Premier League for Wood?

After a series of loan spells in the lower leagues, Chris Wood is starting to hit the form that made him such a sort after player in his youth. The ex-Waikato FC man has been a revelation since joining Millwall at the start of this season scoring 8 goals in 13 appearances and remains integral to Kenny Jacket’s plans. Maybe so integral that he moves there permanently from striker rich West Brom in the EPL.

Wood signed to West Brom as a youngster after impressing for Hamilton Wanderers and Waikato FC as a 15 year old in the NRFL and then in the NZFC (ASB Premiership). A rich vein of form in the academy and then the reserves meant that a call up the first team was in order and on the 11th of April 2009, he made his début against Portsmouth off the bench in a 2-2 draw. West Brom were relegated that season and many thought Wood could cement his place in the West Brom team but 18 appearances and only 1 goal (a 25 yard thunderbolt against Doncaster) meant that loan spells were in order for him to gain confidence and valuable experience. In the 2010/2011 season a unsuccessful loan spell at Barnsley in the Championship saw Chris make 7 appearances with no goals but in January he joined Brighton and Hove Albion in League 1 saw him score 8 goals in 29 appearances and helped gain promotion for the south coast side. Next season followed a similar story but in reverse. The first half of the season during a loan spell, Wood started to gain credentials with another successful loan spell at Birmingham City where he scored 9 goals in 31 games with 2 coming in the Europa league and a hat trick against Millwall. The second half of the season was less successful with 3 goals in 19 appearances for struggling Bristol City. This season he is back on loan as West Brom have an embarrassment of riches up front with Shane Long, Peter Odemwingie, Markus Rosenberg, Romelu Lukaku and Marc-Antoine Fortune all vying for the forward spots. But with 8 goals in 13 appearences that is more than any of the West Brom forwards in the EPL, the loan spell is certainly paying off.

But where to now for Chris Wood? He seems at ease at Millwall and the are playing to his strengths unlike previous teams have. Despite his 6ft 3 frame, Wood does not score with just his head as is shown with his 30 yard belter against Blackburn last week which won Sky Sports goal of the day. While any clubs are circleling for his signature and Steve Clarke is tempted in bringing him back to the Hawthornes to compete with the other forwards. Personally, I think he should move to Millwall as they are an outside chance for promotion but promotion hopefulls none the less. Though he will not go cheaply as he is only 20 and getting better with each match, a move to Millwall will be incredibly beneficial for him and the club.

So that begs the question, is he worth the hype?

Yes he is, and he will be in the EPL soon enough. That sounds like a big call for a boy from the Waikato who has never had more than a season playing at one club but he has the skills to be a hit in the best league in the world. Unlike many forwards with his size, Wood is relatively mobile with good speed when it comes to darting in behind defences to come on to a cross or skip past a defender when attackng the goal. Though no Theo Walcott, his speed is despeptive for (apologies for the cliche) a big man. But as it comes with being 6 ft 3 but also playing the lower leagues of English football, Wood is strong in the air and brilliant at holding up play and not is afraid to throw his weight about. Along with this he has a powerful shot and the ability to pull a glorious goal out of the bag. So with height, strength, deceptive speed and the abilty to turn a game he is remeniscent of a young Mark Viduka and the similarities do not stop there. Extreme confidence but not arrogance which comes from experiencing football in the lower leagues will go a long way in a professional football career.

Though I compare him to Mark Viduka, I do not want to say he is a new V-bomber as there will never be a player like him again. They have similar attributes but are ultimately different players. Wood may never reach the heights of Viduka or maybe he will eclipse him and lead a more decorated career in the English game. But one thing is certain, Woodsy has all the potential in the world and if he plays his cards right and keeps going the way he is then expect this lad from Hamilton to be hitting the straps in the best league in the world.

Be patient with Benji

After two performances for the Wellington, members of the Phoenix faithful have expressed their concerns over whether Totori is good enough for the A-league and I beg you to be patient.

Benji started the match against Sydney and for 60 minutes managed to terrorised Fabio and the Sydney back-line with his speed and ability to get behind the defence. Though some may say “terrorised” is too strong a word, the more you look at the footage the more you realise there is no one quite like him in the competition. Despite what people say, the A-league is quite a British style league. There is strong emphasis on structure and positional play and only when teams like Brisbane (last two seasons) and the recent surge of A-league clubs using a 4-2-3-1 has there been little trepidation into the stylish world of continental football. So naturally players from the United Kingdom and Ireland do not find it hard to adapt to the A-league while some players from other country’s find it difficult. And for a while, Benji will struggle to adapt to the structured nature of the game play here.

Totori has spend the majority of his career playing in the domestic competition the ASB Premiership (formally the NZFC) and though he still only 26 he is a seasoned campaigner when it comes to football in New Zealand. He also spent a season in 2008 with Portland Timbers in the USL where he played 3 games before sustaining a knee injury which plagued him until this year. He has also been part of the National Team set up since 2007 where he has scored 15 times in 17 appearances and another 8 goals in 5 matches for the U-23 side.

Totori stats:

Club Year Appearnces Goals
Young Heart Manawatu 2005-07 41 32
Richmond 2007
Wiatkere United 2007-2008 19 10
Portland Timbers 2008 3 0
Waitakere United 2008-2010 29 14
Kolale FC 2010-2012 19 23
Wellington Phoenix 2012- 2 0

Totori’s domestic record speaks for itself and though there is certainly a step up from the domestic competition to the A-league I am confident he can do it.

To Ricki Herbert’s credit, Totori has received the backing of the coaching staff, the players and the owners to shine this season. He has been put under a regime by the coaches to build muscle and to gain some weight so he is capable of dealing with the physicality of the A-league. Totori is under the watchful eye of the coaches to harness his undoubted talent but he is not under extreme pressure. While in the first game against Sydney, Totori was getting instructed to play to the Phoenix’s game and the team mates were only too willing to take him aside when they had a moment to show him the ropes of how to be a right winger. And rightly so. When players come from an amateur environment they often lack the mental speed and capacity to deal with the fast nature of the professional game and the perfect example of that is young players. Players straight from youth set ups are often gun-ho and sometimes lack the bit of football maturity which can sometimes mean a goal conceded or a chance missed. Totori is exactly the same. Fans seem to have inexhaustible patience when it comes to young players and the Phoenix fans are no different. Rojas and Kosta, two of New Zealand’s brightest talents came through our ranks and the fans gave them time to bulk up and get their chance to play to their strengths. So why is it different with Totori? Yes he has one year but within a few weeks he will start to back up whole performances with consistent play rather than glimpses.

Totori showed New Zealand in the OFC Nations Cup what he can do and now is his chance to do that for us. Kinda.

Benji has incredible speed, speed that the A-league has not seen since Rukavytsya and if the Phoenix can harness it then Wellington is in for a treat. To partner this sprinter like acceleration, Totori has the ability to skin players, cut in and unleash a deadly shot that 9 times out of 10 will fly into the net. Just look at the OFC Nations Cup. As an ASB Premiership regular I have seen Island players come and go, and Totori has always had something special. Give him a chance and it will be valuable for him, the Phoenix and for Oceania, and remember, no player is ever going to perform if there is unjustified pressure from the stands.

Give him time and Totori will shine.

Fury in Fiji

It was known as the league that always punches above its weight, and over the years has produced large crowds, passionate fans and some of the best domestic football in Oceania. But over the weekend the Fijian National Football League will become known for a more serious matter.

During an Inter-district final between two of Fijians footballing heavyweights, Ba FC and Suva FC, battled out a  2-2 draw with a few minutes of extra time remaining. In the 117th minute, Suva right back Waisake Navunigasau popped up to score what was thought to be the winner, but controversy ensued. The Ba players protested the decision even though the ball had clearly crossed the line. The linesman awarded the goal which incensed the Ba players and captain Osea Vakatalesau shoved the referee that started a scuffle between Ba and Suva players but also match and club officials. Ba players stormed off the pitch which under Fiji FA laws immeadietly awards the match to the other team but it caused a huge stir amoungst the fans. Quickly the crowd managed to get involved that lead to bottles and rocks being pelted on to the field meaning players and officials had to be escorted off the field under police cover, who originally were called to stop the violence between the players. Because of the crowd becoming involved, fire trucks were called to quell the wild fans from entering the pitch. 

This is not the first time over the weekend where crowds have become out of hand. In a African Cup of Nations match between Senegal and the Ivory Coast, the crowd started lighting fires and invading the pitch that contained global superstars like Drogba, the Toure brothers and for Senegal the Newcastle pair of Papis Cisse and Demba Ba. The players were escorted from the pitch under riot shields while being bombarded with bottles, rocks and various debris from the stands. Like the situation in Fiji, the riots all stemmed from a controversial call from the referee. Didier Drogba had the put the ‘Elephants’ in the 52nd minute and during the 72nd minute he converted a penalty from a dubious foul in the box. With their team down 2nil at home, the Senegalese fans started a riot in the stands with the away fans from the Ivory Coast at great risk. After the match was abandoned, the riots spread to the streets of Dakar where police had to control a large, angry mass that all stemmed from a trip in the 18 yard area.

Even with such a blatant goal separating the two sides, it has taken days for the win to be awarded to the Suva side. The Fijian FA announced yesterday that the cup would be going to the team in white as the ball clearly was over the line. Justice served for the Suva players but also for the officials too. From that incident, many of the Ba players have been banned further matches due to violently confronting the referees and general unsavoury behaviour to the officials and opposition players. Ba captain Osea Vakatalesau is currently undergoing a review by the Fijian FA and the Fijian Refereeing panel as to whether charges will be laid against him for his violent conduct.

Though Suva has the trophy, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth for the rest of the Fijian footballing community. Violence in football has marred the beautiful game the world over and FIFA has vowed to get it under control and has generally had favourable results. But such acts of violence and unsportsmanlike behaviour in the South Pacific will add fuel to the fire for the Oceania confederation doubters. Football in the Pacific is on a knife as it is an expensive venture with very limited footballing success and with such violence marring Fijian football it may prove to be another ‘justifiable’ reason to stop the confederation.

Call me a doom sayer but FIFA has shown over the years that it certainly has its favourites and if you are not one of those it is going to make life very difficult for your Federation, and in the Pacific’s case, Confederation. Hopefully this will not tarnish Fiji’s domestic league  image as Ba were destined to progress in this years OFC Champions League and this may prove to be a distraction but also a source of concern with bans and potentially criminal records.

Spoonley for ‘Nix

In a side that was hit by internationals and injuries, a young, inexperienced Phoenix side managed to pull off a coup last night with a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Heart. With the All Whites playing in Tahiti on Saturday, the Phoenix had to field a weakened side as they were missing 7 players due to international duty, along with coach Ricki Herbert. The line up the ‘Nix had to field was scattered with players from their youth set up and new signings making their A-League début. One of them was Auckland City keeper, Jacob Spoonley.

Though it was his first A-league match, it was not Spoonley’s first time donning a Phoenix shirt. In the inaugrel 2007/08 season he was one of the 3 keepers the Phoenix had on their books (Paston and Moss the other two) but managed to make no appearances throughout the season. Spoonley left the Phoenix and according to Facebook has subsequently gone to Uni and played for semi-pro Auckland City in the ASB Premiership.

But fast-forward 5 seasons and a selection crisis creates an opportunity for the Auckland City custodian. Though conceding one goal from a superb Matt Thompson strike, Spoonley commanded his penalty box producing fine saves to deny MacAllistar, Fred and Dugandzic on many occasions. Ultimately, he did not look out of place in the Phoenix line up, albeit an A-league team. So thatbegs the question: why is he not?

Under the guidance of the Wellnix, Ricki has turned a team filled up with predominantly Australians into a team fit to burst with New Zealanders, with an eye to the future with a School of Excellence as well as having an Oceania representative in Benji Totori. Brockie, Fenton, Boyd and Boxall all joined the ‘Nix taking the kiwi quota up to 10. Though I commend this approach to the Phoenix, I disagree with one of the signings, Glenn Moss. With Tony Warner departing at the end of last season, the Phoenix needed a keeper and they turned to ex-Phoenix player and current All White Glenn Moss. I think Moss is a fantastic keeper, and obviously as do the A-League as he was rated the 2nd best keeper in the comp. two seasons ago with Gold Coast where he was their main man. After getting an injury last season and the dissolving of GCU, Moss was without a club so the Phoenix signed him up.

As an outsider, I obviously do not know the ins and outs of the A-league but I think as a regular watcher of the A-league, Moss would not have found it difficult finding another A-league club to go to. Moss has an Australian passport so he does not take up a visa spot, and considering that Sydney, Melbourne Victory, and West Sydney were without a regular starting keeper at the start of the campaign (and still are), his services are certainly needed. Now I see it as an oversight on Ricki’s behalf to sign both our international keepers to the same team. Ricki has recently tried to get Gleeson into the international  fold, and though he has talent to burn, the lack of regular game time is hurting Gleeson’s international chances. Back in the 2007/08 and the 2008/09 seasons, Moss had the number gloves to himself and was performing exceptionally well and subsequently was the keeper for the All Whites, performing admirably at the Confederations Cup. But when he left for Melbourne Victory and became an understudy to Mitch Langerak, his form for the All Whites dipped while Paston’s improved due to regular game time. Paston went on to gain the All Whites World Cup qualification and caught the world’s attention by denying some of the world’s elite with quality saves in South Africa. During this time, Moss had transferred to Gold Coast and was rapidly gaining form again.

And now we are back to square one. Two exceptional keepers and one spot for the national team and one spot for the club. Yes, it does create competition, but I see a direct correlation between regular games and form, which with the All Whites in mind, we need both. If Paston starts, Moss sits on the bench. Paston will get game time and get the All Whites nod, while if Ricki plays Moss for New Zealand he won’t be match ready. They both need game time for their own sakes and New Zealand’s.

With Tony Warner leaving and a new Kiwi based approach, this was an opportunity to really branch out into the New Zealand talent pool. Keepers such as neutralised Kiwi Phil Imaray who plays for Team Wellington could have been an obvious option considering how many times he has been an injury replacement for the Phoenix in the past. Ryhss Keane who plays in the VPL was tipped to take Melbourne Hearts keeper spot but missed out due to contract problems could have been our reserve, or even Scott Baslaj the 18 year old Wellingtonian could have been promoted. Spoonley’s performance reiterated this as it shows New Zealand does have the talent in the ASB. Paston will get injured, that is a given, and though it is not long enough for Moss to get the required game time, it would be enough for a young and up-and-coming keeper to stake a claim, and move forward with their professional career.

Ultimately, I would have liked to see Spoonley as our reserve keeper as he looked well suited to the A-league. It would have given Ricki Herbert one more option with his keeper stocks rather than going back to his original dilemma that marred our national team for years. New Zealand players are the step in the right direction, but this time, an All White is not the desired option.

Who is Ricardo Clarke?

Who is Ricardo Clarke? Two days ago, the Wellington Phoenix signed an unknown Panamarian from Sporting San Meguilito on loan until the end of the season. After the signings of Benjamin Totori and Stein Huysegems, relatively unknown players signing to the nix is becoming the norm but this was way left field.

A versitile attacker, Clarker can play a variety of positions in the front third and in 9 appearences for Sporting in the Panamarian league, he has bagged one goal. Signed as an injury replacement for Dani Sanchez, Clarke is contracted until the end of the year so if he impresses and wants to stay on, Ricki may have to drop one of his 5 foreign players he is allowed on his books: Tototi, Sanzhez, Smith, Heysegems or Iffill.

Though Panama is in no way a heavy weight of the international footballing world, they are certainly not a push over either. They are currently 50th in the world, 4 places below their highest ever position of 46th which they occupied after their successful Gold Cup campaign where they finished 4th behind Mexico (1st), USA (2nd) and Honduras (3rd). They came 2nd in the 2005 edition of the Gold Cup where they were runners up to the USA. Also a UNCAF Cup winners in 2009 which is the Carribbean Nations Cup that acts as qualifying for the Gold Cup. Though they have never qualified for a World Cup, they are currently top of their group in qualfying for Brazil 2014, and with 3 wins out of 4 and topping group C they look destined to make their first appearence at a major tournament. 

Panama has been a nation on the rise since the Federation came about in 1937. Though they have not had many players foray into Europe, their players have been frequently seen on the books of North and South American teams. Their top scorer for the national side, Luis Tajeda plays in the Mexican league after playing in the MLS, Peru, Columbia, Saudi Arabia and his home country of Panama. Though Clarke will not be the first Panamarian in the A-league. One of Sydney’s first signings of the current off-season was Yairo Yau, a left winger or foward from the same club Clarke was from, Sporting San Meguilto. Though he is on loan, much is expected of Yau who apparently is fast and adds a dimension to team’s attack.

So essentially, no-one really knows who he is, what he has done, and why Ricki chose him. David Dome claims they have contacts all over the place; maybe the do, we do not know, but we know is that he comes from decent pedigree and personally, I think he is worth the risk.

Pardew trying to be too clever

At the start of last season, Newcastle were grinding out the results in true dark horse style. They were playing a standard 4-4-2 that saw Ba scored 16 goals before January. Now for any forward that is an impressive record in just over 20 games but it was not just him scoring with R.Taylor, Jonas, Best, Cabaye, Ameobi, Guthrie and Gosling all scoring goals before January.

After this initital impressive early form, Pardew decided to change that formation to a 4-3-3 to exploit the oppositions defences and allow the electric Ben Arfa relative attacking freedoms. He certainly responded. His run from halfway against West Brom will go down as a Premier League classic. All told he contributed 5 goals and 7 assists to Newcastle from his winger position. Now I am al for changing things up and at the end of last season it worked and supported it. But come 2012/2013 season, Pardew has got it all wrong.

Cisse is going through 2nd season blues and needs support up front, and frankly this 4-4-3 is not working. Ba is playing out-wide and a big, physical presence on the wing will be as successful as Chamahk’s Arsenal career. Surely, a goal drought of 1 goal in 19 games is enough of a hint that it is not working? Look at the game against Everton in the weekend: 1 goal down and looking one dimensional. Bring on another forward and exploit the centre-backs of Jageilka and Distin who before were just man marking Cisse. Ba went on to score 2 goals in a true centre-forward fashion, and he added a perfect foil for Cisse to get more shots away.

After that game, Ba mentioned that if he is not played up-front, he will leave. Fair enough. He has a release clause of a mere 7 million which for a forward who can garuantee you goals at the highest level is a pretty good deal. If he goes they have Shoala Ameobi who only seems to score in the tyne-wear derby plus the two youngsters Sammy Ameobi and the impressive 17 year old Campbell, (we do not mention Nile “never going to score” Ranger). To me, having to buy another forward because one has left would be an unecessary expense when you have the forward you just need to tweak the tatics.

Also Jonas, once Newcastle’s greatest player has become almost surplus to requirements as he has been shifted into a central position. Sure he can do it but that does not mean we want him there. Remember the days when he used to race down the touchline, cut in and score those side-footed curling efforts? That was the Jonas of old when our tactics helped everyone in the teams.

After the arrival of Cisse, Newcastle’s other players found it hard to find the net. Since January, only Jonas, Cisse, Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Obertan have scored compared to the 8 players prior to Cisse’s arrival. That proves that the focal point of the team has changed and the slow start to this season proves that there is too much emphasis on Cisse. Newcastle once had free-flowing, free-scoring football all over the pitch rather than just the attacking third.

Come on Pardew, you have the biggest Newcastle season ahead and now is  not the time to put too much emphasis on creating a style. You have a style at your disposal, a standard 4-4-2 with great wing play from Jonas on the right and Ben Arfa on the left. Call it unimaginative, but it is the best formation for this team and I want Newcastle to excel like they did last season. Alan, think of the fans: lets not make us a one season johnny who has one season in Europe and then is back down the ladder the next season, vying for mid-table supremacy with Sunderland and West Ham.

Signing of the off season – Hyundai A-League

After 6 long months, the A-league is set to be back under way in just under 3 weeks with a new team Western Sydney Wanderers taking the place of the now defunct Gold Coast United. Managed by promising young manager, Tony Popovic, the Paramatta based outfit have created a team of mostly A-league regulars, returning Australians and young local talent. Though not much has been said about the off season signings so far apart from the capture of talented young Australian attacking mid Adrian Mooy, Wanderers are certainly going to be a side to contend with come August the 5th.

Tony Popovic has made the most of the 5 foreign spots at his disposal by bringing in 5 European players using contacts from his playing days. His first two foreign signings were the Croatian pair, defensive mid Mateo Poljak from NK Lokomotivia who was on loan from Dinamo Zagreb, and forward Dino Kresinger from HNK Cibilia. The next signing was German utility Jerome Polenz from Bundesliga.2 side Union Berlin. The ex-Werder Bremen and German youth player will add steel across the back four or midfield and was once considered a player who could be the next Michael Ballack. Finally came Italian defender Iacopo La Rocca from Grasshoppers and Youssouf Hersi from De Graafschap in Holland.

The 2012/2013 season will be overshadowed by the arrival of a true legend of the game:  Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney FC. There is no doubt that if on form, Del Piero will be the greatest player the league has ever seen and will be the signing of the season. But I have tried to look past the Del Piero hype and try and unearth the true signing of the off-season; a player who has gone under the radar but may prove to take the league by storm. There was naturally many candidates like the return of former Adelaide favourite Flores who joined rivals Melbourne Victory in a spectacular transfer saga, then there is Socceroo Richard Garcia who is returning who has gone unheradled for many years, or finally the Adelaide aquisition of former Galalatasary winger Marcelo Carrusca who played for Argentina youth. But my signing of the off-season has to go to Western Sydney’s Youssouf Hersi.

Youssouf Hersi signing from AEK Athens in the Greek Super League was once the poster boy of  Dutch football. Though never getting a senior cap, Hersi terrorised the Dutch league scoring goals for fun and using his diminutive size and speed to get behind defences. Born in Ethiopia, Hersi started his career off at Ajax, Hersi signed fellow Eridivisie side as a 19 year old in 2001 to gain more game time so he could impress and stake a claim in the Netherlands U-21 side that he was trying to break his way into. The 5ft 8 attacking mid score 3 goals in 33 appearences and impressed enough to be a transfer target for NEC where over 2seasons he scored 19 goals in 61 appearences. Next came an off season at Heerenveen where he only managed 9 matches thoughout the season, but later joined Vitesse where he managed an impressive 15 goals in 69 appearences. Hersi was a star of the Eridivirsie with his powerful shot and clever passing but he never got a call up to the national side with experienced midfielders van Bommel, van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder dominating the National team midfield at the time. In 2007 he signed to Twente where he managed to lift the domestic title. Then in 2009, Hersi signed for Greek Super League outfit, AEK Athens where he subsequently struggled for game time and form. After one seasons he left the club after mutual consent and he went back to Holland to join De Graafschap. Hersi trialled and signed for Western Sydney Wanderers on September 11th 2012.

Though the last few years has been tough on him, Hersi remains a player to be reckoned with. With his eletric pace, powerful shot, great passing and ability to get behind defences will add a dimension to Western Sydney’s attack that the A-league has never experienced. On form he was one of the deadliest attacking mids in the Netherlands and a good age of 30 he is still not over the hill. Expect goals, assists and dazzling displays from this diminutive Dutchman and if he gets his way with FIFA, A-league fans can expect the  league’s first Ethiopian International to don the clip art-esk logo of the Hyundai A-league.

Stats:

Year                                 Club       App.     Goals

2000-2001                 Ajax          9              0

2001-2002      NAC Breda         33            3

2002-2004            NEC                61          19

2004-2005     Heerenveen         9           0

2005-2007             Vitisse            69       15

2007-2009          Twente              46        8

2009-2010     AEK Athens         20        1

2010-2011   De Graafschap        22         2

Here are some highlights from his time in Holland.

Youssouf Hersi

Phineas Football Blog #2 – 14/09/2012

What is the problem with Liverpool?

Every time you speak to a Liverpool fan about their recent form they say the same thing: “But we have history! Look back to the 70′s and 80′s”. And yes that is true, you were the best team in England, if not Europe, for nearly two decades. From 1975 to 1984, Liverpool won 7 consecutive league titles, contributing to the incredible 18 Domestic league trophies they have won other the years. Not to mention in this incredible time for Liverpool FC, they added 2 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 6 Community Shields, 4 European Cup titles, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 UEFA Super Cup title. Incredibly, in a time period of just over a decade, Liverpool won 25 Titles. That is enough for any team to be proud of, and partly justifies a Liverpool fans response.

The reason I have a problem with the “We have history” statement is that it does not apply to the future. I like Liverpool, they are a good club with great fans and a terrific youth system that in the last 5 years has produced some great players (I won’t go back to history!). But they seem to be in a bit of a rut at the moment, but what got them in that current rut? In the Premier League they have had the players but not the silverware, but in recent years other problems has affected the Mersey side. Rafa Benetiz came to the helm in 2004 and rejuvenated a fairly standard Liverpool side. Yes, they had Gerrard, Owen, Carragher, Hyypia, but they did not have that consistency to compete with the likes of Manchester United an Arsenal domestically. Rafa brought in Alonso and Luis Garcia to shore up the midfield and add spice to the attack. Alonso turned out to be a kop hero who, when he left for Real Madrid, Liverpool have never have been able to replace.  While Liverpool were fantastic in Europe, there domestic form was still poor for their historical standards, and not until the 2008-2009 season did Liverpool nearly return to their former glory. A second place finish with a narrow loss to Manchester United was the highest domestic position in the Premier League. The next season was a poor season with the loss of Alonso for 30million to Real Madrid. He did manage to sign Glen Johnson from Portsmouth and Aquilani but the latter has never settled down at Liverpool and was ultimately a poor, like-for-like replacement for Alonso. Rafa left the club and was replaced by Fullham’s Europa League hero, Roy Hodgson.

Roy Hodgson came into a Liverpool side in transition. The ‘Spanish Armada’, the group of Spanish players who were signed under Rafa all were leaving the club, with Arbeloa leaving for Real Madrid, Albert Reira departing for Greece and Mascherano (I know he is Argentine) leaving for Barcelona. Roy tried to replace them with Paul Konchesky, Christian Paulson, Raul Merialas and Jovanovic but also signed keeper Brad Jones from Middlesbrough and Danny Wilson from Rangers. In that season Poulson, Konchesky, Wilson and Jovanovic managed a mere 39 appearances combined in that season,  Wolves Chistophe Berra made more appearances, dare I say more? After a poor start Hodgson was out and kop hero Kenny Dalglish was in. This move was very popular by the Liverpool board as the Liverpudlians saw this as a positive signing because as a player, Dalglish delivered them domestic titles and European Cups.

Liverpool under Dalglish was a disaster waiting to happen: a kop hero with the complete and utter backing of the board because he was just that. Dalglish brought in Suarez from Ajax for 24million and Andy Carroll from Newcastle for 35million, a British transfer record, and this was just in the January window.  Further signings like Stewart Downing in the summer window from Aston Villa for 20million and Jordon Henderson for a similar fee, Blackpool’s hero Charlie Adam for around 8million and Toon hero Enrique. After spending well over 100million and buying the “best of British”, Dalglish was expected to be a challanger for the title. Different season, same story for Liverpool. Poor results and players under-performing was the reason for such a poor placing for the side. None of the new signings really shone for Liverpool with forward Andy Carroll amassing a mere 4 goals in 35 appearances, while gun-winger Stewart Downing who was a hero at Aston Villa managed 36 appearences, 0 goals and 0 assists, compared to the season before in the midlands where he managed 38 appearences, 7 goals and 9 assists. Dalglish was out by the end of the season and was replaced by Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers.

Brendan Rodgers has had a shaky start to his Liverpool career. Early warning signings were when Sigdursson, Swansea’s end of season loan signing who took the Premier League by its horns, snubbed Liverpool in favour of signing to Tottenham. Andy Carroll who has been backed by the kop fans claiming  when played right is one of the best forwards in England, was left out of favour by the Northern Irishman early on, leaving him on the bench or not even in the match day squad for pre-season friendlies. Carroll had a favourable Euro where he scored a well taken goal against Sweden and was a aerial threat against all the teams he played. To reiterate his up coming season snub of Carroll, Rodgers signed Fabio Borini from Roma for 11.5million. Borini had played under Rodgers in a impressive end of season loan deal two years ago when Swansea were gaining promotion to the Premier League. Though he scored 9 goals in 24 appearances for Roma, Borini did not take the Serie A by storm and was seen as an odd signing for Rodgers to make. Further deals for Joe Allen the young Welshman from Swansea, Oussama Assaidi from Heerenveen and Samed Yeseli from Bayer Leverkusen completed Rodgers pre-season signings. He also acquired Sahin from Real Madrid on loan to replace the outgoing Charlie Adam who joined Stoke.

The start season was a poor one for Rodgers with a 3-0 away loss to West Brom, then a 2-2 draw with Champions Manchester City and then a 2-0 loss to Arsenal.  These games highlighted Liverpool’s recurring weaknesses: Alonso was the vital cog in the Liverpool midfield and they are not going to replace a like-for-like player unless the splash out. Lucas was seen as the defensive aspect of Alonso’s game while Aquilani was the replacement for the attacking, ultimately creating a new midfield with the same abilities but it has not happened. Lucas got injured and has failed to find form and Aqualani, well do not need to say much about him. Amazing in Italy, not quite the style in England, so has been subsequently loaned out every season. Out-wide Liverpool are also struggling. The loss of Dirk Kuyt will hurt Liverpool more than they think. Kuyt added a grit and determination that would not be amiss in the Liverpool days of old, he would tirelessly work for the team, to create, to defend, to score, everything. He was, when Gerrard was out, Mr Liverpool. Craig Bellamy will also be missed in my opinion, he added speed and another dimension to the attack and though he understandably wanted out of the club for personal reasons Liverpool have not replaced him at all. While Allen is a sublime passer and breaks down attacks, he is only part of what Liverpool needs in midfield and Sigurdsson could have been that player. Liverpool need that attacking midfielder again as Gerrard suits a deeper role and lacks the cutting edge he used to have. That is not saying that Gerrard has lost it, not in the slightest, its just his duties have changed. He has become more of a Alonso role, a player to break up attack, to distribute. Though as I said earlier that Liverpool need to splash the cash to replace him, at least in the mean time they have a like-for-like replacement right in front of them.

So what do Liverpool need? I think they need a shake up, a rejuvenation of the squad to create a new core albeit a revised core to move forward and become a force to reckoned with. Agger and Skrtel are great players but to me they are a bit stagnant. They have been there a combined 14 seasons and have never really created that killer partnership that other Premier League clubs have created in their back-line. So get rid of both or one? Personally I would say both. A new, younger centre-back, I personally do not know who, and a traditional defensive centre back in the mould of Vidic: can tackle, aerial prowess, strong but not thinks he is a attacking midfield like a certain Borrusia Dortmund centre-back. As with the full backs I think they are good enough, Johnson needs to be sat down and told to be like his left-back team mate, Enrique: bloody consistent. In midfield they need a new defensive mid who can pull the strings of the game like Alonso could do. Mascherano and Lucas were just defensive as was Spearing, and conversley Aquilani was neither attacking or defensive, though good, was not what Liverpool needed. Sahin is a step in the right direction and if played to his strengths rather than Rodgers pre-conceived ideas, could be the future of the Liverpool midfield. As I mentioned before they need that new attacking mid and Sigurdsson was quite in the mould of Gerrard with his deadly finishing, set piece expertise and rocket of a shot would revitalise that attacking third. Out-wide is a hard one. There is no doubting Downing’s talent, as is with Carroll, its just confidence and consistency. Personally, I think Downing is good enough and just needs a season playing how he wants: a true out and out winger who can cross, shoot and weave his way down the line contributing to the attacking third rather than been confined to the midfield. Yes, he was given the liberty to attack but he was in a disfunctional Liverpool side and the attack was not given his crosses justice but when Liverpool gets a forward who can finish a cross Downing will come into his own. Assadi has proven himself in Holland and looks the goods, he can score and create and that is what Liverpool needs. Upfront is Liverpool’s problem. Two forwards, and only 1 of them is a senior forward. Borini and Suarez are both creators for their goals rather than finishers of crossers and long balls, and the loaning out of Andy Carroll is seriously going to hurt them come injuries, suspensions, impatient fans and pressure from the media and blog writers ahem. Raheem Sterling is the only shining light of the Liverpool side this season and congratulations for Rodgers for bringing him into the team.

Ultimately, there is no quick answer to Liverpool as they are a team who are down on their luck and need someone to come in and inspire the players, supporters and back-room staff. I am not a supporter of Liverpool but it is sad seeing a team who was once so great fall because bad decisions on and off the field. If they get back to their best, if anything, it will create a better finish to the season for the neutrals. The way the Premier League is going, the phrase ‘The most exciting League in the world’ will have taken on another, exciting twist.

Phineas Daube – Blog #1  12/9/2012