Oct 14, 2010

Liverpool problems deeper than a 'Gillet' shaving cut…

By Gavin Dobson

Sometimes I wonder whether I am to blame.

Everybody and their Labra-Doodle know the off-the-pitch story taking place at Liverpool and I see little point in paraphrasing others when there is really nothing of any substance I can add to the Hicks & Gillet saga.

The truth is, although a long-time Doncaster Rovers Season Ticket holder, I do hold an affinity to Manchester United and as much as I love to ridicule the Kop-ites in my life, I am totally against what is happening in the 'Barclays' Premier League. I have always been of the opinion that English football is the greatest in the World, though never has the phrase involving the words 'money' and 'the root of all evil' seemed so apt.

Sometimes I wonder whether I am to blame.

Obviously not just me - that would be absurd, although as is the case with most real FAN's of the game, I love to watch football and I line the pockets of Murdoch every month with my ultra-expensive HD satellite system required to do so.

I digress.

As a connoisseur of the beautiful game, I prefer to concentrate on events on the pitch, rather than the sometimes questionable events that occur in the Boardroom or - as I am sure is more often that not the case - the Whisky Lounge or Champagne bar. Luckily for the players, the rest of the World are not always of the same mind as the football purist.

For weeks (but what seems like months, possibly years) the media have been all over the behind-the-scenes events at Liverpool and this has somewhat overshadowed the fact that the team have been in free-fall on the pitch for some time. At the time of writing, Liverpool have six points from a possible 21, their worst start since 1953/54 - a season that eventually ended with relegation. Hailed as a David v Goliath-esque achievement, many fans I have conversed with were not surprised by the home defeat at the hands of Blackpool - although the loss to League Two minnows Northampton Town in the Carling Cup was a little harder to swallow.

A lot has been made in the press about the performances on the pitch being a side-effect of the activities off it, but I'm not so sure. In the past I have worked for companies with troubles in the Boardroom and it did not affect me switching on the PC and getting on with my day job. Yes, you may discuss it around the proverbial water-cooler, but as long as your own books balance at the end of the month, is it really that big a deal? Players know that if the worst comes to the worst they'll have to leave, but that's football is it not? Surely the extremely handsome rewards on offer have some sort of risk factor involved; you gets your money - you takes your chance.

Maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe the players at Liverpool's disposal ARE pre-occupied with worry out on the pitch. But maybe they're worrying because deep down they know that they should not be there, and are worried about one day being 'found out'. A high number of the squad at Liverpool are not Liverpool players. That is, they are not of the quality that is akin to a club of such historical stature.

A few hard-core LFC fans may disagree and that's absolutely fine.

I confess to not watching them each and every week, but putting the obvious candidates to one side, Liverpool have a very mediocre squad. In essence the spine of the team is solid. Reina is a top-class goalkeeper. Carragher, although struggling for pace, still has the positional awareness to do a job at the back. Up the top, Gerrard is Gerrard and Torres is Torres.

However, the Liverpool vertebrae are the skeletal weak-point.

Carragher MUST have a partner in central defence capable enough to do not only his own job, but to make up for the lack of pace of his ageing colleague, Is Martin Skrtel good enough to carry that burden? Sotirios Kyrgiakos? Fabio Aurelio? No, I don't think so either. Paul Konchesky is a solid left-back, but he's no World-beater and the same applies to Glen Johnson - who everyone knows is a right winger masquerading as a defender. £17million - not for me thanks. Then again, natural defender or not, he is by far the best of the multitude of full-backs signed by Signor Rafa during his six-year reign.

Gerrard aside, quality midfielders are non-existent, and I include Joe Cole in that statement. Touted by many - or perhaps just best friend John Terry - to be the saviour of the England squad in South Africa, Cole disappointed when given his World Cup berth and has shown little of any substance since his Anfield arrival. Maxi Rodrigues, Lucas Leira? I won't even mention the Alberto Aquiliani debacle. Although I understand it's a difficult task, Xabi Alonso has not been successfully replaced. Benitez shot himself in both feet with his public courting of Gareth Barry. I've heard the rumours of how Alonso was destined to leave Britain in any case, but even so, Barry was no substitute for the Spaniard - not even close.

Javier Mascherano did what he did, but he was never one for a cultured 50-yard pass. Playing in the new 'must-have' holding midfield role, his loss has left an inevitable void, but the lure of Camp Nou and the Champions League was too strong. Poised to fill that void is the Dane Christian Poulsen, who joined from Juventus in the summer. Never one to shirk a tackle... or a punch-up... Poulsen is a solid proposition in the centre of the park, though at 30 he has never set the World alight and is another in the mediocre bracket.

Up front, Dirk Kuyt tries and I can't fault his commitment. But is he a Fowler? An Owen? A Rush? An Aldridge? A Dalglish...I won't continue. Ryan Babel is an enigma who has always flattered to deceive. He can show glimpses of brilliance but has never quite justified his hefty transfer fee. At 23, he has the time to get it right and could get his chance to shine under Hodgson, whether he will ever live up to his billing is questionable.

Torres IS World Class, but does he really want to be there? Plagued by injuries, he is a player extremely low on confidence, which is a strange for someone who has just - albeit not so spectacularly - collected a World Cup winners' medal. The transfer rumour mill was in overdrive over the summer months with story after story of Torres to City, Torres to Chelsea etc. Come January, maybe he will go. Maybe he should go, I mean, who could blame him?

I believe Roy Hodgson is a good manager. He has inherited a lot of problems on and off the pitch - possibly more than even he envisaged, but his record, Blackburn Rovers aside, stands up to close scrutiny and I have no doubt that he will get Liverpool out of the mess they are in - if he is given the chance.

It won't be easy, and it certainly won't be quick, but if the Boardroom battles are sorted and Hodgson is allowed to continue at the helm, then with some Harry Redknapp like 'wheeler-dealing' and an eBay-like sale of Benitez bric-a-brac, then maybe, just maybe Liverpool can turn this mess around.

I dread to think how much HD TV will cost when that happens.

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