The capitulation to Stoke away and Aston Villa at home have served only to highlight the new depths we have managed to plunge and the future of Liverpool as a football heavyweight has been compromised.
Or so some might have you believe.
Modern football has become a morass of instant opinion, over-reaction and hype, hype, hype. And it is easy to get sucked into that world without taking time to actually consider and assess the positives and the negatives of a club, team, player or manager.
The phrase ‘you’re only as good as your last game’ has never been so relevant. What it is vital to remember is that this is a sentence used to promote regular performance from players; they cannot believe that their job is done after one good match, they must deliver every game.
Instead, there is a quite literal application of that phrase by football observers which causes a team to be labelled ‘world class’ if they win and ‘relegation fodder’ if they lose. The Norwich game showed that Liverpool are one of the most dominant forces in the Premier League, while the loss to Oldham proved Liverpool to be a wrecked ship, hoping to stem the flood before sinking into the abyss.
Perspective is not in abundance in the world of football, indeed it is largely absent.
A fair assessment of Liverpool would be that they are a good team which is inconsistent and a large part of that is due to the number of young and inexperienced players that have had plenty of game time in a red shirt. This is not a problem that needs to be addressed it is an inevitable result of giving academy graduates a chance. Young players will make mistakes but they will improve from having made them. And in the event that they neither learn nor progress, they will no longer find a place in the team.
There is a strange attitude in football at the moment where young players are both placed on a pedestal and slaughtered well before they should be judged so reverently or harshly. Recently I overheard someone describe Victor Moses as a failed player. This is a 22 year old who had a very encouraging season with Wigan last year and has played a number of games for a Chelsea side that is littered with top international talent. He has also scored 4 goals in 8 games for Nigeria. Failure.
The expectation on young talent is ridiculous. There is a paradox by which fans want academy players in the first team but expect them to perform like 28 year old internationals. I often remind people that Jonjo Shelvey’s 5 goal return in 27 games this season is not far off Gerrard’s 10 goals in 50 games at the same age. Yet Shelvey is expected to be as good as Gerrard is now. Gerrard was nowhere near the player he is now and it’s easy to forget that he was a raw talent when he first came through the ranks. He was not perfect but Gerrard did not come under the same level of scathing criticism when he had a bad game that Shelvey does now.
Part of this seems to be down to the need for instant gratification in our society and Twitter is a good example of how much people focus on the here and now all of the time. Everything is condensed into a microcosm and amplified to the nth degree. This is a problem because it contributes to the hostile environment that younger players find themselves in, particularly at a club like Liverpool.
Take Joe Allen for instance. 22 years of age and arriving at the club with a big price tag and heralded by the new manager as a man who would reshape Liverpool’s midfield. Praised after his first few games as the best player on the pitch, he is now castigated as a flop. Overreaction is easy. Downing is terrible, Adam is terrible and Henderson is terrible.
Well now Downing is delivering, Adam has left and Henderson has produced goals and assists since the eye of condemnation was turned away from him. Allen is currently facing the backlash from some poor performances, and let’s be clear: his displays have been awful for the last 5-10 games, but is he the first player to take time to settle into a team? Did Robert Pires not struggle in his first season at Arsenal?
Players need time to adapt whether they come from the Premier League or from abroad. They experience a change of environment, teammates and manager. There are a host of variables that can affect why a player doesn’t settle into a team and that’s why instant successes are rare.
More importantly though is that young players are not the finished article, they advance with experience. Lionel Messi is one of the greatest talents to emerge in football but he did not immediately score 50 goals a season, he got better over time.
Liverpool have not been a Champions League side for a number of years now but the recovery is underway. The youth system is producing good footballers for the first time since the Gerrard himself came through and it is exciting. If everything pans out as we hope we could be looking at one of those wondrous moments in football where a crop of talented saplings come through at once and form the nucleus of the team for many years to come.
Yes, we want to see progress and yes we want to be back at the top as quickly as possible but if everything is continually dismantled with haphazard overreaction to every bad result then progress will be stifled.
The future could be great but we must ensure that our ludicrously concentrated focus on the present doesn’t extinguish the fires of youth from reaching their potential.
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