Missing: Brendan Rodgers’ Tricky Reds

Aston Villa – Loss. Ludogorets – Win via injury time penalty. West Ham – Loss.

Read that first line again. It’s not made up. That actually happened.

Should you have told me at the start of the season that this was going to happen, I’d have a had a good old chuckle and told you to sort yourself out, you’re losing the plot.

I can’t imagine any Liverpool supporter would have told you any different. These lads don’t lose those kind of games. Not Brendan Rodgers’ Tricky Reds. They’re free flowing, high octane, we don’t care how many you score we’ll score more lads.

So, where has that free flowing, tricky bunch of lads disappeared to? And why have they gone missing? It’s too simplistic to just blame it on being Suarez-less. It’s not as if he’d have been playing anyway due to his latest lengthy suspension.

Personally, I’d like to think they haven’t truly gone missing. They’re just trapped in the basement. They bashed their head on the way down and are currently lying on the floor, dazed and confused, convinced that their name is Tuesday and thinking that those things there, that look like stairs, they most definitely aren’t stairs and the way out of here. This isn’t a missing persons report, its a bout of amnesia and an identity crisis.

I’m sure it was Neil Atkinson of The Anfield Wrap that coined the phrase Brendan Rodgers’ Tricky Reds. This is a term that I wholeheartedly embraced as it summed the team up perfectly. That’s who they were and they knew it. But no longer. Everything that was great about last season, has been replaced, by everything that was bad.

I think I can pinpoint the particular moment that this happened. When the players and staff of Liverpool Football Club forgot who they were. It was Jordan Henderson’s sending off against Manchester City last season. That was it. That’s when the identity crisis began. Go back and look at the results from the closing games of the season. They’re not in-keeping with what occurred prior.

Henderson may not have been the star man in the team, grabbing headlines like Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge or Raheem Sterling (for the last couple of months of the season anyway), but, he was the team’s identity. I’ve extolled the virtues of Jordan Henderson previously, so I won’t go into detail again, but I will say this. No player in that squad has the intensity of Henderson. The ability to hassle and harry opponents all day long and then the ability to break and get forward at pace when you win it back. Added to that is the appearance of a man that truly cares about what happens to Liverpool Football Club. He rallies, dictates and celebrates more than any other player in the squad.

Tactics are important but so too is mentality. Henderson has that in spades.

I’m not saying that with Henderson in the team we would have beaten Chelsea or gone on to win the league. But, I am saying that we wouldn’t have lost ourselves. We’d have been more assertive against the soon to be relegated Norwich City, the 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace wouldn’t have been allowed to happen and a 9 man Newcastle team would have been put to the sword.

The club would have finished the season on a high – Champions or not – and started this season accordingly. Instead the start of the season has found a team lacking in confidence and bereft of a winning mentality. Of course, key players have been missed (Sturridge and Allen in particular) and set pieces poorly defended, but having a winning mentality and being sure in your identity can help you overcome deficiencies. Take Leicester City and their comeback to beat Manchester United 5-3. Esteban Cambiasso, a player who knows a thing or too about winning football matches, said the following:

“I think Leicester City has this winning mentality. When you have been in the Premier League for maybe nine or 10 years, maybe you have another mentality. But you are promoted to the Premier League it’s because you have been winning matches.

“Leicester City’s manager and the players possess this winning mentality.

“It’s not possible to change the mentality you had last April or May for a totally different one in August or September.

“The mentality of my team-mates is to win because last year they needed to win most of their matches to go up.”

In my opinion, this loss of mentality/identity has acted to compound the mistakes that have been made. And there have been many.

Liverpool have made some real rookie defensive errors thus far, but it’s not as simple as blaming the goalkeeper (Mignolet is the subject of a whole other debate) or the defence individually. Mistakes have been made all over the pitch.

The midfield for example, has been woeful. They have somehow managed to combine providing little defensive cover with a complete lack of support for the front man. Something I didn’t know was possible. Surely, if you’re defence is left open and exposed, it’s because you’ve committed too many men forward? Apparently not! Mario Balotelli has often found himself alone, nobody close to him. No midfield runners getting beyond or playing a 1-2 that allows him to spin off behind the opposition defence.

Additionally, it’s been clear to see that the pressing this season is not what it was. Whether it’s a change in strategy, new players failing to adapt or that the legs simply aren’t there, it’s not happening. Jordan Henderson is effectively dong the work of 3 men and obviously failing. Who wouldn’t in the circumstances? Lucas wants to be the player that he once was and clearly knows where he’s supposed to be on the pitch, but his body simply won’t let him get there in time.

Liverpool’s midfield have looked overpowered and overrun, in both league losses (the first consecutive PL defeates since December 2013) with Steven Gerrard being targeted in particular. I’m a huge Gerrard fan, how could you not be? His performances and accolades over the years speak for themselves…. The lung busting runs and Roy of The Rover’s performances which now seem to have taken their toll. He’s beginning to look every one of his 34 years at the moment, unable to perform the role that he’s being asked to do.

It was painful to watch Stewart Downing ghosting past him, or replicating the performance of Gabriel Agbonlahor, denying Gerrard time and space on the ball. Forcing mistakes and panic. I’ve never seen Gerrard’s passing so bad, so many simple passes given away, long hopeless balls hit astray. It was noticeable that in both games Jordan Henderson was tasked with the deep lying role at various points, increasing his never ending burden (he now had to press, cover and try to dictate the play all at once) in an effort to free Gerrard. But it never happened, Stevie simply could not get himself into either game.

During the match against West Ham, I couldn’t help but feel that the Hammers looked more like Liverpool than Liverpool did. They pressed and put Liverpool under pressure. Winning the ball high up the pitch and getting men in support of the front men quickly. The result, Liverpool played more long passes than West Ham and never had a grip on the game.

Prior to that, Aston Villa had capitalised on Liverpool’s ability to break down a solid defensive unit whilst Ludogorets surprised everyone with their attractive and confident play (winning mentality as league champions 3 years in a row) and were unlucky to lose the game.

Brendan Rodgers will talk about other contributory factors. Missing key players, whilst integrating new signings and managing the lack of preparation time – courtesy of Champions League demands – was never going to be easy. It’s a big task for manager and players alike.

A task that I believe can be coped with by a team that plays with intensity, desire and belief. A team that knows it can beat all comers with it’s brand of high octane attacking football, scaring the bejeezus out of every foe it faces. A team like Brendan Rodgers’ Tricky Reds. They’ve just got to remember who they are.

Please follow @StevenSaysBlog on Twitter for more content.

Pic courtesy of Jan Kruger/Getty Images.

Missing: Brendan Rodgers’ Tricky Reds

Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson

Jordan Henderson.

Runs from his knees apparently. Could run on his hands for all I care because he runs all day. Runs more than any player I’ve ever seen, that lad. Makes running around a football pitch look like fun. Makes running around look important. Because he makes it important. He makes it vital.

Jordan Henderson.

Covers every blade of grass as if he’s got ‘The Great Big Book of Blades of Grass’ and needs to tick each one off. 3 feet and 5 inches left of the right corner of the 18 yard box. Tick. Covers the grass so that he appears to be everywhere. So that he’s involved in everything. Defending? I’ll have a bit of that. Attacking? I’ll have a bit of that.

Jordan Henderson.

A proper centre midfielder. Old fashioned in his box to box, up and down and all around approach. He want’s to do it all. Because, he can do it all. Well most of it. They don’t make many like that anymore.

Jordan Henderson.

He can play 10 games in 8 days. Brendan said so. He’s powered by batteries and his cousin is the Duracell bunny. Steven Gerrard said so. After the match he goes to the park and plays “3 and in” till it get’s dark. He doesn’t need a rest. Doesn’t know what it is. Mention sleep to him and he looks at you blankly. He’s heard of it, but never done it because he spends all night running around his garden. He’d rather keep quiet and not talk about it, than make an idiot of himself by telling you that he thinks it’s that thing people do after they’ve been to the toilet.

Jordan Henderson.

Did a skills video as a scrawny 16 year old. Google it.

Source: Phil Cole/Getty Images Europe
Source: Phil Cole/Getty Images Europe

Jordan Henderson.

Already a leader, England Under 21 Captain. Giving the other lads a telling off. He doesn’t care who you are. He wants you to be better. To try harder. To be more Jordan Henderson. Standing there at corners telling Lovren and Sakho that they need to be on the end of this cos they’re big lads. Cajoling, chivvying, coercing and other words beginning in c and ending in -ing. All in the name of getting maximum effort from the team.

Jordan Henderson.

Great hair that lad. No messing.

Jordan Henderson celebrates after extending Liverpool's lead at White Hart Lane Photo: ACTION IMAGES courtesy of The Telegraph
Source: ACTION IMAGES courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

Jordan Henderson

Celebrating goals. Celebrating all the goals. Like it’s the best thing in the world. Because in football terms, it is. Totally forgetting that he’s being watched by thousands and doing celebratory skips and jumps to celebrate other people’s goals… on more than one occasion. He loves a group hug and although he wont admit it, he’s a little bit in love with Daniel Sturridge.

Source: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images Europe
Source: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images Europe

Jordan Henderson.

Offered the chance to go to Fulham. Told Brendan to stuff it. Stayed and fought for a place and became (not the best but) the most important player in the system. Irreplaceable. And anyway, there’s not enough places to run in that London, too many cars. And pigeons. And Fulham are crap.

Jordan Henderson.

Press. Press. Press. Press. Press. Press.

Jordan Henderson.

Losing the bloody coconut shy challenge to Lucas and being told “unlucky” more times than any man should be. Not caring and smiling throughout because he won the centre midfielder challenge. Unlucky.

Jordan Henderson.

Proving that most of the time you just need to give young players a chance. Support them. Nurture them. Teach them. And watch them blossom into mile eating, ground covering machines.

Jordan Hendeson.

Getting suspended for the end of the season. Palace wouldn’t have happened with him in the side. More likely to have won the title with him in the side.

Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Jordan Henderson.

Always hanging around Steven Gerrard. Don’t worry Stevie, I’ll do your running for you. Does it to be close. Look at the pictures. He’s always next to Gerrard. During the game and in training. Watching, learning, waiting…… He’s after your job Stevie. Not just the armband. Your job. As leader, as talisman, as go to guy, as Brendan’s moral conscience…. as the man at the club. He wants it all.

Jordan Henderson.

Current Vice-Captain. Future Captain.

Here’s to you Jordan Henderson.

Here’s to you, Jordan Henderson

The Out of Town Fan by a London Red

“The support has been incredible in every city. I want to put on record a big thank-you; we have been away a long time with a lot of travelling and work, but the support at every stadium was great and for that we thank them.”

Brendan Rodgers at the conclusion of 2014’s US Tour.

Anybody who witnessed Liverpool Football Club’s 2014 US Tour will be well aware of the global reach and appeal of Brendan Rodgers’ tricky reds. Fans turned out in their thousands to get a glimpse of Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturidge and co.

These glimpses were not to be had in games of significance (you can’t convince me that the Manchester United game was important) but mere pre-season friendlies. The lowest of the low when it comes to competitive edge and will to win. An exercise in exercise and not much more.

Yet they turned up in their thousands to shout and sing and cheer for their heroes. They weren’t the first (just see the picture above taken from 2013’s tour of Asia and Australia Source: REUTERS via Metro.co.uk) and they wont be the last.

We are regularly informed that the all-conquering behemoth that is the English Premier League is a global brand. Within this global and well supported brand, Liverpool Football Club is arguably the most global and well supported club. A fact that doesn’t seem to have been lost on the current owners and their “commercial partners”.

This global appeal is almost surprising in a way as no other club is so synonymous with it’s own city. No other club such a physical manifestation of the hopes, dreams and values of the locality it inhibits. A club intrinsic to the identity and history of the city. The footballing equivalent of The Beatles. Liverpool Football Club is Liverpool.

This affinity and representation is worn – like the Liver bird – as a badge of honour by fans who proudly proclaim that just like them, their Captain, Steven Gerrard is “a scouser born and bred”.

Success has helped build this global appeal of course. The achievements and history of the club speaking for itself. A trophy cabinet laden with shiny representations of the domestic and European success enjoyed by the legends that have graced both the Anfield turf and dugout. Because let’s be honest with ourselves, who wants to get up at 4am on the other side of the world to support Stoke?

Contrarily – Istanbul aside – major success has been comparatively lacking for some time. Sure, there’s been cup success in both domestic and UEFA competitions and even a “treble”, but Manchester United fans will gleefully remind you of how long it’s been since Liverpool won the league. None of the trophies have come in a sustained period of success or domination – as displayed by Mourinho’s Chelsea or Ferguson’s United – that would be the usual precursor to a growth in fan base.

Nevertheless, despite this lack of domination the humongous fan base continues to expand unabated, the appeal of the club undeniable. Sucking people in from every corner of the globe…..and also closer to home, supporters clubs dotting the landscape throughout the UK and Ireland. Cock an ear on matchday and you can’t help but notice the varied accents that surround you. Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, Spanish, American, Australian, Scandinavian amongst many others.

It’s fair to say that some of these non-local accents are held by football tourists, clutching club shop bags full of goodies and taking pictures beside the statue of Bill Shankly. Liverpool Football Club is not alone in this phenomenon. Chelsea versus Manchester United at Stamford Bridge is a sight to behold, lost Arabs and Russians wandering around the stadium, Scandinavians with Manchester United scarves asking which end is for the “home fans”. The dreaded half and half scarf everywhere you turn.

I like to think that somehow it’s different at Anfield. That not all of these accents belong to tourists who just happened to be visiting the city and got a ticket to the match via a business associate. I like to think this because I believe that many – in fact most – of the accents belong to people like me.

People who form an awkward bunch of non “scouser born and bred” supporters.

I wasn’t born in Liverpool and I’ve never lived there. You only need to hear my dulcet tones as I say hello to know that I am not from Liverpool. Except in footballing terms. When it comes to football I could only be from one place, I’m very much from Liverpool and have been for the past 26 years.

Ignore the magnificent dog and look at that lovely kit!
Ignore the magnificent dog and look at that lovely kit!

My relationship with Liverpool Football Club began aged 5 when I was due to go into hospital to have surgery. My Dad made me an offer, be a brave boy and you can have what ever present you want….

I chose a football kit. A full kit, socks, shorts and shirt. With the naivety of youth I ignored the fact that I didn’t actually support a team yet. My Dad – sensing an opportunity – stated that he would get me an Arsenal kit. He grew up in that area of London and had always supported the club.

No, sorry Dad.. I wasn’t having it. Call it a rebellious streak, call it being a pain in the arse…. call it being 5 years old. Whatever you call it, I wasn’t interested.

The next option laid out to me was West Ham. The Boleyn Ground – at 6 miles – was marginally closer to my home than the next nearest ground – which incidentally was White Hart Lane and never going to happen –  and my mum’s family were claret and blue through and through, most still lived in the area at the time.

No, sorry Mum. Still not having it. Name me some more teams Dad. Some big teams… and what colour kit do they wear? Because I like red.

Being the late 80’s, the teams of the day were very much Nottingham Forest, Manchester United, Everton and the aforementioned Arsenal and Spurs. They all got mentioned along with just about every other team in the First Division. Yet, none of them appealed….none apart from one. There was this one club. A club that played in red. All red. No white shorts here. Red from head to toe. That was the team for me.

Liverpool.

I never looked back. That was the team for me.

I became a “Liverpool Supporter” just as Liverpool’s era of domination was beginning to come to an end. I was too young to understand or pay attention to the success, more interested in my nice red kit and my prized sticker book. Liverpool won the league in ’88 and ’90 but I was fairly oblivious to the whole thing. Who cares about winning football matches? I’m after a sticker of Jan Molby!

I have vague memories of missing out to a Michael Thomas inspired Arsenal in ’89 and very little recollection of the last time Liverpool won the title in ’90. My first real memories of being properly into football occurred (somewhat ironically) after that final triumphant league campaign and – like much of my generation – are from Italia ’90. It was hard not to have gotten swept up in that. My first real understanding of just what was at stake in a game of football. What it meant to win or lose and the heroes and the villains who would play their part.

Which is unfortunate timing I’m sure you’ll agree. Unfortunate because it meant that my first real memory of being a Liverpool supporter, somebody who followed the results and read the match reports, as opposed to just a lad with a kit and a sticker book, was seeing us miss out on the League the following season in ’91. Once again we had finished second and to Arsenal of all clubs!

What had I done? Why didn’t I just go along with my Dad? I’d be loving this. Arsenal have won the league ! Except I wouldn’t be.

The sticker book had actually played it’s part. If it wasn’t John Barnes or Ian Rush lifting that trophy, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t care for Paul Merson and Alan Smith.

My love affair with Liverpool Football Club has continued uninterrupted ever since, temptation never truly appearing to try and lure me elsewhere. Somewhere closer to home….

In my formative years of following football I was the only Liverpool supporter I knew. One of my friends was sort of a Liverpool supporter, but in all honesty he didn’t really count – later deciding to switch allegiances to West Ham when his favourite player, Steve McManaman, left for Real Madrid.

Compared to what had gone before, these were relatively barren years. Sure there was F.A Cup success in ’92 and the League Cup in ’95, but no league titles or European success. I effectively endured this alone. Nobody to share the good times or the bad. Nobody to appreciate my gold kit (remember that one?!) with Fowler printed on the back. Nobody to be the Stan Collymore to my Jamie Redknapp (I endeavoured to be like Jamie in every possible way).

I had a season ticket to Leyton Orient, went to Wembley to watch England (both senior, under 21’s and a schoolboy team containing Michael Owen) as well as the odd trip to Upton Park to see West Ham. So I’d seen plenty of live football, but I’d never been to Anfield and seen the only team that actually mattered to me. I couldn’t afford it and even if I could I had nobody to go with. It wasn’t really until the Houllier era that I even had a group of fellow supporters to watch games with on T.V.

Had I been an Arsenal supporter I’d have been to plenty of games (I know a lot of season ticket holding gooners) and tasted League success. But I wasn’t an Arsenal supporter, never had been, never would be, never will be.

The Benitez era came and things began to change for me. I now had a small group of Liverpool supporting friends and we’d get together to watch every televised game. Supporting Liverpool meant a lot to me, but somehow it began to take on even greater significance when I was doing it as part of a group. I will never forget jumping around like a loon in my mate’s living room on that famous night in 2005. A sense of shared joy that I don’t think I shall ever replicate.

On top of that I found myself with some disposable income and pretty regular access to tickets…. and I didn’t look back. I’ve been lucky enough to see some cracking games at Anfield over the years. Spine tingling European nights. League encounters with Manchester United. I’ve witnessed, Torres, Gerrard and Suarez in their pomp.

Plenty of games. But not enough games. Never enough games. My employment has been a large factor in this as I work a lot of weekends and am simply unable to make it to the game. And then there’s the cost.

When you can’t just hop on the bus, or walk to the ground, not only do you have the cost of a ticket, you have to fund the cost of fuel/train fare and hotel stay. I defy any single lad (which I was at the time) to go to Liverpool for the footy and not go out for a few drinks in the evening. It was a costly affair for somebody in my position then and still is now.

I still live down south (I’ve properly ventured out into Essex now) but my wife is from Cheshire. Over the years that we’ve been together she’s become an ardent fan and my most regular match day companion. She’s a more passionate (but less knowledgeable!) red than I am nowadays! She’d leave me for Lucas without a second thought.

Having a Cheshire base has certainly made attending games more convenient, if not cheaper as I now have to buy two tickets instead of one! It’s a far less stressful experience though as I always have somewhere to stay and the journey to the ground only takes about 40 minutes.

I have my pre-match routine and my favoured parking areas depending on if I’m going back to Cheshire or down South after the game. I’m well versed at attending matches and comfortable in both the city and stadium.

But…… I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel truly comfortable.

Maybe it’s because I’m too self aware? I hear my distinctive cockney accent and think to myself “best keep quiet here”. People are going to notice you and wonder what the hell are you doing here. They know you’re a Londoner and they’ll be thinking that you’ve got no right to shout and sing. Sit down southern lad and keep your mouth shut. Pack yourself off to the club shop with the rest of the tourists.

In reality nobody has ever said anything of the sort to me. I’ve jumped up and down hugging strangers more times than I care to remember. People are always friendly and welcoming. Liverpool (and the north in general) is far friendlier than London, trust me.

So, why do I feel that way? Is it my own prejudices and pre-conceptions? At times I look at some of my fellow supporters and wonder if they truly know anything about the club? If at times I can let my self slip into such thoughts, I’m sure so can others.

Either way, maybe in reality I’m actually the one that needs to stop looking down at the “out of town fan”. I need to accept who they are….. and who I am. Ninety-nine percent of them are no doubt just like me. They’ve had to watch from afar, feeling the same emotions as those in the ground but having nobody to share them with.

Going to Anfield to them isn’t just that thing that they do every other weekend. It’s not a normal occurrence, it’s an event, a privilege. A hefty commitment of time and money. They’ve crossed land, sea and time zones to be there.They shouldn’t be looked down upon because of geography.

I shouldn’t be looked down upon because of geography.

I’ve earnt my stripes. I deserve to be there as much as the next fan, supporting Liverpool is hard for me. It’d be much easier to just have given up and supported Arsenal or West Ham.

I shouldn’t be ashamed to sing the songs I know so well. No worry that my cockney accent will draw disparaging looks. This is my team. My history. My passion.

I’m not from out of town.

I’m from Liverpool.

The Out of Town Fan by a London Red

Why did we love Daniel Agger?

We loved Daniel Agger. Well, most of us did. But why?

Was it because when he arrived he promised to be something we all craved? A ball playing centre back. A proper, genuine, bring it out from the back, ball playing centre back…. We hadn’t had one of them for a while. Plus he was left footed and there’s something strangely alluring about the left footed centre back.

Sure, Hyypia was a magnificent player, Henchoz had been part of a solid partnership and Carra would defend like his life depended on it. But this lad was different, he was classy. 

My generation had grown up on Phil Babb, John Scales, Neil Ruddock, Dominic Matteo, Mark Wright…. hardly inspirational figures. We were starved of a defensive icon, a defender who was more than just run of the mill. A defender who did more than just defend.

We knew the tales of Ron Yeats, Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson et al. Colossal figures in a history laden with colossal figures. Players engrained in the history and success of Liverpool Football Club. Players intrinsic to that success. Agger was going to be one of them, in fact he was going to be just like the best of them… He was going to be our Hansen.

Except he wasn’t. 

Don’t get me wrong, he had his moments. Too many for me to list them in fact. Long range screamers (I have a notoriously bad memory, but even I’ll never forget the strikes against Blackburn and West Ham), marauding runs from the back, arrowed balls across the field and that calmness on the ball. At times he was the star centreback in Ruud Gullit’s Sexy Football XI. At times. At times….

At times because he was often injured.

Those with a far greater interest in statistics will able to tell you the percentage of games that Daniel Agger actually participated in. And those not in the Daniel Agger love-in will point to those statistics as justification for Daniel Agger not being a “Liverpool Legend”.

They will point to this lack of games and relative lack of success at a club synonymous with silverware – 1 League Cup and a Community Shield are all that reside in the Agger household trophy cabinet (I’m reliably informed that all players have these cabinets as they’re all so desperate to put stuff in them) – as reasons not to love Daniel Agger. And they will be wrong because they do not know how to love.

No, he wasn’t our Hansen and no he wasn’t someone who could be relied upon to play week in, week out. But I’ll tell you what he was. He was a red.

Not a ‘badge kissing one minute, angling for a move the next’ type. A bona-fide club man.

And that’s why we loved him. For understanding what it meant to represent Liverpool Football Club. For having YNWA tattooed on his knuckles. For stating that he could never play for a rival club. For smashing Torres when he did just that. For turning down moves to top European clubs. For making Liverpool his home. For being a leader and the logical choice as vice captain when Jamie Carragher retired. For only leaving to return to Brondby, where his career began. 

Ultimately Daniel Agger was an often brilliant defender and a man who took pride in wearing that famous red shirt, but most of all, he was one of us. And that’s why I’ll always love him.  

 

Why did we love Daniel Agger?