By Rohan Kallicharan
The phrase ‘defining moment’ is a well worn cliché in sports journalism. More often than not, it will refer to a David to Goliath scenario observing a rise from mediocrity to champion. However, there are also cases where that moment signifies a decline in fortune.
That key instant tends to happen in the middle or latter points of any given tournament or season, but I wonder whether it may have happened to Liverpool Football Club in the very opening stanza of this Premier League campaign.
Whether misplaced or not, and many will say that it was, there was quite a degree of optimism from many Liverpool supporters going into the new season, despite the off field issues. Whilst many were reserved on the appointment of Roy Hodgson, the club had managed to keep both of their marquee stars in Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, and fairy tales were beginning to emerge about hugely cash-rich investment into the club.
Furthermore, England international, Joe Cole had chosen Liverpool above other high profile suitors, and there was a feeling that a new manager might rejuvenate certain players who had evidently underperformed over the last few seasons.
That optimism lasted until injury time of the opening league fixture. What a morale boosting start to the season this was proving to be, with ten-man Liverpool about to beat one of their rivals in Arsenal. Queue the usually impeccable Pepe Reina to produce a calamitous error, gifting Arsenal a draw and squandering two points for Liverpool.
Some eight days later, Javier Mascherano decided that he would hold the club to ransom and go on strike, thus enforcing Hodgson to totally revise his tactics on the afternoon of a challenging visit to Manchester City. City ran out comfortable winners that evening, winning 3-0, despite only having those 3 shots on target. Notably, Hodgson reverted to a 4-4-2 system that evening, and Liverpool looked particularly vulnerable as a result.
However, my notable observation that evening was reading through Twitter upon my return from the City of Manchester Stadium, and reading a number of comments highly critical of Hodgson, and even more amazingly, some calling for Hodgson’s head.
Today, I would be slightly more sympathetic to those sentiments, but even the infamous ‘hatchet chairman, Jesus Gil, would not have sacked Hodgson two games into the season.
However, any early season optimism had been diminished considerably, and what remained has now been totally sapped. Quite frankly, Liverpool have been utterly woeful since that point, and are fortunate even to have six points from their seven matches, their sole victory coming in a match against West Bromwich Albion in which the visitors could justifiably count themselves unlucky to lose.
Players are playing out of position as far as the naked eye can tell and Liverpool frequently seem incapable of playing until the hour mark which says something about the preparation and setup of the team. I absolutely understand, and have previously alluded to, the viral implications of the malaise spreading endemically through the club from Board Level through to the playing staff, but it is absolutely no excuse for the utter lack of passion and urgency.
This is highly unfamiliar territory for younger Liverpool supporters, and the lack of commitment is foreign to any that have supported the club during its illustrious history. What supporters of the club will need to very quickly understand is that the increasing negativity, in some quarters hostility, permeates its way all the way through to the dressing room and pitch.
With morale already fragile, the situation can only deteriorate very rapidly whilst so much gloom is omnipresent at the club. Liverpool Football Club, for all its glorious history, is far from immune to finding itself in an ever deepening crisis. Leeds United supporters never thought it could happen to them, just as most Liverpool supporters would feel now, but they have no divine right to leave that bottom three.
They are in the bottom three because there are seventeen teams who have more points than them, and most probably seventeen playing better than them also. Make no mistake, they do not want to find themselves in the lower echelons of the season come Christmas.
Everyone will be queuing to blame Hodgson and the American owners, and they must take the majority of any culpability. However, it is my genuine belief that previous manager, Rafael Benitez, must also be held accountable for his part in this ongoing debacle, not only buying a number of players that simply were not good enough, but also in selling more than a few that most definitely were, the most notable being Xabi Alonso. Hodgson’s detractors will talk about the 2008/9 team that finished second, but the fact of the matter is that Benitez did not leave in 2009, but in 2010 with a team that had finished seventh and was in turmoil.
Many Liverpool supporters will be up in arms over that, but FACTS do not lie. On the other hand, it also does not defend Hodgson from his part in an utterly shambolic start to the season. Is it too early to dismiss him? I genuinely think not – it may not be the ‘Liverpool Way’ but I genuinely believe that if this run under Hodgson continues, the ongoing epidemic will find its way to the Kop, and that might prove fatal for Liverpool Football Club.
Koppites, this afternoon, shouted the name of Kenny Dalglish. Some may question whether ‘King Kenny’ is the right man for the job, purely on a footballing level, given his absence from top level management for ten years, in which the game has continued to evolve. On the flipside, his knowledge is without question, and his very presence would lift everyone at the club.
Unfortunately, the current board seem to be there in name only, and whilst they spend all of their time trying to find a buyer for the club, it is questionable as to whether any of them even know that the club was embarrassingly defeated today.
The next fortnight may well be a defining moment in the history of Liverpool Football Club. The Royal Bank of Scotland will make its decisions about the off-field epic, but believe me, unless someone in high authority pays significant attentions to events on the field, Liverpool Football Club may suffer irreparably.