After another good result, 1-1 at Villa, Sunderland face a huge task: stopping Liverpool exact revenge for the beachball defeat at the Stadium of Light (even though it was their beach ball that deflected Darren Bent’s shot into the goal). Salut! Sunderland put questions to two prominent Reds:
* Peter Hooton*, leader singer of the (once) chart-topping Scouse band The Farm and a senior figure in the evocatively named Spirit of Shankly union, which campaigns againts the “dreadful custodianship of Hicks and Gillet” …
* Neil Jones**, who reports – we are sure – with exemplary impartiality on his club for goal.com
Both men had plenty to say about their club, our club, beachballs and Steven Gerrard’s tendency to fall a lot. There may even be more Liverpudlian wisdom on its way, so we’d better turn this into a part work …
Salut! Sunderland: Let’s start with a googly – you might call it a no ball – and ask whether referees and the authorities are soft when it comes to Steven Gerrard; it’s what you hear on the lips of fans of other clubs, especially top six rivals.
SOS: I personally can’t see it. Alex Ferguson thinks so and made a big issue of it last week but that was propaganda before our match with United to try and influence one his favourite referees Howard Webb. The Rio Ferdinand ban was due to the fact that he turned and deliberately lashed out at Hull’s Craig Fagan whereas Gerrard and Michael Brown clashed as Brown checked his run and the referee saw it. How Fergie has the audacity to call FA dysfunctional is mind-boggling. He bullies the FA and referees at every given opportunity.
Neil: He’s certainly given the authorities plenty to think about. But remember that it was not always this way – Gerrard as a young player was often involved in disciplinary hearings. I think his status affords him an extra amount of leniency from the FA, compared to some players. That is the same for a lot of England stars – I’m thinking Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney at this point.
My personal opinion of the two recent incidents is that the Wigan ‘v-sign’ was petulant, and he took a needless risk out of frustration. He could easily have been sent off, but then is what he did any worse than some of the foul-mouthed tirades we see from other players on a regular basis? Probably not. As for the Michael Brown episode, again he got rather lucky, but I do believe that it was an instinctive defensive reaction as Brown ran across his path, rather than a malicious assault. Still, it is not hard to imagine action being taken were the roles reversed.
And what a roller coaster the season’s been for Liverpool: up, down, sideways. What do you make of it, and of Rafa?
SOS: It’s been a very disappointing season and I think everyone has got to hold their hands up and say it’s not good enough. But for me it is the lack of direction from the top and ownership of the club which has been the main problem. Rafa Benitez got Liverpool to two Champions League Finals in three years 2005 and 2007 and then the Americans took over with what we now know to be false promises ie to build a new stadium and invest in the squad to help us challenge for the title.. He asked for investment in the squad in the summer of 2007 and the poverty stricken paper billionaires didn’t like ‘a coach’ standing up to them. Ever since then their has been a civil war/ cold war at the club and as far as I’m concerned Rafa has been fighting a losing battle as Tom Hicks and George Gillett are only interested in profit on their leveraged ie (debt ridden) buy out.
After our best points total since the Premiership began last year(86 points) it was the time to strengthen the squad and we had the likes of Jovetic (Fiorentina), Silva (Valencia) Barry (Aston Villa) and Turner (Hull) lined up but due to the debt repayments we couldn’t use the money we got from the Alonso and Arbeloa sales. Sunderland I’m pretty sure out bid us for Turner and another target Cattermole which just indicates our lack of funds. I’m convinced with a bit of financial backing last year this season would not have panned out like it has. In the last three tranfer windows our net spend has been next to nothing and we are relying on free transfers to bolster the squad.
Not so much a rollercoaster as a downward spiral! The seeds were sown pre-season, when Liverpool were really poor. They then lost Xabi Alonso, and were denied the services of his replacement – Alberto Aquilani – for much longer than they anticipated, and by the time the dust had settled, results were poor and confidence was falling apart. It is only through sheer spirit that Liverpool are even close to the top four, because performances have, on the whole, been abysmal.
Rafa Benitez is a hard one to sum up. He has some incredible attributes – his dedication to the job, attention to detail and his obvious passion for the club – but there have been times this season where I feel he has made errors. Be that in team selection, substitutions or the transfer market. It is hard to be overly critical of a man who essentially is a pawn in a game between two warring owners, and who has had the rug pulled from beneath his feet in terms of the club’s finances, but you do wonder whether replacing Alonso with an injured Aquilani – even though the Italian looks good of late – was the wisest move, knowing that the pressure would be undoubtedly on any replacement.
My hunch says he won’t be around next season (Benitez), but that doesn’t mean I think it is right. I think the affection he has from the fans is deserved, though a lot of it stems from fans’ perceived bias against him. They feel the media goes overboard in criticising him, and I agree to a certain extent. And, with the club in such financial turmoil as we speak, it is hard to see who could come in and do much better than he has.
And every so often you pull something out of the bag – a great performance against one of the big clubs, or in Europe as against Lille in the second leg. Are you tempted to ask the real Liverpool to stand up?
Yes but I really do think the malaise at the heirachy of the club has seeped down to the players. There is a dark cloud over this club and I think it has inevitably had an affect on the squad. It’s like a rudderless ship but it doesn’t help when players on film star wages go around sulking!
Neil: Yes! The last week alone has seen an incredible upsurge in performance levels. Since they lost in Lille last week, Liverpool have scored seven goals in two games and created more chances than they had in the past few months! I think a lot of it comes down to confidence, and to fitness. Benitez has had rotten luck with injuries this season, consistently having to change and adapt his team, and I think now, with Gerrard, Torres, Johnson, Agger, Mascherano, Aquilani and Reina all in the same team playing well, we are seeing a more accurate reflection.
************* Part two HERE *************
* Peter Hooton (SOS), pictured above with Rafa, on Peter Hooton:Lead singer of The Farm. Been going to the games since the 1970s. Spirit Of Shankly Committee Member. Just written a book When Football Was Football –(Liverpool a nostalgic pictorial history of Liverpool FC).
** Neil Jones on Neil Jones: I am the Liverpool correspondent for Goal.com UK and a supporter of the club. I work full time as a journalist/writer, my site is called Football Sense and is very much in its infancy, as a lot of my time is taken up working for Goal.