The Power Shift – Something Has to Give

Posted: March 22, 2010 by mcdonaldtaf in Manager Talk, Post Game, Team Talk
Tags: , , ,

Yesterday’s performance has been blown out of all proportion in some quarters. A game which saw effort applied and a goal scored against (as much as it pains me to say it) the current Premiership champions in their own back yard. The champions who are, unfortunately, very much in the hunt for this season’s title as well. While we have seen a mini surge over the past few games United have been dominant. Since their loss at Goodison they have won six on the trot and more recently thumped Fulham 3-0 and AC Milan 4-0. Just because we have had the better of them in recent seasons yesterday’s game was never a given. The game after an initial flurry became very tactical and ironically in the run up to Park scoring many United fans were calling for him to be taken off. While Park is basking in the glory of Ferguson’s platitudes today the truth is he did very little in yesterday’s game (other than scoring of course).

Some of the refereeing was again appalling but we’ve come to expect that. Even Match of the Day have picked up on the fact that while we’ve had many a stonewall penalty turned down we’ve also had plenty of ‘soft ones’ awarded against us. It seems that if their is a greater power he simply decided to conspire against us this season. Although to be that cruel to man I suspect the greater power may be female (kidding).

As the season heads towards the final months though where do we go in the summer?

Many will of course tell us that Rafa simply has to go. ‘He’s got it wrong too many times and what has the net effect been of his five years in charge?’ Those who continue to defend him will, quite rightly, point out that he’s more recently not been supported financially in the transfer market, while working with the club to lower its debt burden. In fact until the player transfer account was ‘frozen’ we had attended two Champions League finals, one of which we won along with an FA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Charity Shield and a runners up spot in the Premier League. How can anyone question that we were on the right track?

However, there is no questioning in my mind that there is an underlying problem between manager and (some) players. Riera’s recent outburst was quickly discredited by several sources as an attempt to simply leave the club and play elsewhere. The timing couldn’t have been worse but I guess some football players continue to put themselves ahead of the club (which pays their excessive wages). The question which continues to re-surface though is why the heartbeat duo of Anfield, Gerrard and Carragher, have not been vocal in their support of Rafa. It would be hard to forget Gerrard’s mad dash to hug Houllier when the Frenchman was under fire. Yet I don’t think anyone can see history repeating between the two current incumbents.

There are undoubtedly problems with Gerrard at the moment and, being such an influential player, they are having an effect on the team as a whole. Whether those problems are with Rafa, his team mates, injuries or personal I guess we can only speculate on.  I have to confess that I have grown weary of seeing Torres’ constant remonstrations with referees but not as weary as seeing Gerrard berating a player for a wayward pass before then having a few of his own not reach their destination. As a leader you lead by example and on that basis I guess that he should spend more time screaming at himself rather than others. His performances this season have been inconsistent and simply not to the high standard you expect of a world class player.

As I watched the second half unfolding yesterday I found myself thinking the unthinkable, that Rafa must take him off. He was having little impact on the game and while Mascherano and Lucas were doing their jobs I was unsure what he was bringing to the game – other than head shaking, sighs and slumped shoulders.

Then thinking ahead to the next game, should he start? If so, on what basis, is it simply because he’s the captain? One thing I’m pretty sure of is, no one else could be playing that inconsistently and holding down a regular starting slot.

I guess it must simply come down to power and I think we’re in a vicious circle. There is little denying that Rafa is walking a tightrope. Imagine Gerrard playing like this last season, when we were riding high. Surely Rafa would have started him on the bench for a couple of games – either for rest, or, for him to regain his focus. But if he does it now he opens himself up to the possibility of Gerrard throwing his toys out the pram and doing a Riera, or, getting slaughtered (even more) by fans and the media if we lose. So Gerrard is first on the team sheet despite recent performances and his impact on the game is detrimentally significant, which adds more pressure and ironically there is then even less chance of him being dropped.

Situations like this happen within all organisations. Different leaders work with different methods to get results. Rafa for example I suspect would use, what is termed as, expert power. His way of doing things produces results and therefore people don’t question him. He’s in charge and if we do as he says we’ll outperform others. The problem being that when other factors affect the team (injuries for example) and you start losing, that power starts to deteriorate (especially over a prolonged period like this season). Others within the organisation then get more power and there is an opportunity to deflect blame, which is human nature. If Rafa’s man management abilities aren’t very good (which is plausible) then he has very little to fall back on and relies on simply ‘being the boss’ when things are going wrong. A stance which will only be tolerated for so long when results are not going your way.

So when we get to the summer… something has to give. I simply cannot see us starting next season with both Rafa and Gerrard at the club. Gerrard would still demand a very healthy transfer fee to help Rafa re-build, but a new manager could well see a reinvigorated Gerrard back to his old self. Rafa finished 5th with Valencia the season before winning La Liga and there are plenty of reasons why we have suffered this season (injuries, confidence, luck, referees etc.) but next season will be even harder. Is this season a blip? If a new manager comes in how much will he have available to spend? Is Gerrard worth sacrificing for a healthy summer transfer budget? If we win the UEFA cup is that enough with 5th place to save Rafa? Questions, questions and more questions.

  1. Jonno says:

    Excellent article. Right on the money.

  2. theoneredmachine says:

    Why is it no one dares to point the truth? That a half-arsed Gerrard still managed to set-up torres’s goal, and laid another chance (which torres blew).

    Rafa put his name week in week out, not because he’s scared of gerrard’s power, but because Gerrard delivered. An injured and ‘a half-arsed’ gerrard, who missed a couple of matches, still managed to make a handfull of assists,which only bettered by insua. Why is that? Why can no one else brave enough to step in?

    I’m not going to give a leeway to gerrard,because he really is below HIS high standard. But we can’t escape the fact that no one else delivered, consistently, even in a bad form.(well maybe except pepe)

    We demand a leadership from Gerrard, than why can’t we demand the same from other? Where’s agger’s leadership? Torres’s? Mascherano’s? Skrtel’s? Johnson’s? Kuyt’s? Benayoun’s? Surely they can’t hide behind their captain’s back all the time? And surely they must be big enough to be able to perform without the captain clapping and patting their back all the time?

    The things that really frustrated me is that after 6 bloody years under rafa,after more than 10 years of gerrard’s services, we failed to produce another gerrard. Oh please do tell me, good man, who can replaced gerrard’s service for years to come? Because that’s the scariest thing I learned from this season,that I don’t know who will have our back for the next decade.

    • mcdonaldtaf says:

      I’m not really keen on getting into arguments on here (there are plenty of other sites where you can do that) but just to clarify a couple of things.

      I agree that Gerrard even off form is still a good player. Where the problem lies is in berating others when you are (and have not) been playing so well yourself. This applies in all of life and not just football. If your boss yells at you for being late but he’s late every day yes you have to accept it but you lose a bit of respect for the guy as well don’t you?

      Yes all players should be playing consistently well but we have one captain. Therefore that’s where the leadership (or the bulk of it at least) should come from. If everyone starts telling each other what to do we end up with chaos! In relation to your list most of the players you mention have played well and consistently so – Mascherano for one has been outstanding!

      Your final point. My understanding is this (and I accept that there may be others better in the know) – Rafa has only recently been given control over the youth set up. In doing so he has appointed new personnel to take the reigns from the start of this season. Personnel who had a hand in bringing Fabregas, Messi and Pique (amongst others) through the ranks at Barcelona. There have been political shenanigans at Anfield for years and the other pressures Rafa has had to work under. That is not to say he is blameless in this season’s debacle but maybe a bit of research by some fans wouldn’t do any harm before they start with the ‘usual arguments’.

      • theoneredmachine says:

        Okay, I respect you not wanting an argument . Sorry if i seem like snapping on my post.

        Here, let me just say goodbye with a quote from Torres about Gerrard.

        “I admire Steven Gerrard because I know how much pressure he has to live with every day. Everyone’s talking about him all the time – in the dressing room, in the bars, in the stadium. From my own experience, I know how difficult it is to keep everyone happy, but the pressure he’s under is on a different level to anything I ever had to live with because Liverpool is such a huge club.

        “When you’re captain, you know everyone is talking about you. You can feel it, especially when things go badly. Everything that Gerrard has to face every single day, and the expectations that surround him, make the way he handles the pressure even more impressive. He is always under the microscope and people always expect him to be a leader, to lift the team all on his own” (taken in October 2009)

        I’ve always been defensive about Gerrard, because I think not even Terry, Ferdinand, Fabregas, Puyol, Maldini, Zanetti, Raul, or anyone, ever feels the pressure Gerrard have to put up over and over again. The outstanding mascherano even played poorly before Argentina secured the world cup spot. Darn, I’m blabbing again. Bye.

      • mcdonaldtaf says:

        I agree there must be an intense pressure on Gerrard, especially while results are not going our way. I just want to get to the end of this season and onto the next!

  3. robbohuyton says:

    Good post fella. While there’s no doubt Gerrard hasn’t hit the heights, and his body language has been poor (although to be fair it’s never been great), I think there’s a tendency to expect him to produce miracles.

    Just as Rafa in isolation isn’t the only problem with this season, neither is Gerrard.

    Both the full backs were poor at Old Trafford and while Valencia certainly made the most of it, Mascherano is cupable for putting his hands on him and offering him the opportunity to go over.

    In general terms, we need to remember the service Gerrard has given the club, and the trophies that, without him, would never have made their way to Anfield.

    Maybe he has had enough of poor quality team-mates and safety first tactics just like a lot of fans have. Gerrard is a Liverpool fan, too, after all.

    And as you infer, if a certain way of working repeatedly doesn’t work (15 defeats this season…) players are bound to lose faith in the manager if he doesn’t change it, just as fans are.

    Happy birthday by the way!


    • mcdonaldtaf says:

      Hey Robbo,

      I can’t really argue with your points or logic, more is the pity 😉

      You know I’d love to see a change of tactics employed for some games and I think with Aquilani finding his feet we are starting to see that. It’s hard to believe that following a season where we were so close that we find ourselves talking like this. However, we are and I just think that this season has caused irreparable harm to the existing squad. It needs a large freshen up either with players or management. Without it I fear that at the first loss next season (unless we do an Arsenal invincible season) we’ll just start to fall apart.

      Throw in Gerrard’s age etc. and the question has to be asked. We either need our old Gerrard back or good money to replace him. Although I agree with you – what he has done should never be forgotten.

      And thank you – 34, FFS I thought I was going to be all wise and stuff at this age!!!

  4. phillypool says:

    I think Gerrard played well with Aquilani. One thing is for sure that we can’t depend on him every single game. He’s turning 30 so he needs to come from bench some games.

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