As a marketer, I rely on predictive analysis and in-depth studies which tell me my market and who and where I should spend money – that’s why I see my job as a kind of science.
I know, for example, if I prove something works 19 times out of 20 then I’m onto a winner – if something doesn’t work 19 times out of 20 then I’m back to square one.
For some reason though, that’s not true in professional sport. Whilst the rise of Sports Science is a thing to be welcomed, you can’t account for mentality and you can’t necessary turn skill and ability into a good/world class player. The chain reaction is so important that get one little thing wrong and all of a sudden you’ve lost a game or you’ve destroyed a career. There’s no room in a results business for trial and error.
That’s what makes football quite so exciting. The fact Cardiff City can turn up and give Liverpool a game or Oldham turn up and beat Liverpool, or Liverpool coming back from 3-0 down to win the Champions League a historic fifth time – things that on paper are not possible, becoming possible are what makes football so bloody brilliant.
It’s why being a Liverpool fan in the last three years has been quite frankly a baffling love affair filled with joy, more often than not frustration, and at times disgust, as a succession of managers have seen their players held victim to the mental block of putting on a red shirt.
The expectation from the fans which is still there despite not winning the league since the Premiership was established, the sheer weight of the watching Kop on your shoulders, the sigh as you fluff a pass or a scream to work harder which happened to Fabio Borini on Monday night when he didn’t chase down Foster who had the ball at the edge of the box.
Suddenly realizing the fans were a bit cheesed off, he runs, nothing comes of it, the moment passes – the promising Italian getting the full force of a Kop kick up the backside for his trouble.
That was a bit of a turning moment for Carroll, whose form seemed to improve and whom the fans knew that if he wasn’t going to score 30 goals a season, he’d at least work hard for the cause. Unfortunately Kenny didn’t quite trust him to start and again we lost games we shouldn’t have. Followed quickly by Carroll’s mental collapse.
There’s a temptation with the West Brom result and the Zenit result to say these are two games in isolation – yet more and more this season we keep coming back to it. West Brom at the start of the season, Villa at home in December, Stoke on Boxing Day and the shambles that was the first half against United – then throwing away the lead against Everton, Arsenal and City.
Rodgers describes these as growing pains that won’t be there in the next 6 to 12 months. The question is: are we just talking about skill or are we talking about both skill and the strength of mind?
Liverpool has employed a specialist in this area whose record is impressive. Craig Bellamy credits him for turning around his career, as does Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy. Dr Steve Peters certainly has his work cut out for him, yet it’s up to the players to recognize they need help. It’s also being big enough to admit that in top sport, there’s no shame in trying to make yourself fit in the mind, in order to make sure you deliver on the pitch.
Yet again we’re coming back to wearing that Red shirt, what it means and the expectation from the fans. The reason why we all loved Dirk Kuyt was that he worked like a Trojan, even if in his last season he started to show signs of age for a winger.
Kuyt was never the best player in the world, the Premiership or indeed Liverpool. But you can’t deny that in every game he fought for the cause – he knew what it meant to be a Red. It’s not acceptable to do a Jose Enrique/Glen Johnston on Monday and simply save yourself for Europe; you’ve got to sacrifice yourself on the pitch in every game.
So now, there’s no hope of fourth, and the small glimmer of hope we had of European success is fading into the darkness fans will no doubt question where do we go now. The reality is it’s going to take more than a manager to get us back to the good old days; there’s got to be a mental shift in minds of all involved in Liverpool.