MOST football fans like numbers. We repeatedly look at league tables, assessing what hypothetical results may do to positions. We decry strikers who score less than a goal every two games and now even the slow-to-catch-on televised media regularly bombard us with a plethora of numbers, possession statistics and pass completion rates being the present favourites. I like numbers too. But words are equally important.
A great example is the much maligned Rafael Benitez.
Adored by Liverpool fans for winning the most glorious of Champions League finals, fighting our corner against the media favourites of Fergie and Jose, supporting the Hillsborough families with great humility, and forever tinkering with tactics to eke out results in difficult games.
Rafa loves numbers (almost as much as facts!), but while he has done a much better job than the likes of Ranieri & Capello of learning the English language, he has always struggled to convey his personality, warmth, wit and intellect with his words.
I speak Spanish and in his native tongue Rafa is loquacious and effusive but in English he comes across as staid and just not with the program.
‘The numbers’ say he won 2 La Liga titles ending Valencia’s 30 year wait with a fraction of the budget of the great Barca and Madrid.
‘The facts’ say he consistently got Liverpool to the latter stages of the Champions League with owners who were siphoning money away from the club and didn’t have the capability to run it. He did this against the backdrop of the megabucks of Man United and Chelsea.
‘The reality’ is he took over the poison chalice of Inter Milan with a team that had lost all motivation after giving its all for 6 campaigns under Mancini and Mourinho, which were ageing badly with a large number of injuries, and Rafa still managed to win 2 titles – the only 2 titles he was allowed to win.
But Rafa’s words somehow fail to convey the gravitas of these achievements.
I bring up the subject of ‘words’ because of our present and affable young manager, Mr. Brendan Rodgers. I must first disclose that I am a big fan of Brendan. He is a modern manager for modern times. He wants to play football the right way, and through extensive coaching at varying youth levels has developed a philosophy (a newish term when applied to football) that we love to see.
He is engaging with the media (something that Kenny really struggled with) and seems to have a good balance between man-management and tactical work (his recent early substitution of Suso for Henderson in the Wigan game being a good example -“flipping the triangle,” in Rodger’s speak). Despite our lowly position, I am very happy we have Brendan in charge and think his bravery in trusting talented young players is something very few managers are capable of.
However I have one gripe, which is a worrying trend in some of his words.
We are Liverpool FC. 5 times European Champions. 18 times League Champions. Brendan, please stop talking about Swansea!
Last season Swansea had some great results at home beating much bigger teams. They were knocked out of the cup competitions early, confounded the bookmakers on many an occasion and were rightly lauded for an excellent season in which they finished 11th. This was Swansea’s best season in 50 years.
Last season Liverpool won the League Cup, got to the final of the FA Cup, qualified for Europe, beat Chelsea twice at Stamford Bridge, beat Arsenal at the Emirates, beat Man City at the Etihad, knocked Man United out of the Cup and finished 8th, three positions higher than Swansea. This was Liverpool’s worst season in 50 years.
Our worst season was better than Swansea’s best season.
Brendan has the support of the Liverpool fans, including myself, and he has acknowledged that we have been patient with him. I know Brendan’s minimal experience means he has few other direct benchmarks but he really needs to cut the ‘Swansea’ from his pre and post-match interviews (with the exception of when we play them of course). Recently he has started talking more about previous Liverpool teams as being benchmarks; this shows he is learning and adjusting his words. I hope to hear more of this. Hence, I was rather dismayed to hear the following after yet another stalemate, this time against his former club…
“I’ll never say coming here is two points dropped”
Brendan. Wake Up! You are the Liverpool Manager. Not getting 3 points at Swansea is always 2 points dropped. To use a word like ‘never’ indicates you are in danger of being somewhat out of step with our expectations.
There are many things that Brendan does really well, and I’m sure in future articles we will talk more about these, including more game and player analysis, but this issue of finding the right words to suit our expectations was one that I felt I should write about first.
Do you agree Brendan should spend a little less time eulogising over Swansea or do you think that he is simply trying to lower our expectations to ensure no one gets too carried away? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
You can catch more from me on my own blog: http://taintlessred.