What holds Liverpool back?
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on February 28, 2016
What’s in a slogan? Sometimes just a cheap philosophy phrase adapted to a good campaign: impossible is nothing, just do it. Other times, it can summon the essence of the mentality of a group, like Barcelona’s “El valor de tenir valors” (the courage to have values) in their La Liga and Champion’s league winning team five years ago. New Balance chose “hold nothing back” this year for Liverpool. And in that case, it worked almost like a curse.
LFC has been held back. Nine points away off the fourth place with 12 games to go; it’d take nothing short of a miracle for Liverpool to get into Champions League next season. It is a mediocre objective that over the years has apparently become the primary target for the Reds. The decadence of the club – stated plainly in Jamie Carragher’s famous “we are becoming the new Tottenham” – has gotten to this point. You may regard this as pessimistic, but unless Christian Benteke begins to score hatrick’s and the defence realizes how to clear a set piece, I believe it’s time to think of the future.
I want to discuss what separates 2015/2016 Liverpool from the teams that currently stand in the top four: Leicester, Arsenal, Spurs and City. Most likely they will end up there, with their positions to be sorted out. I believe that this Rodgers/Klopp version of the Reds has lacked three things: a plan, stars for when the plan doesn’t work and the right mentality.
Arsene Wenger has been building a competitive side for years now, with a recognizable idea even when the actors change. Manchester City has built a team revolving around Sergio Aguero, masterfully surrounded with talents like De Bruyne, Silva and Sterling. Mauricio Pochettino’s two year stay in London is paying off this season, with a consistent and deep squad ranked second as I write. Even the amazing Leicester has a plan – the spartan Planax formation, but there is one. Could anyone outline what’s LFC’s plan is?
I’m not talking about FSG’s marketing strategy, or business or any of the Middle East countries the club’s planning to visit in their next pre-season. I mean, a footballing idea, a core to build upon. Only when you realise there is no plan you can understand how a team changes, eight games into a season, from Brendan Rodgers’s shifting passing tactics that earned his Swansea side the nickname of Swansealona, to Jurgen Klopp’s heavy-metal-post-banging-glasses-smashing footballing idea.
With Klopp, the side gained enthusiasm, for lack of a better plan. But a manager should not set the tone of how a team is going to form. The Board should decide that, hire the right person to fill that position and work with him to get the players that can fit into the idea that he may have. Modern football often works the other way around, and that gets a team through the motions, but rarely sets them up for success. Is Klopp the right man? For sure, but even if he becomes Merseyside’s Sir Alex Ferguson, the team should be ready for when he waves goodbye. And in order to do that, you require a plan.
Stars for when the plan doesn’t work:
The best teams in the world have bad days, and when that happens, their key players put on a superhero cape and save the day. That’s the most plausible explanation to why United are fifth in a season like the one they’re having. They have Rooney, Martial, Mata and even Jesse Lingard. If you look over to the top of the table, it’s a pattern. Harry Kane, even without the traits and flair of many superstars, scores 20 goals per season. Not to mention the wonderfully gifted Dele Alli. City’s got an assortment of players who can become heroes, starting with Maradona’s former son in-law. Arsenal has former Barcelona winger, Alexis Sánchez, and leading assists playmaker, Mesut Ozil leading the way. The Foxes could not even dream with a run like this without Riyhad Mahrez, Jaime Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel.
Enter the Shankly Gates and who do you get? Roberto Firmino, an unused substitute under Rodgers, is arguably the best Liverpool player in the BPL this season. His numbers? Six goals and six assists. Coutinho is there, with five goals and five assists. Somewhere along the line, James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Christian Benteke. A good roster? Yes. A basis to build upon? Of course. A group of mature game-changers who can decide a tough match based on skillful play? Not so often.
Liverpool’s been signing the ‘next best thing’ for years. Sometimes they turn into flops, like Iago Aspas, Fabio Borini, Mario Balotelli, or Andy Carroll. Sometimes they do turn into world class players and go on to score 40+ goals per season in Catalonia, or worse, to decide games for Manchester City and else.
Nobody ever replaced Suarez. Benteke’s 30 goals per season average at Aston Villa may be a case of ‘a big fish in a little pond’ that’s currently drowning in the ocean (theme for another discussion). Sturridge is seldom fit. Origi, Ings and Ibe are not quite there yet. Nobody ever replaced Steven Gerrard, the commander of Liverpool’s midfield. Milner is, at his best, a captain, but it is difficult to see him getting to the former skipper’s stature. Nobody even replaced one of Europe’s most promising youngsters, Raheem Sterling. Liverpool need to sign proven talent, and not bets. Attracting proven talent implies, again, having a defined plan for the future. Klopp can help but he won’t be able to do it alone.
The right mentality:
If Liverpool wants to avoid ‘becoming the next Tottenham’, its decision-takers and fans that have to stop thinking that top-four and a good run in the cups is a good season. How can a club be great if it doesn’t strive for greatness, fighting for the Premier and the Champions League on a regular basis? It seems far away from where they stand now, but I don’t know another way of being great once more, and to achieve a winning mentality.
Klopp is a winner. He is in his first English final tomorrow. But the drive for silverware has to be nurtured from the inferior levels of the club, all the way up. Disconformity is key. A Carling Cup in 2012 is just not good enough. Arsenal are thinking gold, City have tasted it, Spurs are well on their way and who can stop Leicester from dreaming now?
Change these aspects and success will become a plausible reality. Ignore them and the team will have to wait until ‘the next Luis Suarez’ comes in, have an undefeated run, and hope that nobody slips again so the Reds can have a shot to the glory. But something so important for an historic club like this should not be left to luck.