Since the return of Kenny Dalglish to the manager’s seat there has been a turn around in the belief of Liverpool fans. Yet the last two pre-season friendlies finished in 3-0 defeats for the Reds. Kenny said afterwards that he thinks the games will have been a valuable learning experience for his team. It is to be hoped though that the games were also a learning experience for him and Damien Comolli, as once again the problems with Liverpool’s large, costly and inadequate squad were exposed. There are many players that desperately need to be moved on, and replacements found, if Liverpool are going to mount a serious Premier League challenge this season.
That said though the good vibes from Anfield are in almost total contrast to this time last year. Here’s one reason why LFC might not be getting their swagger back, and four reasons why they might be.
The eternal optimism of the football fan
Football fans are a gullible bunch. Every year we realise we have been conned, usually around November, if you’re lucky enough for the illusion to last as long as that. But come the summer time all the optimism has returned, as we are happy to ignore ticket price increases and welcome over-valued new signings as potential championship winners. I could have written variations of this piece every summer for the last 20 years. So with the caveat that this could be just another case of blind optimism caused by excess summer-time vitamin D, many Liverpool fans are convinced the team have their swagger back. Whether it lasts past November is another matter. Competition will be as fierce as ever in the Premier League, Liverpool have been poor for the last two seasons. It will surely take more than one summer to turn Liverpool in to challengers again. But as I said, football fans are gullible. Me too. I believe LFC have a chance.
The return of the King
Cast your minds back to last year and pre-season training. The team were struggling against Swiss opposition. Roy Hodgson was doing his deputy dog best to lower expectations. We were being told by all and sundry in the press that we were lucky to have him. He ‘had a steady pair of hands’ and ‘great European pedigree’, and ‘speaks five languages’, and even ‘reads Philip Roth’. What more did we want? Most of the dissenting voices kept mentioning that he hadn’t actually won anything for a long time, and had never impressed with a big club. This was one pre-season when optimism wasn’t the dominant emotion.
But now Kenny is back. He is arguably the best player Liverpool ever had. He is the last manager to win the Premier League with LFC. He has a smile on his face and a snarky comeback for a stupid question. We love him. We trust him. He isn’t unnecessarily building up our expectations (Houllier), nor driving them down (Uncle Roy). He is one of us.
Fenway Sports Group
It’s pretty sad that a big part of the reason LFC have their swagger back is the money of Fenway Sports Group. They said they would spend on the re-building of the first team, and they are doing. They have paid off the vast majority of the debt loaded onto the club by Hicks and Gillett. Supposedly the money now earned by the club’s activities is used to strengthen the team. The removal of the restrictions placed on the team by the dastardly cowboy duo has been the single most significant factor in a revitalised LFC.
But it has been about more than just money. FSG have made efforts to engage with supporters’ groups, journalists, and the wider community of Liverpool FC; stakeholders, bloggers, twitterers (tweeters, tweeps?). John W Henry, so far, has shown himself willing to engage with fans and is clearly serious when he says he is learning about football. As he should be.
Having decent. intelligent people in charge at Anfield again is hugely important for the team’s present and future. It doesn’t mean we should stop reminding them of their responsibilities though.
The ‘Liverpool Way’
One consequence of having Dalglish in charge again has been a return to what is called the ‘Liverpool Way’. Dalglish is intimately connected to this culture passed down from Shankly, through Paisley, Fagan, Evans, Moran, and even Souness. It revolves around conducting business in private, having a plan or a strategy, its about self-confidence but not arrogance, about having and demonstrating respect for other teams. It is a million miles away from Hicks, Gillett, Purslow and Hodgson.
Liverpool’s great history of success as a football team was achieved while developing and maintaining the ‘Liverpool Way’. Other people may think it’s hyperbole but any LFC fan knows what I am talking about. It’s how the club was run when we were the best team in the world, and it’s how the club should be run now.
The link between academy and first team
After a golden period which produced Fowler, MacManaman, Carragher, Owen and Gerrard the link between the first team and the academy was broken. Spending money on transfers became more prominent in football. Scouting and signing players, plus paying ever-rising wages and agents’ fees took up more and more of teams’ resources, to the detriment of training and developing young players. When Gerard Houllier arrived there was a switch to signing young players from overseas, this continued under Benitez. None of these players have yet made the leap to the first team. The training and development of young players at Liverpool was unacceptable.
Benitez though recognised the problem and brought in people who had been successful at Barcelona’s La Masia training ground – Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell. These two, combined with a new role for Dalglish have set about the task of transforming Melwood into a production line for the first team.
Now with Dalglish as first team manager the link is as strong as ever, with what looks like a talented group of players getting ready to make the step-up. I’ll be honest, I get more enjoyment out of seeing a talented young player come through the ranks and set the Premier League alight than seeing a multi-million pound superstar jetting in. Watching Fowler, Gerrard and Owen find their way as young players was incredibly exciting. If young players like Conor Coady, Martin Kelly, Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and Raheem Sterling can start to have an influence on the first team, I’ll be a happy man. The emergence of some of these players last season strengthened the bond between the players and fans. That the link between the academy and first team exists again is playing a role in getting LFC’s swagger back.
It is all very well having the swagger back in pre-season, and as the 3-0 defeats against Hull and Galatasaray shows there is clearly much work still to be done. Particularly with the defense. This season though LFC fans really do have reasons to believe their pre-season optimism will last past November.