Your Time Is Gonna Come
By Colin McCabe
From Issue 45, Winter 2000
The Premiership is a strange thing. Three straight home wins against poor opposition put us fifth. Since the long-awaited Henchoz/Hyypia partnership was born, we’ve looked decidedly more solid. We went into 2000 with the unlikely accolade of “best defence in the top flight”. West Ham away was our only real disappointment, which reminds me of a quote from Andy Gray wannabee Alan Brazil about Graham Barber (from another game): “His right hand is going to be aching tonight”. And every other night, if you ask me!
We managed to beat Wednesday next game, which was good, but there was alas the sad spectacle of the Atomic Kitten publicity stunt. Whoever was supposed to benefit from this is unclear. The club certainly didn’t. I’m not sure the squealing bints did, either. When they spilled onto the pitch, I saw a peculiar sight – 40,000 mouths all going “what the fuck?” I never realised you could dance in an overcoat. Anfield is not a suitable arena for such exhibitions. Unfortunately, no one at the club could speak fluent Bimbo and the brazen strumpets yeowled on regardless. I prefer Atomic Rooster myself.
By now, we’d reached the first anniversary of Houllier taking sole charge of the good ship LFC. Make no mistake, this time last year we were floundering. Roy’s first three years appeared to be quite successful; a trophy, another cup final, a European semi, a crack at the championship. He showed an iron hand by dumping Hutchison and Dicks while disciplining Mark Wright until he got his attitude right. The iron fist soon turned into a limp wrist. Rumours that Barnes (then Ince) were picking the team, the Spice Boy tag that never really went away, the ill-fated partnership with Houllier, the McManaman saga, good youngsters never getting a chance, exclusives from the ‘mole’ undermining morale, ex players queuing up to take a pop. Bad buys, goodbye’s and passed-by’s.
In short, we needed a French Revolution. Something like Sourness tried, but failed, to do. Instead of replacing class with shite (Piechnik for Gillespie, Saunders for Beardsley), we needed to replace the shite with class. Houllier was criticised for his track record, or lack of it. He was remembered most for losing the French national job after they failed to qualify for USA 94, but Jacquet had a special World Cup medal struck for him after his contribution to France’s 98 success.
A lot has been said about his “foreign legion”, almost all of it bad. Before a ball was kicked in anger, Houllier was being verbally kicked in anger. If you take into account the fact that a Liverpool manager’s purse strings are being tied for the first time since Shankly arrived and the inordinate amount of pressure the poor sod was under (which never once took into account a savage injury list) I think he’s done a decent job so far. Now is a good time to compare and contrast.
IN, Sander Westerveld. OUT, David James. I know which one I prefer. Westerveld can be criticised for the bizarre goal at Hull, full stop. He seemed reluctant to come off his line in the early games, but that part of his game has improved. It needed to. During October and November, Liverpool had five clean sheets out of 8 games – we only got seven in all competitions last season! That figure had been passed by Christmas. Some of this is down to Sander, but he has had a much steadier defence than James ever had the pleasure of panicking with. Westerveld is four years younger, and we actually made a profit on James. He was getting the obligatory ex-Red rave reviews early on, and there was talk of an England cap. This talk seems to have gone on a long trip away, with Villa’s title hopes and Gregory’s John job security. Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Rigobert Song. OUT, Jason McAteer. Jay arrived as an exciting central midfield option, and left as a second-rate full back. A good engine, a great World Cup, a great tackler and he loved the Reds. It’s a great pity he wasn’t good enough. His few forays into central midfield for us were an embarrassment. One outing against the blueslime was particularly poor. He hit a blue shirt more often than any of the Everton players. He came as a good attacking force, but he scored 6 in four and a half years. Two against lower league fodder, two against West Ham, a semi final salt-in-the-wound against Villa and a penalty rebound at Highbury. His crossing started off well, but got progressively worse. We got our money back from Blackburn, and he helped them into Nation-wide oblivion.
Rigo is a crowd favourite who has edged out Heggem because he’s a better defender. His cross for the goal against West Ham proves he’s no better or worse than McAteer and he can make a contribution going forward. I wouldn’t have thought full back was his best position, but as a centre half he occasionally does a bit of ball watching and loses his man. But he is only 23, and defends well. Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Djimi Traore. OUT, Rob Jones. Rob could have been the best full back we’ve ever had. That’s no exaggeration. True, he ended up about 60 goals shy of Chris Lawler – Christ, he even ended up 4 goals shy of Bjornebye – but he had everything else. As he got older (all of 22!) the injuries were coming thick and fast and the convalescences were getting longer. Evans offered him a four-year deal and it was declined. He went to West Ham and broke down in his first game.
As a free agent, Jones could go where he pleased and Houllier had no choice. Traore is “the best French defender of his generation” (GH). He’s played against Sunderland last May and in both legs against Hull. He looked comfortable, but was responsible for a goal (academic I know, but still). When you take into account that we had no choice in the matter, Jones was finished within two months of leaving the Melwood treatment room while Djimi looks quite promising. There’s no other choice. Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Sami Hyypia. OUT, Bjorn Tore Kvarme. I’m not even going to waste my time or yours. Verdict: Houllier +++++.
IN, Stephane Henchoz. OUT, Steve Harkness. Harky was another unfortunate, another 100%-er, another who has found himself in the Godforsaken hellhole that is Blackburn. Coincidentally, that’s where Henchoz was before. Go and ask the cap rollers who they’d prefer in their defence, clearing up after Darren Peacock. We’ve looked a lot more solid since Henchoz’s long-awaited debut at Villa. He’s played 10 league games, 8 wins 1 draw and 1 defeat. Another coincidence. Missed Newcastle, we conceded two for the first time in 3 months. It’s not coincidence, is it? Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Frode Kippe. OUT, Oyvind Leonhardsen. A lame Norwegian connection, obviously, as Leo was a right-sided midfielder (though he mostly played on the left) and Frode is a defender (who, er, made his debut in midfield). Leo made a contribution last Spring, in stark contrast to the rest of his stay when he was fucking awful. Evans made things worse by persisting with him – in an unfamiliar position. Evans came out of that with no credit at all, and Leo’s position became untenable. Leo, by contrast, comes out rather well. No complaints, persistence etc. but whatever he did there was too much ground to make up with most Reds. Houllier said he could stay as part of the squad, though most fans would have bitten George Graham’s hands off. Since then, he has been dignified and professional. We wish him well, but he wanted to go so it’s Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Dietmar Hamann. OUT, Paul Ince. We have only just started to get a glimpse of the real Didi Hamann after his injury lay-off. We saw the best and worst of Ince in his two years here. Fifteen goals and some driving performances (though not as frequent as we’d hoped) were the best – the worst was very bad indeed. The senseless red card in Valencia that robbed us of his presence in the already-difficult Vigo tie, needless bookings, anonymous performances, apparently undermining both managers. Yet another coincidence; the leaks that plagued Anfield last year have dried up since his departure. Find me a Red who doesn’t think we’re well rid of him. Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Vladimir Smicer. OUT, Steve McManaman. We’ve yet to see the best of Smicer. A few little tasters, sure, but it’s all been interrupted by injury. I’m still hopeful that he will do the business. The manager had no choice with McManaman, and whose fault was it that the contract negotiations went on for far too long? Not Gerard’s. Since there was nothing he could do about Macca, Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Erik Meijer. OUT, Sean Dundee. Meijer came as a squad player, he knew he wouldn’t start many games. He provides another option on the bench, one we haven’t really had since Toshack left. His attitude is faultless, showing up his more talented predecessors – and Sean Dundee. When we lost Fowler and Owen, we wondered why Dundee didn’t start. Then we saw him and knew. We spent two million on him and it was damn good business by GH to get a million back. Verdict: Houllier +.
IN, Titi Camara. OUT, Karl Heinz Riedle. A message to Barry Davies. Shut the fuck up, you insignificant twat. Titi has taken Anfield by storm this season and put in some marvellous performances. Riedle saw how far down the pecking order he was and decided to drop down a division. He went with an untarnished reputation, like the complete professional he is. What a terrible shame we didn’t get him earlier, when he was pissing about at Lazio for instance. Titi is a great buy, and it was in Karl Heinz’s contract that he could leave, so Verdict: Houllier +.
Ferri was bought as cover for Ince and Redknapp, but Steven Gerrard’s emergence put paid to that. All Ferri did was fall on his arse and win a pen in a non-event at Sunderland. Babb should have gone a long time ago but keeps turning down moves because of the money. If he’s holding out for a freebie (to Racing Santander?), that just sums him up. Houllier doesn’t even want him near the Reserves, and why should he? They’re top of the league, back to the 70’s/80’s heyday. The stigma of the ‘Stiffs’ has been eroded. Nearly all the first team turned out at Knowsley Road one night to wipe out the Mackems.
We’re seeing the first fruits of the Academy. Traore, Kippe, Newby and Maxwell have all been blooded this season. Injuries have wrecked our hopes. If it wasn’t bad enough that SEVEN new players (all foreign) had to bed in, three key players (Henchoz, Hamann, Smicer) all had long spells out. Several spells, in Smicer’s case. We have consistently fielded teams with an average age of 23, containing as many Scousers as we’ve picked since the editor was in short pants (i.e. 1996).
It would be nice to think that Gerard will get the same time as Evans or even Souness, but considering the amount of pressure that was put on him in August and then October I doubt that he will. Hopefully, he can turn it around quickly. It may or may not be another false dawn, but those frigging birds are making a hell of a racket.