Hard cheese, Arsenal. The Mirror leads not with the Gunners’ terrific 4-1 win over Basel, a win that means Arsenal top their Champions’ League group, but with news that Liverpool have inserted an “anti-Arsenal clause” in Roberto Firmino’s new contract.
Why Arsenal would want the Brazilian is moot. The Mirror just says that if they do, they need to pay more than any other club. Any club coughing up the absurd sum of £82m for Firmino can have him – “BUT NOT YOU ARSENAL.” The story is that Firmino’s release clause can be trigged by any club except Arsenal.
Should Arsenal be mad enough to off £82m for Firmino, Liverpool will point to player’s contract and tell them to come back with bigger offer. Maybe they can add a quid. Firmino’s contract, reasons the paper, is “revenge” for when Arsenal triggered Luis Suarez’s release clause with a bid of £40m and one pound. The Mirror adds that the Arsenal bid was made in the “mistaken belief that it would activate his release clause”.
Not quite. It did trigger the clause. But Liverpool didn’t honour it.
“I don’t know to what degree I should go into this – but [Suarez] had a buy-out clause of £40m,” said Liverpool owner John Henry. “But what we’ve found over the years is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually not in England, in world football. It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving. We sold Fernando Torres for £50m. We didn’t want to sell but we were forced to. For the first time [with Suarez] we took the position that we weren’t selling.”
So Firmino’s release clause is utter balls, then.
Such are the facts.
Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho was taken from the Anfield pitch on a stretcher, his leg in a brace. How bad is the injury to Liverpool’s best player? One expert decides it’s best just to guess.
On the BBC website, former Arsenal ‘rash’ Martin Keown says it could be a really bad injury. Or maybe it isn’t. Lest anyone think Keown a medial genius who can diagnose an injury from hundreds of miles away, he tells us that he’s “speculating”.
The Guardian is unsure what to make of what “appeared a serious ankle or foot injury”.
ESPN observes: “Philippe Coutinho was withdrawn in the first half with an injury to his lower right leg.”
The Liverpool Echo says his leg as in a “splint”. The Star say sit was in an “air cast”.
In the Express, James Cambridge ups the ante and says Coutinho has a broken foot – maybe.
Why does Cambridge think it’s a break? Well, he quotes a few tweeters who say they hope it isn’t a break. And he also quotes – yep – Martin Keown.
To put the tin lid on the Express’s utter balls, readers are told more about an injury to which Coutinho might not have succumbed :
Wayne Rooney was ruled out of the 2004 European Championships with a metatarsal injury and was sidelined for around two months.
The Manchester United captain has been plagued with metatarsal inuries [sic] and suffered his third in August 2007 and was out for six weeks.
David Beckham famously broke his metatarsal before the 2002 World Cup and was a major doubt for the tournament.
The final word is with someone who knows. Says Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “It [Philippe Coutinho’s injury] is an ankle injury but we can’t say anymore until we see a scan.”
Such are the facts.
Transfer Balls: Liverpool are ready to pick up the hotline to Southampton FC and buy two more Saints’ players. The Star leads with news that Liverpool have £40m to spend on Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Sam McQueen.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, we read, is “confident” he can prise Van Djik away from the South Coast. Well, he has reason to fancy his chances. Southampton have been willing to sell lots of talent to Liverpool in the past few years – Sadio Mane, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana are ex-Saints playing in the Liverpool first XI.
Oddly, the Star’s scoop contains not one single fact to support it.
And such is the way of Transfer Balls that when one newspaper says it, the others slavishly follow.
“LOYAL CUSTOMERS – Liverpool transfer news: Virgil van Dijk and Sam McQueen the latest Southampton players lined up by Reds,” says the Sun. “Jurgen Klopp believes the Dutch giant and classy full-back can help bolster the title-chasing Reds’ leaky defence.”
“Liverpool eyeing Sam McQueen swoop as Reds identify Southampton starlet as defensive target,” echoes the Mirror. The Mirror then guesses: “But they are unlikely to pursue a move for the defender until the summer, when he would become a free agent, after failing to agree a new contract with the south coast club.”
Will McQueen sign a new deal? The Southampton Echo wrote in October: “For McQueen, born and bred in Southampton as a Saints fan, it was an almost overwhelmingly emotional moment to play at St Mary’s.”
McQueen told the Southampton FC website: “…you learn quickly, and Southampton has been amazing with coaching me and teaching me through the years, and recently becoming a left-back, with the manager giving me little coaching points here and there, which have been fantastic. So I’ve been learning a lot and enjoying it a lot, but there’s plenty, plenty more to learn – I know that.”
So will another product of Southampton’s prolific academy leave the club? Maybe. What is clear is that Southampton are getting something right.
In August, Southampton’s academy hosted an experiment. Youth players were grouped not according to age group but by a measure of size and physical maturity. The idea is to counter the Relative Age Effect, “a phenomenon that suggests that athletes at elite level are more likely to be born in the first 3 months after the eligibility cut-off date for a particular age group in sports.” The bigger boys in a school year get picked for the team. The rest get downhearted and discarded.
Gareth Bale’s football teacher at Southampton, Malcolm Elias, told the Times: “He [Bale] was injured a lot and some coaches used to think he was soft. Lots of people questioned whether he wanted it badly enough. I said, ‘Get off his case. He’s a July birthday, is left-footed and can run for fun; what more do you want?’”
But what of money? “You see kids now getting all these things and demanding £50,000 a week,” says Elias. “He[Bale] came here on an ordinary scholarship. There was no haggling, no pro contract. The family was just delighted he was getting an extended opportunity. He was on £45 a week.”
Southampton call McQueen “an incredibly well-spoken young man”. Look at Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, two Southampton graduates sold for big money at a young age to Arsenal. Both speak well and can articulate their thoughts.
Matthew Syed says this is not an accident:
Southampton now have an educational and skills programme running alongside the usual academy functions. This is about building leadership qualities in their young players. They want their future stars to be involved in decision-making on training and rehab, to broaden their minds with education, to widen their social skills, rather than treating them like infants.
“If you want leaders on the pitch, you have to develop their qualities off the pitch,” Les Reed, the technical director, said. “In many academies, education is seen as a waste of time, a distraction from the game. We think that it is central to player development. We need England players who don’t crumble when they are on a big stage and go one-nil down.”
Technology is harnessed and deployed:
In the black box, Koeman can ask to see detailed footage and stats on any player in the world or at the club’s academy. The aim is to make sure that the manager does not need to spend money on a new player when they have one in the pipeline who fits the bill. The complex is shiny and lovely but the principles have been honed over many years. While Arsenal and Manchester United curse how many of their players pick up injuries, Southampton seem serenely to be at full strength. They realised, while at their lowest ebb, in League One, that they simply could not afford to let Lallana become injured, so they devised a way of making sure that all their resources went into making sure their talisman stayed fit.
Southampton aim not for one player to make it thought the ranks and into the first team, but for four or five to progress and play the ‘Southampton way’.
“Our academy vision is to produce a first team year-on-year made up of 50% Academy graduates who are world-class in their technical ability on the field and behaviours off the field competing on the European stage,” say Southampton.
It would be another blow for Saints fans to see McQueen leave. But the club is in great shape. Liverpool, Arenal and other clubs might care to spend less time looking at the end product and more at the process.
Football reporting wears the cloak of respectability. But in the 21st century, new organs use players to get clicks and earn cash. The sad thing is that the advert-free BBC is full of this balls. The Beeb has told us – and these five news items have all appeared over the past month:
Liverpool need to give playmaker Philippe Coutinho, 24, a new contract and pay rise to fend off interest from Barcelona.
The Reds are confident of keeping the Brazilian as the player does not have an buy-out clause in his contract.
Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho, 24, wants to stay at Anfield despite reported interest from Barcelona, says his former youth coach.
Former Brazil striker Ronaldo is keen to see 24-year-old Liverpool and Brazil midfielder Philippe Coutinho at Real Madrid.
Liverpool are ready to offer Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho, 24, a new contract to fend off interest from Barcelona.
In all that time, amid all that utter tosh, the BBC has produced not a single word from Philippe Coutinho expressing any desire to play for any club but Liverpool. Today the BBC has more on one of the Premier League’s brightest talents.
Brazil international Coutinho, 24, has been influential in helping the Reds go top of the Premier League table… His form has led to links with Spanish sides Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Links made by the BBC.
Today Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp tells media firing question about Coutinho’s future: “We all hope and think his future is here at Liverpool. What everybody forgets about Phil is that he is still very young. At 24, he has a long way to go and lot of space for improvement.”
But: “At the end, it will not be money. If there is a club who can play double what we pay then I bring the player there. Who am I to say ‘no, don’t think about your family, kids, grandkids and all that stuff’. But I don’t know a lot of clubs in the world who can do this.”
And that’s the thing, no? The narrative of Coutinho’s departure to Spain continues in spite of any facts. It’s a media story only. Get this from former Liverpool defender and jobbing pundit Mark Lawrenson. He’s been talking to the Press Association:
“Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid to a certain degree, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich are the clubs continually successful in Europe. You can’t keep those top players if those clubs come in for them.”
“I don’t think, apart from arguably Manchester City, anyone can stop them. The clever thing is to plan for it. Rather than say ‘Coutinho might be going, what are we going to do?’ you have something in place already.”
And this from former midfielder Xavi: “There are not many players that can improve Barcelona, but if you are asking me if he [Coutinho] is one of them.”
It’s a pincer movement of nodding heads opining on a man’s career and life to deadline and Barcelona stooges doing the same old trick of talking up a player they hope will join them. They negate the fact that at the heart of the chatter is a professional athlete who wants to do his best.
And they should ask themselves why just one season after Leicester City won the Premier League – a club whose turnover amounts to less than Manchester United’s kit sponsorship, who had won nothing of note in 132-years, and whose first XI were bought for less than one Paul Pogba – the talk is so little about glory and creating something new, exciting and unexpected. It’s about the same old teams winning at all costs.
The news media works in a pack. The BBC says Barcelona fancy Liverpool’s Phlippe Coutinho. The Beeb’s news is based on a reprot in the Liverpool Echo that Liverpool “need” to offer Coutinho, 24, a new deal to see off interest from Barcelona. The Echo says Coutinho to Barcelona is just a “rumour”, albeit one fuelled by the player’s friendship with Barcelona’s Neymar and Luis Suarez.
We read that Coutinho visited Suarez at the Barcelona team hotel in Manchester to collect tickets ahead of their Champions League clash at the Etihad. And there it is. To keep their best player, Liverpool need to be in the best competition. But having given air to the rumours, the Echo tells readers, “Coutinho has never shown any signs of agitating for a move away from Anfield.”
So where does the rumour come from? And it’s growing. The Metro says, “Luis Suarez and Neymar are speaking to Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho about Barcelona transfer.” Well, maybe. Maybe not. The source for that spot of room bugging is Sport, more of which later.
On October 31, the Sun told its readers: “Liverpool transfer news: Philippe Coutinho wants Barcelona move as Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain show interest.”
Having name-checked three of the wealthiest clubs in Europe, we’re interested to know how Coutinho expressed his desire to leave Liverpool and play for Barcelona? Over to Spanish newspaper Sport, then, which claims the Brazilian “tried to force a move to the Nou Camp in the last transfer window. His representatives apparently sounded out Barcelona over a transfer but Luis Enrique wanted to strengthen other positions instead.”
Sport reports: “He’s a player who has been liked by Barcelona for a long time and he’d love to wear the Blaugrana shirt.”
The reality is that Coutinho would like to play in Barcelona, where his style would fit in. His agents, Kia Joorabchian and Giuliano Bertolucci, sounded out the possibility last year, but Barça ruled out any deal due to the price and the fact they had other priorities. They consider his position well covered, but anything’s possible in the future.
Bit murky, no? No quotes from Liverpool, Barcelona or the player. But it’s enough for the Indy to declare: “Barcelona have made Philippe Coutinho their priority for next summer’s transfer window.” They read that in, yep, Sport.
It might be worth noting that Sports’ slogan is “Sempre amb el Barça”. The paper is printed in Barcelona.
On another note, the Times reports: “Liverpool sure Coutinho will not join Barcelona.”
Liverpool are confident of keeping Philippe Coutinho, despite the attentions of Barcelona, because their influential playmaker does not have an escape clause in his contract.
He’s contracted to Liverpool until 2020. The paper adds:
Coutinho’s eye-catching displays will be recognised by Liverpool should he maintain his high standards. Yet there are no plans in place to rip up his existing contract, which was agreed 18 months ago, and an extension would not necessarily safeguard his future.
Media Balls: a look at biased footballer reporting. Tonight Liverpool defeated Crystal Palace 4-2 in South London.
The Croydon Advertiser looks at the opening goal in the Premier League encounter:
Liverpool edged the opening stages and took the lead after 15 minutes through Emre Can’s close range finish, after a low delivery from Alberto Moreno. Palace fans in the Main Stand were furious with the assistant referee in front of them, as the left-back looked to have just been in an offside position on the far side.
He was onside.
The Liverpool Echo on the same move:
Predictably, the outstanding Philippe Coutinho was at the heart of it as he picked out Moreno’s run down the left. The Spaniard provided an inviting first-time cross and Can saw his low strike deflected past Steve Mandanda.
No word on any offside in the Liverpool newspaper.
What of the Palace equaliser?
The Croydon Advertiser:
But just under three minutes later and the Eagles were level, thanks to James McArthur. Reds defender Dejan Lovren looked to clear the danger on the edge of the box but sliced upwards, and McArthur nipped in to jump and beat onrushing goalkeeper Karius.
Palace were gifted an equaliser in shambolic circumstances.
There was no whiff of danger when Benteke flicked on Mandanda’s long punt. Matip played it across to Lovren, but under no pressure he produced a woeful backpass which McArthur seized upon. The Scotland international accepted the gift as he nodded over the advancing Loris Karius. It was Lovren’s fault but Karius didn’t exactly cover himself in glory as he bizarrely kept his arms by his side.
Did you spot the penalties not given?
Klopp’s men should have had a penalty when Ward handled Coutinho’s goal-bound header from Firmino’s cross. The defender’s intervention enabled Mandanda to tip it on to the post but the officials failed to spot the indiscretion.
The Advertiser has no word on that inciden , but does mention this one:
Palace felt they should have had a penalty after two claims within the same passage of play.
Zaha looked to have been clipped right on the edge of the area and went down – but he got up and delivered low for Benteke, who went ground under pressure, but referee Andre Marriner wasn’t interested and gave a corner.
What says the Echo about that?
Hearts were in mouths when Zaha twice took a tumble in the box, while Benteke also went down in a heap after a challenge from Matip. But to Marriner’s credit, he didn’t fall for any theatrics.
A penalty or acting? Lets see what a non-local source says:
Daily Telegraph: “Zaha had a good claim to a penalty when sent flying on the edge of the box by Lovren. And Benteke too looked to have been blocked by Matip.”
The Crystal Palace FC website:
It was all the home side during the first 20 minutes of the second half who also had three penalty appeals turned down…
Mentions of the penalty shouts on the official Liverpool FC website: none.
Such are the facts.
Liverpool FC transfer news now as the Reds line up a bid for Bury’s 15-year-old Emeka Obi, described in the Mail as a “promising 6ft 5in central defender”.
Obi will cost Liverpool a six figure sum, which could be anything from £100,000 to one pound short of a million. Bury have sensibly included in the agreement any ad-ons should Obi prove brilliant – or at least as good as John Stones – and worth tens of millions.
The Indy call Obi the “Most talented 15-year-old in the country”.
If he’s that good, why are Bury selling him for for so low a fee? Don’t they have ambition to make the player one of their own and see if he really can handle the pressure of being a regular starter in the first XI?
This is a clue. In January 2016, the Bury Times reported: “BURY have been hit with a winding up petition by HM Revenue and Customs following an unpaid £156,000 tax bill.” The bill was paid. The taxman was too quick off the mark. But it’s all about the money. A rich club like Liverpool can buy Obi not because he’s fantastic but because they can’t pass over the chance that one day he might be.
Expect to see Obi out on loan at lower league clubs very soon.
Last night Liverpool and Manchester United bored the watching public to their second 0-0 on Premier League history. Manchester United were unambitious, carrying 35% possession, their lowest total in a Premier League match since Opta began recording this data in 2003-04.
Jose Mourinho side have won their lowest points total after his first eight league games with a new club since his time with Uniao de Leiria (10 points).
The BBC say the game was “rubbish”.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says: “No one will show this game in 10 or 20 years.”
Chris Crocker adds: “Reality is if Van Gaal’s team had played like that every ‘expert’ would be slating him for weeks. Jose does it he is a genius.”
Not everyone. But some, yes.
This is what Neil Curtis said in the Sun on the morning of the big match:
JOSE MOURINHO is desperately trying to rid Manchester United of the memories from the Louis van Gaal era. That is why he will never serve up a borefest like the Dutchman with his much vaunted ‘philosophy’…
Mourinho is up for another tactical masterclass just like he delivered two years ago…
The Portuguese said: “Last season Liverpool vs United and Liverpool had 14 shots on target and United had one and the result was 0-1. I don’t think that is going to happen again.”
It didn’t. Last night United had one shot on target and failed to score. Under Van Gaal United player Liverpool four times in the Premier League. They won them all.
It’s all about Mourinho in the media. The BBC holds a debate on the United manager with itself:
“Is this a new United way?” asks the BBC. Yes there is, says the BBC.
How United fans will be thrilled by supporting a pragmatic team.
Says Jose Mourinho:
“I think was a positive performance. If you analyse the game see the reason why did it, playing Young and Fellaini. We had control of the game – there were two amazing saves by David de Gea it’s true but they were out of context. The reaction from their crowd was permanent disappointment. People expected us to come here and be really in trouble, which we were not.”
To recap: United were boring when they won at Liverpool with a philosophy; United are exciting and new when they draw 0-0 with a “masterclass” and a “new way”.
Still, at least Jose has won over the media. Van Gaal never did.
In readiness for Liverpool v Manchester United – now horribly billed ‘El Classico UK’ – the Sun’s Man Neil Custis is here to praise United boss Jose Mourinho.
‘JOSE MOURINHO is desperately trying to rid Manchester United of the memories from the Louis van Gaal era.”
He is? Under Van Gaal. United did pretty well against the Reds.
On the match Liverpool 1 – Manchester United 2, for example, Alan Shearer noted on Match of the Day: “United moved the ball quickly and they passed it well too – their one or two-touch football has clearly improved massively of late. But the most impressive part of their performance in the first 45 minutes at Anfield was their intensity when they did not have possession.”
Van Gaal’s record against Liverpool:
December 14th 2014
Manchester United 3-0 Liverpool
Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie
March 22nd 2015
Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United
Juan Mata x 2
September 12th 2015
Manchester United 3-1 Liverpool
Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial.
January 17th 2016
Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United
United: W4 D0 L0 GF9 GA2
Liverpool: W0 D0 L4 GF2 GA9
The BBC said of the last encounter:
This was every inch a game between sides sitting sixth and ninth in the Premier League before kick-off.
This time round, Liverpool are fourth and United are seventh. But free football maestro Mourinho is here to enliven and thrill.
“That is why he [Mourinho] will never serve up a borefest like the Dutchman with his much vaunted ‘philosophy’.”
This is what Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has to say in the Times about when Mourinho’s Chelsea came to Anfield on April 27, 2014.
“I will never forget the way they played the game. It was very slow, they sat in. It was difficult to watch. Throw-ins, goal kicks, they were taking forever and that got everyone worked up in the stadium and it worked to their advantage because they got the result they came for — one that had a big impact on us not winning the league.
“It wasn’t a nice game to watch…”
Not boring. Just awful. Still, a win’s a win, right?
Ahead of the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United the temperature is being cranked up. In the Times, we read “Klopp antics are mocked by Mourinho”. The paper says United manager Jose Mourinho has “ridiculed” Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.
“I’m on the touchline to try to coach,” says Mourinho, who “then waved his arms in the air, mimicking Klopp”. “I’m not on the touchline . . . [doing this].”
This is Mourinho, of course, who makes a big play of not commenting on other teams and only ever talking about his players (Anorak ad passim).
Mourinho added to his pre-mach snark by wondering aloud if the game’s referee, Anthony Taylor, who lives a few miles from Old Trafford, would have a “a very good performance”. “I think Mr Taylor is a very good referee,” judged Mourinho, “but I think somebody with intention is putting such a pressure on him that I feel that it will be difficult for him to have a very good performance.”
In other ‘Look at me’ news, Mourinho manager talked about one of his player, albeit to blame the Press for Wayne Rooney’s poor form. “I think what hurt you could do, you did already,” Mourinho said. “I don’t think you can do more than what you did, so I think in this moment it is time for him to recover from what was done to him and the best place for him to do that is feeling like he feels at home here.”
All typical siege mentality stuff from Jose: insult your rival; question the referee’s abilities; blame everyone else.
And the Press love it.
One paper does lead with Klopp. The Star has the Liverpool manger sticking up for Mourinho.
It’s not hard to see which of Mourinho or Klopp is more worried.
Liverpool are keen to prevent the “too much, too young” culture that infects professional football by bringing a wage cap for younger players.
The Telegraph says Liverpool will not allow a footballer age 17 or under to earn more than £40,000 in their first season as a professional.
Too often players go off the rails when they are given the financial power that comes with being a professional footballer, and Liverpool are looking to try and reduce the risk of young and talented players going to waste.
The youngsters will be allowed to boost their salaries with performance-related bonuses and breaking into Under-23 and senior sides.
Is 40k too low? Too high? In 2016 the Daily Mail reported the average wages paid in British football.
Last season, first-team average salaries were around £1.7million a year
Average basic pay in the Championship was £324,250 per player per year
Figure dropped to £69,500 in League One and £40,350 in League Two
Would you prefer to earn £40,000 playing for Liverpool youth sides or the Plymouth Argyle first team in League Two?Should wages be more performance-related?
In 1960, Jimmy Hill was embarked on in his campaign to abolish the Football League’s maximum wage which stood then at just £20 a week. Hill won. A wage bill from August 17, 1960, shows that Liverpool’s Roger Hunt took home £22 after bonuses, tax and insurance. He’d go on to be part of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966. What would he earn in these post-Bosman times?
In The Football Man, Arthur Hopcraft says such wages were “derisive in comparison with what could be earned by entertainers performing in front of much smaller audiences in, say, the theatre or cabaret… [and] small beer to what could be earned on the production lines of the country’s post-war, streamlined factories.”
Nowadays players earn a fortune. In 2009, Premier League clubs spent £1.2 billion on players’ wages in 2007-08, so passing he billion mark for the first time.
The game is rich with TV cash and owners’ money. But if the players don’t get the cash, who will? Will club owners use it to reduce ticket prices or pay dividends to shareholders?
Oliver Kay writes:
It is obscene, obviously, but it would be more obscene to see the money generated by the Premier League — whether through television, sponsorship or ticket sales — simply sit on the balance sheet as profits go up and up. Football clubs do not exist to make profit. They exist to give something back to communities. Unless the clubs’ intention is to give more and more back to the grassroots, which sadly seems unlikely, then it would be indecent to suggest that the benefit of this latest television deal would not be felt by the players.
He’s right. Footballers can get paid very well. But so do many other workers, top talents in their fields. Do we know what others earn a week, like TV’s Ant and Dec or a soap opera actor? Why do footballer always have their wages discussed in terms of what they earn a week?
The first thought on hearing a player’s weekly earnings is to measure it against your annual salary: why, that little bastard makes more in a week than I do in a year.
The second reason is snobbery. Wherever there is an anomaly in British life, check out snobbery before anything else. The wages of working men — rough types from the working class, you must have heard of them — have always been calculated in weeks.
He notes that the wages are paid by us, the fans who buy the TV packages, tickets and tat.
What do we get from all this money? Not much. Only beauty. Only incomparable skill. Only great bravura performances of mental and physical strife. Only individual and corporate levels of brilliance and defiance. Only the chance to identify with such people, to revel in the fact that they belong to us, that we are part of them and they are part of us.
Only the opportunity to watch as the myths and legends of our times are forged before us. Only the chance to participate in great dramas of will against will, skill against skill. Only anguish, only elation, only inconceivable joy, only the chance to taste despair without any actual suffering. Only the chance to drink down Life in great big gulps.
Do young footballers get too much too soon? Yes. Some do. But we enable them to get it. We invest in them because unlike most of us, these tyros have a chance to shine at something many of us would pay to do.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is subjected to the Sun’s “Hendo Watch”. The paper kept a constant eye on the likeable and hard-working Henderson as he captained England in Slovenia.
The Liverpool midfielder led from the front..
But it was still a decent audition from Henderson…
Hendo was the player organising the troops and trying to get something on a tricky night…
He dropped really deep to try to dictate play from the back, a role he could adopt in the future instead of raiding forward…
And that’s it. The BBC didn’t operate a Henderson Watch. But it notes:
He [Joe Hart] twice denied Josip Ilicic when he was played in by poor backpasses from Eric Dier and captain Jordan Henderson
The Sun never saw that pass. The BBC mentions it twice:
Hart – who was the clear man of the match in this game – looked back to his best, rescuing Dier and Henderson when dreadful backpasses let in Ilicic.
Make that three times:
Shambolic England… The errors by Dier and Henderson would have been punished by opposition of a higher calibre and England threatened to crumble in the early moments of the second half – only to be saved by Hart.
Is there any reason the Sun – a paper hated by the Reds’ faithful following its hideous Hillsborough coverage – failed to see the error from Liverpool’s captain as it watched his every move?
Becauae Germans are good at taking penalties, when one of them says an Englishman is the ‘best penalty taker ‘ he’s ever seen, we take notice. The penalty king is none other than Liverpool’s James Milner, who hasn’t missed any of the seven spot kicks he’s taken for the Reds.
This season he’s scored four from four.
The BBC has the headline news that Milner is the King. But in the Liverpool Echo, we get more. The German with the praise is Emre Can.”I’m young but I haven’t seen in any of my teams so far such a good penalty taker,” says Can. “In training, every ball is in the net. He’s a very, very good penalty taker.”
Milner is the powerhouse player any manager would love to have in their squad.
When James Milner announced his retirement from international football, he robbed England of a versatile player who has, as George Caulkin puts in in the Times, “always valued proficiency ahead of individuality”.
What does that make him sound like? Yeah, a German. And you now how good they are at football – and penalties.
We love peculiar job titles in football. Chelsea have “loan player coaches“. QPR have “kit monitorers”. Liverpool used to have “director of football strategy”. What that means is unclear. But at one point the man with the job was Damien Comolli.
When Comolli got the job in 2010, the BBC explained what it was, in the words of Liverpool owner John Henry:
“Today’s announcement is just the first step in creating a leadership group and structure designed to develop, enhance and implement our long-term philosophy of scouting, recruitment, player development and all of the other aspects necessary to build and sustain a club able to consistently compete at the highest level in European football. Damien has a proven track-record of identifying exciting young footballing talent and we are delighted that he has agreed to join Liverpool.”
He had us right up to “philosophy”, then we kind of zoned out. Conelli is not the manager, not the coach and not entirely just a scout. ‘Director of football strategy’ seems to be job made in the corporate world, a title based on presentation over presence.
In March 2011, we got more:
Comolli’s role has been extended to oversee all football-related matters outside of first-team training and selection, which are under the remit of the caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish, who replaced Hodgson on 8 January.
“It covers pretty much all of the football side,” added Comolli. “It’s basically a day-to-day relationship with the manager and his coaching staff, it’s also medical and sports science, performance analysis, player liaison, team travel, scouting and negotiating transfer contracts. A big part of it is the academy.”
We’re talking about Conelli because he’s told Talksport:
“The day I got sacked they [Liverpool’s owners] told me I had made a big mistake on Jordan and he was a waste of money.
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but I think we paid the right price. He was a young English, British player and we know very often that British players are overvalued. But we were more than happy to pay the price because we thought he would become an outstanding player.
“I never said it publicly, but I was convinced he would be the future captain. People will say it is easy to say now, but I was convinced at the time that he would become the Liverpool captain. Now he is and he is also the England captain.”
Manchester United looked at Henderson. And passed. In his autobiography, former United manager Alex Ferguson had issues with Henderson’s gait:
In 2015, the Telegraph reported:
Henderson has a condition known as Plantar Fasciitis, a problem that deteriorated last April. Despite consultations with renowned surgeons, and even taking advice from the Royal Ballet about how to deal with a problem that afflicts dancers as well as sportsmen, Henderson has accepted he will have to manage pain rather than rid himself of it…
Henderson is well aware comments made in Sir Alex Ferguson’s book that his running style would cause injury problems will be seen as prophetic. In fact, it is believed a change in boots was the catalyst for the issue last season allied to a work overload which has prevented the 25-year-old having a summer break for 14 years. “I don’t think it has anything to do with my gait, it might have, but I very much doubt it,” said Henderson.
The trade in footballers is about making an educated guess. Players can be lucky and unlucky, careers ended by injury and elevated by chance. To say you knew for certain Henderson was going to be the Liverpool captain is nonsense. It was a good guess – and one realised by the luck of Henderson, a talented player, being part of a very poor England team and a Liverpool side with few options.
And as for Henderson’s rise being foreseen by Comelli, this is what Kenny Dalglish said after the Frenchman left the club:
“He’s been really helpful in every transfer target we’ve gone for. Everyone who has come into the club since Damien has been here was of my choice. Once I made the choice who I wanted. Damien went away and did a fantastic job of bringing them in. It’s sad to see anyone leave the club and he goes with my best wishes.”
Such are the facts.
Much hoo-ha over the appointment of Manchester-based referee Anthony Taylor for the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United. The idea is, presumably, that Taylor will favour Man United over their rivals? Or maybe he’s a diehard United loyalist who hates the club owning Glazers and wants their version of United to fail and will favour Liverpool? Or maybe his loved ones support Manchester City or Everton and to keep them happy Taylor will go studs-up on United’s David De Gea and red card Paul Pogba for having non-regulation hair?
Twitter user @TheLFCPoll investigates another options: “Manchester born referee Anthony Taylor will be in charge of the Manchester United game. His wife is a Manchester United fan. Seems neutral.”
Taylor doesn’t support Manchester United, preferring the allure of non-league Altrincham. The rules state that referees can only be barred from officiating matches featuring a club they support.
So what of the criticism of Taylor? Former referee Keith Hackett says Taylor’s treatment has been “grossly unfair”. Ex-ref Graham Poll says Taylor “should certainly not raise any eyebrows despite him living and working in the Manchester area”.
Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was fined in January 2014 for pointing the finger at Bolton-based referee Lee Mason and his officiating of the Reds’ 2-1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad. “I was surprised that we are playing in Manchester and we had a referee from Greater Manchester,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully we won’t have a Greater Manchester referee with Liverpool-Manchester games in future. We had nothing that went our way at all. I never go on about officials but I thought they were horrendous.”
A referee’s address is not a factor in selecting them for matches.
Keith Hackett explains more:
“At the beginning of every season the referees’ background information is audited. They complete a form that includes who they support, the history of if they’ve played the game and with the addresses where they are residing. That gives you a picture that comes into use when you’re appointing.”
Anyhow, if you want to know which ref supports which team, here you are:
Mark Clattenburg (County Durham): Newcastle
Mike Dean (Wirral): Tranmere
Roger East (Wiltshire): Unknown
Kevin Friend (Bristol): Bristol City
Simon Hooper (Wiltshire): Swindon
Mike Jones (Chester): Chester
Robert Madley (Wakefield): Huddersfield
Andre Marriner (Birmingham): Aston Villa
Lee Mason (Bolton): Bolton
Jon Moss (Sunderland): Sunderland
Michael Oliver (Ashington): Newcastle
Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire): Sheffield United
Graham Scott (Oxford): Swindon
Keith Stroud (Dorset): Luton
Neil Swarbrick (Preston): Preston
Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe): Altrincham
Paul Tierney (Wigan): Wigan
Conclusion: If you want to be a top-flight referee, the advice is to support a team that is either never there or one prone to relegation.
Howard Gayle was the first black footballer to play for Liverpool. The State wanted to reward Toxteth-born Gayle for footballing whilst black and working with the anti-racism charity Kick It Out with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). But Gayle, 58, was unimpressed.
He explains why he rejected the gong:
If they want to be inclusive and accepting of black people around the UK and the Commonwealth, then they need to change the title of it – as it’s an exclusive club being an MBE or OBE or one of those gongs.
A lot of people around the world contacted me to say they accepted my decision and that the title of MBE did rankle.
In his book 61 Minutes In Munich, Gaytle talks about the racism that was rife in football and society. In the 1970s and 1980s, English football was infected by racism.
Gayle recalls an episode with Liverpool enforcer Tommy ‘Anfield Iron’ Smith.
Tommy tried to distract me by making nasty comments related to the colour of my skin. For a while, I somehow managed to restrain myself…
I received the ball, controlled it, and lashed a shot towards goal. Tommy Smith was on the other team and it hit him on the leg. It clearly stung and some of the other players started laughing. I had a smile on my face as well. I saw it as karma. Tommy responded with a tirade of abuse. It was ‘black this, black that’.
The place went quiet. Everybody could hear it, including the staff. He was a legend. I was a nothing. Nobody said a word.
I’d had enough of him (Smith): this bitter old man. So I went over and squared up: nose to nose. I looked at him dead in the eye.
“You know what, Tommy; one night you’ll be taking a piss at home and I’ll be there waiting for you with a baseball bat,” I said, calmly. “And then we’ll see what you’ve got to say.”
I wanted to start a fight with him. And then he walked away…
Graeme Souness was the only one that came over in the immediate aftermath. “Well done, Howard,” he said. “Tommy deserved that”. Graeme was a true leader.
Other might have just lamped Smith.
After I left, John Barnes became the first black player to be signed by Liverpool from another club. He quickly earned the nickname of ‘Digger’, after Digger Barnes in the Dallas television series. Personally, I wouldn’t have accepted that because of its closeness to the ‘N’ word.
Hyper-sensitive? Seeing racial undertones in a nickname given to player who would be idolised at Anfield?
Things have changed. Now professional football might well be the lest colour conscious occupation in Britain – one in four of professional footballers is black.
The BBC website is the font of all knowledge. It might as well be a newspaper. But instead of opting to compete in the open marketplace, the BBC news site consumes and rules. On today’s BBC football pages, for example, you can read: “Football gossip: Wenger, Ozil, Sanchez, Griezmann, Klopp.”
Arsene Wenger, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are names that appeal to all Arsenal fans worried that all three will leave the club. Jurgen Klopp news seduces Liverpool fans hungry for news of their charismatic manager. Griezmann is the top striker at Atletico Madrid wanted by a host of Premier League clubs.
We clicked. And we get a single ‘news’ item on anyone mentioned in the headline. That story is ab vout Klopp. This is the news: “Outgoing Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre believes Jurgen Klopp is ‘the perfect man’ for the manager’s job.”
That’s not exactly “gossip” is it.
The BBC is funded by the licence fee tax. Why does it need to resort to clickbait to attract readers?
By way of proof that this is the BBC’s ‘news’, here’s more of today’s BBC’s football page:
Hillsborough is back in the news. It never went away. We still await justice for the 96 people killed at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989. It took 26 years for the State to admit the dead were innocent. How long will it take to nail the guilty?
Today the Guardian reports on moves to bring back standing at Premier League football grounds.
We’d argue that standing on the terraces never caused the horror at Hillsborough. When the victims were crying out for help behind those cages the police sent for the attack dogs. The deaths were accidental. But they were the result of a policy that portrayed and treated football fans as scum.
The Liverpool supporters’ union (LSU) Spirit of Shankly wants to bring back standing. Premier League Football is sanitised and stripped of the passion that made the game so magical. Standing is one stop towards breaking the myriad controls forced on fans.
The LSU will ask other Liverpool fans and the families of those killed at Hillsborough for their views on a return to standing at top-flight grounds.
The Guardian says the Hillsborough Family Support Group is strongly opposed to standing. The Hillsborough Justice Campaign says: “There has always been a variety of views amongst HJC members. We do however, support a full and objective debate on the issue with safety being paramount.”
The LSU floated the idea at last month’s AGM. It said:
“There have been ongoing campaigns for the implementation of ‘rail seating’ at football grounds, similar to those often found in Germany. This has been alongside debate about supporters who currently stand in seated areas. It should be recognised and acknowledged that this occurs.
“LSU has never formally adopted a position on ‘rail seating’, ‘safe standing’ or these matters by whichever name it goes by. The debate, in recent months, has moved on, following the implementation of rail seating at Celtic and with football clubs openly discussing the idea. Supporters at other clubs are actively campaigning for the introduction of rail seating. Whilst LSU recognises that opinion amongst our fan base is divided, with supporters and Hillsborough campaigners and groups on both sides of the debate, our stance and opinion on such matters should be one directed by our members.”
It is an emotive issue. All-seat regulations were introduced into English football by Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the Hillsborough disaster. Rather than censure the police and look to themselves, the authorities moved swiftly to enforce further controls on fans. Sat in numbered seats these criminals-in-waiting were more easily monitored.
And don’t you dare move. In 2006, West Ham United sent the following note to 20 season ticket holders: “You have ignored repeated requests to remain seated and are therefore placing the club in jeopardy of losing capacity. As a result you are banned from attending Upton Park for two matches.”
Sit down or else.
And then came the advice to shut up. (Spurs fans must not champion the ‘Yid Army’. Celtic’s ‘Green Brigade’ and should stop singing the wrong kinds of songs, and so too Glasgow Rangers fans. Never mind that the bawdy chants are reminders of what binds fans to their clubs, they are possibly offensive to sensitive ears and must be banned. Songs will be censored or drowned out by blaring PA systems, piped music, anthems and ridiculous countdowns to kick-off.)
You want to know why 60,000 fans at Arsenal’s shiny new Emirates ground make less noise than half that number did at Highbury? They’ve been pacified. Sit down. Don’t drink. Book your seats in advance – no groups of mates rocking up to let off steam have a hope of getting in.
When the Emirates opened, the club heard the silence. They soon advertised for a ‘Singing Section’, a licensed place where the noisiest fans could sing approved songs. It was pathetic. And so too are standing zones. Football fans have been reduced to accepting scraps of legislated freedom.
Don’t stand up in the zone of tolerance. Stand up to the marketeers, control freaks and State that have subdued the fans and taken the fun out of football.
We are indebted to Pies for this gem of an item for Liverpool fans looking to buy a clock. The Bradford Exchange are offering this £197.94 ‘Liverpool FC Stadium clock’, an officially licensed piece of merchandise to enliven any wall.
It is what Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley would have wanted.
Plays You’ll Never Walk Alone on the hour! Every hour!
Can the media makes Liverpool midfielder James Milner sound controversial? Milner, 30, features on the BBC’s ‘gossip’ pages. The State broadcaster reports: “James Milner, 30, says Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is the best manager he has played under.”
That’s a bold statement. Milner has been managed by such top managerial talents as Terry Venables, Sir Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, Martin O’Neill, Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers. Milner says Klopp is better than all of them. Well, so the BBC says.
The Telegraph is less certain: “Liverpool news: Jurgen Klopp may be best manager I’ve ever had, says James Milner.”
So what did the honest and likeable Milner actually say?
“I’ve probably had too many managers but every manager is different,” said Milner. “They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. He [Klopp] is a top manager and he’s definitely one of the best that I have worked with.”
Did Milner says Klopp is the best manager he has ever played for? No. Did he snub the other managers? No. Did he say something controversial? No.
Did the BBC twist his words? Yes.
Media balls: a look at monocular reporting on Swansea v Liverpool, which the Reds won 1-2.
The Times says Liverpool were “disjointed at the Liberty stadium and flattered by the victory that came gift-wrapped from the opposition courtesy of two bad defensive errors in the second half.” The winning goal came when Swansea went into “meltdown”. The goal followed a series of “egregious errors”.
The Indy says “Swansea’s defence disintegrated”.
The BBC says the results was “cruel on Swansea”.
The Guardian: “Borja, the club’s £15.5m record signing, squandered two excellent chances, the second of which came after Fer had put Swansea ahead.” This was compounded by “Van der Hoorn’s awful late miss”.
The Liverpool Echo says “Liverpool staged a stirring second-half comeback”.
The Daily Mirror says Liverpool were “irresistible“. Adding that “this was the type of victory that runs through any title challenge like writing through rock.” Well, so long as the other side suffer “defensive aberrations“, it might be.
In Klopp’s 37th Premier League games, his team has conceded 50 goals.
Sometimes a win courtesy of late penalty doesn’t bear the analysis.
Media balls: Spurs concede 6 goals all season, Chelsea beat Manchester United and Liverpool are pipped by Arsenal
Filling in the dull bits between transfer windows when the Daily Express’ clickbait bots can link Arsenal to every striker over 10 years of age, the ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’ has created a Premier League predictor. Using the technical marvel of guessology and powerful maths, the Express makes some bold statements.
Bournemouth, Sunderland and Stoke are all relegated – Stoke scoring 6 times all season.
In the world of the Express, The Cherries are worse than Hull City – who are better than Southampton – and West Ham. Everton, who Bournemouth just beat 1-10, finish runners up. Chelsea finish above Manchester United.
Spurs finish third, conceding – get this – 3 goals.
Manchester City win the title.
Oh, yeah – Arsenal finish fourth, naturally. Even robots can be right some of the time.
Liverpool fans will be gutted. They could have had Joey Barton and not Xabi Alonso in the side. Alsono is a terrific player. Barton has long been underrated as a result of a querulous attitude and pugnacious demeanour. This week he has been banned by his current club Glasgow Rangers following a training ground altercation with Andy Halliday, his team-mate.
He is also plugging his new autobiography. In it he notes, “My behaviour was occasionally psychotic.” And ridiculous.
Talking about his red card in Newcastle United’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in 2009, Barton writes in his new book:
“Had things panned out differently, I could have made the obsessive debate about the mutual suitability of the Gerrard-Lampard axis redundant. From what I gathered, Steven Gerrard agitated to get Liverpool to sign me in 2004, because he felt we had the potential to forge a partnership.
“I met with Gerard Houllier at Melwood, and agreed everything verbally. A deal was close to being concluded but then he was sacked that summer. It was never revived.”
Fast forward to the match. Liverpool have Xabi Alonso in midfield:
“Xabi and I had history. He blamed me for knocking him out in what he thought was a deliberate clash of heads in one of our earliest contests, and I blamed him for stealing my move to Liverpool.”
Which he didn’t.
“All that remained to be agreed with [Manchester] City was the fee, when Rafa Benitez took over from Gerard Houllier. I was in Dubai when I was informed that he had instead decided to sign a kid from Real Sociedad who had just broken into the Spanish national team.”
A kid? Alonso was 22.
“…(In 2009) Thirteen minutes remained. Liverpool were two up, cruising and playing keep ball. The Kop conducted an incessant, infuriating chant of ‘Ole, ole, ole!’ Xabi retained the ball near the corner flag fractionally longer than was prudent. That gave me the opportunity to fly in, and disguise my malicious intent as best as I could. Alonso milked the moment with a barrel roll. I expected a yellow and was shown a red.”
You can read more of this sort of thing in Barton’s book, No Nonsense, including how in the aftermath of this foul, Alan Shearer, Newcastle’s interim manager, called Barton a “f***ing coward” and when Iain Dowie, Shearer’s assistant, stepped in to prevent things from getting out of hand, Barton quipped: “You keep it shut, boxing-glove head.”
You might not like Barton, but he is entertaining.
Transfer balls: the BBC says Liverpool are on course to sign 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic. They’re not.
The Bleacher Report says Liverpool tried and failed to bring Pulisic – the “wonderkid” – to Anfield over the summer with an £11m bid. They are looking to bid again next summer.
The Mirror says the 17-year-old is “one of the most highly-rated prospects in world football”. With such a billing, is £11m a cheeky offer? The Mail says Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea have “followed his emergence in recent months”. You can add any number of other clubs to the list.
ESPN FC says Dortmund “are not willing to sell him due to his potential”.
Other clubs had their chance to sign him. 442 reports:
He played for the PA Classics, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy program which has produced several MLS players. And although Pulisic enjoyed training stints at Barcelona, Chelsea, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Villarreal while playing with the PA Classics, he chose to continue to play close to home – for a while, anyway.
Pulisic is under contract at Dortmund until 2018.
Does he want to leave? His father told Bild in August: “Christian has no interest in leaving the club. He had a good half year last season, and wants to continue to break through.”
How good is he? USA Today says:
Pulisic has a ways to go. He isn’t Lionel Messi, not even close. But he’s young, confident, he’s still growing, and he has an attacking spark and creativity that American players aren’t supposed to have, if you believe the accepted soccer wisdom
And finally know that Pulisic supports Manchester United, “loves” Wayne Rooney and says his favourite player at dortmund was Henrik Mkhitaryan.
Pulisic to United it is, then.
Liverpool FC tonked Leicester City 4-1 in the Reds’ first home match of the season. Looking on was Howard Webb, one of the platoon of former referees earning money as a pundit. Webb works for BTSport, where he analyses decisions to deadline. He told viewers that Jamie Vardy’s goal should not have stood.
Webb says Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki broke the rules when his pressing panicked Liverpool’s Lucas into a dreadful pass across an empty area that gave Vardy an easy finish. According to the absurdly picky Webb, Okazaki was illegally inside the penalty area before the ball had left it following Mignolet’s goal-kick.
As Law 16 states:
Opponents must be outside the penalty area until the ball is in play…
The ball is in play when it leaves the penalty area..
This is the same Howard Webb who told readers of his Times column:
If all decisions can be reviewed by video, referees on the pitch become nothing more than remote-controlled referees.
And how many of them will go on tot have a media career?