats in the Kop end”

“You’re taking the whole family??”

“Yep thought I better make sure they’ve all been to Anfield near the start of the Rafalution”

“They’ll love that son, I’m really proud of you for doing that. I could never get your Mum anywhere near Liverpool let alone Anfield”

*The Mum thing is a sore point for my Dad. He had a job, house etc lined up in Liverpool when I was younger. She said no and I believe it was the beginning of the end for them then. It did last another 14 years though*

“I know that the little’un may struggle with the night game, but with the kids on holiday it gave me the time to do it. Besides, even if he doesn’t take the entire match in, which I doubt at his age, we’ll get plenty of photos from the tour. Mind you he will probably leg it across the pitch!”

Then the conversation moved to the real point of this post, how much Benitez or as my Dad says Benny-Taz, reminds him of Shanks and the present state of the club. Dad said it’s the statements Rafa makes, as well as the body language that he finds so impressive. “He won’t be messed around by anyone. He knows what he wants and how to get there. Some players have had a shock and some we thought were useless under Houllier will respond.”

So is Rafa the new Shankly or, merely a man trying to imitate Shankly? Questions I’m sure many of us have asked ourselves since he took over. From the first press conference onwards, everything he has said reminds us of the values that made this club great. Shanks first words to the players when he took over in 1959 were “If you don’t want to play for Liverpool the door is open and you can leave.” Rafa appears to have said more or less the same thing. The Owen situation is a good example of that. A player stalling a signing a new contract so gets sold no matter what the reputation of the player is.

The overall situation now is different from when Shanks took over in league status, (Old Division 2 in ’59) but the league pattern should ring a few bells 3rd or 4th for four years. To be more realistic though, in my eyes the situation is similar to the one Shanks faced in 69 – 70. A team of players who had been good for the club, but who had been stuck with too long, with no dead wood being cleared out. Without meaning any disrespect, the situation Shanks faced was in a way of his own making. It was caused by extended loyalty to the players that had served him and the club very well. Ronnie Moran’s quote on that situation could also be used today “It was like a revolving door. Quite literally a player a week was leaving”. Certainly reminds me of the activities of the last few weeks since Rafa arrived.

The initial signs are very good it would appear. Rafa came in and realised the size of the task at hand. At the same time he also recognised that he does have an abundance of quality players left at his disposal. Not least, the fact there are some good players coming through from the academy. The introduction of Warnock and Potter bode well for the future. And I am looking forward to seeing more of them as well as a few others, over the season. Again to draw a comparison Shanks also promoted some young players to the first team squad in 69-70. The most prominent of which must be Ray Clemence, although Brian Hall was another promoted. If a couple of our youngsters now have a similar impact, then we’ll all be happy.

A lot has been made of Rafa’s decision not to initially buy British players, let alone English players. To me it all makes sense, considering his background. If the markets had been as open then as they are now, I’m sure that we would have seen a slightly more cosmopolitan squad in the 60’s. To be fair though, Shanks would have still retained a fairly large Scottish contingent, as Rafa will retain a fairly large Spanish one. However, once he is used to the football over here, I’m sure there will be a few British signings. The ideas of these two men on the surface appear to be the same. It doesn’t matter about the nationality of the player. “If the player is a good player and can help the team improve or balance that will do”.

Some seem to be worried about Rafa’s lack of signings and also his apparent reluctance to sign a big name player. The apprehension about little known players is, in a way understandable after Houllier’s bad buys. However anyone who knew, or has found out anything about Rafa will know he has a track record of developing this type of player. Besides, who can honestly put there hand on there heart and say they had heard of Hyypia and Riise before they signed? Very few if any supporters in this country would have been truly aware of either of them. To an extent the big name player is being blown out of the water with the Xabi Alonso deal. Again buying players he wants to fit a system and to quote Rafa “Improve our possibilities”.

As yet we haven’t fully seen the style of football Rafa wants us to play this season. The first half against Spurs was good with lots of pressing, movement and good passing. However the second appeared to be a return to last seasons form. That being said though, I firmly believe that if it had have been last season we would have lost that game. It appears to me that Rafa believes it’s a simple game to play as did Shankly. As long as everyone knows what is expected of them and does it, everything will be fine. We could yet see the return of the missing LFC pass and move groove. To me that would really seal the deal. However, I fear that we may not see it return properly until after Xmas at the earliest. I hope I am wrong, but to be realistic Xmas may be a bit too early. It may even take a full season to develop the system Rafa needs for the premiership. I have every faith he will get us there.

Some sections of the massed media vultures are already circling over Rafa after one game. Two of the worst articles I have seen over the weekend were by Ian Ridley of The Guardian and Derek McGovern of the Mirror.

I have recently read an article elsewhere on RAWK regarding the Derek McGovern piece so I won’t go into that one, but would recommend you read it if you haven't.

Ian Ridley is Chairman of Weymouth and a very good friend of a certain Mr. Gerard Houllier. Two paragraphs of his article summed up his feelings and they are personal.

“Liverpool also had the public-relations element: a native son, symbol of the club, a totem for fans. Better, surely, to do a deal for a few more years at the end of which his value and the market might be more buoyant. Owen, in theory, should still be a few years from his prime, after all.

Had Gérard Houllier stayed, that would probably have been the scenario. Owen has always talked, even recently, about wanting to remain at the club. Benítez, however, is clearly intent on establishing his own regime at the Melwood training ground, one that Owen could not have been happy with.”

To me these paragraphs show just how far out of touch Ridley and maybe Houllier is with what the fans want. The same goes for the rest of the assembled media hacks wanting Rafa to fail and the club to collapse. Well, it’s not going to happen and they are going to eat some big slices of humble pie over the season. Already Mark Lawrenson who isn’t one of my favourite pundits by a long way has changed his tune about Rafa. After the Graz game he said “He isn’t a defensive manager at all. If that is how he wants to play then Liverpool fans will be happy”. For once Mark, spot on.

To address the first paragraph Mikey being a symbol of the club, a native son and a totem for the fans is overstating it a bit to say the least. The marketing point is valid though. Around the world he is recognised as Liverpool’s main player, although that isn’t really true now and hasn’t been for a couple of years. As far as being a native son goes, fair enough he came through the ranks but coming from Chester doesn’t really put him in the native ranks with the likes of Stevie and Carra. The same goes for the ‘totem for the fans’. In my eyes the one player who is regarded as the fans totem so to speak is Stevie. Can you imagine the outcry if he had left in the summer?? It is literally unthinkable that he leaves us. He is a Liverpool supporter, player and captain. If he wasn’t playing he would be on the Kop with us and he has said as much.

To address Ridley’s second paragraph, if Mikey was that scared of change (which I don’t believe he was) then he is better out of it. My view on this is that Rafa made the right decision. Mikey was clearly disinterested last season and even the season before to an extent. He was starved of service and probably felt that no matter what happened, he needed a complete change to get his fire back. I can’t hold that against him and no self-respecting Liverpool fan should either. He appears to believe that Rafa is a good appointment, but for Mikey it was a year too late. His mind was made up before Rafa took over unfortunately and there was no going back. Real were sniffing last year and if his agent had said to him “they still want you” that would have sealed it for him. To avoid the free transfer, Rafa took the only offer available from the only club I believe Mikey would have left us for.

I am pretty certain that if Houllier had stayed, then Mikey would probably still be, a Liverpool player. However, no matter how the season went he would have still left at the end of the season on a Bosman. Why? Because Houllier would have been too stubborn to sell him and would have kept saying he believed he will sign an extension. Then we would have been sailing down a rocky creek without a paddle. Milan would have left this summer due to Houllier still being in charge, and I’m not convinced Stevie would have stayed either. Add Mikey leaving to that equation and as a force we would have been more or less finished. Of course ‘The New Zidane’ may have stepped up and saved us

I have nothing against Mikey and I wish him all the best. But one of the reasons Houllier was replaced was because of the apparent player power undermining the clubs powers. This was emphasised when Rick Parry said “We will talk to the senior players to gauge there opinion on the next manager”. No business should consult its workers on a managerial appointment. That decision should be made in the boardroom. If Houllier had stayed, then the power base would still have been there. Since his departure and Rafa has arrived, it seems that Rick Parry has a new lease of life and his appropriate power base back. I have to say that I have been nothing short of impressed by the way Rick has handled himself this summer.

If he did leave as is rumoured, we could well be left up the creek without a paddle. Shanks always said that “Directors and board members are there to sign the cheques. The important relationship is the fans and the players”. Too a large extent those words are true. However, in the modern age of the game a good Chief Exec is as important as the right manager. Rick Parry is that Chief Exec, one who will only emerge in the media spotlight if necessary, whilst ensuring the club ticks over smoothly. To me he is largely unappreciated by a section of our supporters. Those that don’t appreciate him will only realise his true value to the club, if he does depart for Soho Square.

This then leads to the apparent boardroom struggle within the walls of Anfield at the moment. This is where I will speculate on what I think may be going on and my opinions on the previous bids by all parties concerned.

To be honest the first two Morgan bids didn’t appeal to me. I’m not going to fall into the emotional “He’s a red like us” trap. Looking at the cold hard facts as business deals should, his offers fell short of the mark. In addition to this his options on fans buying shares, in my opinion were nothing more than a marketing gimmick to try and create pressure on the board to accept his offer. The bids undervalued the club substantially and not all the money would have come from his pocket. Substantial amounts would have come from other shareholders and us, the supporters. He even changed his tune on the ground sharing idea, from being for it to against it to carry more sway.

On the other hand the Thai deal also didn’t ring true. The first deal was in my opinion a Thai Government ploy to get more votes. The second was more or less a dead duck before it started. I think the music guy who was fronting the bid, was probably doing so to help Shinawatra save some face from pulling out of the first deal.

It now appears that Steve Morgan is on the verge of buying a larger stake in the club. This could be a good thing, or maybe not. If he buys Granada’s shares as is rumoured, the money goes straight to Granada and not the club. We have a new second largest shareholder and still no extra money to put towards players or the new stadium (unless Seven Bellies, Two Jags Prescott stops it). However it is widely believed that David Moores has technical control of some shares, which belong to no one in reality. These shares were going to be part of the proposed Thai deal.

Now if Steve Morgan is going to buy those shares then the club benefits to the tune of however many millions he pays for them. This could be why there have been rumours of Morgan having talks with Moores. Morgan could well be trying to purchase these shares and Granada’s shares. This would dilute David Moores percentage of stock and also generate money for the club. Thus Morgan gets the increased share he desires and the club gets more money.

It could well be that this is why David Moores is rumoured to be considering his own position. It is well known that these two do not see eye to eye on numerous issues. Maybe the offer he has received for the loose shares is too good to turn down, and he has now given Morgan the option of buying him out. This could well be the reason he wasn’t on the team coach for the first time ever when we played Spurs. As ever this summer time will tell.

The one thing to be sure of, is that if there is some boardroom squabbling afoot, it needs to be dealt with sooner rather then later. Then it won’t unsettle the team etc. Although in a way its good that it is being more or less kept under wraps at the moment. It does lessen the media interest somewhat.

So I guess it’s now a case of waiting and seeing what Rafa does to strengthen the squad further. As I write the end of this post, Diouf has gone to Bolton on Loan, Alonso has signed as well as Garcia. Will he bring in a striker now Mikey has gone? With all the comings and goings this summer and the way Rafa keeps his cards close to his chest, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

The one thing I am sure of is that, Rafa knows what he wants and how to get there. He has his own plan that will not be altered unless he feels there is a better way of doing it. He is single minded and determined. As others have already said his body language gives a lot away during interviews. He may say that the team didn’t do as well as he would have liked, but his body says “They’re going to get both barrels in a minute”.

So let’s sit back, relax, open a cold can or bottle and enjoy the ride. As always there are going to be plenty of twists and turns, but for the first time in over a decade I have that glowing feeling of optimism back.

Come On You Redmen and Viva Benitez!!

© wembley78 2004

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