Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Agony of Defeat

The worst times in Europe since Joe Fagan and Gerrard Houllier

Defeat is not that difficult to accept when you never look to be in a winning position. I have never felt any sympathy to a losing team when they play in horrendous manner. But after watching last night's dramatic semifinal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, when Liverpool finally broke the goal scoring jinx at Chelsea's home, it was really very frustrating to watch them lose in such a manner. Moreover it was their first semifinal defeat in any competition under Rafa Benitez, and their first in European Competition after 43 years. They had never lost a Semi ever since Bob Paisley took over the management.

The reason I can't help sympathizing with players is because the clubs problems run deeper, from management to the board. Since the last 16 years, despite delivering few world class performances, the most successful club in Europe had achieved a little silverware. This year was supposed to be the year for Liverpool. Everything looked perfect at the beginning. With new owners investing over 100 million pounds, and Fernando Torres' arrival, Benitez had planned it perfectly. And then problems started emerging. First with Daniel Agger, the key central defender grabbing up a long term injury, and 34 year old Sami Hyppia was the only choice left for his replacement. Then Andriy Voronin joining the list of injured players. Just when the club finally adjusted to these hurdles, Dirk Kuyt's father expired, and the striker lost his form, and killer instinct. The public spat with owners and Benitez added fuel to the fire. To make matters worse in the next year, DIC made an unsolicited bid to buy the club, resulting in complete breakdown of unity in the Liverpool board room. Fans accuse Tom Hicks of mishandling the club.

People see Hicks as the person who brought down the club. The latest uproar among Liverpool fans was when he asked Rick Parry, the club president to resign. This enraged the fans. Hicks also put the club in heavy debts for construction of the stadium. All these moves clearly made him unpopular, especially with the House of Lords interfering in club affairs.

But in my opinion Tom Hicks has been quite reasonable in his approach to the club. He couldn't possibly have sanctioned more transfer expenditure for the club, when Liverpool was on the brink of being knocked out in the group stages. The new stadium is a necessity. The current capacity is around 40,000 as compared to the Emirates Stadium of Arsenal which can hold over 80,000. This itself justifies the debt on the club. Moreover Hicks has been quite credible to ask Rick Parry for resignation. Ever since Parry has been at the helm of the club, Liverpool haven't achieved any significant victory. Parry's relations with Rafa Benitez are marked with consistent ups and downs. The club has only 4 major sponsors, where they should have had around 15. And despite having millions of fans in Asia, the club has no activity in the region. The share prices of Liverpool on stock market listings is quite average compared to other European clubs like Internazionale and Real Madrid. Unless these things are resolved it is quite difficult to return to the winning ways.
Tom Hicks - Liverpool co-owner

Even Rafael Benitez can't escape from the blame game. Benitez has hit out against a lot of players this year. The video he compiled involving Didier Droga and his gimmicks, did in fact enrage players in EPL. Not to mention his loathing for Ex-Chelsea boss Jose Murinho, which ran so deep that he couldn't help the abusive press conference when Murinho resigned. Benitez sure has a big mouth. While it may be true that he is a great tactician when it comes to European football, his attitude and reluctance to abandon his controversial 'Rotation policy' has cost the club over five seasons without a league win despite having a top notch squad. The 'rotation policy' has worked for him in Spain when he won two La Liga titles with Valencia. But he is too stubborn to adapted to the English game.

Though it should be noted that his record in EPL is quite remarkable compared to many other successful managers. The UCL in his first year, the FA cup in second year, and the League cup in third year, with this season to be the first trophyless year at Liverpool under Benitez's management, his record, speaks for itself. In fact, taking in account his past in La Liga, it will be after seven long years that he is finishing the season without any silverware. It is an illustrative record, for any football manager.

But after all, as the captain Steven Gerrard had said earlier this season, for a club like Liverpool, winning UCL and FA cup is definitely insatiable. With the future of the club heading into the unknown, it is difficult to predict where Liverpool is headed. Fans can't do more for the club apart from watching, as the American sporting giants and Sultan Makhtoum's men battle for power in the boardroom.

Yet the club has improved hundred folds since previous 14 years. Lately the club was a one-man team, with Steve McManhamon, and later Steven Gerrard doing the job of several players on field. Now there are two players doing that with Fernando Torres joining the ranks. The fans do hope young guns like Alex Cooper and Stephen Darby make it into the first team, next season. The predicted arrival of Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry will promisingly strengthen the midfield, along with Daniel Agger returning to the defensive department.

As said in the true-story based classic novel by Alexandre Dumas,

"Entire human wisdom can be summed up in three words, 'Wait and hope'."

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