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? …
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.
See also: Neil in conversation with Salut! Sunderland‘s Stephen Goldsmith about Henderson: https://safc.blog/2012/09/crosstalk-salut-sunderland-speaks-to-the-anfield-wrap-about-liverpools-jordan-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.
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:http://soccernet.espn.go.com/blog/_/name/sunderland?cc=5739
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:
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