Suarez’s actions do matter to Liverpool and their fans

If you needed any more stark an example of football’s ludicrous tribalism, it was privided by Luis Suarez yesterday afternoon. Liverpool fans were quick to defend his latest biting incident, even laughing it off in some quarters. Indeed, even Suarez himself brushed it off: “These things happen on the pitch, we don’t have to give them too much importance.” The problem is they only ever seem to happen when Suarez is around.

Rival fans were incandescent with anger, calling for permanent bans and suggesting that he should also be banned from club football, so severe were his actions. His crimes were committed in a Uruguay shirt and any punishment should be borne out under the same banner, but his club will still feel the repercussions from his most recent act of stupidity.

The last time Luis Suarez bit someone his club stood by him. It was possible to prescribe his actions to a fierce passion to win, to a hard upbringing in the difficult streets of Montevideo. An excellent recent ESPN article suggested that Suarez acted like he did not because he was afraid of losing a football match, but his entire hard-fought life by extension.

The more sympathetic could extend this explanation to his latest transgression. Just 10 minutes left of his latest World Cup dream, the immediacy of his nation’s need calling for drastic action. But this was not cynicism with victory at its core as that infamous last-16 handball against Ghana was in 2010 rather an off-the-ball act of aggression with no guarantee of any advantage whatsoever. Quite how Liverpool will be able to defend him all over again, I do not know.

The most reasonable reaction seems to lay somewhere between the two tribal extremes exhibited yesterday. Yes, his actions matter and deserve to be punished. If they are funny it is only as a result of the incredulity of a 27 year-old man biting an opponent for the third time. But they do not deserve to be front-page news as suggested by Adrian Chiles yesterday. It is still just a game of football, even if Suarez himself appears to have forgotten that.

Why does it matter to Liverpool fans? They support a global club who have already risked dragging their name through the dirt for the sake of defending their star player. Until yesterday he appeared to have repaid the club with a season’s worth of impeccable behaviour and performances to boot. When deciding whether to welcome him back with open arms the club will now have to consider whether or not they are willing to run the same risks again.

Except this time, they are no longer as arguably ambiguous – gone is the man who passionately over-reacted once or twice in a Red shirt, replaced by the repeat offender who refuses to learn from past mistakes.

Gone are the excuses, and Liverpool fans are left with a brilliant maverick whose goals may be impossible to cheer, whether he scores one or thirty one.

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Cheers Joe

Joe Root, you beautiful boy. I’m not mad that your innings ruined a full day of potential work for me. I’m not mad that I’m going to have write twice as much tomorrow as a result of your batting. I’m not even mad that I’m going to have to wait until you get to 200 before I can start getting on with my life.

I’m not mad because you are doing what every English cricket fan has dreamt of for the last few decades: you’re embarrassing Australia. I know, we’ve not retained the famous little urn just yet, but it looks as good as guaranteed.

I had to watch as Mssrs. Warne, McGrath, Ponting et al. routinely made us look average. I had to endure that 5-0 thrashing down under. Oh how we all wished the shoe was on the other foot back in 2006.

And now, Lords, July 2013, and you’re sticking it to ’em. The youngest Englishman ever to score a century against Australia at Lords. The tables have turned and your youthful face is as good a metaphor for the changing of time as I can find, and I thank you for it.

I hope this latest (dare we dream double?) century is the first of a ridiculous amount. If you could add three or four more in this series alone I’d be eternally grateful.

The Ashes is, for me, the pinnacle of sporting events, to be held up with the football world cup and the Olympics in terms of its importance. A lot of people asked me what i thought the outcome would be this summer, and my response was always the same: I think we will win, but that won’t be enough. I want to humiliate them, as they have us in the past.

So thank you, Joe, for going at least some way to realising that today.

Chelsea’s instability is starting to get a bit ridiculous

Another year, another sacking. So goes the Chelsea management cycle.

Roberto di Matteo is the latest casualty of a club that has now had eight managers is an many years.

He can consider himself particularly unlucky, having delivered perhaps the brightest moment in Chelsea’s history with Champions League victory last May.

For each of his predecessors, we all believed the reason behind their sacking was their failure to deliver success in Europe. The Champions League, it seemed, was the prize most coveted by owner Roman Abramovich.

But this no longer appears to be the case. Di Matteo has been sacked anyway following a poor run of form and Chelsea’s lack of consistency in this year’s European competition – although Abramovich might have done well to consider that they are not yet out of it.

Now it seems that Abramovich is turning to Rafa Benitez – a man whose last management job also ended prematurely, sacked after 6 months in charge of a treble-winning Inter team.

None of which suggests that the owner has in place a strong contingency plan. It seems that Pep Guardiola is the preferred option, but his supposed reluctance to end his management sabbatical means that Chelsea have had to turn to plan B.

But have they not just sacked plan B? Di Matteo was never supposed to be full-time manager when he took the reins last season, but almost got the job by default having delivered the one trophy Chelsea were missing.

Surely it would have made more sense to back the man who seems to have spent wisely this summer and has put together a strong squad. Up until a month ago, they were playing attractive football and getting decent results.

There is nothing to suggest at this point that whoever takes over at Stamford Bridge will do any better with the squad he inherits, will be any more astute in the transfer market (Oscar, Hazard and Moses is good business in anyone’s book), or will be able to get anything more from Fernando Torres than his predecessor.

Liverpool’s start to the season has been undoubtedly worse than Chelsea’s and their squad unarguably weaker – yet they stand by Brendan Rodgers. Their owners have a long-term plan that they are willing to give their manager time to implement.

This means backing him in the transfer window as well as allowing him the room to set the wheels in motion. Having given Di Matteo the funds, I cant help but feel it would have been in Chelsea’s best interests to at least give him the time to stamp his mark on this team.

If Abramovich does indeed have a long-term plan involving Guardiola, Di Matteo ought to have been given the year to start the change. Instead, more management changes will cause more squad upheaval and the team will be so closer to a stable, steady plan.

The squad that Chelsea have is capable of winning the title, or challenging for it at the very least. A new manager will not suddenly have new players, and if the new man is only meant to occupy the tole on a temporary basis, he will only be moderately backed come January.

Form is temporary, but class is permanent: Abramovich would do well to remember the old cliche. Chelsea have the class, but must be given the time to find the form.

 

Liverpool’s striking options

Liverpool’s striking problems have been well-documented this season. In their eight Premier League games so far, the Reds have managed just 10 goals – five of which came in one game against Norwich. Manager Brendan Rodgers saw his striking options depleted significantly over the summer with the sale of Dirk Kuyt and the loan of Andy Carroll to West Ham, and the failure to sign any replacements means his choices are now severely limited. The injury sustained by Fabio Borini whilst on international duty last week means that Liverpool now have only Luis Suarez to rely on as a senior striking option, and with Rodgers refusing to discuss the possibility of recalling Carroll from his loan in January, what other options does the manager have?

  1. Daniel Pacheco – Whilst not an out-and-out frontman, the creative Spaniard provides a real attacking threat and has been finding the net regularly for the Liverpool U21s this season. His recent goal against the Manchester City U21s showed that he is capable of moments of real magic, and Pacheco may be the perfect foil to play behind Suarez. He can also fill in on either wing, so if Raheem Sterling or Suso fail to chip in with goals from the flanks, Dani could be Liverpool’s man.
  2. Adam Morgan – 18-year-old Morgan has already appeared for the senior team in the Europa League this season. Whilst he failed to find the net on those occasions, he can’t stop scoring for the U21s at the moment. Three goals in his last three games means that Morgan must surely be pushing for a place in the senior squad. A more traditional striker than Pacheco, Morgan could fit into the first team playing in front of Suarez, or even on the wing where he has also impressed for the U21s.
  3. Samed Yesil – A record of 57 goals in just 71 appearances for the Bayern Leverkusen youth teams, and 31 in 32 at international level, show that summer signing Yesil has a proven eye for goal. The 18-year-old German has also made the senior squad this season, suggesting that the shortage of strikers at Liverpool may see his progress to the first team fast-tracked. His outstanding goal record makes the youngster a particularly exciting progress and, like Morgan, he may be able to fill the role as the finisher that Liverpool desperately need at the moment.
  4. Michael Ngoo – The big striker is about to turn 21 and a call-up to the first team may not be far away. Being a tall target man may not have been enough for Andy Carroll to force his way into Rodger’s plans, but Ngoo may have the ball control and footwork to compliment his obvious strength and power. His physical presence may provide Rodgers with a different option to the likes of Pacheco or Morgan, and the ability to have a reliable plan B may prove essential for Liverpool’s season to progress. Another with a proven scoring record at youth level, Ngoo could be the man to whom Rodgers turns in order to solve his striking woes.

Progress made, but stadium development is no quick fix

Liverpool announced today that they plan to re-develop their existing Anfield ground, rather than build an entirely new stadium in nearby Stanley Park.

The plans finally make the long-term future of the Liverpool home ground clear, following years of speculation as to whether they would redevelop or move.

Whilst the developments are significant and will likely prove popular amongst Liverpool fans, with the club set to stay in their historic Anfield base.

Its impact cannot be overstated, however.

Liverpool owner John W Henry spoke as recently as June about the ‘myth’ that the stadium redevelopment will have a significant bearing on available funds. Instead, the Fenway Sports Group boss, the company that owns Liverpool, does not believe that stadium issues will have much impact on the future of Liverpool football club.

Whilst it would be foolish to suggest that today’s announced advancement of redevelopment plans is anything but a good thing, it is unlikely to provide any tangible benefit to the club for a number of seasons – even after its construction. Today’s news is undoubtedly positive, but needs to be placed in perspective.

Liverpool’s lack of striking options and apparent lack of squad depth should provide much more pressing issues, more for those in charge of the club to worry about in the short-term. For all their good play in the opening part of this season, Liverpool have endured largely disappointing results and lay a lacklustre 14th in the English Premier League Table.

Not all news is bad news. But when good news does arrive, it pays to keep the news in context. Before Liverpool get too excited about plans for a new stadium, they must first address the issues at the foot of the current doorstep.

What playing football taught me

Last Tuesday, Nic, Hugo, Alex and myself made the mistake of playing a 5-a-side football match in Wembley. Entered into a cup competition, we were drawn in a first-round knockout match against a group of what can only be described as the most professional group of 17-year-old kids I’ve ever seen. To give you some idea of the immediately obvious difference in class, they turned up in personalised kit, goalkeeper’s strip included. We didn’t even have goalkeeper gloves. You’ve all heard the saying ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’; never before has that been so apt. The only thing I’ve successfully prepared for in the last year is a sedentary lifestyle building teddy bears – not all that conducive to chasing teenagers’ tails for 40 minutes.

Rather than provide details about the match (we lost), I’ve decided to take a much more self-involved approach and mull over what my first football match in more than a year taught me:

1. I got fatter. Apparently an inevitable side-effect of doing no exercise for a year is not shedding those McDonald’s. Which is fine, really. On a day-to-day basis I’m not required to run around, or even move anywhere particularly quickly. Put me on a football pitch, however, and all of a sudden it becomes a huge issue.

2. My heart isn’t well equipped for any sort of endurance. Our faces when we were told this match was 20 minutes each half must have told their own story. Abject misery. The thought of doing any continuous exercise for 20 minutes fills me with dread, let alone when the people I’m expected to keep up with haven’t yet discovered beer and it’s brilliantly apathetic qualities. Until they make the gym as fun as beer is, I am never going to be fit.

3. I don’t like being kicked. It hurts.

4.  I no longer understand teenage colloquialisms. As a journalist, am I required to know that ‘dirty’ now means good? Is it correct to describe my next successful presentation as talking dirty? It’s funny feeling lost in translation in my own country. I’m sure it’ll get me in trouble sooner rather than later. Probably after my next ‘dirty’ phone call. You know, a successful job interview or a chat with a tutor. It means good now, right?

5. Being the biggest person on the pitch still matters. The opposition complained to the referee approximately 0 zero times. We complained about 17 times in the first two minutes. Proof that all the fancy footwork in the world isn’t going to get you very far when it’s far more effective to go through other players, rather than round them.

6. I still love football! This post has a happy ending after all! Yes, I’m not fit enough, I’m a wimp, and I’m horrendously out of touch with the lingo. But it’s still the best game you can play. Pulling together as a team retains that unbeatable camaraderie, even in the face of hopeless defeat, and the feeling upon scoring a goal is still one of life’s simplest pleasures. 

The best thing of all, though? Moral victory. We may have lost the game, revealing ourselves to be the ageing, unfit gang of trainee hacks that we are, but we were handed victory at the last possible second. Speaking to the teenager who had run rings around me for the best part of the last hour, conversation got round to what he wanted to do when he finished school.

His answer? Journalism. 1-0 the Westminster PGs (that’s the real game).