Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Saturday, January 22, 2011
In the latest column from the Academy, U18s coach Rodolfo Borrell discusses Kenny, Messi and the Ballon d'Or...
I have to say I have been completely overwhelmed by the wave of positivity that Kenny Dalglish's return to the Liverpool dugout has created.
There is a real feel-good factor reverberating around every corner of the club at the moment and it says a lot about the presence of the man.
It is no secret that Kenny is a legend for what he has achieved at this club and I have huge respect for him. That's not just down to his outstanding record of success. It is also because of what he has done for me on a personal level since I arrived here.
When I moved to England he was of great support to me and always looked to help with the biggest humility. He was the Academy's ambassador for a season and a half and I am delighted that he has been able to realise his dream of returning as the manager of the first team.
I am really happy that we have a boss who knows about the very fabric of this football club. He won countless trophies and is one of the greatest players in our history - that instantly commands respect from players, staff, supporters and everyone associated with Liverpool FC.
At his Anfield homecoming last Sunday I made sure I got to the ground early. I knew it was going to be a special day and I wanted to savour the atmosphere. I didn't want to miss one second of the reception Kenny was about to enjoy. I understood that it would be a moment I would never forget.
I wasn't disappointed either. I don't think there are a group of supporters in the world that are as passionate about their club as ours are. I have never experienced anything like Anfield. The fans are so supportive even when the team is not playing as well as they would hope.
Every time I attend a home game the fans are unbelievable because their loyal support is unwavering. That is the difference between Liverpool and all of the other clubs around the world.
You could never question the backing of that crowd. The fans are quite simply Liverpool's gold. It is occasions such as the Everton game that make me so proud to be able to say I work for this club.
In Spain you would not have a crowd so eager to assist when things do not run smoothly. That is why I try to explain to the people sitting around me that this support is not normal - it is special.
As for Kenny, well returning to the hot-seat has not changed him one bit.
He has been in charge less than two weeks and I have seen him here on at least three separate occasions.
On Tuesday he even found time to sit beside me on the bench for our U17 friendly with Shrewsbury. That's almost unheard of nowadays but it isn't anything new here. You must remember he's been doing that sort of thing since returning to the club.
Our admiration has not changed now he is the main man. We have always felt this way about him.
I am a young coach looking to improve all of the time and to be able to tap into Kenny's knowledge is invaluable. I have much to learn.
I am always striving to improve and it is massive for me to be able to call on Kenny for advice from time to time. I am very lucky to have had his support from day one, even though he may not have known how good a coach I was. I will always appreciate that.
I was also very pleased to learn that Kenny was taking some of our players for a week of training at Melwood. That is a massive step for them but it is also just as important that we keep their feet on the ground. We must choose the right individuals to go there and I think Kenny has done that.
Suso is a great talent and Conor Coady is the captain of our U18s. They both deserve their chance to train with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
When they return to us, it will be our job to ensure they understand that they must work just as hard so that one day they go to Melwood permanently.
The rest of the lads had been looking forward to Saturday's mini-derby at Everton, but unfortunately that has been postponed due to their involvement in the Youth Cup. It means we have a spare weekend which is something we do not need after the weather forced us to cancel so many games before Christmas.
With that in mind, we sought out another friendly that we played on Thursday morning.
I wanted the lads to face a real test. They have all enjoyed the good publicity following the Youth Cup wins over Notts County and Crystal Palace, as well as last week's 3-1 victory over Bolton. So, we set up a match against Accrington Stanley. They brought a mix of first-team and reserve players but unfortunately we had to settle for an eight-a-side indoor match because of the fog.
We lost the game 6-3 but I was delighted with the exercise. I think the players learn much more in this type of clash. They were physically strong and it proved to be really difficult for our lads. I wanted them to experience the problems that posed and to understand that they are far from the finished product. I think such a test will be just as beneficial as playing well and winning at Anfield in the Youth Cup. It's all about experiencing the highs and lows of football and controlling your emotions.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to congratulate Lionel Messi on his recent Ballon d'Or success.
Having coached him at a tender age I was obviously very proud to see him win and that he was on the shortlist alongside two other products of Barcelona's youth system.
I also worked with the runner-up, Andres Iniesta. Xavi had progressed by the time I arrived at the Barcelona Academy but the nominations once again highlight the great success they have had with their youth system.
It is not just down to their talent as players. It is also thanks to the hard work carried out by a lot of people who are striving towards the same goal. The result is that these world-class players are now key to the triumphs of their first team.
We are hoping to have a similar success here at Liverpool in the years ahead. Like I said in my last column, it is not about copying Barcelona. If we can nurture young players that go on to have a huge impact on our history then we will be seeing the end result of everybody's hard work.
I now feel we are all working as one at this club and we are seeing some good progress here in Kirkby. Who knows, maybe one day we will see three players who came through Liverpool's ranks up for the Ballon d'Or.
Of course, that is very much a distant dream but I can assure you that we remain 100 per cent committed to ensuring the best talent in the English game emerges here in Kirkby.
Rafael Benitez has rejected suggestions that Liverpool's struggles are partly down to his management, insisting: 'It's not my fault, sorry'.
The Reds endured a poor season last year as they finished a lowly seventh under Benitez, before the Spaniard departed and was replaced by Roy Hodgson.
Liverpool's fortunes have plummeted even further since then, however, with Hodgson gone and replaced by Kenny Dalglish with the team currently four points above the relegation zone.
Benitez, who joined Inter Milan in the summer but left before Christmas, told Five Live Sport he acknowledges not all of his moves in the transfer market were successful.
'I agree, so we know we made some mistakes,' he said. 'Sometimes, maybe one player is a good player and after he doesn't settle down, but if you see, we have a net spending of between 10, 12 million. 'So I think that this, for a top side...it's not big money.
'And still I would say to you that we are not happy with some of the signings but we are really pleased with the majority of them.
'In the team now, Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Lucas Leiva, Fernando Torres, Maxi Rodriquez, Dirk Kuyt, so it's a massive, massive team.
'I am not taking all the credit, I think the team is good, the problem may be the mentality. So I think Kenny can change these things and will hopefully be good for the team.
'But the other thing is that Christian Purslow (former managing director) and Hodgson, they signed seven players.
'Seven players is enough to change a squad, so you can take responsibility for signings in the past but seven players can change a squad. So you cannot continue with this story about the legacy.
'It's not my fault, sorry.'
Benitez believes Dalglish can turn around the club's fortunes.
'They will be much better with Kenny because he knows the club, knows the fans and what they want,' he said. 'He can talk with the players and they will feel and understand what it means to be Liverpool football players.
'I feel that Kenny has been a very good appointment and hopefully will be successful.'
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Conor Coady and Suso, two mainstays of the current under-17 squad, were being familiarised with Melwood, the club's training ground, this week as part of plans to blood more youngsters, from the previously ailing centre of excellence in Kirkby, into the senior ranks in the long-term
Kirkby underwent a significant transformation in the summer of 2009 when Benitez, then manager of the Reds, enlisted the services of Rodolfo Borrell and Pep Segura - key figures in Barcelona's La Masia academy set-up.
In addition to recruiting his compatriots, the Spaniard also brought one-time chief scout Frank McParland back to his former club to oversee the progression of Liverpool's rising stars.
And Dalglish has hailed Benitez, who left the club acrimoniously last summer, for his efforts in restoring the Anfield production line following more than a decade of decline.
He said: "I wouldn't go and say there are any kids who played in the Youth Cup against Crystal Palace are going to be first team [yet] but the progress at the Academy in the last year and a half has been absolutely fantastic.
"That's great credit to Rafa who brought in Pep Segura, Rodolfo Borrell and Frank McParland. He reorganised the whole Academy and you can see the benefit in the kids now. It's fantastic to see.
"The reserve team's average age has been drastically reduced. Whether we get them through or not, we'd never put that pressure on them, but we're clearly encouraged by the work that's being done there and it's a work in progress."
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Following on from his comparisons between last season and this, Andrew Beasley looks at the final 20 league games of Rafa Benítez and Roy Hodgson. A lot was made of the fact that Liverpool weren’t very good in 2010 before the change took place, so this piece examines that belief.
As we all know, Rafael Benitez was sacked as Liverpool manager having finished 7th in the league, which was deemed unacceptable.
The highest position Liverpool managed in the league at any point under Roy Hodgson was 8th, with an average placing of 12.35. He has now also been sacked, after 20 league games.
After writing articles earlier in the season comparing Roy’s early efforts against Rafa’s in 2009 (the same fixtures) and 2004 (so both were judged as the new manager), I thought it would be interesting to compare some statistics from their final 20 league games. Obviously in Roy’s case, these were his first (and only) 20 too.
Inevitably in a comparison of this nature, there are differences between the circumstances that the two managers faced which could be used to defend or attack them. For example, Benitez had bought all of the players (aside from the home grown lads) in his squad himself, whereas Hodgson had not.
On the other hand, the ownership issue was resolved during Roy’s tenure, so he should have had a ‘bounce’ from both that and his ‘fresh start’ status as the new manager; Rafa’s position was rapidly becoming untenable due to multiple issues within the club and his management influence had probably grown inevitably stale after nearly six seasons in charge.
Needless to say the fixtures weren’t identical, but both managers played ten home and ten away games, and some of the traditionally big fixtures (Manchester United away and Chelsea at home, as well as matches with Arsenal and Everton).
Understandably, there has been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere about the change in tactics between Rafa’s favoured 4-2-3-1 and Roy’s 4-4-2. More specifically, the shift in emphasis between pressing high up the pitch and defending deeper. But do the possession stats illustrate this at all?
Whichever way you look at it, Benitez’s team had more of the ball than Hodgson’s, and the difference in the two manager’s tactical approaches must surely be the primary reason for this.
In the twenty matches I looked at, Rafa’s Liverpool only had less of the possession in two games. As you’d probably guess, these were the games against Manchester United and Chelsea (a strange game with nothing really left to play for).
By comparison Roy’s team had less of the ball in nine of his twenty matches, and as you might assume, seven of these games were away from home. Ceding possession whilst down to ten men and leading for half a match against Arsenal might be viewed as acceptable, but to have significantly less of the ball against teams such as Wigan (42%-58%), and Stoke (a mind-boggling 36%-64%) is surely not.
Of course, possession alone does not win games. After all, Liverpool had more of the ball in the Merseyside derby this season, yet it made little difference as they lost tamely by two goals to nil. That said, by having more of the ball, it seems safe to assume that you’d be more likely to score and less likely to concede:
I must admit I was slightly surprised to see that the number of goals scored was fairly similar for the two managers, though clearly Rafa’s team was streets ahead defensively. Obviously these numbers have an impact on the figures regarding scoring and conceding first:
Whilst little of any major interest can be gleaned from these figures, it’s worth taking a closer look at the goals for and against by the same criteria (e.g. matches where they scored or conceded first):
Benitez’s team scored (on average) just over two goals a game when they scored first, which goes a long way to explaining why they won on ten of the thirteen occasions that this happened. Hodgson’s side conceded an average of over two goals whenever they conceded first, and this clearly contributed to the eight defeats from nine matches (the recent Bolton game stopped a complete whitewash of nine defeats on this front). A clear shift in defensive and offensive success had occurred, and if nothing else, this proves just how vital the first goal in the majority of matches is.
In view of this, who defended their leads the best, or clawed back any points from being behind?
Whilst Roy did recover four points from losing positions to Rafa’s zero, he did have eleven occasions (the nine where we conceded first, plus Sunderland at home and Tottenham away) to attempt and save the game to Rafa’s three, so it isn’t too much to be proud of. For the record, Rafa’s team led in thirteen matches to Roy’s eleven.
It wouldn’t be an article of mine without taking a look at the substitution info:
There isn’t necessarily a better or worse time to make a substitution, but the real issue here is one of media consistency. Rafa made more changes and made them earlier on average, yet you never hear accusations of Roy ‘managing by numbers’ or suchlike. I had to smile when I saw that Rafa’s average time for his first tactical substitution across these twenty games was sixty-five minutes, the exact time that Andy Gray et al accuse him of working to. So please don’t tell anyone at Sky what I’ve found!
As I have mentioned previously in match threads on this site, if anything, Roy seems to be guiltier of being limited with the scope of his substitutions. For four games in a row this season (from Blackpool to Bolton) the first substitute brought on was David N’Gog every time, and for three games more recently (West Ham, Spurs and Aston Villa) the first sub was Fabio Aurelio on 73, 74 and 76 minutes respectively. These may be coincidences, but these little statistics suggest to me that Roy had little in the way of a Plan B, which is what many of us suspected all along.
The basic match facts illustrate the two men’s differences as simply as anything can, and are, after all, the ultimate barometers of football success:
Extrapolated over a whole season, Roy would have earned 47.5 points and Rafa 68.4. If you use last season’s final table as a guide, Hodgson’s team would have finished 11th (so slightly ahead of his average placing so far this season) and Benitez’s side would have been 5th. The real point of interest here is that Fulham finished last season with 46 points and only one away win – sound familiar?
I have a multitude of other statistics I could throw at you, but they all basically illustrate the same point: even during arguably his worst period at the club, Rafa was a more effective manager at Liverpool than Roy, and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. At the end of the season, I intend to do a similar comparison between Roy and Kenny’s halves of the campaign.
Roy Hodgson is a good manager. His relative success at certain clubs and his durability over 35 years proves that. However, he was never the right man for Liverpool Football Club.
If that seemed obvious to many of the club’s followers in the summer, it became unavoidable with his comments and tactics, both of which smacked of low expectations and mid-table mediocrity. If he remains a good manager, he proved that he is not a particularly adaptable one. And therefore, allied to his low win percentage in his three biggest jobs and lack of trophies at any of them, he’s not a great manager. Far from it, in fact.
This is a man who said in 2002 that he doesn’t believe in innovation (although perhaps he meant change for change’s sake), and who has proudly stuck to roughly the same methods for 35 years. Those methods – including a very British 4-4-2 formation – work well at clubs full of journeymen who need to be organised into a fighting unit and snatch the occasional victory, but as shown at Blackburn and Liverpool (and also Inter Milan), rather than see his results prosper, he seems to win the exact same percentage of games even when he steps up a level or two.
Maybe he would have adapted with time, but it’s unlikely. It’s baffling how someone with so much experience could make so many ‘rookie errors’ in every area of his performance; and at 63, and not a popular appointment to start with, how much time did he have? He managed to insult the fans, popular former managers and alienate supporters (with his words and his football) to the point where 10,000 empty seats for a New Year’s Day fixture told its own story.
Scott Murray sums up Hodgson beautifully in The Guardian, and Dion Fanning once again hits the nail squarely on the head here. It almost doesn’t need me to add to either of those pieces, but as ever, there are some small details to focus on.
Upon his appointment, Hodgson claimed that he’d get more than his predecessor out of this group of players. Indeed, that was his line in the job interview. Unfortunately, those interviewing him – as non-football men – didn’t know what they were doing.
Hodgson immediately offloaded some skilful ball-players and brought in some mediocre plodders and has-beens. He left out talented individuals like Agger (at the start of the season when everyone was fit) and played his only good signing on the right of midfield, where he performed like a fish out of water. Even after ending Meireles’ torrid time out there, and seeing the Portuguese find his feet – and the team its balance – in the centre, he was inexplicably stuck out there again at home to Wolves, when the last vestiges of hope died in a quite dire display. With the players at his disposal (including five he brought in), he made a right mess.
In returning to the dugout, Kenny Dalglish doesn’t have to prove himself a tactical master; these things are more vital when all is going well, and you need to eke out something extra. Right now, so long as he is sufficiently positive in his approach, and surrounded by the right lieutenants, the key is lifting a black cloud.
Hodgson was our Eyjafjallajökull, smothering us and stopping us getting off the ground.
Reality, Not Romanticism
While it may seem to fans of other clubs that we are living in the past, this is not about romanticism. It’s about uniting the club behind one man. It’s about finding a manager that the players – for 18 months a split group – will get behind.
Last season, Benítez lost the support of some key personnel from as early as the first week of the campaign, while Hodgson never really had the support of others – and almost certainly lost the faith of some of those who were open minded until they encountered his methods. But it’s hard to see anyone objecting to Dalglish.
It’s also about exciting the Kop to produce its full motivational power, rather than finding increasing gaps around the stadium where fans (who had always turned up, even when losing) started to refuse to spend their time and money watching Liverpool play without style or ambition. You can excuse bad games and defeats – you get them in any season – but it was uninspiring, overly cautious stuff from the moment Hodgson arrived.
Let’s not feel sorry for the departed boss. He dug himself into a hole too deep to get out of. Nothing was going to work, because all faith had been lost.
It got to the point where even acknowledging and amending the error of his ways was not going to win over a public who’d seen and heard too much. Even Phil Thompson admitted that he’d not seen the team play particularly well at all this season. Last season was horribly inconsistent, and that ‘did’ for Rafa Benítez, but at least Liverpool won some games with style and something to spare, including victories against Everton and Manchester United. The team were scoring a lot more goals than now, even though it was generally a poor season. That tells you how bad this has been.
As expected, managers are queuing up to say what a travesty the removal of Roy is, with Gérard Houllier saying that it’s now “brutal” and that managers are in the firing line after “losing a couple of games”. The trouble is, in the league, Hodgson lost nine and won only seven, as well as overseeing the worst domestic cup defeat since before Shankly’s time.
Hodgson was appointed under previous owners, by a since-deposed chief executive who began to think himself a football guru. Hodgson made the mistake of trusting that chief executive with regard to player assessments, and between them they messed up the summer’s transfer business. Hodgson seemed to side with Purslow rather than the fans.
Some of the criticism of Hodgson was daft, such as the outrage when he smiled when passing Alex Ferguson on his way to a seat at the JJB last weekend. And some of it got far too personal, as did the attacks on the owners from a few lunatics for not yet having sacked him. Ludicrous stuff.
But when Hodgson should have been putting Liverpool FC before his friendship with Ferguson back in the autumn – when Torres was first called a cheat by the United manager, and then linked with a move to United – he failed to do so. Sometimes diplomacy ends up upsetting someone regardless, because sitting on the fence can imply acceptance of a situation that needs to be spoken out against. (If you refuse to say that your wife is pretty when someone asks, you’ve just insulted her.)
Arsene Wenger said that Hodgson is a ‘great manager’, but how many Arsenal fans would have wanted him to replace the Frenchman this summer if the Gunners had performed badly last season? Seriously, can anyone see that as a sensible approach?
And before people get too snotty and say Arsenal were/are light years ahead of Liverpool, remember that Benítez won a trophy more recently than Wenger, finished in the top two far more recently, reached a Champions League Final more recently, and did so at a club far less stable behind the scenes.
And that’s coming from a huge fan of Wenger, too … Which is precisely the reason why I couldn’t see Arsenal ever appointing someone like Hodgson, or wanting to change from their sensible continental approach ‘for the sake of it’. The knee-jerking at Liverpool was in the summer, in terms of the direction of the club, rather than from the fans or NESV. The knee-jerking was in thinking that because things had gone stale under Benítez, everything about him (or Spanish football) was wrong. Instead of choosing Manuel Pellegrini, the board consciously and deliberately went ‘English’. English manager, more English players. I said in the summer that this was a daft way to go about things.
A lot of mocking supporters of rival clubs seem to think that Liverpool have become the new Newcastle by appointing Kenny Dalglish, after the enmity shown towards Roy Hodgson from the Kop.
The problem was, Liverpool became the new Newcastle in the summer, by doing the classic ‘baby out with the bath water’ 180º u-turn. Undoing that was never going to be straightforward. Hodgson’s position became untenable – the atmosphere surrounding the club was getting unbearable – and in order to buy some time ahead of a permanent summer appointment, there needed to be the best possible kind of release of the building pressure.
Dalglish oversaw arguably the finest football Liverpool (or any other British team) have ever produced, winning the title three times in his five and a half years; and then, by spending money in line with (but not in excess of) Manchester United – see Pay As You Play for evidence – took the title to Blackburn in 1995. It was a long time ago, but it involved some absolutely fantastic signings, and a winning mentality. Even his short-lived time at Newcastle left them with Didi Hamann (sold for a big profit to Liverpool, whom he served with distinction), Shay Given, Gary Speed and Nolberto Solano. (Jon Dahl Tomasson, just a kid at the time, went on to prove what a great player he is over the next decade; it was just too early for him.)
Speaking on LFC TV, The Times’ Tony Barrett mentioned how Fernando Torres was nervous to simply kick a ball in the street with Kenny (following some promotional interviews the legends were doing), such is the awe in which he is held. If Kenny has the right people around him, then that respect, allied to the deep understanding of the game he possesses, can overcome any possibly issues of rustiness.
Two years spent at the Academy working with the ex-Barcelona FC gurus Borrell and Segura – where the tactics are far more modern than any Hodgson was implementing – will have brought Dalglish up to date, as will his conversations with Rafa Benítez, of whom Dalglish was a fan.
Indeed, anyone who has been following the youth team since Rafa overhauled the Academy in 2009 will know how much talent there is below the first team squad, and how progressive the approach is. On Saturday, the Reds tore apart a talented Crystal Palace side (top of their Southern league group, I believe, and victors over Arsenal 3-0) in the most one-sided game I’ve seen all season. It ended 3-1 to the Reds, but could have been a cricket score.
It was a beautiful exhibition of football – 4-2-3-1, passing and movement not so different from that of Barcelona – which revolved around the Spaniard wunderkind Suso (the side’s Messi), drifting in from wide areas. (Not saying Suso – who, thanks to Benítez chose Liverpool over Real Madrid – is, or ever will be, as good as Messi, just that, at this level, against boys up to 18 months older, he was on a different planet. Also, see this video clip from last year when, aged just 16, he was showing his talent against senior sides in pre-season friendlies.)
While Hodgson was happy to play some kids in his ‘B’ team, he rarely even picked the likes of Kelly and Pacheco for the bench in the Premier League, even though they are a year older than when they made their debuts last season. Dalglish is very much in touch with the up-and-coming talent on the books, and can link each section of the club. The comparisons with Keegan’s return at Newcastle are especially daft because while Keegan – an inferior manager – was noted for not even following football during his time out of the game, Dalglish has been following it closely.
And while Liverpool lost to Manchester United in Dalglish’s return, it was courtesy of a Howard Webb gift (Agger stuck out a leg but quickly withdrew it) and a moment of madness from Gerrard that left the Reds with ten men. (However committed Gerrard is in big games, he has to learn to stop diving in like that.)
The pleasing thing was that, as I’d expected, Dalglish set up in a modern 4-2-3-1, as opposed to Hodgson’s rigid 4-4-2. The Reds pressed higher up the pitch, even with just ten men, and showed greater movement. The side looked balanced, and everyone was looking to pass the ball. Agger strode confidently out from the back, and although Reina was the busier keeper, Liverpool came out of the game with their pride intact.
So, if Dalglish is a case of ‘going back to the past’, then it was mostly reminiscent of the Liverpool of 2008/09 that won 25 of its 38 league games and lost only two (as opposed to Hodgson’s antiquated, inhibited approach).
Above all else, Dalglish knows what Liverpool fans expect to see. When the Reds were 2-0 down at Manchester City earlier in the season, Hodgson didn’t make a change until the 80th minute, and in other games he left his substitutions very late (because he has never really had a Plan B). At Old Trafford, Kenny made two positive substitutions on 60 minutes.
Will it last beyond the summer? Quite possibly not. But if it goes better than expected, and the right people are brought in around him (Steve Clarke?) – as well as getting on well with Damien Comolli – then the Reds could do worse. After all, and much to our great pain, we’ve just spent the past six months witnessing just that.
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Quote of the moment
Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009