Club Focus – Liverpool – A modern warfare

In 1892, Everton left Anfield and moved down the road to Goodison Park, and a new club that bore the name of their city was left behind. It had one of the best grounds in the country but no team to call it home, and so club founder John Houlding instructed his newly appointed manager John McKenna to take the next train up to Scotland – a few days later he returned with 13 players.

Liverpool Football Club and their ‘Team of the Macs’ became the new dominant force in football, rising up through the divisions and being crowned English champions within a decade of their formation. The term ‘buying success’ could have been invented there and then, but now over a century later Manchester City’s summer recruitment drive involved the type of astronomical sums that Houlding, McKenna and their Scottish signings wouldn’t have believed possible back in the 1800s. Those following in their footsteps at Anfield could be forgiven for casting envious glances as City’s team bus pulls through the Shankly Gates on Saturday, wondering aloud just what sort of future that their riches can buy for them – but the Liverpool of 2009 have got far more pressing matters on their minds at the moment.

With the club and its manager being attacked from all sides, managerial shortlists drawn up and knees jerking all across the football world, the past couple of weeks of international action have provided a welcome respite from all of the current trials and tribulations at Liverpool, whilst also giving manager Rafael Benitez valuable time to prepare for the visit of Mark Hughes and City on Saturday lunchtime. The Reds boss will be pleased to return to Anfield, where – far from what many would like you to believe – he still retains the full backing of the vast majority of supporters. No-one booed after the draw with Birmingham, the players were cheered back onto the field for the warm-down after the defeat to Lyon. Liverpool supporters can put up with bad results if they still see that the effort is still being put in by the players, as it certainly was for the majority of those two matches. And while the world, his wife and their extended family continue to express their not-so expert opinions on Benitez, his players and the form they are in, it might pay to actually look deeper into the situation at Anfield and not be so quick to jump to easy conclusions.

The crippling injury list that continues to grow – and that will probably rule Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun, Albert Riera and others out of the City game (although Benayoun, Riera and Glen Johnson have been on the receiving end of some injected horse placenta this week – a quick fix that the Reds will hope can get their season back in the saddle) – is the main reason behind the current woes, and would rock any team to its core, let alone one facing the amount of high-profile and difficult matches that Liverpool have been. To dismiss that as simply a problem that Benitez, or any manager, should easily overcome is to display a stark lack of knowledge about the game of football, with those calling for the manager’s head underlining their ignorance of 117 years of Liverpool history.

Ever since Houlding decided that the city of Liverpool was big enough for two separate football clubs, the younger of the two institutions have only ever sacked two managers – Don Welsh in 1956 and Gerard Houllier in 2004, and neither of those sackings occurred during a season. Houllier even turned up at his post-sacking press conference with a smile on his face and an acceptance of the decision. Should Benitez be sacked now – as an increasing number of shrill voices with little or no knowledge of the inner workings of the football club continue to demand – then what exactly do Liverpool do next? They would be effectively writing off the rest of the season, a campaign in which they are still just three points off fourth spot going into Saturday’s fixtures, still have an outside chance of progression in the Champions League (and a consolation cup to drop into should they not) and haven’t even played in the FA Cup yet.

Should the current situation continue, results not improve and even more problems occur (although it’s hard to think of many that haven’t happened yet) then by all means Benitez’ position at the football club should be considered – but in the summer. Knee-jerk reactions are simply not on the agenda for most of the club’s match-going, knowledgeable support, and while the opinionated masses – seated on the outside looking in – will continue to attempt to drop hand grenades over the manager and the squad he’s assembled, this remains a battle that General Benitez is determined to win. The least he deserves is the chance to try and do so.

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