Liverpool v Real Madrid

In the end it was not to be a repeat of gay Paree in 1981 with Alan Kennedy surging forward and being the unlikeliest player to score the winner.  The 2018 European Champions league final will be remembered for Gareth Bale’s cracking overhead kick and the two calamitous made by Karius.

Regardless of the result Jurgen Klopp has brought Liverpool forward.  There has been brilliant football and just as importantly there has been hope which this European run has brought.

When the dust has died down and eyes start looking forward to a new season in August the memories especially of those that went to Kiev will live on for a long time.  Even the run to the final will be something that will live on long in my memory.  Blowing Manchester City away and hugging the Father Christmas lookalike sat next to me as we scored against Roma.

Klopp has reminded us that football is about having fun and being part of the collective which everybody from players, cleaners, etc. to supporters all play their part.

Of course I am gutted and yes I know Liverpool’s history is of ‘first is first, and second is nowhere,’ but football is about ups and downs.  That’s why it’s important to enjoy the good times especially as there are a lot of bad times freezing against Stoke in a miserable draw.  It is now looking forward and to be stronger to go one step forward and win a trophy.

So onto the game.  Despite the awful mistakes by Karius the turning point was the injury on Mo Salah.  It was very much a cynical foul by Sergio Ramos who looked very much to have hooked Salah’s arm and bring him down.  Ramos as I have stated in a previous article is a defender who pushes boundaries and knows how to commit the ‘professional foul.’

Once Salah was forced off in tears it knocked Liverpool out of sync.  Take any of the front three off and Liverpool struggle to impose themselves in the game.  Certainly for the first twenty-minutes Liverpool looked the better team.

Madrid had packed the midfield to try and restrict the movement of Liverpool and no doubt to try and hit on the break whilst hoping Liverpool would run out of steam.  The defence though was struggling a bit as the Reds looked to try and find a way through.  As it was the options on the bench was pretty much restricted as half fit Lallana came on for Salah.

Another miss for Liverpool was Oxlaide-Chamberlain.  Prior to his injury his surging, direct runs, and ability to score from midfield was also instrumental in Liverpool getting to the final.  Something seemed to be lacking without Oxlaide-Chamberlain and at times in the league could be pedestrian in the midfield.

The difference in the end was that Madrid did have that bit of extra quality which was seen on the bench when Bale came on for Isco.  It was one of the best if not the very best goals to be scored in a European cup final.  Liverpool were hardly spoilt for choice for who they could bring on to try and change the game.

Goalkeeping has been something that has been discussed at Anfield since Reina left.  Mignolet was inconsistent and Karius didn’t seem to have the ability required of a top class goalkeeper.  Positioning, communication, distribution, organisation, kicking, and concentration all requirements of a good goalkeeper.  It is a much underrated position as a good goalkeeper such as Neuer or De Gea have proven.

Sadly Karius chose the biggest game of his professional career so far to not make on mistake but two massive ones.  With the ball in his hands he had just had to wait to be clear of Benzema but hit it straight at him and rolled into the net.

From a corner Mane equalised and suddenly the belief soared again that Liverpool could come through adversity again.  But then Zidane made the substitution with Bale scoring that overhead kick.  The game was wrapped up after Karius fumbled at the ball for it to go through his hands and into the net.  No doubt he probably wanted the earth to swallow him up.  Incidentally it took Karius great courage to go and apologise to the fans and being a Liverpool player he should never walk alone.

As it was it was the quality and experience of Real Madrid who have consistently stepped up to the occasion to win their thirteenth European cup and third in a row.

For Liverpool it’s about looking forward and trying to go one step further by challenging for the league and looking to go one step further in the Champions league.  Just as important though has been the memories that Liverpool have brought this season.  Hopefully next season it will be a happier one.

 

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Why VAR is that crap follow up album

There are moments in everyone’s life when that anticipated follow-up album turns out to be a steaming pile of shit.  After years in the making the Stone Roses ‘Second coming,’ might as well have been locked deep into a warehouse like the lost Ark in Indiana Jones and the raiders of the lost Ark.  This incidentally can be said of the Star Wars prequels which certainly do not get better with age.

VAR or virtual assistant referee in my opinion should fall into this category of joining the Lost Ark.  It is meant t to ensure that the correct decision is made within the game.  An aid to help the referee who may initially have missed an incident.  Of course it sounds good.  Technology should be used to help improve the game but this is the craw of the matter does it hinder the flow of the game?

Football unlike rugby or cricket that does use something similar to VAR is a flowing game.  There is no natural break in play unless there is an injury or an infringement.  From what I have seen from VAR this season’s trial in the FA cup it has disrupted the flow of the game, led to confusion for spectators inside the ground, and in some cases diluted the atmosphere whilst everyone waits for a decision.

Confusion reigned over the Liverpool and West Brom cup tie which seemed to take an age for the referee to review.  Tottenham and Rochdale was also similar as fans tried to work out why play had stopped.  Then of course there was the wonky lines when Manchester United’s Juan Mata was incorrectly called offside by VAR.

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It doesn’t help that the virtual assistant referee is based in a small cramped office near Croydon but decisions need to be quick.  VARThere are those that believe that as a lot is at stake that it shouldn’t really matter how long it takes for the correct decision to be made.  Again the majority of decisions have shown to be the correct one and teething problems are to be expected.  Over time VAR will improve in the time it takes to make a decision.

This though is where I disagree and like that anticipated follow up album does not get better with more listens.  Football is meant to be a flowing game with passion shown by the teams and supporters.  VAR affects this to the detriment of the game.  For example it definitely affected the atmosphere at Anfield when Liverpool played West Brom.  Anything that has an adverse effect to match cannot be good for the game.

I am willing to accept that referees are human and that sometimes they will make the wrong decision.  Sometimes it will go for your team other times against.  Football isn’t a FIFA game where every decision is instantaneous and correct.

Emotion is part and parcel of the game.  The sheer glee if you’ve stolen one over an arch rival or the complete outrage of the referee not giving you that ‘stone wall,’ penalty.  Sometimes it can kindle an atmosphere like a bush fire as the crowd lets the referee know of their displeasure.  It can even lead to a more vocal support to the team that can help change the match.

One of the reasons why football is such a popular sport because it is a free-flowing game and with the right teams can be end to end stuff.  This in turn generates the excitement amongst the crowd and even the viewers or listeners at home.  VAR without a question disrupts this and in turn affects the game as a spectacle.

Being a supporter means that allow yourself to sometimes see incidents through Arsene (I didn’t see the incident in front of me) Wenger glasses.  Even it has been a blatant foul I have argued that my team’s player has won the ball.

I am not adverse to technology and think that goal line technology is something that was long overdue.  The difference between that and VAR is that the decision is quick and clear whether the ball has crossed or not.  VAR all said and done is still someone’s opinion.  How many times for instance have incidents been replayed on match of the day and there has been divided opinions on whether it is a foul or not?

Decisions in football will not be perfect and that has to be expected.  The game can be fast or players will pull a fast one on the referee.  It is all part and parcel which in some respects adds to the charm of the game.  Not everything is perfect and football decisions is one of many life’s unfairness.

VAR takes away the excitement and the flow of the game for me.  Any new initiatives such as goal line technology or even bringing in the back pass rule is meant to enhance football.  VAR doesn’t do that.  It distances the spectators inside the stadium and dampens any atmosphere like a summer shower.

Sometimes you can’t have perfection and suffer as a result in the attempts to obtain it.  No matter how many times VAR is used it is football’s Phantom Menace and the other Star War prequels.  Football is based on emotion and VAR removes it as clinically as a medical surgeon.

There are some things you can’t mess about with in football and that is the flow and passion of the game.  Accept that there will be mistakes made by referees and just simply the game that excites us football fans.

Brian Benjamin

 

The conundrum of Klopp’s Liverpool

Over the years various managers from Roy Evans, Rafa Benitez, and even Brendan Rodgers have got close to winning Liverpool’s nineteenth league title but just couldn’t make it past the post.  Ironically the latter two  finished with more points than the 1989-90 team that last won the league.  Even Gerard Houllier in 2001-02 finished on 80 pts as the reds finished runners-up.

Jurgen Klopp is now the latest coach who has to deal with the history of expectation whilst having to handle Liverpool’s current standing in the current climate.

Liverpool under his tutelage are one of the most entertaining teams around but equally they also have supporters pulling their hair out in frustration.  Brilliant one week and the next looking woeful.  Equally there have been instances where Liverpool can be three up, but end up hanging on near the end, like a punch drunk boxer after conceding soft goals to let the opposition back into the game.

Klopp has certainly got the best out of the current crop of players and undoubtedly is still one of the best coaches around.  Under him Liverpool press the opposition using pace and aggression.  This system brought Klopp two back to back Bundesliga titles and the German cup.  It was a remarkable achievement considering the financial mess Dortmund were in when Klopp took charge.

As a result Klopp implemented an aggressive pressing system with Liverpool encouraged to press and work the opposition hard.  It is a system were even the forwards are expected to put in a shift by constantly hassling the back line and equally being the first form of defence when losing the ball.

It certainly brought Liverpool big wins on the pitch especially against teams who like to play a bit more expansive.  In Klopp’s first full season in charge they literally blew teams away who didn’t know how to cope with the speedy aggressive play that was unleashed.

Reaction to Liverpool’s pressing tactics

With teams being smashed like a door by a battering ram due to Liverpool’s aggressive and skilful forward play, some have changed their tactics in order to obtain a positive result.  Knowing that if they attempt to try to outplay Liverpool they will get overrun they play deep instead.

Although Liverpool may have the quality players and certainly in Salah, Mane, and Firmino they have a trio that would test the best of defences it is hard to get behind an organised defence.

Depending on your football philosophy you don’t necessarily have to possess the ball in order to control the game.  If you have your players restricting space and knowing where to move in order to restrict Liverpool’s movement and opportunities to split the defence.

 

This has seen many teams adopting this tactic especially as it has frustrated Liverpool and won points.  Recently Swansea used it to good effect and even took their opportunities to win the game despite Liverpool obtaining possession for the majority of the match.

As stated by some critics it is what you do with the possession and how you unlock the defences in front of you.  Midfield is an area that is quite crucial in that respect and where Liverpool can let themselves down.  Sometimes the midfielders have been too slow or lack the guile and imagination to get between the lines.

For example against Everton in the 1-1 draw, Henderson received the ball with a gap in the Toffee’s midfield.  Mane was free but the pass needed to be hit straight away for him to make that run.  Instead Henderson took that extra touch and although it was only a few seconds the Everton players were quickly able to get back into position to pick up the ball.

It’s not just Henderson who at times slows the midfield but Wijnaldum, Milner and Can.  When teams are defending deep it is a case of trying to stretch the opposition and to try to use a bit of vision to open up gaps.  That’s why Lallana has been a major miss this season as he has the ability to thread the ball through tight channels for teammates to exploit.

Defence has been an issue for Liverpool for the last few years.  Klopp has been trying to rectify this enigma with set-pieces also causing problems for Liverpool.  The idea of pressing when losing the ball is to defend from the front to retain the ball by restricting space and closing down avenues in order to obtain the ball and hit quickly on the break.

Liverpool for some reason appear to wilt under the slightest pressure.  The two goals Rodriguez scored for West Brom that helped knock Liverpool saw the middle of Liverpool’s defence break away too easily.

Composure is what is required when defending and although easier said than done due to the amount of energy required to press, it is vital to restrict space and look to regain the ball as quickly as possible.  In Honigstein’s book ‘Klopp bring the noise,’ coaching assistant and chief scout Peter Krawietz states that winning the ball back from the opposition is when they are at the most vulnerable.  The idea being that they may be slightly out of position ready to attack and therefore you can exploit that bit of space if everybody presses forward to gain the advantage.

The frustration can be seen on Klopp’s face as the team no doubt are put through their paces in training to eradicate these mistakes.  Yet under the pressure of a proper match Liverpool struggle to do what is required.

It doesn’t help that the goalkeeper is still a major issue for Liverpool.  Neither Karius or Mignolet appear to be the answer.  Positioning, decision-making, and distribution are something lacking.  The defence do not appear to trust the keeper which in turn has a domino affect as it causes nervousness amongst the back four.

Expectation and the history of the club weighs heavily on each manager to deliver what is now the holy grail of Liverpool becoming league champions for the nineteenth time.  Trophies have been won in that period although the last time Liverpool lifted any silverware was the league cup in 2012.

Klopp is the latest manager to deal with the pressure of the past and at the same time compete in the current climate against sides who have bigger resources.  Matters are not helped by some fans who expect instant success.

Liverpool are still competing for a top four finish and are in the last sixteen of the champions league.  The latter of course could still see Liverpool produce high drama such as the Europa cup run in 2016.  For Klopp it is all about the adventure and enjoying the roller-coaster ride.

Yet progress still has to be seen in making that step towards challenging for the league.  Van Dijk has been signed for a record fee of £75 million with Keita set to join in July from Leipzig.  There will probably be more signings especially if players such as Can and Sturridge leave.

The question then will be whether they have the ability required to make Liverpool more organised when defending as well as having the intelligence to break teams down.  All of this is easier said than done and there have been too many times of trying to get the right  jigsaw piece only for it not to fit.

Jürgen Klopp despite the debates and opinions is the one who has the final say and only time will tell if he can successfully bridge that gap so many others have faltered.

Luis Garcia and the ghost goal

chelsea_garcia_1024Anticipation for one of Liverpool’s biggest games in years kindled furiously like a hive of electricity.  The red’s were due to play Chelsea in the second leg of the champions league semi-final after drawing the first leg 0-0 at Stamford bridge.  It was a chance for a new generation to be at the forefront of Liverpool making history in the way that Rome 77′ and the other big European finals was for their Parents.

The smart money was on Chelsea who were on their way to clinch their second league championship to reach the final.  Under Mourinho they had looked formidable that there were no real challengers for the Premier league that season.

Liverpool in contrast were struggling to finish in the top four under new Spanish manager Rafael Benitez.  Admittedly it was seen as a transitional season after the team regressed under previous manager Gerard Houllier.

It didn’t help that Michael Owen whose goals had been instrumental in ensuring a Champions league qualifier place had joined Real Madrid.  They had incidentally just managed to make the group stages as they lost 1-0 to GAK at Anfield but had won the first leg 2-0.  Hardly the stuff of European champions.

Sometimes though you have to suffer the misery of attending awful matches to appreciate the good times and big games.  Dour matches that are played in the freezing cold and sometimes heavy, driving rain.  A game that you wished you never went to and openly wonder it’s worth all this pain and misery.

That season Liverpool had certainly brought those thoughts into the equation.  An embarrassing and damn right bizarre own goal by Traore saw Liverpool crash out in the third round away to Burnley.  ‘Don’t blame it on the Henchoz, don’t blame it on the Biscan, don’t blame it on the Carragher, blame it on Traore, he just can’t, he just can’t, he just control his feet,’ certainly summed up his performance.

Although Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia had been bought in the early part of the season there was still inconsistencies within the team.  Part of it was of players getting used to the tactics that Benitez wanted to use and partly down to the fact that some of them were certainly not good enough.

The group stages certainly didn’t suggest that Liverpool would be favourites or even a potential dark horse.  So far they were making hard work of it after losses away to Olympiacos, Monaco and a draw at home against Deportivo.  It meant that Liverpool had to beat Olympiacos by two clear goals to qualify as runners-up.

Confidence was high that Liverpool could do it.  After all they were at home but when Rivaldo scored from a free kick into the Kop goal in the first half a resigned resignation shook the stadium.  Liverpool it seemed had that ability to shoot itself in the foot and as a result would be dropping down into the UEFA cup as a booby prize for finishing third

As usual the pitch looked extra green as the floodlights shone brightly against the black December night.  Nothing seemed extra ordinary although Liverpool had shown their fight back skills with a last gasp Neil Mellor winner a week back at home to Arsenal in the league.

Pongolle had equalised for Liverpool but it was the last ten minutes of the game that it turned on its head.  Mellor who had shown a David Fairclough knack of scoring important goals made it 2-1 but Liverpool still needed that extra goal.

Time was running down as the crowd roared on Liverpool and it was Gerrard who at times physically dragged Liverpool kicking and screaming to rescue the team did so with a beauty of a shot.

All I remember was bedlam and the sheer relief and joy when the goal went in.  Once the final whistle went it was a chance to saviour a Indiana Jones moment of scrambling through the closing door and grabbing our hat as a final measure.  It was nice to walk out of Anfield knowing that we still had something to look forward to for the second half of the season.

After that match Liverpool suddenly seemed to have grown in Europe.  They looked so much assured after they beat Bayern Leverkusen home and away who had been European cup finalists in 2002.  Even the much derided Igor Biscan looked like the accomplished midfielder that he had been touted to be.  In Europe at least, the team looked organised and efficient.

Liverpool produced another professional performance as they beat Juventus 2-1 at Anfield and drew 0-0 in Turin to lead to that semi-final tie against Chelsea

Right from Sandhills train station the anticipation was building.  Something was brewing in terms of wanting to make the final so much.  Nerves, butterflies were fluttering inside stomachs.  It didn’t help when the soccer bus to the ground made a spluttering sound before stalling and breaking down.  Nervously I hoped it wasn’t going to be a sign of how things would go on later at the match

Stepping onto the Kop it seemed similar to the halcyon days of the old Spion Kop.  The noise was simmering nicely that it was like a volcano rumbling.  Everybody wanted to be inside as early as possible to generate the atmosphere and support.  Even bringing your chippy dinner into the ground was permissible.

Chelsea had been warned about the noise that Anfield could generate and they no doubt expected a bit of a rough ride with what was at stake.  They certainly didn’t expect it to be as vociferous and noisy.  As soon as they ran onto the pitch for their warm up you could see they were taken aback by the jet powered noise of the crowd.  Something that both John Terry and Frank Lampard later admitted to.

It was something out of the norm as the crowd just yearned to recapture old glories by reaching the European cup final.  The noise just crackled loudly like wildfire and you could feel and taste that excitement and yearning of wanting Liverpool to win this tie.

‘Rings of fire,’ by Johnny Cash which became the unofficial anthem for that European campaign  blasted out and it was a noise to match the old ghosts of games in years gone by.

We were only four minutes into the game when Baros beat Cech to the ball with the keeper taking him out as the loose ball fell to Garcia who scored to put Liverpool ahead.  I admit to a slight pause as I scarcely believed that we had taken the lead but joined in with the loud eruption that roared around Anfield as the referee gave the goal.  An early lead was what we had all hoped for and Garcia, a player that could frustrate one minute and in the blink of an eye produce something outstanding.   Garcia also had that knack of scoring important goals in big games.

The Kop was bouncing even the main stand and the Centenary was too as scarfs were waved high triumphantly.  It was like time had stood still slightly thinking back to that moment as Garcia wheeled away in celebration.

Part of the atmosphere must have played a part.  It had taken the Chelsea team aback and with that level of support seemed to inspire the eleven red men on the pitch.  The crowd wanted it badly and it showed with the songs, chants, and urging on of Liverpool to do the job.

Liverpool were thoroughly organised with Chelsea being limited.  Like a good drama there is always that moment when the hero is in danger of losing everything.

Deep into stoppage time with the crowd willing the referee to blow up I remember Gudjohnsen racing down the right hand side and my heart just stopping as he hit the ball just wide of the post.  There was that look of all footballers who have just missed a good and last chance of the game as he grimaced in disbelief.

It was more than a cheer, a roar or any loud noise as the final whistle went.  Everything just seemed to shake as people yelled in excitement at what they had just witnessed.  ‘You’ll never walk alone,’ blasted out on the tannoy as people stood on top of the seats to join in and saviour every bit of this victory.

This wasn’t in an era were Liverpool swept everybody before them like a Roman army in their prime.  It was no longer the time of expecting Liverpool to reach a major European cup final.  The current Liverpool then were not considered at the start of the season of being good enough to rub shoulders with the European elite.

Liverpool though would be another ninety-minutes away from being crowned the Champions of Europe.  This was against all the odds and why Anfield erupted.  A chance to write a new chapter in the history books and another adventure to tell future generations whilst we grow old.  With the final in Istanbul it hinted at adventure with it being ‘far away from home,’ as the lyrics in Scouser Tommy mention.

The ‘ghost goal,’ was dubbed that by Mourinho who sourly stated that the ball did not cross the line. He had conveniently forgot to mention that if the referee had not given it then he would have had to given a penalty and sent off Petr Cech for fouling Milan Baros.  Added to which there was still time on the clock for Chelsea to get a goal which would have changed things as they would have had the away goal in their favour.

All of that though didn’t matter as everybody was on a high as we all floated down the Walton Breck road.   It was a moment to bask in the victory and to worry about getting tickets for the final tomorrow.  A celebratory glass of a single malt whiskey topped a momentous occasion like this.

Critics had given Liverpool a ghost of a chance of getting to the final and perhaps it was quite apt that Garcia’s winner was dubbed the ghost goal.  There was however still a major turning point as flights were booked to Istanbul and the clock slowly ticked down to the 25th May.   Istanbul was to be a finale worthy of a blockbuster movie.

 

The great and not so classic football shirts. Part one

The sight of certain football shirts can bring back fond memories.  They can define a team or even an era.  It doesn’t have to be the giants like Real Madrid or Ajax whose teams played made an indelible mark on football history, but any team across the leagues.  A strip can not only be admired for being stylish but represent a certain season or be that awful that it now gains cult status.

It is why the retro shirt market is in such big demand.  Sometimes people want a reminder of a glorious past or a shirt stands the test of time that it still looks good even if it was over forty years ago when the actual team last wore it.

Here are a list of classic kits from across the years

Liverpool

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Liverpool have had some stylish kits over the years but the early 1970’s which saw the club win league titles, UEFA cup, and the 1974 FA cup win over Newcastle United is probably the best.  A smart round white-collar with a simple white Liver bird that demonstrated the hard work and humility that was installed in Bill Shankly’s team.

thumb_42772_misc_general_500The late 1970’s saw Liverpool move to a white v neck and to acknowledge Liverpool’s dominance in England and Europe the Liver bird was now gold.  It is a shirt that acknowledges Liverpool’s dominance and made famous by Kenny Dalglish, Souness, McDermott, and Jimmy Case.  The shirt also invokes memories of David Fairclough scoring that last gasp winner at St. Etienne and that 78-79 team that is regarded as the best Liverpool team.

maxresdefaultStill in the 1970’s Liverpool’s best away strip is probably the white shirt with red v neck and black shorts.  A simple but very stylish kit that has to be ranked as one of the best kits produced.

In the 1980’s shirt sponsorship became part of the norm.  Mention the crown paint or Candy kit and people will have an idea of what period you are talking about.  It was also the era when kit marketing became more serious with box sets that are now worth a few bob if you happen to still have one intact.

liverpools_kenny_dalglish_celebrates_after_scoring_the_winning_g_271851The iconic kit certainly has to be the Adidas 1985-87 strip that Liverpool wore when they won the double in 1986.  There is the  famous three white stripes on the shoulder, and the faint Liver birds embossed in the shirt.  A simple but short v neck with the Liver bird returning to all white.

This particular shirt invokes memories of Dalglish scoring the winner to clinch the league at Stamford bridge and Rush being Everton’s Freddie Krueger as the reds came from a goal down to win 3-1 with the  Rush scoring two and Craig Johnston scoring in-between.

2ae08bca6ba4c5594c46c5b5ef58b66b--john-barnes-international-footballA cult kit which was certainly not liked at the time was the white speckled or more precisely a red shirt with white paint flicked at it.  It was the last shirt that Liverpool wore when they last won the league.  Certainly the late 80’s shirts invokes memories of John Barnes and Liverpool did bring back that grey shirt for the 08/09 season that brings back memories of Torres and Alonso in their prime.

It is of course worth noting the red and white pin striped kit that Liverpool won their famous treble which was capped but that famous penalty shoot out win in Rome as Liverpool overcame Roma to win the European cup for the fourth time.  Not a favourite but certainly invokes memories whilst the yellow and red pin striped one is actually a smart away shirt.  LFC80TPC

Arsenal

george-graham-arsenal-1971The North Londoner’s might have been known as ‘boring Arsenal,’ before Arsene Wenger took charge way back in 1996 but they always looked rather dapper in their shirts.  Again the 1970’s home shirt simple design is probably the best shirt.  It is a simple design with the white round collar, red shirt, and white sleeves with the Gunner badge speaking of tradition.  Simplicity is probably the best design for football shirt and like the Liverpool shirt of that era oozes class.

468134992Of course it would be remiss not to mention the yellow and blue-collar shirt that speaks of Charlie George winning Arsenal the 1971 cup final against Liverpool.  It is probably one of the best away shirts and whilst home kits signify a team for me the yellow shirts and blue shorts are what I feel are a natural fit for Arsenal when they play away.

article-2175863-141FB344000005DC-78_306x423The acid house kit (putting it politely) of the early 90’s is now seen as a cult kit.  Yet at the time was highly mocked and derided as one of the worst kits of the period.  Maybe it’s because it’s so bad or simply a nostalgic kick that people conveniently forgot the naffness of it that Arsenal fans are quite happy to buy retro copies or even originals of the shirt.

Denmark – The Danish dynamite kit

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There are some teams that capture the imagination of a world cup, especially if the football is stylish.  Denmark in the mid 1980’s were seen as the decades equivalent to the 70’s Netherlands.  With the likes of Michael Laudrup , Soren Lerby, and Frank Arnesen to name but a few.  With a laid back and carefree attitude to boot the Danes were easily one of the most popular sides of the 80’s.

A mention of Mexico 86 instantly brings back memories of Denmark and the fabulous football that they played.  The highlight being a 6-1 win over Uruguay and a 2-0 win against West Germany who would later reach the final and be beaten by Argentina.

Everybody talked about Denmark being a potential winner of the tournament.  They had the football, and the cool futuristic kit with a red and white striped pin halves.  In short they lived up to their nickname of Danish dynamite.  Sadly they blew themselves up after an awful back pass by Jesper Olsen let Spain back in and thrashed the Danes 4-1.  To this day any bad mistake in Denmark is referred to as a ‘Jesper Olsen,’ and it was certainly one of the shocks of the 86 World cup.

Despite Denmark going home early they will always be remembered for their football and the kit they wore in 1986.  A highly sought after kit at the time and even now.  It is a stylish kit that is both original and smart.

Everton

SOCCERProbably one of the most famous teams that play in blue who have played in a few stylish kits.  The most notable kit is the late 1970’s Bob Latchford kit.  It is very much of its time with the stylish late 70’s collar but with the added touch of the umbro logo down the sleeves of the shirt.

peter-reid-300-740480125However the favourite appears to be the 83-85 kit that invokes memories of Howard Kendall’s formidable team that won the league, FA cup, and European cup winners cup within that period.  Again it’s the simplicity of the kit that stands with the deep white v neck and club crest.  What also adds a charm to this kit is that shirt sponsor Hafnia was a corn beef manufacturer.

gary_lineker_everton_310491The cult kit though has to be the 1985-86 shirt.  At the time the white bib design was controversial with many Evertonian’s not happy with the encroachment of white on the shirt. Consequently it only lasted one season as Everton wore a more familiar all blue shirt.  However despite the initial hostility at the time it is probably one of the most sought after shirts with many fans quite happy to purchase the retro shirt.

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It wouldn’t be a classic shirt article without an Ajax shirt.  The Dutch club has one of the most iconic shirts mainly due to Cruyff and the total football that the team became known for.  There is the white-collar and the familiar red of the middle of the shirt with the rest all white.  It is quite simply stylish in its simplistic design.  Some of the shirts during this period are enhanced with the club badge of the Greek God Ajax.  The shirt is also a reflection of its era and not just Ajax’s dominance in European football but the talent of the team.

Real Madrid

Again it’s the simple kit from the 1950’s and Di Stefano that despite all the success that followed still stands the test of time.  Maybe it’s because the all white shirts shone brightly on the black and white screens as well as the football that Madrid played at the time.  However there is another Madrid shirt that is quite iconic that represents ‘the ‘Vulture squad,’ or ‘La Quinta del Buitre.’

1988-1989-real-madrid-match-issued-3-tendillo-home-football-shirt-adults-large-camiseta-[2]-4405-pThis was a team that brings back memories of Butragueño and the other four players of Sanchis, Martín Vázquez, Michel, and Pardeza who graduated from the Madrid youth team.  It was a side that captured the imagination of the supporters due to its talents and local connection.  Despite its success of winning league titles and UEFA cups it was a team that fell short of winning another elusive European cup.   Maybe it’s why the shirt is remembered as it gains cult status as to what that team should have achieved.  Nevertheless the Hummel shirt is set off nicely with the purple chevron on its sleeves that makes one instantly think of Butragueño and the vulture squad.

Norwich City

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The thing with Norwich City is they scarcely need to wear their second strip as not many teams play in Canary yellow.  In some respects they do have some iconic albeit very bright kits.

Again it’s the 1980’s that seems to bring about the most stylish shirts.  There is the Hummel chevron designed sleeve shirt with the 86-87 shirt being replaced with green sleeves.  However the cult kit and even now it’s hard to see how it ever got past the designer’s bin is the green speckled acid house shirt.  Coventry City also had something similar but in a sky blue design.  However the vulgar bright yellow and green mixed together like a Pollack painting means that this Norwich shirt still has a certain appeal amongst some supporters.norwich

Celtic

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Some shirts stick out simply because of the unique design.  Again it also speaks of a period with Celtic’s Jock Stein’s Lisbon lions still sticking in the memory.

Stripes are more familiar in football designs with Newcastle, Sunderland, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid to name but a few being famous for their strips.  Celtic are one of the few that wear hoops.

Maybe it is the green and white that stands out but the simplicity of the shirt again stands out.  No fancy stripes or messing around with the colours.  It speaks of Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Johnston, Billy McNeill, Paul McStay, and Henrik Larsson.

With the Celtic shirt you simply know what you are getting and it one that is unique and stylish even the current team are nowhere near the level of the Lisbon lions.

Part two next week.  Featuring Juventus, Barcelona, Manchester United, Sampdoria and others.

 

Liverpool in the 90’s – The Spice boy era

Wembley on a bright May day prior to the FA cup final can be a glorious sight.  Much was expected in the Cup final of 1996 as Liverpool took on Manchester United in what many hoped would be a classic final.

That though was marginally fractured when the Liverpool squad strolled out onto the lush green Wembley pitch in  flash Armani white suits.  It had to be said that the suits looked ridiculous with the team looking a bunch of ice cream sellers.  However the image and the nickname of ‘Spice boys,’ stuck and was seen to epitomise what was wrong with Roy Evans Liverpool.  It was a team that was perceived as all image and no substance.  More interested in partying with football coming a poor second.

Time is always a chance to put things in perspective and the criticism aimed at Roy Evans can be seen to be harsh.  Liverpool were consistently in the top four and played some of the best football around of that particular era.

Unfortunately for Roy Evans, Liverpool’s dominance was still recent when he took charge in 1994.  After all their last title was in 1990 and prior to that had plundered so many trophies from the 1960’s to 1990 that it would put a Viking haul to shame.  With detested rivals Manchester United the dominant force, the pressure was instantly on Roy Evans to put Liverpool back on its perch.

After the sacking of Graeme Souness whose two and a half years in charge were turbulent.  Due to poor signings, unrest in the dressing room, and trying to change things too quickly, time was called on Souness’s reign as manager.

The problem Liverpool had, was of who to appoint to make Liverpool the dominant force once more.  Looking at the possible candidates at that time there are none that particularly stick out.

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing to say that Liverpool should have looked further afield to foreign shores.  It is easy to say that Liverpool could have beaten Arsenal to the punch by appointing Arsene Wenger two years before he agreed to join the Gunners.  At that time English football was insular with the possibility that someone like Wenger would have had problems getting his ideas across.  Like the Czech Jozef Venglos whose stint at Aston Villa in 1990 was short-lived there could have been a good chance that the players didn’t take to him.  Furthermore Wenger inherited a strong defence at Arsenal which would not have been the case at Liverpool.  Either way it would have been a brave move for Liverpool to have taken a chance looking at that particular period in time.

Closer to home the only names that could be considered was John Toshack.  Success at Real Madrid and Sociedad as well as having played for Liverpool would make him a serious contender.  As it was Toshack had allegedly missed his chance after turning down the job down in 1991.

Although hypothetical there could have been a chance of trying to bring Kenny Dalglish back to Anfield.  This might have been hard considering that he was building a Blackburn Rovers team that would eventually win the title for the 94/95 season.

That left the bootroom and as Roy Evans was literally the last man standing, was seen as the man to steady the ship and ensure that the traditions of Liverpool were kept.  Ronnie Moran another Anfield stalwart would ensure that his experience and knowledge would also be used.

Football at that particular time was at the crossroads between the old world and the new world of the Premier league.  Not just in terms of the money that was being splashed around but in terms of professionalism.  The acceptable wisdom that a few beers was okay was eventually eradicated to a regime more similar to a high-profile athlete.  Evans had to deal with that as well as re-building a football team that had high expectations from its supporters.

Added to which Evans was used to a world of where players like Souness, Dalglish, Hansen, and Case would take personal responsibility.  Being professional and having the desire to win even if that meant ruffling feathers in the changing room if teammates were not pulling their weight.

This new Liverpool did not have those characters who didn’t care whether it was the European cup final or a Sunday league match.  Winning was what it was all about and the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Case, St. John, and Smith epitomises this during their time at playing at Anfield.

Bill Shankly was certainly a tough character who stood no messing and made sure that his players knew of the high standards that he expected.  Despite looking like your favourite Uncle’s in their comfortable cardigan and flat cap, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were as hard as nails who ruled like a Mafia Don when required.  Roy Evans though didn’t have that steel and ability of when to knock a player into line and when to shown him the door.

Ultimately it is about having respect and sadly Evans could not command that from his team.  Part of the job is knowing when to rid the club of bad influences and players who lacked professionalism.  For example Neil Ruddock should have been one of the first to be shown the door.  Aside from the pass the pound game that he was alleged to have instigated (a pound coin would be passed throughout the match and the last person with the coin after the final whistle had to buy the first round) and loud mouthed slogan ‘win, lose, or draw, first to the bar,’ Ruddock hardly looked after himself.

There were also instances of players competing to steal his car park space, not showing up for training, and general ill discipline that led to supporters that the players were not at all that serious about winning.

Some ex-players dispute the lack of discipline and state that Evans could be strict.  After all Don Hutchinson had been bombed out over a drunken indiscretion and Stan Collymore after proving too much of a disruptive influence.  The truth as they say is somewhere in the middle but it has to be said that discipline was not Evans strong point.

Despite having being tasked with re-building a team going backwards there was a nucleus of good youngsters coming through.  McManaman and Fowler through the ranks with Redknapp, Jones, and James the other youth players cited to have the potential to be top players.

Evans was shown to be a coach who wasn’t afraid to change things.  He did introduce three at the back in an attempt to not just stabilise the defence but with the two wing backs added to support the attack.  There was also the nous in the sense of pushing John Barnes into a central role after his losing his pace.  Barnes experience and passing helped keep the midfield ticking over.

Yet there was the sense that Liverpool were falling behind their rivals not just tactically but on how they trained and approached games.  The Liverpool way was always about not showing any sentiment and ensuring that they always stayed one step ahead of the opposition.

Matches and high-profile defeats such as the mist game against Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, and Watford were all instrumental in how Liverpool changed their approach and tactics.  For example the Belgrade game taught the importance of retaining the ball and led to the centre-halves being expected to be comfortable in bringing the ball out.

Liverpool in the mid nineties were still using the old and trusted methods of the past.  John Scales the former centre half talks in Simon Hughes Men in white suits ‘The wooden target boards were still used and they were rotting away. There was no tactical or technical analysis.  There were so many bad habits.’

Ironically Liverpool who had previously always prided themselves in being ahead of the game had allowed themselves to stagnate by continually sticking to old and trusted habits.  Previously the bootroom had been more than aware that the game continually evolved.

There was also complaints that Evans was too simplistic in his views.  That he didn’t have the ability to be able to change things when it wasn’t working or instructing his players what he wanted out of them.  Again times had changed and the mantra of instructing players to ‘play your own game,’ may have worked previously when the team was a well-functioning machine with players signed to play that position but not a team that was being built.

Despite all this the football was highly entertaining with some eye-catching attacking football.  With Robbie Fowler banging in the goals it seemed that if Liverpool could iron out the problems at the back and a view at the time adding a bit more steel in the midfield then Liverpool would end their wait for a nineteenth league title.

As it was Roy Evans signings fell way short of backing up the potential that was already at the club.  Players such as Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Kennedy, Scales, Leonhardsen, Friedel, and Kvarme to name but a few failed to deliver.  Paul Ince may have been seen as being the steel Liverpool needed but he was not the player that previously excelled in the Manchester United field.

Stan Collymore was Evans high-profile signing from Nottingham Forest for £8.5 million.  Despite his talents he was still a risk after being a disruptive influence at Forest and his previous clubs Southend.

In Collymore’s first season he was productive with him and Fowler terrorising defenders and scoring goals in abundance.  Yet the problems that had dogged his career re-surfaced at Liverpool.  Collymore failed to turn up to training regularly and lacked the professionalism required.  It is only now that we know of Collymore’s battle with mental illness.  Evans unfortunately didn’t have the capacity to recognise this or the ability to deal with the issues as a result.

Success and certainly at a club like Liverpool is what a manager is judged on and Evans fell short.  There was of course optimism when Liverpool beat Bolton to win the league cup in 1995 but that was to be the only bit of silverware that Evans won in his tenure as manager.

Roy Evans despite finishing no lower than fourth in the league failed in delivering the league title.  The nearest that he came to it was in the 1996/97 season when Liverpool finished fourth in a two horse race.  During the run in when the pressure is high it is about delivering results and keeping that nerve.  Liverpool could not take advantage and despite getting themselves in a good position after beating Arsenal at Highbury they messed up by losing at home against Coventry.  As it was a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday saw Liverpool finish fourth rather than nabbing even a champions league spot.

The harsh reality as cited by Fowler and other ex-reds of that period is that the team simply were not good enough.  None of Evans signings made a lasting impression and it would be fair to say that Patrik Berger and Danny Murphy were probably his only real success.

Fowler in his autobiography believes that Liverpool were not that far behind and not in as bad a state as Gerard Houllier made out.  That is a fair point but at that stage the pressure was taking its toll on Roy Evans.  In his interviews during Evans final full season in charge looked tired and unwell as he seemed to be buckling under the pressure.  The summer of 1998 the Liverpool board should have either continued to back Evans or cut ties.  As it was David Moores fudged the issue and went with a joint manager venture of Evans and Houllier which didn’t work.  After defeat to Tottenham in the league cup in November 1998, Evans called time with Houllier now solely in charge.

The legacy of Roy Evans Liverpool is one of a team that played swashbuckling, cavalier football.  Nobody will forget the two 4-3’s against Newcastle that seemed to sum up both teams attitude at the time.

There is also the negative image of the partying, up for a laugh, not really caring, and lack of professionalism that hogged the headlines of some of the Liverpool players.  Indeed it could be argued that whilst Manchester United had Roy Keane, Liverpool had Neil Ruddock and that crucially is the difference in terms of attitudes installed in the team.

Even now some of Evans ex-players do cite a lack of discipline and leniency.  Jason McAteer says of his former manager ‘I think he found it hard to drop or discipline players.  We were all his boys.  We had some big characters there, and he found it difficult to deal with the Collymores and Ruddocks.’  Maybe Evans expected his players to be more adult and take responsibility but a manager has to quickly stamp out any indiscipline and make an instant mark.  Evans failed to do so.

Of course if some of the signings had been real quality and if they had got players like Thuram or Desailly then things might have been different.  As it was Liverpool were great in attack but brittle at the back.

Thrown into the mix was that Liverpool’s methods were still stuck too much in the past.  What had worked previously didn’t mean it still did.  In terms of tactics, training, and diet it all needed a fresh approach.  Something that ironically Liverpool had never been afraid to do in the past.

It could be argued that Evans was unlucky with injuries with Rob Jones finishing his career early and a serious injury to Redknapp whilst playing for England meant he never got the best out of some that young potential.

Evans Liverpool despite its frustrations still provides some fond memories.  The football was fun and at the beginning with the likes of Fowler and McManaman the future did seem bright.  Yet the team fell short and unfortunately it was to be the white suits and not trophies for what Evans Liverpool will be remembered for.

 

 

Why the Coutinho transfer saga is more about Liverpool’s poor recruitment strategy.

With a pocketful of cash from the Neymar deal and Barcelona needing to re-build it was slightly inevitable that the Catalan club would be linked with Liverpool’s Coutinho.  It has been a move that has been mooted for the past year especially as Barcelona are re-building and require an attacking midfielder.

Of course there is the argument that the majority of teams are selling clubs, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid come a knocking but regardless of whether you think it is good business or not, it has shone an awkward spotlight on the transfer and scouting under the Fenway group.

The problem has now been exasperated as Coutinho has now put in a transfer request.  This has led to a few believing that he should be sold for the highest price possible.

However the quality of the Liverpool squad is not up to scratch especially as it needs to improve despite finishing fourth and qualifying for a Champions league play-off spot. There are still problems with the defence with the lack of quality of the bench very much apparent last season as there were no options when Liverpool struggled to break down defensive teams.  There were no player who you felt could change the game or change the formation to test the opposition.

From a footballing point of view it does not make sense to sell Coutinho no matter the fee offered.  I imagine there might be a few people scoffing at that notion, after all every player has his price.  However Liverpool do not have the time to get an adequate replacement and will be to the detriment of the club’s progress this season.

It is a team that needs building for Liverpool to be challenging for the major honours.  Losing your best players is going to make that harder as well as questioning the ambition of the club.  After all it has been five years since Liverpool won a major trophy and even then that was the league club.

Although the years have been lean Liverpool due to its history and large support still has some stature in the footballing world.  It needs more than ever to start proving that the last few years have temporary or very soon be just a famous name from the past.

Liverpool’s first game of the new season away to Watford which ended 3-3 has shown the same old problems of the last year.  A poor defence and the inability to hold onto a winning lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.  The club is great in attack but there is always the sense that they are only a moment away from a mistake in defence which will wilt so easily.

These are problems that should have been rectified prior to the season beginning but swift action is needed otherwise it will be a groundhog season for 2017-18.  Regarding the transfer request from Coutinho it would probably be better if Liverpool could reach an agreement that they will let him go next season. This though would be on the proviso that the fee is acceptable and that Liverpool find a suitable replacement.

A club can only be successful if its recruitment and scouting is good.  Take Atletico Madrid for example.  They have consistently obtained quality players for decent fees and have been consistent challengers in La Liga and European football which has seen them win major honours.

Fenway appear to have a business strategy with regards as to how Liverpool sign players.  Namely signing young potential players who they hope will live up to their reputation and then selling them on for a vast profit whilst bringing in a new batch to keep Liverpool competitive.  The only problem with that is that you have to ensure that you have the right recruitment and scouting in place.  If that was the case then there would be no real resistance to Coutinho being sold to Barcelona.  The quality in the squad would already be there to cope with a loss.  Added to which there would be the confidence the scouting system would provide a more than adequate replacement.

Unfortunately the reality has been very different to the business theory of the Fenway group.  The likes of Downing, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Coates, Borini, Markovic, and Balotelli to name but a few have failed to live up to expectations and have been poor.  Even the likes of Jordan Henderson, Lovren, and Mignolet have been average and not been good enough to take Liverpool up to the next level.

The successes can be counted on one hand with only Suarez, Mane, and Coutinho being the players who have shown the quality required if you wish to compete at the highest level.  Fenway’s money has been spent on mediocrity.    It could be argued that when non-footballing individuals or people with self-interest are involved then problems are going to arise which has been the case with Liverpool.

It seems that the problem isn’t so much about Coutinho being sold to Barcelona it really is about Fenway’s scouting and recruitment strategy for Liverpool and the next direction that they take.