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So Roy Hodgson did a wonderful job, Fernando Torres is still a hero and I don’t think anybody can deny that Paul Konchesky was the signing of the season. Or was it Christian Poulsen? Or Joe Cole? Now before you all boycott anything further that I write, or bombard TheMakéléléRole with angry, belligerent e-mails, I am, quite obviously, joking.
In truth, despite a 6th place finish and no European qualification for 2011/12, the end of the season was bathed in an optimistic glow for Liverpool fans. Hicks and Gillett gone, a seemingly trustworthy board in their place and King Kenny back at the helm of the ship he had longed to sail ever since he had left in February 1991.
Back in October, however, such an outcome had looked anything but possible. A 2-1 defeat to Blackpool had sent the club crashing into the bottom three and with the deadline for the repayment of the loan to RBS and Wachovia looming, the prospect of administration was becoming very real indeed.
With matters off the field feeling like they were stripping the club from our hands, we could hardly take solace in what was happening onthe field either. Not only had results been terrible but the football had been dreadful to watch.
It may seem slightly pretentious, but football clubs have philosophies, and Liverpool’s was built on the pass and move era of Shankly and Paisley. That style is the first thing looked for in a Liverpool manager, and to see Hodgson impose what were effectively ‘kick and rush’ tactics, sending long balls into the channels for Fernando Torres and David N’Gog to chase, was truly galling.
Even more so when we constantly had to listen to his stubborn insistence that his 36 years of management experience had served him well and he wasn’t going to change for anyone. I’m not suggesting that the Liverpool squad he had at his disposal was capable of playing like Barcelona, but Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Maxi Rodríguez, Fernando Torres, they were far more capable than the rigid 4-4-2 into which they were forced.
In the end, Hodgson paid the price for his stubborn refusal to change to his surroundings. The ownership issue had long been sorted – Fenway Sports Group (then New England Sports Ventures) defeating Hicks and Gillett’s attempts to block the sale – by the time Hodgson was told his services were no longer required. A crowd of just 35,400 turned up for the New Year’s Day win over Bolton; the final straw a 3-1 embarrassment at Ewood Park. Just a few days later Hodgson left Melwood for the final time.
There was only ever going to be one man to replace him. The Kop had begun chanting Kenny Dalglish’s name only a few games into the season – leading perhaps to Hodgson’s biggest misjudgement, when he criticised the fans for the lack of the “famous Anfield support” – and only the King would do to rescue the club from its predicament.
Dalglish arrived too late to have an impact on the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United – and with the defeat to Ryan Giggs’ second minute penalty went another chance for our first trophy since 2006 – but it wasn’t long before the galvanising effect began. A defeat against Blackpool was followed up by a draw against Everton, but the first win came over Wolves and three more quickly followed.
All of a sudden Liverpool were playing the way that Liverpool were supposed to, and in the final weeks of the season some of the performances were a true joy to behold. The force of Dalglish’s personality and the willingness of the board to act quickly had even seen the club come out of the sale of Fernando Torres – unthinkable to most fans – smelling of roses and with a precociously talented Uruguayan ready to fill the hole in their hearts that the Spaniard had vacated.
That the Reds went into the final day of the season with even the barest sniff of European qualification was, quite frankly, an incredible achievement. They had shown top four form since Dalglish had taken over, with largely the same squad as Hodgson had guided to a stunning low of 19th place after the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton.
Of course, the expectation for the 2011/12 season, with the ink still wet on Dalglish’s new three year contract, will be sky high. Liverpool fans have a tendency to swing between feast and famine from week to week – some might characterise them as bipolar – but the optimism of a return to challenging for Champions League qualification is not misplaced.
With a good summer behind them, with the right signings brought in, Liverpool could once again be a force to be reckoned with rather than ridiculed.
We know him as 15yearoldgooner or, mysteriously, ‘Sam’. Either way, he’s TheMakéléléRole’s first ever guest writer. And we couldn’t have asked for a better start. Here, he writes passionately, analytically and – perhaps most impressive – realistically about Arsenal’s topsy-turvy season.
As another season falters to an uninspiring halt, Arsenal fans everywhere will be analysing what caused our failure to lift a trophy.
Was it the players? The manager? The tea lady? All three? It’s difficult to tell.
While there were amazing moments, like the victories over Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United at the Emirates, those moments were overshadowed to crushing defeats in the Carling Cup final, FA Cup, Champions League, and mostly, the Premier League.
There are a few games that have been perceived as the moment things all started to go wrong. The incredible 4-4 draw against Newcastle, when we gave up a four goal lead in the second half. The 2nd leg of the Champions League knockout round when Barcelona overcame us in disappointing fashion – the outrageous sending off of van Persie a huge factor. Or of course, the heart-breaking defeat to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final.
I was there that day – it was my first game that I had attended away from home. Without Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, we were always going to find it a little more difficult, but still, in the build-up to the game, it had seemed like we were the inevitable winners. Some had even discussed who would be lifting the trophy ‘when’ we won. That air of confidence/arrogance may have cost us dearly. In the end, Birmingham were clearly more up for it than us.
That sentence could have summed up a lot of our games previously. The woeful 3-1 defeat to Stoke; the miserable 2-0 loss at Chelsea and, of course, the shocking 3-2 collapse against Tottenham.
In previous years it had been our away form that had let us down, with our form at home strong. The tables turned somewhat this season, as we maintained a formidable away record, while turning in some poor performances at home. The 3-2 defeat to West Brom at the Emirates was a good example of how bad we’ve been at times this season.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we have had our moments – despite the outcome of the tie on aggregate, the Barcelona game should go down in Arsenal history; indeed, I will never forget that night. Right now, the moment when Andrey Arshavin curled home the winner late on is my favourite memory of my 15 years. Laurent Koscielny’s headed goal to beat Everton at the Emirates on an evening of injustice was also a high point.
But the irrevocable feeling of this season is about what could have been. We could have so easily been champions. Taking nothing away from Manchester United of course – they’ve deserved it, as they’ve capitalised on other teams’ mistakes. We haven’t. The amount of missed opportunities is almost unbearable.
And for once, we can’t really make the excuse of injuries. While Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas have missed fair chunks of the season, we’ve had enough resources to win the league. In the make-or-break games, like Bolton, Tottenham or Liverpool late on in the season, we’ve had pretty much full strength teams, but we didn’t win.
The question is why – why could a team that could beat the world’s greatest side fail to win against Bolton? It’s either down to the manager or the players (we’ll have to let the tea lady off, although I have it on good authority that she’s used tea bags beyond their expiration dates once or twice) – or perhaps both. Wenger was maybe at fault for not making the most of the January window and not giving our tactics a little more variation. Some players were maybe at fault for not pulling their weight, while others – van Persie, Wilshere – put absolutely 100% into our title challenge.
And now it seems like we’re coming fourth. How we managed to do so in what seemed to be a two-horse race, I don’t know. Next season will perhaps be Arsene’s last chance to deliver, despite all he’s done in the past. And you could forgive me for being pessimistic, but to be honest, I’m just as optimistic as ever. Come on Arsenal.
There’s plenty more where that came from, and if you’d like to see/hear more from Sam, you can find him at @15yearoldgooner on Twitter, or if 140 Carraghers (characters) aren’t enough for you (which we can well understand), get your head round the longer form of the game, at: http://15yearoldgooner.blogspot.com/
Who can tell me what happened on the 16th of May, 2010, almost exactly a year ago? TheMakéléléRole can, because it was there. If some of you need your memories jogged, Lampard chanted ‘Didier Drogba, lalalala’, Ancelotti sang ‘Volare, wooaaahh! Cantare, wooaaahh’ John Terry croaked out a rendition of ‘We’re makin’ ‘istory’, and thousands of Chelsea fans roared along with them, throwing celery and decibels in equal measure at the open-topped bus which was carrying the Premier League and FA Cup trophies. TheMakéléléRole had spent the day before at Wembley watching Chelsea win the FA Cup and the weekend before watching them demolish Wigan at Stamford Bridge to win the Premier League. The man in charge was hailed as a genius, having guided Chelsea to a famous and unprecedented Double.
That man was, of course, Carlo Ancelotti. Yet, one year on, many Chelsea fans are now harrumphing and murmuring their way towards an ‘unacceptable’ second place in the League Formerly Known as the Best League in the World™. How can they be so inclined to forget something that happened less than a year ago? Have they forgotten the first 4 seasons in the Premier League when Chelsea were in the dreaded bottom half? What about the seasons in the 80s when Chelsea weren’t even dining at English football’s top table? What TheMakéléléRole is trying to get at is that if there is one thing out of the innumerable ‘gear-grinders’ that currently plague top-flight football, there is one that grinds not only TMR’s gears but also its brakes, pistons and axels. That is fickle, spoilt fans.
The main point of the article (which will not have been obvious from TMR’s indecipherable ranting so far) is that patience is a commodity that must be thought of on the same level as money in terms of importance. The easy examples of patience paying off are those of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, who took 6 seasons to win his first league title and can now count 12 (presuming United don’t go all Devon Loch on our ass), as well as FA Cups, League Cups, and Champions League trophies. Arsene Wenger, despite recent form, has been successful as Arsenal manager (and if you don’t agree with TMR, kindly leave the premises before you are escorted off by our bodyguard, Geremi). Even if we take out the money, have a look at David Moyes and what he has done at Everton when backed by his chairman and fans.
However, more importantly, let’s go back to Carlo Ancelotti. TMR really enjoys the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’, and it is rarely as apt as it is now for Chelsea fans. If Ancelotti is sacked, Chelsea will be back at Square One, just like 2 years ago when he took over. TheMakéléléRole wonders whether, realistically, Chelsea could hire a manager this summer who would win the Double straight away, in their first season at the club? Villas-Boas , the Porto manager, seems an attractive choice.
Hey guys, remember that time when we hired that young Portuguese manager who came in, wowed us all, and won Chelsea their first League title for 50 years, the FA Cup and the League Cup twice? Well 4 months after winning the FA Cup trophy, with captain John Terry and Frank Lampard draped all over him like the cheap hookers, he walked away from the club (albeit with one of ‘Oh sorry, did I just barge into you by mistake?’ shoves from Roman) after three games where Chelsea failed to win. Laughable.
Finally, TheMakéléléRole wants to mention another issue – Fernando Torres. Oh, Fernando. How to solve a problem like Fernando? Frankly, our first thought is to give him one of our speacial and famous bear-hugs. But we’re glad you asked, because TMR has ideas. Call us crazed, but we’d like to give him a little more time until we call him a flop, a failure, a waste of money. And here is why: bear in mind, if you will, the general theory that players who play long seasons for their clubs, pick up knocks, and then proceed to play in major international tournaments, tend to be exhausted at the start of the season. Then bear in mind, if you can stand the thought of cutting the man some slack, the fact that in 2008, Fernando Torres (after scoring 24 league goals in his debut season at Liverpool) went to Euro 2008 and came back victorious. In 2008/2009 he tore his hamstring, Sellotaped it back together, then the Sellotape ripped a little bit and then he picked up an ankle injury for good measure. Torres then proceeded to go to South Africa for the Confederations Cup. Back at Liverpool, injuries plagued him further, not helped by The Waiter depending on him so badly that he was often rushed back from injury, a sure-fire way of exacerbating the problem. Of course, that summer he was back in South Africa becoming a World Champion, before getting straight back into the thick of it this season with more injuries and the occasional goal. We could also go on to mention that Fernando has been playing under the most immense pressure since the age of 17, when he was thrown in at the deep end at Athletico Madrid.
Now TMR is patiently disposed. It always has been and that’s why people like it. But even if we weren’t, we reckon it would be within reason to suggest that this man has been under more physical and mental pressure in his career so far than we would experience if we lived to 200 years old. What we suggest is that we give Fernando the summer off for the first time in 4 years, let him blow the top off a couple of San Miguels and get the hair back to its former glory (incidentally, is this the first time that hair has been the subject of footballing pathetic fallacy? So beautiful when scoring for fun, so dark, dank and lifeless these days) and then let’s see if he doesn’t repay us by scoring 40 goals next season, firing Chelsea to League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League glory. And hell, TheMakéléléRole is feeling generous, so we’re going to let Carlo Ancelotti stay a little longer as well, because he’s such a nice man. And if not, well, let’s just sack them both. And get Ray Wilkins and Zola back. They’ll win it all for us.
TMR doesn’t know what Chelsea’s fickle and impatient fans like to do to calm themselves, but we suspect it involves the coming together of darts and pictures of Ancelotti/Torres/Kalou/Mikel/Bosingwa and everyone else who is a massive waste of space, isn’t fit to wear the shirt/tight-fitting hand-made Italian suit etc. TheMakéléléRole’s message to these fans: go and do some dart-throwing, get all that anger out of your system, and then let’s give this ‘patience’ thing a try. Oh, and be careful what you wish for…