SO it’s another week and another defeat; its’ the same old story for the Reds in the league. It’s becoming highly frustrating being a Liverpool fan. One week, we’re on a high after a late FA Cup semi-final win over our City rivals, the next we’re creating chance after chance against West Brom and losing, courtesy of perhaps the only decent chance they had. What Peter Odemwingie managed to do for Hodgson’s men is pretty much a lesson to every one of our players that have shot high and wide numerous times this season: take your bloody chances!
There comes a point when the excuses that are put out each week are not enough. We’re well aware that we are dominating games and creating 15, 20, 30 chances, week after week, but that is not consolation, and after a near full league season, we’re lying in 8th, breaking all kinds of records for mediocrity.
While it would be fairly obvious to trot out the ‘Kenny out’ vs. ‘Give Kenny time’ debate that has become all too (painfully) familiar since the turn of the year, I was interested to take a look at our coaching staff this week.
Other than Steve Clarke, there seems to be a number of staff working at the club – in key positions, no less – that are either unknown or have not had a particularly glittering career when it comes to success at previous clubs. Like I said, Steve Clarke is a known quantity from his time at Chelsea. Many point to him as a key ingredient in the success the London club had under Jose Mourinho and the current Madrid manager has only good things to say about Clarke, and it’s hard to argue with that because his CV is full of successes and shows contributions to league titles, cups and creating a successful legacy at Chelsea. It’s even harder to argue with his ability when you consider that he helped turn out leaky defence in to a solid, hard-working unit. The Liverpool defence is (or, at least, until recent weeks) one of the best in the country and it has Clarke’s stamp all over it.
Unfortunately, it seems that his influence hasn’t spread further. This isn’t surprising though, as while Clarke is listed as a ‘First Team Coach’ on the official LFC site, he will specialize in certain areas, and the defensive side of the game is undoubtedly the Scot’s forte. But when you look at the likes of Kevin Keen and John Achterberg things become slightly more concerning.
Now, I do not doubt for a second that both Keen and Achterberg are highly qualified and very experienced. But having qualifications and having experience do not always equate to success or ability. I mean, the likes of Steve Bruce, Mick McCarthy and Paul Ince have all managed at the highest level and have years of experience between them but would you want to hire them on to your coaching team? I know I certainly wouldn’t.
A glance at Keen’s record shows that he spent the majority of his career coaching at West Ham, taking over as caretaker manager several times. The image he presents is one of an affable chap, who works well with the players and is entirely non-confrontational. However, he was never a part of a successful coaching team and the highlights of his career in coaching appear to be taking temporary charge of the Hammers during managerial change. I’m sure you’ll agree that is in sharp contrast to Clarke above.
On to John Achterberg and, following a decent career at Tranmere he entered in to a career in coaching. From retiring back in 2009, the Dutchman was coaching at the Reds’ academy until last summer when he was appointed as First Team goalkeeping coach. Maybe I was trying to repress my concerns on this until now or maybe I just didn’t realize but should one of the biggest clubs in European and World football really be appointing an untried and untested coach to head a very important part of their coaching staff?
I remember back in the 90’s and early 00’s how Roy Evans (and then Gerard Houllier) persevered for so long with Joe Corrigan and how much of a change we saw in both Brad Friedel and Dave James once they left and went on to work with top-class goalkeeping coaches. That is not to say that Achterberg is not good at his job but the massive dip in Pepe Reina’s performances aren’t just because he’s become a poor ‘keeper in the last 9 months. Look back over Reina’s career and see just how great a goalie he was whilst Xavi Valero and Jose Ochotorena were at the club and you’ll notice a vast contrast. The difference between John, Xavi and Jose? The latter two had both coached at the highest level for both Valencia and Spain before they arrived at Liverpool. Sure, it probably helped that they were both Spanish but a good coach speaks the universal footballing language.
I can also recall Valero coaching our strikers and in a very revealing interview with Fernando Torres back in 2009 he stated how much the Spanish goalkeeping coach helped with his finishing by using statistical analysis of how ‘keepers are more likely to react, depending on certain situations and even going as far as to provide detailed analyses of upcoming goalkeeping opposition, learning their strengths and weaknesses and at which times they were most vulnerable. These are the kinds of things you can’t learn purely via coaching courses and they are certainly some things that we could truly benefit from at the moment.
So with Achterberg seemingly on his way in the summer, should Xavi Valero be the first man back in? I would certainly hope so, but whoever replaces the Dutchman needs to be able to prove his track-record, rather than just show off his coaching badges and I think that goes for anybody that is brought on to the coaching staff over the summer.
Another change I believe is necessary is that the backroom team needs to grow vastly if we’re to see any benefits next season. Whether Kenny is in charge in the new season or not, the coaching team needs to be expanded. There were those that complained of the amount of coaches, fitness coaches, analysts, strategists, doctors, etc. that Rafa Benitez had but they all had a very specific role and they were expected to perform that as a cog in the machine. No matter the amount, they all knew their job and they were all there to make sure that the team performances were at their optimum.
What we have under Kenny, as far as I can tell, is a very small coaching team who seem to just… coach. And I think, in that respect, that feeds back in to the concerns many of us had when Kenny was clear frontrunner for the full-time job – the fact that he had been out of the game so long meant he was out of touch with the modern ways of running a club. You can’t just have a bunch of men carrying round cones and net-bags full of footballs any more while the players run up and down the pitch or play five-a-side. I’m not suggesting that’s how our training sessions look these days but what I’m saying is that you need a large backroom staff with specific roles and duties, all there solely for the betterment of the team and when I check out our staff profiles and look back over their careers, I’m struck by the lack of numbers and provable success and experience we currently have.
We’ve had a number of issues this season, not least of all an inability to score. But there have been times when we’ve struggled and the changes and tactical advice coming from manager or coaches has been minimal, at best. There was a point during Rafa Benitez reign when Liverpool were struck with a similar problem and our strikers were having problems finding the back of the net. His response to this was to invite Ian Rush back to the club, in an advisory capacity and before too long, things began to improve. So perhaps, with hind-sight, this could have been a short-term answer. In the long term, though, over the summer months, an overhaul of the coaching staff will more-than-likely be necessary and no matter who is at the helm, the first acquisition desperately needs to be somebody, anybody that can show our players how to put the ball in to the back of the net.
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