Which Way Now For Liverpool?
It has now gone far enough to stop even being amusing to the neutral. Supporters of Manchester United and Everton may seek to disagree, but there was something sombre about Liverpool’s home defeat at the hands of Blackpool this afternoon. We are some way from reading the last rites of the club, but there is something in the air at Anfield. That familiar stench of dry rot hangs over the club this evening. The spirit of Liverpool Football Club feels broken. With each passing week, the feeling that this is but a mere blip has receded further and further into the distance and the dread reality for Liverpool supporters, that a season of having to fight the unthinkable fight – the fight to hold onto the club’s place in the Premier League itself – might be looming on the horizon.
There was nowhere else to go this afternoon. There were no excuses and no justifications. Liverpool were beaten by a better team. Blackpool came to Anfield fully aware that this particular beast is wounded at the moment and they had a plan for it. They worked tirelessly, never stopped playing football and there is, ironically, no shame in losing to a team that played as well as they did this afternoon. Their £10,000 per player, per week ceiling on wages is common knowledge. Steven Gerrard alone earns more than the entire Blackpool team, with Fernando Torres not far behind him. It is over-simplistic to get into the debate over players’ wages at the very top end of the Premier League, but some Liverpool supporters could have been forgiven for wondering what exactly their club gets in return for the money that it lavishes on star players.
With their side losing and the game running away from them, the singing for the return of Kenny Dalglish started again. Whether Dalglish, who hasn’t managed for a decade, is the right man for the job is open to question. He is the sentimental choice to replace Roy Hodgson, but sentimental choices often turn out to be bad decisions. Newcastle United repented at leisure for making sentimental choices in bringing Kevin Keegan back to St James Park and then allowing Alan Shearer to oversee their relegation dogfight two seasons ago and if any club offers a template to Liverpool on the subject of how no club is “too big” to be relegated, they are surely it. Yet if Liverpool were to agree with Roy Hodgson that their relationship isn’t working out, he may be not far short of their only choice. At this time of year, few managers that are under contract are likely to want (or be allowed by their clubs) to leave and even if Liverpool do have a greater pull than most other clubs, who would want to go there now, with Liverpool Football Club being in the state that it is in.
Even this speculation pre-supposes that Liverpool are in the market for a new manager. As we mentioned last week, Roy Hodgson in a few weeks into a three year contract at Anfield and will not be cheap to replace. If he decides to dig his heels, he could be difficult to oust. The question of whether he is “out of his depth” is one thing, but it has become abundantly clear that he was the wrong man for this job at this particular time. To suggest that he is suddenly incapable of doing this job doesn’t really make a great deal of sense, but this is something of a straw man argument anyway. The problems at Liverpool are obviously and noticeably about more than the actions of just one man. Where, we could reasonably argue, were the big name players when the chips were down this afternoon? The greater that the clamour for Hodgson’s head becomes, the easier it will be to forget that players that earn tens of thousands of pounds every week have a share in the responsibility for what happens on the pitch.
The manager, then, has lost the goodwill of the supporters, and there seem to be no signs of any improvement in the performance of the players on the pitch over recent weeks. If this sounds like bad news, though, it is nothing in comparison with what the situation at the club could be like after the 6th of October. In a recent article, the Liverpool Echo outlined five possible scenarios for Liverpool FC that could come to pass over the next few weeks or so. One of these involves putting Kop Football (the holding company that owns Liverpool FC) or Kop Football Holdings (which, in turn, owns Kop Football) into administration, but the Echo appears content to state the case this would mean that the club would not be hit with a nine point deduction.
What this comes down to, however, is an interpretation of the rules. In the case of Southampton, for example, when the holding company entered administration the Football League adjudged that the holding company and the football club were effectively one and the same entity and imposed a points deduction anyway. They are under no obligation to, but if the Premier League weren’t to follow the Football League’s example they would stand accused of being complicit in allowing the club to wriggle out of its liabilities without sanction. There is, however, still much more of this story to follow and we will be returning to in greater detail over the next couple of weeks or so.
The boardroom wranglings at Liverpool go part of the way towards telling the story of their atrocious start to the season and, while the venom currently being directed at Roy Hodgson is understandable, it blurs a protest that needs to keep its eye on the ball. Martin O’Neill may be a sensible choice, should a replacement be required in the next few weeks or so, but Kenny Dalglish would be more of a gamble and sacking a new manager would feel like a panic measure. Liverpool are highly unlikely to be relegated this season (unless they were to find themselves in administration and docked nine points), and a new manager wouldn’t have any more access to funds to strengthen the squad. Until the issues surrounding the ownership of the club are resolved, Liverpool’s fortunes seem likely to continue to slide and changing the manager could have unwanted repercussions for them.