Dave Usher is a Liverpool supporter with a Sunderland family connection, as you shall see. He runs The Liverpool Way fan site and is one of Monsieur Salut’s blogging colleagues at ESPN FC. He quite likes what he has seen of Jeremain Lens, used to rate Steven Fletcher and wants none of our centre backs for Liverpool …
Salut! Sunderland: Some outstanding results, one or two disappointments since Jurgen Klopp took over. Overall, you must be pleased.
Yeah he’s given everybody a massive lift just when we needed it. Things had just gone completely stagnant under Brendan Rodgers but Klopp immediately got the fans excited and the players have responded too. We’re much better defensively (still can’t defend corners though!) and our counter attacking has improved beyond recognition, but we’ve still got work to do against teams who sit deep and with numbers.
How necessary had it become to replace Brendan Rodgers and how far can Klopp take you?
He had to go because he’d completely lost his way and didn’t appear to have any idea what he wanted to do anymore. When he arrived he had a plan, a style of play he believed in and a real belief in what he was doing. By the end he had none of that and I think last season really took a toll on him as well as everybody else at the club. Going so close to the title the year before, and then losing Luis Suarez meant we went into last year with a massive hangover that we never recovered from. He should have been sacked after losing 6-1 at Stoke to be honest.
As for Klopp, well the sky is the limit. Look around the Premier League, there’s no outstanding team is there? City are most people’s tip for the title but they’re not a great side by a long way. I’m not saying we are yet either, I mean we lost to Newcastle for God’s sake, but the lack of quality shown by the other top clubs certainly provides hope that we can compete soon.
Jordan Henderson – still a favourite of most Sunderland supporters, not least because he’s one, too – is finally back. It took him a while to win over Anfield but how highly do you rate him now?
He wasn’t helped in his first season by having to play wide and he almost left the following summer. He backed himself to make it here though and turned down a move to Fulham, but it took him a while after that to get an opportunity to play as he still had four or five players ahead of him. Eventually he moved ahead of all of them (with the exception of Steven Gerrard) and established himself as a key player and now club captain.
He’s won the fans over now and is one of the most popular players at the club, not least because he comes across as such a great lad and dedicated professional. I’d like to see him score more goals because he’s certainly capable of it, but aside from that he’s progressed very well. Everyone loves Hendo.
There seems a lot of disgruntlement with Sturridge. It seems unbelievable that a man considered one of the Premier’s best strikers should have fallen from grace – what went wrong?
His body went wrong. It just isn’t up to the rigours of top flight football unfortunately. Another issue is that he’s regarded by some fans – myself included – as being somewhat soft. Some of the injuries he’s had have been serious, but there have been others that he could have played through but he just isn’t prepared to do that. Steven Gerrard said in his book how he virtually had to plead with Sturridge to play against Manchester United at Anfield because he’d tried to back out with a knock. What does that say about him if he was prepared to cry off from the biggest game of the season with a knock?
He’s not helped by comparisons to his old strike partner / rival Suarez either, as if the Uruguayan could walk then he could play. If Sturridge had the mental toughness and desire to play that Suarez has then he wouldn’t miss half as many games as he does. What causes so much resentment is the fact he’s absolutely brilliant when he does play, and with him in the team every week we’d really go places.
Guess the Score and maybe win a prize:
And looking at your squad where are the great strengths and where must Klopp add new players?
I don’t think there is any great strength or weakness. Our squad has a lot of good – and in some cases very good – players, but for the first time in my lifetime there’s no great one. Perhaps Coutinho will develop into that, but he’s not there yet, not by a long way. If Sturridge wasn’t made of silly string and quavers he’d be as good as anybody out there, but assuming he’s not suddenly going to make a Lazarus like recovery then we really need a goalscorer as the drop off from Sturridge to the other strikers is too great. Klopp has already said he won’t be signing another striker though as he’d have too many when they are all fit.
What have been your own highs (I suspect Istanbul may feature in your reply) and lows as a Liverpool fan?
Obviously all the trophies are special and it’s easy to single out Istanbul for obvious reasons. I really loved 2001 though when we won three cups. Back then I was doing all the aways so I went to most games that season, including a few European trips so that’s the season I remember with the most fondness. That spell in 2014 when we were battering everyone and Suarez was running wild was really special too, but that only made the 18 months that followed even more depressing.
There have been plenty of lows too, the worst of which was “the slip” and subsequent loss to Chelsea. We were convinced we were winning the title after the run we’d been on, so to lose like that, to them of all people, was really, really hard to take. It was like the football gods were toying with us, allowing us to build up our hopes and then taking a dump on us from the greatest of heights. Steven Gerrard didn’t deserve that. We didn’t deserve that. That will stay with us all for the rest of our lives.
And from a long list of contenders, the best players you have seen – or wish you’d been around to see – at Anfield?
The best I’ve seen is Suarez, he was just incredible. He won’t go down as our greatest ever player because he wasn’t here long enough and he didn’t win any of the big prizes, but he’s the best player I’ve seen. It’s not just his talent, it’s the total desperation to win at all costs. He doesn’t always control that fanatical will to win and it’s landed him in hot water more than once, but he’s just an out and out winner. Barring suspensions, he never missed a training session, never mind a game, and he’d just play through injuries without making anything of it. He was relentless, and even on the days when he wasn’t at his best he always provided at least one moment to get you off your seat. A great, great player and to be honest even now I’ve not come to terms with him leaving because I know that there won’t anyone quite like him again. *wipes tear*
In terms of our greatest player, for me it’s Gerrard. Some will say Dalglish but as far as I’m concerned it’s Gerrard because he didn’t always have the great supporting cast that Kenny had. Jamie Carragher was great too, he’s never been replaced but then how do you replace that kind of leadership and commitment? John Barnes was amazing too before injury robbed him of his pace. Of the players before my time, I really wish I’d seen Billy Liddell play as some of those who remember him will argue to this day he’s the greatest.
Which players should have been allowed nowhere near the ground?
There’s been a load! It’s the same for everyone I think, the influx of foreign players combined with the stupid money clubs have had to spend has meant the turnover of players has become ridiculous. Most clubs are signing 8-10 players every summer and the majority of them aren’t good enough. In no particular order here’s some off the top of my head. Milan Jovanovic, Paul Stewart, Christian Poulsen, Joe Cole, Andrea Dossena (you know all about him!), El Hadji Diouf, Phil Babb, Salif Diao, Philipp Degen, Alberto Aquilani, Charles Itandje, Iago Aspas, Bruno Cheyrou…. I’ll stop there as I could go on all day.
Bring us up to date on Liverpool stadium news – and what you think should be the way forward?
The Main Stand has been expanded but it’s a little misleading because a lot of the extra seats won’t even be going to the fans, it’s a corporate expansion as much as anything. No doubt they’ll continue to increase ticket prices too, just as they did in Boston with the Red Sox. It doesn’t matter what I think the way forward should be as the club are just going to continue to bleed the fans dry regardless. It’s the nature of the modern football beast and I hate it.
Did you nick Fields of Athenry (adapted) first, or did Celtic start it by stealing You’ll Never Walk Alone?
Celtic started it!
Were you surprised by Sunderland’s woeful start or did you see it coming after so many great escapes?
Yeah I definitely saw it coming. You seem to be stuck in this never ending cycle of crap. Team struggles, looks like they’re going down, new guy comes in and saves them but the next season it starts all over again. Rinse and repeat. Di Canio, Poyet, Advocaat… I think you’ll be ok now and finally break the cycle because Allardyce knows what he’s doing and is great at what he does. He’s not going to win trophies but if you need someone to keep you up and hang around mid table, then Big Sam is your man. Him and Pulis are the masters at it.
Your view of the club, the city, the fans, Big Sam – and tell us about your own family connection.
Sunderland should be a top 10 club but you have underachieved for a long time. I don’t know why that is, you’ll obviously know more than I do, but from the outside I’d say you haven’t been run very well and keep signing players who aren’t good enough. You shouldn’t be involved in relegation battles every season and that should change now you’ve got Allardyce. I don’t like him at all but I do respect what he does and as I said earlier, him and Pulis are by far the best in their particular niché of management.
I take an interest in what’s happening up there because my brother in law is Sunderland born and bred and has been a season ticket holder for most of his life. Every Saturday night I get a stream of texts from him ripping into Shearer, Newcastle, Cheryl Cole, Ant & Dec etc and moaning about whatever crappy result you’ve had that day or slaughtering James McLean. Before McLean it used to be Darren Bent, he really hates Darren Bent.
How do you reckon Merseyside football rivalries compare with the North East equivalent?
It’s different in terms of we’re in the same city so have more interaction with each other than you probably do, but my brother in law lives in Washington, so he’s kind of in the middle and has to deal with “the Mags” – as he calls them – on a daily basis at work, and he genuinely hates them. I assume it’s the same at the Newcastle end too, it’s not a friendly rivalry in any way shape or form is it? The Merseyside rivalry isn’t as friendly as it’s often portrayed, but it’s not that bad either and most of the hostility comes from the blue side. Don’t believe me? Next time you see a derby at Anfield on TV look at the faces in the crowd when an Everton player goes to take a throw in or a corner, and then compare it to what it’s like when our players go to Goodison. It’s night and day.
Many of our fans don’t really care too much about Everton, but the sight of a red shirt is enough to send their mob into a frenzy. It’s like a scene from the Walking Dead. Most of our hatred is reserved for Man United and more recently Chelsea too. I suppose the best way to explain it is that I imagine Sunderland’s biggest game is Newcastle and vice versa, while Everton’s biggest is definitely Liverpool. The Everton fixture is not the first one we look for when the fixture list comes out though, and in some cases it may not even be the second or third. Everton are a bit like a jealous little brother.
Is there any player in our squad who would make your bench?
Certainly none of your centre backs that’s for sure! Every week I watch Match of the Day and see O’Shea or Brown (and more recently Kaboul) either getting sent off, conceding a penalty or scoring an own goal. How are they still getting a game, surely you can do better? Based on the little I’ve seen of Lens I quite like him, and a couple of years ago I rated Steven Fletcher highly but he just seems to have gone right off the boil since. If Yann M’Vila is as good as he was a couple of years ago (it’s difficult to tell from just watching highlights on MOTD) then he might get a game for us as he’s got a good pedigree and can obviously play. The kid Watmore looks a livewire too, although he’s still a bit raw.
Give us the season-end top four in order
Oh that’s tough. I haven’t got any feel for it at all to be honest, other than that City and Arsenal will definitely be in the top four. Other than that it’s all up in the air because everyone else is so inconsistent. If we don’t get in the top four it will be a massive disappointment because it’s easier than ever this year with Chelsea struggling and United looking hopeless too. I’ll say the top four will be City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs but not necessarily in that order.
And the bottom three? Where will our clubs finish if not mentioned?
Villa will definitely go down this year, and I think – and hope – Newcastle will too, despite their recent upturn in form. The other spot is wide open and there are several clubs that could get dragged down. I don’t think Sunderland will be one of them, and I hope Bournemouth aren’t because I’ve been really impressed with what they’ve done despite all the injuries. I’ll say Norwich for the third spot.
Best Premier ref, and worst?
The best is Clattenberg and it’s not even close. As for the worst, there are a lot of bad ones but we all have our own beefs with refs who we think have it in for us, and for most Reds that has to be Kevin Friend now that Webb has hung up his Man United shirt. I don’t like Lee Mason either.
Are diving and other forms of cheating so widespread that we should just give up bothering?
No, I think video evidence should be used and hefty bans handed out to the offenders. I’m not talking about those instances where players feel contact and go down, as that’s too difficult to judge. But when there’s no contact and the player claims a penalty, they should be banned. That would stop it soon enough. I tell you what else needs addressing too, when players go down holding their face when they’ve been hit on the chest or something. That’s just embarrassing to watch and fans of other sports are just laughing at football because of it. I’d ban anyone who does that for six games minimum.
Is there one measure the football authorities should take to improve the ordinary fan’s matchday experience?
A cap should be put on ticket prices. It’s obscene what clubs are charging and there’s absolutely no justification for it. They get more than enough from the TV companies and sponsors etc that they could let us all in for free if they chose to. The reason they rip us off is because all the money is being sucked out of the game by greedy owners, overpaid players and worst of all, the leeches who call themselves agents. Liverpool paid £14m to agents last year. That’s an absolute disgrace, especially as the clubs don’t have to reveal exactly who gets what and why. The FA need to get a grip of all that, but they won’t because too many people are making money out of it and in the end it’s always us, the fans, who foot the bill.
Will you be at the game? What will be the score?
I’m not sure yet. I don’t do the aways much anymore because of the expense of it and family commitments etc, but if I can coincide this with a trip to the in-laws then maybe.
As for the score, we’re better away than we are at home so I’ll go for us winning a close one. 3-1 with the third coming on the break right at the end as you push for an equaliser.
* Dave Usher on himself:
I’m 42 and have been going the game regularly since I was six or seven. In 1999 I decided to start a fanzine and I did that until the end of last season, when I published the 100th, and final issue. Now I concentrate on running the website, which was an offshoot of the fanzine initially but eventually overshadowed it, and I also write about the Reds for ESPN FC.
Interview: Colin Randall