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What’s Wrong With Liverpool FC?
Liverpool FC is not just a football team. Since the day the legendary Bill Shankly too the reigns at Anfield, Liverpool FC has been different to every other team in the world. The fans became accustomed to success throughout the Shankly years, playing football the way it should be played and winning trophy after trophy at home and abroad. Even after Shankly retired this tradition – often referred to as ‘the Liverpool way’ – continued through the successes of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. Although the post Dalglish era has brought trophies to Anfield including an unprecedented fifth European Cup, it’s still twenty years since the Kopite saw their team lift the championship. So just what went wrong?
Dalglish – The aftermath
Kenny Dalglish is a one-off in modern football. A man who made the transition from star player, to player/manager to manager with ease and led the side to title after title. Life immediately after Dalglish was difficult for Liverpool fans but Liverpool were still reigning champions at the time and locked in a title battle with Arsenal. Despite an aging squad, this was a side still boasting the likes of John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Jan Molby, Ronnie Whelan and Ian Rush – more than capable of pushing for the title the following year. With Ronnie Moran at the helm until the end of the season Liverpool finished a distant second behind Arsenal that year but looking to preserve ‘the Liverpool way’, Another passionate Scot was lined up to lead the side.
Graeme Souness was an icon at Liverpool. He returned to the club he captained to so much glory from a successful stint as boss of Rangers and seemed the natural choice to succeed Dalglish. What did seem unnatural though, was how he quickly dismantled what was in effect a Championship winning side. Molby, Whelan, Beardsley, Nicol, Staunton and Houghton were all shown the day at barley 30 years of age. In came Dean Saunders, Don Hutchinson, Mike Marsh et al, all good players in their own right but not of the title winning caliber of those they replaced. Liverpool finished 8th that year and many fans point to this ruthless cull of one of the leagues strongest squads as a turning point in the history of Liverpool FC. Within a year, Liverpool had gone from title challengers to a mid table side. The one bright spot being the emergence of Steve Macmanaman and Jamie Redknapp.
Back to basics
Despite winning the FA Cup in ’92, the fans and the board quickly lost patience with Souness and after suffering a serious heart attack he was replaced by one of the famous boot room – Roy Evans. Under Evans, Liverpool became know for their attacking flair and expansive style. ‘Pass and move’ was the philosophy and playing a 3-5-2 formation saw men pile forward as a young Robbie Fowler terrorized defenses. The Reds however, also became know for their soft centre and a string of defensive signings that failed to make an impact. The likes of Phil Babb, John Scales, Rob Jones, Stig Inge Bjornebye and Bjorn Kvarme all made good starts but made little difference to Liverpool’s defensive frailties. Some top four finishes and appearances in the Uefa cup gave brief hope but Evan’s side never really pushed a resurgent Manchester United. In 1998, the board moved to bring in former France manager Gerrard Houllier to work along side Evans as ‘co-manager’. The idea was doomed from he start and Evans was gone before the season’s end.
The French revolution
Houllier began what he described as a five-year program to rebuild the team, starting in 1999. That summer, Paul Ince, David James, Jason McAteer, Rob Jones, Tony Warner and Steve Harkness were all sold, while Steve McManaman left for Real Madrid on a free. At the same time seven new players, Sami Hyypiä, Dietmar Hamann, Stephane Henchoz, Vladimir Smicer, Sander Westerveld, Eric Meijer and Djimi Traore were all signed. Also, Liverpool’s training facilities at Melwood were thoroughly overhauled.
The rebuilding continued the following year, with the signings of Markus Babbel, Nicky Barmby, Pegguy Arphexad, Gregory Vignal, Emile Heskey, Gary McAllister, Igor Biscan and Christian Ziege, but the departures of David Thompson, Phil Babb, Dominic Matteo, Steve Staunton (for the second time), Brad Friedel and Stig Inge Bjornebye.
The efforts yielded a result in the successful 2000-01 season, when Liverpool won a cup treble of the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup and finished third in the English Premier League. Liverpool went on to win the FA Community Shield against Manchester United and UEFA Super Cup against Bayern Munich. However, Liverpool still failed to trouble the top of the Premiership and the 00/01 season was as good as it got for Houllier.
In 2002-2003 season Liverpool finished in the fifth place in the Premiership, failing to qualify for the Champions League next season. Critics blamed Houllier’s unsuccessful summer signings in 2002, namely El Hadji Diouf (Lens, £10 million), Salif Diao (Sedan, £5 million) and Bruno Cheyrou (Lille, £4 million), and his failure to make Nicolas Anelka’s loan move permanent in favour of signing the ineffective Diouf. Liverpool had gone backwards and in May 2004 Houllier left by mutual consent.
Viva le Rafa-lution
Rafa Benitez arrived on Merseyside with a big reputation. He’d led his valencia side to the La Liga title, breaking the monopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona and when the Reds had met Valencia in Europe they were out played and soundly beaten.
The 5 year plan under Gerrard Houllier was been torn up and re-written with yet another rebuilding of the squad. However, Liverpool fans expecting the starts of that Valencia side to follow Benitez to Anfield were sadly disappointed. benitez signed a string of average players from La Liga with only Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres having any real impact.
Despite a shock Champions League win in 2005, an FA Cup and finishing 2nd in the Premier League, much of Benitez’s time at Anfield has been marked by poor transfer policy and negative team selection. Out of the 37 senior first team players Benitez has signed since arriving at Anfield, 21 are no longer at the club. Players such at Craig Bellamy and Peter Crouch were ditched while Robbie Keane’s £20m dream move from Spurs was doomed from the start.
So what has actually gone wrong?
Change. Too much, too soon. From the moment Graeme Souness overhauled a title winning squad each Liverpool manager has had a major rebuilding job on their hands but each time one rebuilds the finished article is never what it should be, leaving the next manager to rebuild a squad rebuilt by their predecessor.
Since Graeme Souness took over, Liverpool have spent £355m on transfer and recouped £179m and yet after all that money and 4 managers it looks like another rebuilding job is necessary as Liverpool currently sit in 7th place in the Premier League at time of writing having lost 7 games so far. With the American owners still promising a new stadium but offering no money to fund new players, a change of manager is not even an option this time as Benitez only signed a new 5 year contract in the summer the club simply cannot afford to part company with the Spaniard.
You can’t help but wonder whether things are going to get worse before they get better.
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