Gareth Roberts*, editor of the ‘leading independent voice on Liverpool FC’, The Anfield Wrap, comes up with a scoreline prediction none of us will thank him for. But he also answers our questions with an informed and informative manner, defending Jurgen Klopp in his spats with the media, acclaiming the two Jordans, doubting Mignolet’s Anfield future and, naturally, going for Liverpool to win the title …
Salut! Sunderland: What a great start to the season, minor hiccups like Burnley aside. Can Liverpool finally re-claim the title?
Gareth Roberts: Who knows? I think what goes missing in conversations about who can win the league is the unknown. So right now, of course I would say Liverpool have a chance – we’re almost a third of the way through the season and the Reds have dominated in all of the 12 league games we have played. We’ve only lost once, we’re a point off the top, we’re scoring goals for fun, and what’s particularly encouraging is that there are threats from all over the pitch – we’re not reliant on a “star player”.
Yet there is so much we can’t control. Injuries, what other teams do – it’s what makes football so interesting. And it’s worth remembering that only six sides have ever won the Premier League since it was dreamed up in 1992. It’s a difficult thing to do. So I’m excited – we’ve got the right manager, a strong squad and we’re flying. But I know as well that there’s a long way to go.
Please identify the reasons for this season’s resurgence: is it Klopp, changes at key positions or are other factors at play?
I think Jürgen Klopp is the key to it all. The players, the fans and the owners all believe in him 100 per cent – and that makes a huge difference.
The contrast in the feeling around the club since the latter period of Brendan Rodgers’s reign is night and day. Then, it was clear he was fighting internally, that he was desperate to paint a picture sympathetic to his own failings and that he had lost the confidence of some of the players.
Some fans didn’t ever take to Rodgers – whether it was his lack of a proven record at a top club or some of his management techniques. With Klopp the approval is universal – it’s hard to find a dissenting voice about what Liverpool are doing right now. It feels like a club worthy of the name rather than one torn apart by disagreement.
LIVERPOOL v SUNDERLAND Guess the Score: Open to all, Liverpool fans included. Win the above Art of Football print or choose from their Sunderland (and Liverpool) ranges: post your entries at https://safc.blog/2016/11/the-liverpool-guess-the-score-a-real-test-of-safcs-mini-revival/
Contrasting fortunes for our Jordan and Simon. Both have struggled for Anfield affection and only the former seems currently in favour. Your thoughts on both?
I’m a fan of Jordan Henderson. I admire his spirit and determination, and how he keeps bouncing back despite being written off over and over. Brendan Rodgers was happy to sell him to Fulham and yet here he is, still at Liverpool and now captaining the team. He struggled with that responsibility at first – and it was difficult to follow in the footsteps of someone loved as much as Steven Gerrard – but he’s growing into it, becoming more vocal and helping to dictate the way Liverpool play. It’s clear Klopp likes him, and I’d like to see him given more support by those more prone to moan.
For Simon Mignolet it’s hard to see a way back beyond being a back-up goalkeeper at Liverpool. He’s doing and saying all the right things since he was dropped but I imagine soon he will want first-team football and that’s unlikely to be Anfield.
Part of his problem is there were too many mistakes too many times and now we have a situation where, even when he plays well, his detractors are unlikely to offer him any credit. He’s been written off essentially.
If not dealt with above, assess what Klopp has brought to Liverpool. My own very positive initial impression was dented by a couple of apparently idiotic strops with the media, but all managers are given to them, so are you broadly happy?
I’m more than broadly happy. There isn’t a manager I would swap for Jürgen Klopp right now. What’s been key from day one is that he understands how key it is to have the fans on board at Liverpool. A fired-up Anfield is something to behold and Klopp has done everything to facilitate that.
It’s funny that you should highlight what you perceive as an “idiotic strop” with the media [once a hack…., Gareth! – Ed] because it’s exactly that kind of behaviour that has endeared him to our support. We want a manager that fights our corner, that leads, that is a figurehead and not just a coach. Klopp is that, and taking no nonsense from an often unhelpful national media is part of that.
After all Liverpool have been through, how is the city responding to better times on the pitch, in terms of attractiveness of play as much as results?
It’s buzzing, and why wouldn’t it be? Liverpool loves a fighter and this Liverpool side, and this Liverpool manager, is showing loads of fight. It feels like something is building, built on the right principles, and at all levels of the club things are very positive right now.
Tell me the best you have personally experienced as Liverpool supporter?
Istanbul. Not often you come back from 3-0 down to a side as good as AC Milan to win a European Cup. Once in a lifetime stuff, that. Think I still have some of the bruises from tumbling over the seats when Shevchenko missed.
And the worst?
Everything Roy Hodgson.
From a list too long to include, who are the greatest players to have worn your colours – whether or not you are old enough to have seen them in action?
Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard, John Barnes, Ian Rush, Luis Suarez.
And the worst?
Nicky Tanner, Sean Dundee, Christian Poulsen, Paul Konchesky, Julian Dicks.
Again, assess your astonishing series of top-class or at least big-name managers from Shankly to Klopp.
I’ve got something nice to say about all of them – except Roy Hodgson. Who was the worst managerial appointment made in the history of the club. The rest all did something at some time that put a smile on the faces of supporters. Which is what it’s all about.
Bring us up to date on stadium news.
Well obviously we’ve opened the new Main Stand since we last played Sunderland and there’s 8,500 extra fans in the ground now, taking the capacity up to 54,000. There are further outline plans to extend the Anfield Road stand, making the ground close to 60,000 but it appears the owners aren’t particularly keen on that idea now, which is a shame as tickets are still hard to come by.
Been putting this off, but has Sunderland’s luck finally run out? Explain, whether yes or no.
Before your last two results I think most people would have said yes it had.
Now? Well you’ve given yourselves a chance and it seems you never do it the easy way. Still think you’d have more of one minus Moyes though. A good goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford and a proven Premier League goalscorer in Jermain Defoe means you’ve got a chance.
Any other thoughts about us: the club, the fans, the city and region, Manquillo, David Moyes?
Big fan of the region, always have a laugh up there and I’ve got some mates from the area. I even subscribe to A Love Supreme…
Before one Sunderland v Liverpool game I was taken to some mad bar where some crazy compere pitched Mackems versus Scousers in a karaoke challenge. Everyone was well away, and I’m sure it was an early kick off as well…
Aside from that madness, it always comes across as a place that knows – and loves – its football.
Go ahead and gloat: top four this season will be …
Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Spurs.
And bottom three …
Swansea, Hull, Stoke (last one wishful thinking probably, but can’t be arsed with Mark Hughes).
Diving: a dead issue since it has become so commonplace, or still worth fighting to stamp out?
It’s part of the game now. When you see the kids doing it there’s no going back. I’d love us to return to the days of black boots and thunderous sliding tackles but it’s not happening is it?
Club versus country: which is more important to you and why?
Club all day. I’ve never paid out a penny to watch England and I don’t think I ever will, it just doesn’t feel like something I’m part of.
One step the football authorities of LFC should take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?
Take a significant first step in reducing ticket prices in a meaningful way, be a leader on it; show the football world you don’t have to follow in the footsteps of Arsenal by charging sky-high prices and that there is another way. The endless “football is a business” talk never fails to grate – we’re supporters not customers and we’ll be here long after the owners, the manager and the players.
Will you be at the game? What will be the score?
I’m a season ticket holder in The Kop and I will be at the game. I think the Reds in current form and mindset will have too much for a Moyes side. I’ll say 5-0 to Liverpool because why wouldn’t I?
* Gareth Roberts on himself: I’m 40, editor of The Anfield Wrap. I’ve been a regular match-goer for 26 years.
Interview: Colin Randall