Club Focus – Liverpool – Anfield house of cards teeters on the brink

1987 was an odd year. The Firm spent two weeks at number one with the bizarre Star Trekkin’, a song only mildly more irritating than the year’s biggest selling single, Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, a motto that Great Britain seemed to have adopted with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who swept to her third successive election victory to groans of desperation nationwide. It was also the year that Liverpool FC last lost four matches in a row.

Back then there wasn’t even a mention of the word ‘crisis’, no sensationalised headlines and no calls for the head of manager Kenny Dalglish. The defeats were widely recognised as a blip. The Reds had won the league a year earlier and would do so again a year later, while one of the losses was even in a cup final. Twenty-two years on, things couldn’t be more different.

Tuesday night’s panic-strewn, anxiety-ridden 2-1 home defeat to Lyon has raised the alarm level to disastrous proportions, with the loss providing yet more evidence of the uncertainty, turbulence and lack of stability at a club that has been putting on a brave face for far too long now. The Reds may have looked comfortable when paddling in the waters of modern day top level football, but under the surface the legs were whirring wildly, desperately trying to stay afloat at the apex of the European game. The debt-ridden house of cards that was assembled by Tom Hicks and George Gillett in 2007 looks attractive when everything is in the right place, but the paper-thin foundations make for problems when things go awry. Right now it is wobbling, and could soon come crashing down around their ears.

Running a football club whilst heavily dependent on the income from the prize money and TV rights that go with participation at the top end of the Premier League and, by association, the Champions League is the most dangerous of games – you only have to ask Leeds United and Peter Ridsdale that – and whilst comparing Liverpool’s current predicament to that of the fallen Yorkshire giants is an extreme overreaction that this writer is loathe to succumb to, (others it seems are not) it can only serve as a warning of just how bad things can get if this slide is not halted quickly. As it stands, the Reds have lost four games in a row; holding up the loss of form as anything other than a short-term on-pitch problem would be the norm at almost every other club, but the Americans’ boardroom bitching, backstabbing and broken promises had to come to a head at some point, and this feels like the conclusion. The pair who promised a new stadium and also vowed to stump up the cash for whomever Rafa Benitez wanted to sign – even if that someone was ”Snoogy Doogy” said Gillett – simply haven’t delivered, and whilst they can’t be blamed for the global credit crisis, that’s not how football supporters think, and this run of results has seen more anger directed at their doorsteps than at any time in their ownership..

Of course they can’t address the problems on the pitch directly, and Benitez and his players have both accepted fault for their recent failings in equal measure. Four defeats in a row would, in all probability, have got the manager the sack at most top European clubs, but Liverpool aren’t like most clubs, and the majority of supporters remain loyal to the boss, even though the grim similarities with the last days of Gerard Houllier’s reign seem to be multiplying by the week.

Quite a time to be welcoming the neighbours round then, as Manchester United rock up to Anfield on Sunday wearing a serene smile and a smug sense of satisfaction that only comes with revelling in your rivals’ misfortune. They’ll chant, they’ll sing, they’ll bombard Pepe Reina’s goal with inflatables. The worry for supporters is that the recent run of defeats will see the Reds revert to their old inferiority complex when facing United – feelings that they’d have hoped had been blown away after last season’s double over the champions. If the reports of the death of Liverpool Football Club have been greatly exaggerated, then this would be as good a time as any to stage a resurrection. Victory would only paper over the cracks at a club with deep flaws, but if you offered that to anyone at Anfield right now they’d snap your hand off.

Liverpool Club Focus

The People of Thailand & Singapore vs. Xabi Alonso – July 29
Should nobody expect a Spanish acquisition? – August 5
High hopes – August 12
False start – August 18
Plenty of bets, but no slip – August 21
Three games, two defeats and one big problem – August 25
It gets no easier – August 27
Smells like team spirit – September 1
Babel crows for return to homeland – September 4
Into the Twilight Zone – September 8
Settling the score – September 11
Benayoun defies hs critics – September 15
Probably not the best performance in the world – September 18
Darren Potter and the Cup of Youthful Dreams – September 21
David Ngog, following the leader – September 25
Florence, and the goal machine – September 29
Sting, Prince, and playing the Blues – October 2
The Bridge of Sighs – October 6
Internationals rescued, but at what cost? – October 16
A Beached Fail – October 20
Anfield house of cards teeters on the brink – October 23

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