Future Imperfect

Some things seem to be hardwired in to the DNA of clubs. This shouldn’t be the case. Why a group of professionals, particularly the diverse group of mercenaries that constitute a modern-day squad, should be influenced by the behaviour of their predecessors in, uh, mercenarydom is a mystery. But it is real. How else can you explain (for example) West Ham’s appalling record at Anfield. They haven’t won since the 1963/4 season. To put things into context, they’ve won on twelve times in the League at Old Trafford versus three times at Anfield (source). It’s a phenomenon that can only be explained by memes that transfer themselves through each common squad member across generations. Or it can be explained the existence of the Gods, in which case you disposing of those lucky underpants you wore during every game throughout the late 70’s and 80’s because your new girlfriend thought they were minty is the reason we’re crap.

Such a pattern makes more sense in the context of the fans, who inherit habits from their fathers. So when the Kop applauds the opposition goalkeeper or turns up the gas on big European nights no one needs to be told to do it, it just comes naturally.

So it’s kinda sad to see a little piece of the club die in the last week, that is  the policy of giving a manager a chance to make his mark. Graeme Souness was drummed out of Anfield pretty quickly, the Loverpool debacle eliminating any leeway he might have had. But Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez were all given sufficient time and resources to come within touching distance of the ultimate prize, that of League champions. As soon as they began to fall back the axe was wielded, second acts being as uncommon in football as they are in American life. So Roy Hodgson is entitled to wonder why he never far past the first scene.

As someone who bought heavily into the notion that a manager should be given more than twenty games in which to make his mark, what to make of Roy Hodgson? Oddly enough, the moment of realisation that he wasn’t up to it came in a match which Liverpool not only won but in which they played rather well. It came about an hour into the Bolton game. The Reds were dominating having come from behind but Bolton, a decent team who didn’t wobble one bit when Torres equalised, were proving a tough nut to crack. It was crying out for a change in personnel and/ or formation to discombobulate the defenders. One wag in the Kop, displaying the wit for which we are so renowned (and saying that we are renowned for our wit is the kind of pomposity for which we are so renowned), bellowed out “make a change, Roy!”. Even those of us who haven’t a clue about football (ahem) could see that this was needed, but the bench consisted of one long pregnant pause. The team were on top and any change might jeopardise that dominance. Put simply, he was loath to speculate to accumulate for fear that the change might not work. Holding what you have is fine if you’re flush, but Liverpool had just lost what should have been three banker points against Wolves. They had to go for broke, and N’gog only came off with fifteen minutes to go, by which stage he was a few moments way from being stretchered off with exhaustion. It was cowardice and typified a man who had found himself in a job for which he was not equipped. He had to go.

Plenty of people will scoff at such a Damascene conversion, a hopelessly belated acceptance of Roy’s inadequacies for the job. I apologise for not having sufficient knowledge of the game to be able to clearly see this. The fact that I came to this realisation around the same time as John Henry e al, people who until recently thought a ‘football’ looked a giant caramelised peanut, should testify to the truth of that. However, I make no apologies for being acutely conscious of the dignity of the club and what it is meant to stand for, and it is painful to see Liverpool FC heading down the same road that was once one of the things that separated the club from everyone else.

Yes, King Kenny is back, and you’d want to have a heart of stone not to be excited by the prospect of the greatest of them all (© A Liverbird Upon my Chest) returning to stick his immovable arse into the opposition’s nether regions. But it would not be too harsh to say that it was his bizarre behaviour 20 years ago at almost exactly the same point of the season  – the FA Cup 4th round – that sent us down Not Winning The League Avenue. His CV since then has consisted of winning the League with Blackburn Rovers, spending what was for the time was the kind of money that would have made Roman Abramovich pause for thought, then kept the Newcastle United hotseat warm long enough for the Toon Army to move one step closer to the promised land of being managed by Alan Shearer.

Ah, Newcastle. How we all laughed at the Geordies and their ultimately destructive pursuit of Shearer. There’s a large slice of that sense of delusion to the return of Dalglish – and that’s before we even consider the spooky parallels with the Second Coming of Kevin Keegan – fuelled by a whole generation of Liverpool fans who grew up on tales of his derring-do but were too young to understand exactly what I mean by the above reference to his immovable arse. Now they can get to see him work the magic that he wrought with Ian Rush, Alan Hansen, John Barnes and Steve Nicol, only now with David N’gog, Martin Skrtel, Lucas and Glen Johnso . . . have you seen the problem yet?

A palm tree defies the hurricane by yielding to it, and zany as the obsession Newcastle fans had with Shearer and Keegan was, it wasn’t going to go away until the club had succumbed to it. Now that this has happened with Liverpool, about the best we can hope for in the short term is that Kenny’s Zeus-like authority nips any spurious thoughts of charging up the table and qualifying for Europe in the bud. European football is in a state of flux at the moment with requirements – gasp! – balance the books or set wages as a proportion beginning to look like they might come to pass. If this happens, Liverpool should well placed to capitalise. Until then, it’s a question of sitting tight. As tight as Kenny Dalglish’s shorts.