We have been asking for fans opinions on the 2009-10 season and will be publishing a selection of the best articles every day this week. In our second fan review, hardcoresoldier puts his analysis of the season gone by, beginning with the ridiculous pre-season.
An assessment of Liverpool Football Club this season from a purely footballing angle, I use the word angle as I’m boring myself with the use of the word ‘perspective’ this season. In my opinion I could see it going wrong from the close season. All the uncertainty surrounding the future of one Xabi Alonso while we were touring Asia pre-season, was a sign of things to come, and the season ahead. Many reasons abound for the departure of Xabi, but things were never right since he missed that Inter Milan game to be at the birth of his first child. It is no secret that Rafa distanced himself from Xabi after that. Pako Ayesteran? My point being that different people respond in different ways to given circumstances. Xabi chose to be at his wife’s side for the birth of their first child, Rafa chose to stay with the team for the World Club Championship ( god rest his soul ), when he heard the news of his father’s death. Live and let live, but not in Rafa’s world, everything has to be meticulous and pre-planned, no spontaneity whatsoever.
The pre-season was a joke, and to hear fellow fans saying, “It’s only pre-season, it’s only a friendly”, made my blood boil. When we should have been fine tuning the team, we were drawing with Thailand and St Gallen, getting beaten by Athletico Madrid, Rapid Vienna and getting spanked by Espanyol! We didn’t know what players our squad was going to consist of. The sight of Voronin and Degen made me sick to the stomach. Never mind I thought, we’ll come good for the start of the League I thought, how wrong could I have been?. Our early exit from the Champions League, the Carling Cup, the title race, everything was falling apart. There was always something to cling on to, the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, fourth place!, our season was going from bad to worse.
From a purely footballing view, Rafa let the side down this season. I don’t think anyone can argue that his defensive mindset, his stubborness, his refusal to deviate from something that clearly isn’t working, has been detrimental to the outcome of our season. We also have the arrival of ‘Il Principino’ from AS Roma, an injured player bought for an initial down payment of 5 million Euros, this is what we got from the £30 million sale of our player of the season. Glen Johnson, a player bought with the money owed to us by Portsmouth in part, we needed to replace Arbeloa, but did the money owed to us by Portsmouth force the issue?.Personally I think Aquilani will become a great player for us, of that I have no doubt, Johnson has been a revelation in attack, but in defence?, I am reserving my judgement. The two bargain buys, Kyrgiakos and Maxi, have come in and done a job, so Rafa has done well there.
The Lucas Question
Lucas Leiva?, what other fans see in him, I honestly don’t know. I’ve tried my hardest to see him in a positive light, but there is nothing there to see. His ball retention stats should signal that of a midfielder who was pulling the strings and opening up defences, they weren’t. I’ve lost count of the amount of games we’ve had the large majority of possession and ended up losing or drawing the aforementioned games. This is where stats fall flat on their face to me. Another one of Rafa’s failings is in his underestimation of supposedly ‘inferior’ opponents, his unwillingness to pick a full strength side as he feels that the opponents will be a walkover. It may apply in Spain, but the Premier League rarely offers up cannon fodder, he should have learned this by now.
The main talking point has been the lack of creativity from the central midfield, and I agree with the general consensus that Gerrard should have been dropped back in the middle until Aquilani was fit! Another option that I feel Rafa overlooked was Yossi Benayoun, he played in this position for West Ham a lot until he was forced out onto the wing, ask any West Ham fan that you know and they’ll tell you the same, Yossi played best through the middle, as he plays the majority of games for the national side too. When he played out wide for us, he’d constantly come into the middle of the park due to his instinct. I’d even have put him in the hole if Gerrard dropped back, Yossi is one of the few creative players at the Club, yet Rafa would mainly use him as an impact substitute.
We’ve had bad luck this season, of that there is no doubt, but that is only a small part of the equation, as a previous poster has stated, you make your own luck in football, as you do in life. Another hope I had this season, was that we’d see more youth being blooded for the first team, and with the injury list ever growing, I thought the likelihood of seeing them play would be heightened. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Rafa was constantly playing lads out of position, afraid to let the shackles off, what was there to lose, our season was all but over come February. We saw fleeting glimpses of Darby, Kelly, Pacheco, Ayala, Eccleston, but isn’t that the problem?, fleeting.
Rafa demands 100% commitment from the players, and that is how it should be, but when I see players like Lucas, Kuyt, Babel, El Zhar, Degen, Riera, Voronin and NGog playing for us, it isn’t pretty to watch. With any other manager, Kuyt and Lucas would have been dropped ages ago, even shown the door. The players I have mentioned, I genuinely believe that they are not good enough to play for our Club. A new member pointed out Rafa’s footballing philosophy the other day as a way of pointing out that Lucas was of the required ‘technical’ ability to play in the formation.
It is common knowledge that Rafa based the foundations of his Valencian ‘crushing machine’ on the fundamental basis of Rinus Michel’s Ajax side ( total football ) and Saachi’s Milan side. Rafa has stated on many occasions that he likes his teams to be technical and aggresive and not allow the other side to play, and to play the ball with speed and look to score with as few passes as possible. Where does Lucas or Kuyt fit into this ethos?, apart from the hard working, agressive stifling part?. The answer?, they don’t.
Off the field
Rafa’s problem this season has been that he has been sidetracked with what’s happening off the pitch, and this has affected his concentration on first team issues. Everyone knows that Rafa ‘breathes’ football and his commitment to the Club can never be called into question, but he has made bad managerial decisions this season, lots of them. I don’t really think that Rafa has ever recovered from the loss of Pako Ayesteran, his one true friend. We also know that since Pako left, Rafa’s distant demeanour was highlighted more than it would usually be, because Pako was that link between the players and Rafa. Rafa is not totally to blame, to claim he is would be idiotic and ridiculous. Many people say that we have ‘over achieved’, I say that Rafa got the best out of the players at his disposal last season. This is Rafa’s first ‘truly bad’ season since he has arrived, he has taken us forward in this time, up until this season that is. Does he deserve another bite at the cherry? Of course he f**king does, and to argue otherwise?, well let’s hear one eh?.
Rafa did indeed sign a 4 year contract extension, at a reported £5million a year. This contract was signed on the back of an excellent season, a total of 86 points. 86 points that would have won us the League in almost any other season, just not the season just gone. We were improving gradually and that improvement was in part, down to Rafa.
Rafa was in a strong position, and yes, he used this position to his advantage. There are 2 sides to this argument, one side, says that Rafa has utilised this contract for his own selfish gain. The other side will say, Rafa negotiated the contract to make sure he was here to fight the owners, tooth and nail and to make sure that he would have total control over footballing matters at the club. Rafa is a control freak, so we also have to look at the possibility that he knew the financial drought was on it’s way. It would have been so much easier for him to pack his bags and f**k off to Madrid or a host of other potential suitors, would you not agree?.
The conditions of that contract were to include the removal of Rick Parry, total control of the Academy and total control of the footballing matters at the Club. As a manager, would you not agree, that the manager, and only the manager, should have control over how the team is run?. We all know that Parry was a disaster at the Club, constantly dragging his heels over transfers, even when Rafa was giving him plenty of time to acquire his targets, Parry was still to slow to close down deals. At Valencia he asked for a table and they got him a lampshade. At Liverpool he asked for Barry and Keane and they just got him Keane. So it is unfair to blame Rafa for Keane’s failure, as he was supposed to be part of a package that never fully materialised.
Rafa knew what was coming in my opinion, so he has dug his heels in to make sure he is here for the long haul. And also to fight against the owners and try his best to protect our Club. He is a very clever and astute man is Rafa, he lives and breathes this Club. While being the manager, it is futile to think that Rafa is only keeping his eye on the footballing side only. He is analysing every single aspect of this predicament, and I would rather have nobody here other than Rafa.
Apologies if this was a bit long winded, but sometimes, one thing leads to another. I’ve kept it as short as I could, and as direct as I could. I read a lot of posts during the season, I enjoy reading most of them, and I have also read a lot of good assessments in this thread so far. What I have seen though, is fellow forumites use the platform as a stick to beat each other with and it ain’t big or clever. Forumites ganging up on people, it’s sad to see really. A lot of people just vent their fury with, ‘He’s useless’, ‘Why did he buy that pr**k!?’, ‘What the f**k do you know?’, ‘Rafa’s awesome!’ and ‘Rafa’s sh*te!’.
For the record. Rafa is still our manager. He’s had a bad season, I agree. He’s also had to manage a Premier League side with European ambitions and constantly fight against 2 faced, back stabbing wankers. He signed a 5 year contract on the condition that he would be able improve the squad as he saw fit. Instead he has had to make do with second or even third choice targets because 2 American W***ers have placed a debt on this Club that could cripple us.
YNWA. IRWT. J4T96.