The wisdom of the Anfield crowd
After truth must come justice, and so, for Liverpool’s supporters, the struggle with the Establishment goes on. Nevertheless, while the vindication of the Hillsborough report has lifted some of that immense load, the mundane business of playing football must continue. A league situation of two points from five games on the face of it demands yet more stoicism from a crowd that Johann Cruyff famously eulogised as the most supportive in the game. Certainly, the odd Talksport caller aside, they are knowledgeable enough not to hit the panic button.
In a sense, being blindly supportive of a manager is meaningless – a passive, unthinking reflex action – which is precisely why the highly unusual treatment of Roy Hodgson two years ago (when Liverpool stumbled to six points from the opening eight games) was all the more meaningful. The support comes with conditions, see.
Of course, the backstory for Hodgson’s ousting was a heady brew of frustrations with the failure, in 2009, of the American owners to build upon one of the strongest spines in Europe. The catcalls rained down upon the current England boss (a model of dignity throughout), as if to say: “We had Alonso and Mascherano and you’re giving us that – Konchesky and Poulsen!”
Then, after a hugely promising start under Kenny Dalglish (more points per game than anyone save Manchester United and Chelsea in the second half of the 2010-11 campaign), the Kop’s forbearance was further tested by a catastrophically profligate transfer spree. However, there was no public grousing this time – the wisdom of which might be questioned. Yet this is not to say the team’s patchiness or Dalglish’s occasionally ludicrous tetchiness with the media were condoned, nor that they were suppressed out of ‘reverence’. While no one ought to be beyond criticism, Dalglish’s credit rating, both on-field and off, was immense, thus the lack of dissent.
Mercifully for all concerned, Dalglish included, the club’s owners grasped the nettle and found a new manager in advance of fly-on-the-wall documentary Being: Liverpool, which already shows signs of portraying Brendan Rodgers in a slightly David Brent-ish light. But let that fool no-one: a slight propensity for cringeworthy management-speak and sloganeering can be cast off as easily as a bad haircut. What cannot be so swiftly acquired is the ability to spot players and transmit a clear footballing philosophy to them.
Evidently, the Ulsterman has an unshakeable commitment to his method – epitomised by refusing to withdraw a forward immediately after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off against Manchester United – and while it would be disingenuous to make a virtue of a necessity, his obvious prioritisation of bright, technical players with intelligent movement, regardless of age, has meant that several young players have been fast-tracked. Pick of the novices have been the precocious, direct talent of Raheem Sterling and the Iberian guile and swagger of Suso, with Andre Wisdom also impressing.
Even without fine away cup victories at Young Boys and West Brom, there were enough signs of health for ‘Dr Kop’ to offer a good prognosis. Of course, winning helps morale, but confidence is not necessarily drawn from results alone. Thus, the naked talent and readiness of the youngsters has put a definite spring in the step of seniors, who have bought into Rodgers’ vision – as borne out by new contracts for Luis Suárez, Martin Skrtel and, soon, Daniel Agger.
Yes, Liverpool need a goalscorer. But that frustration will not spill into premature fretfulness. Anfield has already hunkered down for a 23-year off-field battle and always knew the on-field transformation wasn’t going to happen overnight. While the players will need courage to play the Rodgers way, the crowd will also need to hold their nerve.
Every fool knows that football is a results business. But what that adage doesn’t tell you is how soon those results must come. And this is where understanding crowds (and boards) come in to their own. It may well be that Liverpool’s results don’t pick up for a good while yet, but that would still be no reason for the fans to agitate.
They now have a man to inspire confidence, a man who, to adapt a certain lager’s advertising slogan, knows his position is not a (poisoned) chalice, it’s a glass – and it’s definitely half-full.
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