Beach boys and hard men; the Spanish Armada and True Brits

Posted by codger on February 19, 2005, 09:18:50 AM

There has been some criticism this year of Rafa's preference for signing players from the Spanish League - just as there was for Gerard Houllier's French Brigade. But how different is this from the common policy of managers using players from their old clubs?

Brian Clough took John McGovern with him wherever he went; from Derby to Leeds and onto Forest. Not the most talented or stylish payer, McGovern was trusted by Cloughie though not by the Leeds fans, who barracked the future European Cup winner.

Other managers have had their favouties who followed them around too. One of the first things Howard Kendall did was bring Glen Keeley from Blackburn to join him at Everton. Though of course, that move back-fired when the centre-half apparently forgot about the automatic red card for deliberately chopping a striker going clear on goal. Rush went down, Keeley went off, and the rest is history .... Rush scored 1, Rush scored 2, Rush scored 3 and Rush scored 4 .... coming from Division 2, Keeley had no experience of the new rule: great pick Howard!.

But usually there's nothing wrong with this practice: it gives a new manager (especially) someone he knows he can rely on. It explains why Rafa keeps picking Garcia, even when he has had a bad day. And why Pellegrino has come; not just as cover, but maybe as a future coach. Managers from Scotland have traditonally picked Scots. Shankly's first major signings were St. John and Yeats. Those managers with lower division experience who take over in the top flight have often returned to seek players from the division they've left.

Part of the reason LFC appointed Gerard Houllier was, in my opinion, so we could start signing some of the young French talent then being scooped up by Arsene Wenger. Roy Evans had seemed to pick his foreigners from a catalogue; and none too successfully. Unfortunately most of our French guys have turned out to be duds too (though - hopefully - Cisse isn't one; and Sinama-Pongolle and/or Le Tallec will come through).

Players from abroad can take a while to settle, to adjust to the quicker pace etc. As Jimmy Armfield said; "It's not the South of France is it?" But it has to be remembered there've been plenty of British and Irish players who take time to settle too; it took Stevie Finnan a year after all and he now looks an excellent buy.

The objection to some of the Spanish lads (well,  Garcia anyway) is that they can't handle the more 'physical' nature of the Premier League. Luis Garcia is often described as too 'lightweight'. But he's a ball-player FFS, not Steve McMahon!  And this isn't the 60s or 70s; you don’t have too many cloggers like 'Chopper' Harris (or Tommy Smith). In theory you can't even tackle from behind now (though Xabi may disagree).  And 'The Ball-players Guide to Survival' no longer requires being handcuffed to the ref.

On TV last week, Martin Jol referred to a Stevie G challenge as a 'leg-breaker'; something to be avoided by both parties. Maybe he was right. In England, perhaps we over-rate the ability to clatter opponents up the terracing, although I can think of a few Italian and Argentinian hard men whom you wouldn't want to meet in a dark penalty area (the odd Spaniard too, come to that; there was the guy at Bilbao who really left his mark on Maradona).

My problem with Garcia is more his tendency to give the ball away cheaply when not under real pressure than being a so-called lightweight. The little flicks and touches can open up a defence when played in and around the box; but on halfway, a mistake which gives away possession can lead to disaster - or at least a soft goal as v Fulham. LG has given us some magic moments; that pirouette and cross for Morientes' glorious header; that brilliant lob v Norwich. He's often infuriating, but he is a real talent, and he's good fun to watch! How many recent LFC players can you say that of? He just needs to be more careful about when and to whom he passes the ball.

Dunno if Garcia really IS the beach boy in the title of this article; doubt if we'll see him at Southport somehow. And if asked if would you rather have had Sean Wright Phillips (or Ronaldo) we'd answer "Too right!" But then I'd rather have the £20 million we’d need to buy them too; but we don't.

And the other Spaniards? Garcia's compatriot Josemi is more psychotic than timid (I think Jamie Carragher has him  tied up in a cellar somewhere; and with any luck, he's lost the key). Xabi: come back soon FFS. Fernando is total class. We were dead lucky to get him.

I'd prefer to have an English (and better still, Scouse) core to the Liverpool team. The  trouble is that the bastards keep legging it to Madrid; can't imagine why. Which will probably leave us soon with just Carra, the captain in waiting. Maybe we'll have to settle for just good players rather than local players; shame!

On the domestic front Spurs seem to have snaffled up all the young affordable English (or at least Britsh/Irish) talent in the Leagues recently. Perhaps we missed a trick there, but it's a bit late for regrets. Carson's signing shows Benitez won't entirely neglect the local market; but these guys have to be better than those on offer elsewhere, it's no good buying them just because they're "local".

Going back to Garcia it's worth remembering that he had to be prised away from Barca; at the time, they wanted to keep him as he had been one of the key figures in their revivial last season. And that £6 million fee was the amount needed to trigger a release clause in his contract. As late as August 18th, Luis was still saying: "I am staying at Barca…. I have spoken with Beguiristain and Rijkaard and they have assured me that the club is counting on me this season."

It was because he'd worked with Garcia at Tenerife that Benitez was so keen to sign him for LFC. Not because he was Spanish. At times we may wish Rafa hadn't bothered; but it's still early days and there's been many promising glimpses.

© codger 2005

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