When Steven Gerrard blazed a penalty over in the dying minutes against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night, unable to conjure yet another one-man rescue act for the annals, Liverpool looked done for. They lost the match 3-1 – but that missed penalty was a full-stop. A conclusion to more than just 90 abject minutes, to more than the myth of Stevie G or Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated managerial reign. It felt to all intents and purposes like the end of Liverpool as a great football institution.
I can hear the Liverpool fans scoffing from Berlin. »The history, what about the great history?« they always cry. But it counts for little these days – Manchester City for example are cruelly reminded by a banner in the Stretford End that they have not won a trophy for 33 years every time they visit Old Trafford, but it is they, not Liverpool, who are even anywhere close to challenging for the Premier League title.
Ferguson: »Knock Liverpool off their fucking perch«
When Sir Alex Ferguson took charge at Manchester United, he claimed his aim was to »knock Liverpool off their fucking perch.« The Merseyside team were then the pre-eminent force in British football, a club revered for their class, their unity, their swaggering play. »Pass and move, it’s the Liverpool groove« went the song. But who now looks to Liverpool for stylistic cues?
As the cameras lingered morbidly on Roy Hodgson last night, the Match of the Day commentator described him as »beleaguered, bruised and battered« – and he was not wrong. Hodgson after this result – their ninth league defeat – is probably already half-heartedly clearing his desk at Melwood. His tenure cannot continue – even if he is not entirely culpable for the doom engulfing a club who has won 18 league titles.
The Premier League era has left Liverpool behind
None has come since 1990 – the Premier League era has left Liverpool behind. Even their opponents at Ewood Park last night, have managed to win it once. No, Liverpool have been a club in decline since the old certainties of the Shankly boot room dynasty crumbled: »Sir Alex Ferguson never knocked Liverpool off their perch, that’s nonsense that,« says Jamie Carragher. »It was Graeme Souness who did that, it really was. United were competing with Norwich and Aston Villa for their first title – they weren’t competing with Liverpool, were they!« Mediocre players joined the club in staggering numbers, tactical and technical quality nose-dived and only the occasional excellent academy product (Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and co) staved off the rot.
Those Premier League youngsters though have come through with less and less frequency, while the number of mediocre players on the club’s books has only increased – four in fact have been signed during Roy Hodgson’s time at the club. It is a startling rate at which to accumulate junk players while the classiest, such as Javier Mascherano and Xavi Alonso, slink off to bigger clubs. Should Pepe Reina disappear to Arsenal or Manchester United, or Fernando Torres to Manchester City or Chelesa, the decay may become insurmountable.
Physical decay is a problem too. Anfield is not what it once was: yes, it is a special ground, a potent symbol, and the only place Liverpool can currently win. But the boarded-up houses around the ground, owned by the club, hint at fatigue. The stadium cannot sustain any club who claims to be »big« – particularly when the football being played there is now damaging attendances: 4,000 season ticket holders stayed away from the weekend’s win over Bolton and turnout as a whole was down 10,000 on the average. If the club slides further towards the relegation zone (they are currently five points off last place), Liverpool fans’ claims they are the best supporters in the world will be sorely tested.
Another title for Man Utd would break a Premier League record
Some would say they already made a mockery of that claim against Blackburn, when they joined in the Rovers fans singing, »You’re getting sacked in the morning« at Roy Hodgson. The familiar chants of »Dalglish« made an appearance too, indicating just how badly Liverpool are living in the past – an incomparable player Kenny Dalglish may have been and a tremendous servant to the club, but he has been out of football management for a decade. Owners New England Sports Ventures are right to be wary of falling back on him when the club so desperately needs pulling kicking and screaming into the 21st century. On the other hand, whether they have either the appetite, nous or money for such a long-term process remains a mystery.
After a punishing festive schedule, and following the 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Manchester City last night, Manchester United are in the box seat for the title. Should they win it, they will confirm what was hinted at on Wednesday night by Gerrard’s wayward penalty kick. The title would be United’s 19th and would see them break Liverpool’s cherished record, usurping the Anfield club’s precious place in England’s footballing history as the country’s most successful club. Sir Alex Ferguson would rub his hands with glee: Liverpool definitively, perhaps irreversibly off their perch. Mission accomplished. And little or no riposte from Anfield.
An dieser Stelle erklärt Titus Chalk die englische Fußballkultur auf Deutsch
Folge 21: Avram’s lucky scarf
Avram Grants glückliche Schal. Der West Ham Trainer hat ihn von seinem Kit Man Bob Oteng am Ende November bekommt und mit ihm, die beste Ergebnisse seiner Saison erreicht: Mit dem Schal, hat West Ham nur zwei von sieben Spiele in der Premier League verloren. Dann ist Mittwochs Spiel gegen Newcastle angekommen. »Er muss seinem Schal nicht heute brauchen«, hat der Kommentator gesagt, als das Kamera auf Grant fokussiert hat und das Spiel an 0-0 gestanden hat. West Ham hat endlich 5-0 verloren. Hat Mütti Grant nie seinem Sohn erzählt: »Ziehe warm im Winter an, Schatz«? Damit nicht seinem Schal eine Schlinge wird.