Do you remember Evertonian Hannah Myers*, who came second in our “Who are you?” annual awards (beaten only by former manager Denis Smith) a couple of seasons ago? Now it’s her brother’s turn to grace our website, but he happens to be of the red persuasion.
So you might detect a little sibling rivalry as Tom Easby gives us the lowdown to set the scene for our first game of 2017, the congestion of fixtures bringing this interview ahead of the Burnley game …
Salut Sunderland: After coming close not so long ago things seemed to slip but you’re back on song. Could Liverpool finally claim the Premiership?
Tom: Well, we’re playing the football for it, as we did a few seasons ago, but I think it’ll be hard to beat Chelsea. To be honest, we’re already having a great season and as much as I’d love us to win the league, there will be no complaints about a top four finish given the last couple of seasons. Like the 13/14 season, we’re playing superb attacking football, but with Chelsea grinding out 1-0 wins and our propensity for drastic back-line errors I think it’s out of reach. We will still dream though!
What are the reasons behind this season’s resurgence: is it Klopp, changes at key positions or are other factors at play?
It’s hard not to focus the credit on the manager for our improvement. The style of play and the attitude of the players has to come down to him. and although we still have a few problems, on our day we can outscore anyone. That being said, Sadio Mane has been an inspired signing who certainly raised a few eyebrows (including mine) when we got him. Klopp and his team also seem to be bringing out the best in many players who looked only half as good last season; Lallana must be one of the best in the league right now; Clyne would walk into most sides; and Firmino has fitted into our system upfront surprisingly well.
If not dealt with above, assess what Klopp has brought to Liverpool.
I think the most important thing Klopp has brought to the side is, as he says, positivity. The side look united on and off the pitch. Youngsters must feel they have a good chance of a game in the first team and the football is beautiful to watch. Klopp and his coaching team, who we must credit to as well, have really stamped their footballing philosophy on the players and we’re getting great results. We also seem to bounce back well. We lost badly to Burnley and then went on a 15 game unbeaten run before losing to Bournemouth, despite playing well, and drawing with West Ham. However, we then came back to win at ‘Boro (you’re welcome) and won the derby, two fixtures which a couple of seasons ago we would have drawn or lost.
Contrasting fortunes for our Jordan and Simon, though the latter seems to be coming back into favour. Your thoughts on both?
The season after we signed Henderson, I (and many others) thought he was a waste of money – so many misplaced passes and the guy didn’t have a single good game. Given a few seasons of first team football under Rodgers and Klopp though, he has really turned it around. If you look at his stats for this season: most successful passes, most tackles won, most distance covered, you can see how good he really is. His deeper role has taken a bit of the “needs to add goals to his game” burden away from him and allows him to run the midfield. He must be the first name on the team sheet every game. Quality.
As for Mignolet, I actually feel a bit sorry for him (as much as one can for someone on 50-odd grand a week). Admittedly, he has some problems with crosses, but he is a great shot stopper. His replacement, Karius, also has problems with crosses but isn’t the greatest shot stopper. So, dropping Mignolet seemed a little harsh to me. I’m glad Karius is out of the firing line (both with a ball and a pen) and in our last games our back four looked much more confident with Mignolet in goal.
After all Liverpool have been through, how do you think the city is responding to better times on the pitch, in terms of attractiveness of play as much as results?
The mood in half the city is one of great excitement. Our play is fantastic, as any neutral would agree, and we’re getting (mostly) good results too. On top of that, we have a great set-up. The owners seem to know what they are doing and have made the club financially sound. There are some good youth prospects coming up through the ranks and a great manager, who also comes across as a top bloke and is getting the team playing superb football – what’s not to be happy about? I think the fans are responding to it with the thought that this is just the start of it: Klopp has only been there a year, and if we finish in the top four, with the extra financial clout from the TV deals, we should be able to bring in some more top young talent.
Tell me the best you have personally experienced as Liverpool supporter?
Best one-off experience, which won’t surprise anyone, has to be Istanbul. I wasn’t there but I did watch it with a staunch Evertonian and my dad (a Boro supporter). After we scored the second all I could do was laugh, it was just incredible.
The 13/14 season was the best long term experience. It was the closest we have come to winning the league in my adult life and the football we played was electrifying. Luis Suarez was beautiful to watch. Just a shame we couldn’t get over the line.
And the worst?
Apart from a few dire seasons, the lowest point was probably the debacle with former owners Gillet and Hicks. There was an air of optimism when they arrived promising to build a new stadium. It quickly turned out to be a disaster. The worst part of it was when they sold the club on to FSG and then tried to sue – a very dark cloud loomed for a while there.
Who do you think are the greatest players to have worn your colours – whether or not you are old enough to have seen them in action?
Although I didn’t get to see him play in person, Dalglish has to be one if not the best. He gave everything to the club both on and off the pitch. Gerrard is a legend, and one of the best in the world at his prime. I grew up with the likes of McManaman and Fowler so they would be in my personal top list. I also love watching videos of Jan Molby; he didn’t need to run much just found enough space for precision passing.
And the worst?
El Hadji Diouf was a disgrace to the shirt although not a particularly terrible footballer. A few of Roy Hodgson’s signings were pretty awful too such as Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulson and Joe Cole. It was a shame about Joe, I thought he would have been a decent signing but it didn’t happen for him. I’m sure, like every team, there have been countless awful players down the years, but these are the worst from recent years. Honourable mention, also, for Djimi Traore and his outstanding own goal skills.
You’ve had an astonishing series of top-class managers, from Shankly to Klopp. Which, if any, are your favourite(s) and can you tell us why?
My personal favourite would be Rafa Benitez. I was too young for Dalglish or Moran. Winning the Champions League in the way we did with a squad containing Traore and Biscan elevated him to Legendary Status almost immediately. We nearly won the league with him, won an FA Cup and got to another Champions League final. At some points we played magnificent football but, due to the owner’s situation and bad performances, he didn’t last. Klopp could easily become one our greatest and most loved but only time will tell on that one.
I thought the new stand didn’t do much for the atmosphere when I visited in November. What’s your opinion of it?
Yes, it’s a strange place to go at the moment.
European nights (although not this season!) are still magnificent, but for league games, except the big rivalries, Anfield is quite quiet. There are bouts of singing when the match explodes but then all goes quiet again except for polite applause. I think some fans are waiting to be entertained before they join in as opposed to singing to drive the team on. This situation is evident when Klopp is having to cheerlead the crowd to spur on the team, as he did in November.
Has Sunderland’s luck finally run out?
Actually, I don’t think it has. With Defoe you’ve got a great goal scorer and the teams around you are struggling themselves. I think you need a few (or a lot) of signings to improve markedly, but I still think Sunderland will scrape safety, especially looking at some of the better recent performances.
Any other thoughts about us: the club, the fans, the city and region, Manquillo, Fabio Borini, David Moyes?
I don’t really know much about Sunderland as a town but my dad is from near there (he’s ‘Boro though) and it’s a beautiful area. As a football team, Sunderland are definitely mid-table in my preference league. I, and I believe most Liverpool fans, have no great enmity towards Sunderland and to be honest I hope you stay up. David Moyes did a great job with Everton but it took him a while to get going. If you do go down, I hope you keep him on and let him build a team and you’ll be back up in no time. Far too many managers are sacked quickly in the game at the moment (as the news of Alan Pardew’s dismissal comes over the radio).
Go ahead and gloat: top four this season will be …
And bottom three …
Diving: a dead issue since it has become so commonplace, or still worth fighting to stamp out?
Definitely worth stamping out. There’s a big difference between someone going down easily and someone diving. The former is an ugly side of gamesmanship but diving is just cheating. I can’t understand why retrospective bans aren’t given after the game when someone blatantly tries to con the referee.
Club versus country: which is more important to you and why?
Easily Club. Firstly, I’m not the most patriotic of people at the best of times and internationals never get my heart racing. Let’s face it, the England team don’t inspire fandom in competitions do they? This question immediately makes me want to break into song:
“When the club versus country dispute arose, small children were trampled in the exodus”
(Half-Man Half-Biscuit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0oUbHgUnEo)
One step the football authorities of LFC should take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?
Lowering ticket prices. It’s around £40 a ticket for a home game. To most that’s a lot of money to shell out every other week and those are the ones anyone can buy. The result is, apart from season ticket holders, you get a lot of tourists visiting Liverpool going to the games. This isn’t inherently a bad thing – a worldwide fan base is a must for a team like Liverpool and it’s good for the city too – but I think this leads to a diminished atmosphere inside Anfield.
Will you be at the game?
What will be the score?
Sunderland 1-3 Liverpool
And a bit about yourself
Born and raised Liverpudlian by a Middlesbrough supporting father, who also has a season ticket for Everton, I have one sister who is an Evertonian by marriage and one who is a ‘Boro fan following the ancestral line. All in all making me the brighter, more evolved member of the family and making me, in the last few weeks, very smug indeed! However, I would happily take a draw with Everton for a win at United any time. Now with Boring Jose in charge, United are becoming more of an eye-sore than ever before.
Interview: John McCormick
*And we must not only congratulate Tom on a fine interview but also on becoming an uncle once again. Over Christmas Hannah’s second son, Hugo, was born. Tom reports mother and baby are both doing well and Oscar is now a very proud big brother.