Liverpool ‘Who are You?’: Anfield Wrap’s lowdown on Kenny, Rafa and ‘dreadful Hodgson’

Jake asks the question
Jake asks the question

Happy new year to all Salut! Sunderland readers

Just before Liverpool romped to victory at QPR, one of their fans, Colin Bundred, tweeted: “Devastated to see Henderson and Downing starting for us. How low has this once great club sunk?” Henderson helped his team to a three-goal lead before being subbed. But has he still plenty to do to win over Anfield? Neil Atkinson**, presenter of the Anfield Wrap podcastfeels Henderson has greatly improved but has some way to go before he can get close to the worship directed at his hero, Steven Gerrard. Interviewed before that game at Loftus Road, Neil had lots more to say, ahead of our own tough trip to Anfield, on Liverpool greats, the legacy of Hillsborough, Kenny’s downfall and what he sees as the folly of getting worked up about what Salut! Sunderland tends to call “cheating”. Arise Sir Gareth and Sir Jermain? …

Salut! Sunderland:
What (leaving aside the later rout of QPR) is wrong at Anfield? Was sacking Kenny a mistake, was Brendan Rodgers simply not up to the task or does he just need more time to get things right?

Christ, this is a ten thousand word essay. OK – what’s wrong at Anfield – in terms of on pitch performance:

There are massive discrepancies in terms of the level of the squad/side (e.g. Suarez/Shelvey). There are added inconsistencies in terms of individual performances (eg Enrique). There are mental weaknesses (.g Downing). There are talented youngsters whose level shifts during games (eg Suso/Sterling) Sometimes these players can be dragged up levels and perform. More often the better players are being dragged down. Brendan Rodgers wanting to play a style of football which doesn’t mitigate weaknesses but instead requires such consistently high levels of performance doesn’t help.

I think last season’s very weak league performance speaks for why Kenny had to go. That said, lots disagree with me. The test for Rodgers is surpassing that performance and then we’ll have the first sense if he is up to the task. If he can’t surpass it then he will be in real trouble.

There has been a fair amount of turmoil at Anfield in recent times. Is the club now in good hands, from an ownership point of view, and can it claw its way back to the very top of English/European football?

I don’t believe the ownership to be malevolent. I don’t know if it is competent though. The club’s management structure still doesn’t appear to be functioning. There still isn’t a chief executive. There still isn’t a fully empowered representative of FSG at Anfield. There were issues around the transfer window that have been well documented. There was the Jen Chang nonsense. The incoherence around Suarez/Evra. Philip Nash has just gone. The stadium issue remains clouded and drawn out. Additional, more philosophical question is whether the club has the appetite for the requisite clawing. To do whatever it takes. That still isn’t clear.

He may never emulate his hero Steven Gerrard but do you have faith in Jordan Henderson’s potential to blossom into an Anfield favourite?

I think that as of the time of writing (27th December) it is fair to say that Liverpool supporters don’t understand why Henderson isn’t a regular starter for Rodgers.

But he won’t get to be an Anfield favourite until he gets to be one. Liverpool still haven’t sorted out last season’s issues in centre midfield. Consistently though we’ve looked better with his energy in there.

Image: AddicTed_Kevin
Image: AddicTed_Kevin
See also: Neil in conversation with Salut! Sunderland‘s Stephen Goldsmith about Henderson:

Beyond the red half of Liverpool, football supporters generally took a poor view of the club’s handling of the Suarez/Evra affair. Water under the bridge or a lasting stain on Liverpool’s reputation?

I think it is predominantly used as another stick to beat Suarez with now rather than anything LFC. I actually think the lasting stain is actually as internal as it is external. I repeatedly read the enormous report and all of Liverpool’s communications around it and LFC seemed hopelessly out of their depth throughout, especially in comparison to the Man Utd behemoth. Everyone seemed under-prepared and over promoted. Kenny Dalglish was left to do all the club’s talking on the issue and there was no coherent leadership. This comes back to a lack of FSG leadership on the ground as far as I’m concerned.

Jake: 'Ha'way the Lads at Anfield - with or without beachball'
Jake: ‘Ha’way the Lads at Anfield – with or without beachball’

And yet the collective sympathy and solidarity over Hillsborough must have given you heart that football can sometimes – leaving aside toerags of any allegiance who mock tragedy – come together on the side of decency. What, for you, is the legacy of 1989?

Another 10,000 word special! I think it is still difficult to judge. It has been a momentous year in the search for truth and justice over Hillsborough. It has to paraphrase an Anfield Wrap contributor Mike Girling, in the national consciousness, shifted from the Hillsborough Football Tragedy to the Hillsborough National Scandal. The wider implications are yet to come, in my view.

On this, the response from the Stadium Of Light when the report came out and Liverpool visited was excellent and admirable.

In strictly football terms, what have been your highs and lows as a Liverpool fan?

Biggest low was probably the sacking of Rafa Benitez and replacing of him with Roy Hodgson with all the footballing cowardice that followed. The biggest obvious high was Istanbul, but I remember the treble season under Gerard Houllier with enormous fondness. Some seasons become adventures before your very eyes and that was one of them. Also, in that vein, 08/09 while we didn’t win the league was enormous fun. I saw the 87/88 team but I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it. The 08/09 side was the best Liverpool team I’ve seen but it didn’t have quite enough good players in the squad to get over the finish line against an exceptionally impressive, pragmatic United unit.

Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d seen – in Liverpool colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?

Charlie Adam should never have been a Liverpool central midfielder.

Gerrard is an obvious great. Alonso, Mascherano, Hyypia, Hamann, Barnes are all ones I’ve seen. Suarez and Glen Johnson deserve to have played in better Liverpool teams than this current one. A couple of quiet ones – it was a privilege to watch Karl-Heinz Riedle and Jari Litmanen towards the tail end of their careers. I wish I’d seen Emlyn Hughes, Mark Lawrenson, Graeme Souness, Steve Heighway and obviously Kenny in their pomps. Going further back into black and white, Chris Lawler, Roger Hunt, Jack Balmer, Alex Raisbeck, Don McKinley, Elisha Scott and Billy Liddell all are players there isn’t enough archive footage of, let alone the idea of seeing them.

If not already dealt with, please assess the contribution Gerrard has made to Liverpool and where he fits into the hierarchy of Anfield greats.

At the top. There is Kenny. Then there is Souness, Barnes and Gerrard vying for position. His contribution has been immense and hopefully there is still more to come.

The beachball question: do you have any good, bad or amusing memories of games between our two sides?

Jurgen Macho! He was brilliant at Anfield. We were all laughing by the end as he made ridiculous save after ridiculous save.

See also: Monsieur Salut talks all things Sunderland at ESPN FC:

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And is there anyone in our current squad who’d get a game for Liverpool?

Fletcher is the obvious one. His movement is terrific.

What will be this season’s top four in order and who is going down? Where will our two clubs finish if not already mentioned?

Liverpool 7th, Sunderland 13th. Complete guesses.

United, Chelsea, City, Spurs in that order.

QPR, Reading and Southampton to go down.

And the major cups?

Hmmm. Chelsea for the league cup. A lot to play for in the FA Cup, but I’ll go for Man City.

Suarez finally got a penalty and it was as clearcut as any but he has a dreadful reputation for diving which may well have cost you points. For all that, has the time come to accept cheating as part of the modern game?

‘Cheating’ has always been part of football. We all ‘cheat’ when we play football all the time. We always have. You appeal for things that aren’t yours, you commit fouls, you go down easily. This is at park level. The idea that there is good ‘cheating’ and bad ‘cheating’ is intellectually weak. Lance Armstrong is a cheat. Luis Suarez is someone looking for an advantage in an equal contest against an opponent with a neutral referee. English football twisting itself into overly masculinised knots and turning the virtue of cleverness into a vice to be suspicious of has long been a symptom of a wider illness within the national game. I also think that most match going supporters are aware that their players all ‘cheat’. It is the neutral Super Sunday crowd that place a moral aspect on the game that simply isn’t there. No one accuses bowlers who ask for LBW when it clearly wasn’t of ‘cheating’.

The club versus country debate: who wins for you and why?

Club. Easily. Obvious ongoing issues but The Hodgson Nonsense means the idea of cheering on England is complete anathema to me now. This was the man who, on visiting Liverpool’s Alder Hay Children’s Hospital when Liverpool manager managed to patronise everyone by describing it as “quite possibly the second best children’s hospital in the country”. How no journalist asked the self-appointed children’s hospital expert what exactly was the third best is beyond me. He’s a dreadful man.

Will you be at our game and what will be the score?

Yes. And 2-1 Liverpool. Nervy close.

**Neil Atkinson on himself:

Neil Atkinson

I am the presenter of multi award-winning The Anfield Wrap podcast, which has really shot to prominence across the UK’s online football community. It is recorded in Liverpool every Monday and for Citytalk 105.9 every Friday. I also, when not drudging day to day, attempt to write for film.

Interview: Colin Randall

16 thoughts on “Liverpool ‘Who are You?’: Anfield Wrap’s lowdown on Kenny, Rafa and ‘dreadful Hodgson’”

  1. Neil Atkinson has written an interesting, thought provoking piece …which is surely the point of the blog. For me,however, “cleverness” and ” deviousness” are not synonymous. There is undoubtedly a grey area …almost a continuum going from not cheating through seeking to influence a referee to outright cheating. Defoe’s dive was an outright piece of cheating which should be punished. Bale’s yellow should be rescinded. This range of behaviour is on display in every game. That said this does not mean we should simply ignore blatant cheating. Suarez is a fantastic player who is now following the trajectory of many international players who ply their trade in English football. He seems to be riding more tackles and staying on his feet more. Like Thierry Henry and Ronaldo before him this will make him a better player. Walcott scored a great goal against the Mags after being scythed down in the box. He simply leaped up and chipped the keeper. This was an exemplar of playing to the whistle. That said the NUFC player should still have been booked. He should have been if a penalty was awarded. Apropos Gardner’s obstruction of Bale it seems to be the case that defenders are allowed to do this in the box whereas anywhere else on the pitch a foul would be awarded. Every game sees defenders shepherding the ball out for a throw/goal kick. For me this isn’t cheating rather an illustration of how football is still a physical contact sport. If we over protect players by penalising all contact we’re in danger of losing the element of battle. We all like a 50:50 crunching tackle…why?

    • I have to admit that as the authorities seem to constantly tinker with the laws of the game these days, I can’t be 100% certain that this is correct, but as I understand it a player can’t be penalised for obstruction if he is between an opponent and the ball but within playing distance of the ball. Thus shepherding a ball out of play is legal providing those conditions are met.

      The laws do state (Law 12) that an indirect free kick should be awarded if a player impedes the progress of an opponent. This was what Gardner did by putting his arm across Bale’s chest. That isn’t a penalty.

      Also if people (especially managers, players and pundits) take the trouble to read the Laws of the game

      it is clear that the slightest of contacts that took place between the players’ knees does not constitute a foul and so it was in no way a penalty.

      (Alan Hansen I’m thinking of you) – nowhere does it state that a player is entitled to go down if there is contact. Had Bale not been booked then I doubt this debate would have been so protracted. I think the booking was harsh but he does have form and if it encourages him to play to the laws of the game and not what he has been told they are that’s all to the good. As you say Neil – he will become a better player for it.

  2. ‘We all ‘cheat’ when we play football all the time. We always have. You appeal for things that aren’t yours, you commit fouls, you go down easily. This is at park level.’

    Excepting fouling, which I’m sure everyone can agree is unavoidable, I never did and neither did the vast majority of people I played with. That just shows how things have changed and if that’s the attitude of the 20/30 somethings – shame on them.

    Inexplicably, the interviewee is stating that something which is clearly wrong, is the right thing to do. Suarez is a cheat and so is anyone else who dives – regardless of who they play for. If he never gets another penalty again, he has only himself to blame.

  3. Sorry about this duplicate response – as I already posted this on the Guess the Score thread so stop reading now if you’ve already seen it.

    “No one accuses bowlers who ask for LBW when it clearly wasn’t of ‘cheating’” but they do criticise fielders who have caught the ball on the half volley and don’t own up, batsmen who don’t walk when they have nicked it, fielders who appeal for LBW after an inside edge etc. DRS is now widely used to support the on-field umpires in an attempt to get to the correct decision but those decisions are clear cut within the laws of the game. We may well get something similar in football for offsides, goal line decisions, corners and whether or not a foul was committed inside or outside the penalty area, but there will be less consistency on issues such as the Bale booking.

    There was some slight contact between Bale’s and Gardner’s knees but this was two players running at full speed. Who initiated the contact or was it accidental? Was Bale already on the way down? Would it have been deemed a foul in midfield? These are all subjective questions any replay official would have to consider.

    The earlier contact was Gardner’s arm across Bale’s chest which I maintain could be deemed obstruction and worthy of at most an indirect free kick. Would a video ref have agreed? We see players ballroom dancing and rugby tackling at corners and free kicks and referees allowing play to continue.

    American Football uses video booths for on and off field officials to determine whether fouls have been committed. The coaches have the right to appeal decisions they think are wrong, limited so as to discourage flippant appeals, but NFL is a completely different game to “soccer”

    As for Stoney’s point I’m not sure we would be bleating if Sessegnon for example had gone down in similar circumstances. I’d challenge him to go through all of Sixer’s past match reports and find an example where we bleat on about a decision as debatable as this one.

  4. Henderson’s a modern player. Ball retention and energy. What’s the matter with you people? I’m not doing a third article on him!

    Seb Larsson is the typical T.V highlights player, odd assist and free kick so ‘we’ all love him. Henderson won’t stand out on the telly but gives you twice as much.

  5. I could never anything other than a very average player in Jordan Henderson. IMO he is a player who peaked early, and for a period his energy and stamina masked a basic lack of football ” know how ” so vital in a top class player. I may be wrong, I hope I am, but I haven’t noticed any improvement in his passing or tackling since his move to Liverpool, and at £20m I think we did very well.

    Liverpool have had some truly great players, particuarly in the Shankley/Paisley era. Amongst the best I’ve seen are : Sourness, Smith, Toshack, Keegan, Dalgleish, Rush and Hughes. However IMO the team [ of that era ] was more important than any individual member. That was the great ethic that Shankley instilled into his teams. I’m afraid that he wouldn’t have put up with some of the ego on regular display these days.

  6. Somewhere in kinzo’s post is a sentence trying to get out.
    “…you people in English FA setup and alikes are always afraid of the man who is always a threat to their errand boy in Man u and London clubs,but now he is in Chelsea taking care of business for one of your own,no complains…”
    Can anyone explain this? Answers, please, on a postcard…

  7. It’s surprising how many people forget the Houllier treble, even in Liverpool, but I think it was a great time for the city and the club, and it also looks as if Tosh and Keegan are fading memories – otherwise why no mention of them?

  8. It puzzles me to see the adulation heaped on Benitez. This was the man who couldn’t wait to get rid of Xavi Alonso to replace him with Gareth Barry, who he pursued and pursued probing Villa’s resistance to the point when they”Oh alright then………… you can have him if you want” to Man City.

    Istanbul had more to do with the complacency of the opposition than anything he could do or say in the dressing room at half time.

    I agree about Hodgson. He is a phenomenon. People keep voting for this man although God only knows why. Rodgers is the characterisation of a man out of his depth. He doesn’t want Andy Carroll but he is interested in taking Franco Di Santo from Wigan. He could get a great double with a swap deal on Agger for Caldwell at the same time.

    As for Henderson. A pedestrian player. Average at best, but has a good attitude to make the best of his own limitations IMHO. For half of the season before you signed him he was stinking our place out. He has taken the same scent with him by all accounts. Thanks for the 20M though lads. Very much appreciated.

    • You seem not to see beyond your nose Jeremy,so you don`t see anything good in Benitez,you need to see a Psychiatrist,the man whose performance will never be matched by anyone`s for years to come in LFC,i am not surprise by your comment about him though because you people in English FA setup and alikes are always afraid of the man who is always a threat to their errand boy in Man u and London clubs,but now he is in Chelsea taking care of business for one of your own,no complains,the fact remains Benitez is still the best weather you like it or not,he has never been helped by match officials to win trophies and matches yet he stands out,but next time mind the way you talk to a great man,a soldier who never say die.YNWA

      • He may be the ‘best weather’, Kinzo, but that may mean only that some believe the sunshine shines out of a certain orifice. Jeremy, meanwhile, will be intrigued both by his new appointment to the FA and to his alleged worship of London and Manchester.

    • Bob Stokoe has a statue outside the SOL. All he won was an FA cup and a promotion.

      Benitez won the FA cup, plus the European Championship, plus a European Championship runner-up spot. What would we think of him if he had done it for SAFC?

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