“We’ve got to look at ourselves. If that’s the level they expect this football club to play at, then they won’t be here long.” These were the words of Kenny Dalglish after a humiliating defeat to Bolton at the weekend. David Johnson, a former Liverpool striker who enjoyed much success with the club in the 70’s and 80’s commented, “I’ve played beside Kenny, I know Kenny and that’s the worst I’ve seen Kenny in terms of how a game’s affected him.”
As a football fan, I have supported Kenny’s rebuilding philosophy, transfer policy and the players themselves, all season. I admit at times, I have given them more favor then perhaps they deserved but I would like to think not so much as to clearly contradict well reasoned judgments based not only on what has occurred this season at Liverpool but judgments based a lifetime of watching football, avidly.
However, after Liverpool’s performance away to Bolton, after wholeheartedly consistently backing Kenny’s philosophy and the players, I personally felt it was all thrown back in my face. As I reflected on how I felt, I tried to comprehend the pain Dalglish must have experienced after months of putting his faith and encouragement in players, which was often against the strong flow of criticism from the masses. The players had no excuses, their bad performance lies solely with themselves.
Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph said, “This is unprecedented. It’s unprecedented for Dalglish and it’s pretty unprecedented for Liverpool, who like to do their talking on issues like this, team matters, in the dressing room.” Nobody who has followed Liverpool FC would disagree. The public threat of terminating players contracts is something not only unprecedented for Liverpool but something which is rare in top flight football as a whole. Such was the magnitude of Dalglish’s reaction.
Dalglish’s clear love of the club and respect for the fans, highlighted in incidents like this, is something that has endeared him to the supporters over the years and something that provides him with more time and support that not many other managers would be afforded after such spending and such a bad performance — a performance that many would argue has been coming to the boil for sometime now. In a previous article entitled “Where is Liverpool Lacking On The Pitch”, I suggested that Liverpool’s problem’s lie not solely with a clinical striker but rather went through the midfield positions as well. That judgment was vindicated against Bolton.
I define what people refer to as a “small” or “big” club by it’s ambitions. Most, if not all of the players Dalglish brought in over the summer have never felt the weight of expectation and ambition that is now upon their shoulders. What separates world class players from the rest is not simply a question of technical ability but also the mental attitude to perform at their highest level consistently, whether the occasion be big or small.
Opinion is divided over whether the Liverpool player’s bad performance against Bolton was simply a temporary flaw in attitude or whether it was more a permanent flaw of quality. Without generalizing or mounting the moral high horse, the attitude of the players against Bolton brings rise to the question, “How in touch with the fans is the modern day footballer?” With wages that clearly create an abyss between them and the ordinary working class fan, players must learn to respect fans and appreciate the gift they have. Creating comradery among players is crucial but the comradery must extend to the supporters, to avoid a type of elite, men’s social club which is exclusive to the players. The level of respect and connection players have to their fans will be measured in their performances and interactions with supporters. I do not wish to condemn or judge the Liverpool players nor suggest they lack respect. There are many troubles connected with such a famous lifestyle that ordinary people will never understand and that one match against Bolton has been the exception rather than the rule this season. However the question is still a valid one.
Many people of the PlayStation generation, when it comes to their views on rebuilding teams and building legacies, have a philosophy of quick fixes: Bringing in the world’s most expensive players at a prime age to solve a club’s problems.
However no team that can boast of a legacy. An extended period of winning elite competitions was never built overnight. There are fundamental principles of attitude that must be instilled not only into the players, but fans also. There are patterns of familiarity among players that takes years to build, principles of a certain playing philosophy that takes years to instill and patterns of patience in the growth of young players that must be achieved, players that are now inconsistent but who one day could become the leaders of lethal football teams. In the history of Liverpool, Ronnie Whelan and Lucas Leiva are two of many examples.
The Barcelona of today, admired around the world, was not built overnight and was not always winning trophies. In 2007 in the Champions League, Liverpool beat a Barcelona side which included Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. Champions are something built as a slow burning ember not an instant explosion.
The upcoming week for Liverpool will be a critical time for the club under Dalglish and will give supporters a measure of the players that have been chosen to create a new glorious period for Liverpool. If Dalglish’s condemnation of the player’s attitude against Bolton is not enough to rile them for the second leg of a semi final cup tie and an FA Cup encounter with Manchester United, nothing ever will and Dalglish himself will have to shoulder the blame.
However if they rise to the occasion, it will be a turning point for them in the league and the future that lies ahead. If they manage to win a trophy, they will rid themselves of a monkey that has been on the club’s back since 2006. More importantly however, it will breed confidence and belief in the players, the players belief in themselves but also the players belief in their manager’s philosophy. Something that is a critical component of any successful side.
The coming week will either make or break many Liverpool supporters and players current belief system.