I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that anyone who did not have the stoniest heart could not read about the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop without laughing. (For possible Wildean phrasings of this aphorism see here.)
I confess I feel much the same way about the current position of Liverpool Football Club.
Their supporters bayed for the previous owners to sell up and for the previous manager to go, or be sacked.
Having got both their wishes they immediately set to complaining about the new manager, Roy Hodgson – who had just won the Manager of the Season award, don’t forget – for not being their darling, former player and manager Kenny Dalglish. Effectively they never gave Hodgson a chance.
It is as if they believe they have a divine right to success and to a winning team. Despite their club’s trophy laden history they do not.
I think it is this sense of entitlement that makes me anti-pathetic towards the club – as I am to the similarly deluded fans, and the overweening behaviour, of the Old Firm clubs.
And now Hodgson has gone, in that telling weasel phrase “by mutual consent,” and replaced – for now – by Kenny Dalglish.
Admittedly Liverpool’s results have not been good this season – in the Premier League at least.
Yet how much of this is really to do with the manager? Can a manager really turn around several seasons’ worth of decline in six months? Liverpool’s current position stems in large part from the mistakes made by previous manager Rafael Benitez; mistakes in signing certain players and mistakes in alienating and then in letting go others.
It is evident from the scantiest perusal of their games on television that the present players are not performing. Whatever their affections for the old manager and whatever they may think of the new it is their job to do what he asks of them. Surely some of the blame ought to be placed on them.
Okay, Fernando Torres has an excuse. He has been injured, then not match fit and also probably suffering a reaction from Spain’s World Cup win in the summer.
Steven Gerrard is a more complicated case. He is clearly not playing as effectively as he once did. That may be due to an overall decline in the ability level of players around him. He is also probably trying too hard. And here’s a thought; actually he may not be quite as good a player as everyone made out. Or he may simply be in decline.
There is another problem with him, though. I think he has too much of an influence on the team in that the other players defer to him. When he’s on the pitch they look to him to drive things on – they even get out of his way when they are actually better placed to play the ball. His shadow hangs over them even when he’s not playing as they seem to believe that without him they are not as capable of achieving a win.
Changing the manager is a desperate throw of the dice. My own club Dumbarton did precisely this just before the recent snows interrupted the fixtures. Whether that was a wise move only time will tell. As in Liverpool’s case it may have been too late. It was for Newcastle United two seasons ago when they appointed Alan Shearer to try to avoid relegation; a strategy that did not work. His unheralded successor, Chris Hughton, then performed miracles to restore the club to Premier League respectability – and got the sack for his trouble.
But Kenny Dalglish as saviour?
If I were a Liverpool fan I would not count on it.