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The Athletic - LFC related articles

Discussion in 'The Football Forum' started by Hass, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    It'll be like Star Wars. First three will be epic, then they'll think how can we make more money and make them a prequel then there'll be more films after the prequel and possibly a tv serious. Meanwhile merchandise sales will go through the roof.
     
  2. The Nomad

    The Nomad Well-Known Member

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    Thanks again Hass. Started to read some of these on the laptop. Much easier than tapatalk. Well worth the 10-15 minutes per article.
     
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  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    You're most welcome, the in depth analysis and coverage is second to none
     
  4. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Exclusive: Liverpool explore technology that could let fans in Anfield next season
    [​IMG]
    By Raphael Honigstein 3h ago[​IMG] 32 [​IMG]
    Liverpool are exploring the use of German technology that could allow the partial re-opening of Anfield for supporters next season.
    The artificial intelligence system, developed by Berlin-based company G2K, combines automated temperature and mask checks with computerised crowd management, ensuring that social distancing is adhered to in the stands and other public areas.
    G2K’s solution has already undergone a series of successful tests at Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin, and is expected to become part of the Bundesliga’s plans of gradually allowing fans back into the grounds when the 2020-2021 season starts in September. La Liga are also testing the system at Real Sociedad’s stadium, on the recommendation of the league’s sponsors Microsoft.
    The Athletic understands that Jurgen Klopp has personally taken an interest in the technology, having become aware of its promising trial implementation at former club Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park two weeks ago, and that Liverpool will hold talks with G2K this week.
    Implementation would, of course, need Premier League and government approval. The Premier League have learnt from Germany’s example that the provision of a concrete safety protocol will help win approval from the authorities, as was the case with the initial restart of the Bundesliga. The German league came up with the restart protocol and lobbied politicians to agree to it. The plan is to do the same in order for fans to return to stadiums.
    Dortmund approached G2K with a view to using 30 per cent of the 81,365-capacity Signal Iduna Park safely next season. For every game played behind closed doors, the 2019-20 Bundesliga runners-up lose up to €4 million in tickets, food, drinks and merchandise sales.
    G2K is a software specialist that has devised similar coronavirus control measures for clinics, shopping malls and transport hubs.
    The system requires the installation of temperature-sensitive cameras but otherwise utilises existing CCTV capabilities, which makes its use relatively cost-effective and fast. According to the company, the technology could be installed in stadiums within two weeks at a price of roughly €100,000 per game.
    Tests with media and staff members before Dortmund’s game against Hoffenheim on June 27 revealed a high degree of accuracy (98.3 per cent) of the automated temperature check compared with the more time-consuming individual tests. The system does not use facial recognition, collects data completely anonymously and can also accurately detect raised temperatures and people not wearing masks among bigger crowds, which is considered crucial: manual safety checks at the turnstiles would lead to lengthy queues and thus defeat the purpose of social distancing.
    The second pillar of the concept pertains to crowd management inside a ground. A test run with 40 extras showed the algorithm could reliably identify fans who are sitting too close together. An automated system alerts stewards to the problem or can issue a warning on the stadium’s big screen.
    The technology can be adapted to the requirements of each club, which could vary due to local health regulations. RB Leipzig, situated in the state of Saxony, have announced they’ve been given the green light to utilise 50 per cent of the Red Bull Arena capacity (42,000) in the coming season, if safety measures are in place.
    Temperature checks and social distancing will only be the first step in that regard.
    In a joint-venture with a German biotech company, G2K is also working on the integration of an inexpensive and rapid coronavirus test into its concept.
     
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  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Andy Lonergan: ‘I’ll look back one day and pinch myself that I was a part of it’
    [​IMG]
    By Dominic Fifield 5h ago[​IMG] 16 [​IMG]
    Andy Lonergan had changed into his training gear and was preparing to stride out onto the pitch at Melwood on Saturday afternoon when Andy Robertson, brimming with mischief, pulled him to one side. The left-back’s earnest expression should probably have given the game away.
    Mate, you can’t take the gaffer’s medal off him? What are you thinking? I mean, come on pal… seriously.”
    The fourth-choice goalkeeper stared back blankly. Unperturbed, Robertson pressed on for a while before it became clear his club-mate was genuinely perplexed. The previous day, explained the defender, Jurgen Klopp had held his pre-match press conference and stated the case for all his title winners to be awarded medals for Liverpool’s triumphant season, rather than just the 21 players who qualify through Premier League rules after featuring at least five times. The manager pointed out that the standards set in training had been key to the club’s first league championship in 30 years. “So these boys will get a medal, 100 per cent. They can have my medal.”
    “It felt like Andy was hammering me for about 20 minutes, making out how outrageous it was that the gaffer was going to give me his medal, before he finally told me what he’d said,” says Lonergan. “He’s a proper, old-school lad is Robbo. All banter. But when he told me about the press conference… well, that’s such a nice touch. It sums this place up. It’s the best dressing room I’ve ever been with. I’ll look back one day and probably pinch myself that I was here and a part of it all. That I was part of a really good group.”
    Lonergan is very much one of them, although his contribution may not have drawn the gaze of many outside the club. He has been barely visible as a Liverpool player, only appearing on the bench eight times, and has not been called upon yet. Indeed, the 36-year-old’s last competitive game was in March 2019, on loan to Rochdale at the wrong end of League One while contracted to Middlesbrough.
    And yet a goalkeeper who boasts over 400 first-team appearances, the vast majority for Preston North End but with stints at 11 clubs, is considered a key member of the collective by his peers. He is a cog in a relentless machine. The team player who rarely makes the teamsheet.

    The story of his year is remarkable not least because, exactly 12 months ago, he was without a club following his release by Middlesbrough and ready to head off to Scotland for a pre-season with Blackpool in a bid to maintain his fitness. They had made some initial noises about signing him with the prospect of game time back in the third tier. But a player whose career had rarely dipped below the Championship was unconvinced and politely declined in the hope a team higher up the pyramid, maybe even from the top flight, might seek an experienced back-up ahead of the new campaign.
    His glove supplier, Adam Sells, has forged a reputation over the years as a go-to man for clubs looking to add a goalkeeper to the ranks. Theirs is a market within the market, and feelers were put out.
    In mid-July, Sells’ mobile pinged with a message offering Lonergan a remarkable opportunity.
    [​IMG]

    Lonergan had spent recent seasons as the No 2 at Leeds and Middlesbrough before Liverpool called (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
    “I’d have been happy waiting until the transfer window shut because, as a free agent, you’re only ever one injury away from becoming quite an attractive option for a club,” he says. “I’d hope I’d have been quite high up on lists to go in as a free transfer. Sellsy speaks to a lot of people, and he was confident there’d be a taker. But when the message came it was from (the goalkeeping coach) John Achterberg at Liverpool, and none of us had seen that coming. They had a few of the younger keepers out and were only really talking cover for pre-season, but there was still no choice to make.
    “I went straight on to YouTube and looked at the training sessions they were doing and thought, ‘Right, I need to get my running shoes on’. I went out straight away.” How far did you run? “As far as I could! John asked me to come in on the Monday, the day before the team left for their pre-season tour of the United States — just me and him — to check my fitness. I was breathing out of my arse, but I needed to make a good first impression. He seemed happy enough, but did say, ‘Obviously, you need to get fitter.’ That was a little jolt. If I’d gone into any other club I’d have been fit enough, so what must these guys be like?
    “It helped I knew John. He’d been playing in the first team at Tranmere as I came through at Preston. I remember playing them when I was 17 and John must have been injured because, the following day, Tranmere tried to sign me on loan. I’d have joined them had I not gone and rolled my ankle, and that injury killed the move. Come to think of it, if I’d replaced him, he probably wouldn’t have come back in to sign me now. Funny thing, fate.”
    The first real taste of life at Liverpool came the following day when he shuffled into line to board a private jet bound for South Bend, Indiana.
    Klopp’s 28-man squad for the three-match tour was shorn of Alisson — on holiday after helping Brazil win the Copa America — and their first-choice attacking trio, and sprinkled with youth, but included one or two familiar faces. James Milner, a former team-mate of Lonergan’s in the England junior set-up, sidled over in the lounge at John Lennon airport. “He said he’d seen my name on the squad list and texted the player liaison officer to check what that was all about… ‘Andy Lonergan? Bloody hell, I didn’t expect that one’.
    “I sat on the flight next to (teenage defender Sepp) Van den Berg — there were only two seats on either side of the aisle, like — and there was a young kid I recognised a few rows back. I couldn’t quite place him. Anyway, once we’d landed he came and introduced himself and said I knew his dad, Jimmy, which is when the penny dropped. It was Nat Phillips, who’d been coming through at Bolton while I was there. His dad played there for years. I remember just saying, ‘Flippin’ heck, you’ve grown’. Makes you feel old.
    “You’d normally be quite loud, try and be larger than life, but with these guys there was no messing about: speak when you’re spoken to type of thing. A bit like first day at a new school. Even then, on day one, there was a focus to it all. We trained the day we arrived in the States and that session, just with the other goalkeepers, might have been the hardest of my life. I was desperate for us to start a shooting drill, but Milly (Milner) came over and said, ‘Trust me, our shooting sessions… you won’t get a breather there’. They were pretty much like five or six shots continuously from different angles. The level, mate… the level.
    “There were times when I wondered whether I could do this. Whether I was up to it. But I told myself to concentrate on getting as fit as I could. Regardless of whether I stayed at Liverpool, I’d be going back fitter than I’d been. So enjoy the experience. Work.”
    He ended up doing considerably more. In 34-degree heat in front of a crowd of 35,654 at Boston’s Fenway Park, Lonergan played the first half of the friendly against Sevilla. Nolito buried a shot into the top corner, but Liverpool equalised before the break and the veteran goalkeeper on a short-term contract whose name rang a bell impressed. Even so, he has never plucked up the courage to re-watch what remains his solitary appearance in a Klopp side. “I’d cringe because Liverpool are a total football team and I probably kicked a few too many long balls. But that was just because I was trying not to make errors.
    “Look at the managers I’ve played under over my career. There are not many who would allow their keeper to pass a ball to their centre-half in the box. I was brought up with managers looking at me saying, ‘OK, you’re a big lad. How far can you kick it?’ I’d be told to kick on to the opposition full-back and, even if it went out for a throw-in, you’d get a round of applause. So the use of the ball was a big step up for me.”
    Yet, while Lonergan returned home expecting to resume his trawl of the market, Liverpool allowed him to train at Melwood with Simon Mignolet sold, Loris Karius loaned out again and young Caoimhin Kelleher still in rehabilitation after injury. When Alisson then suffered a calf injury in the opening-day victory over Norwich, Lonergan found himself signing a one-year contract. “He’s a brilliant character, a really nice lad, and helped us a lot in pre-season,” said Klopp of his new goalkeeper.
    He had clearly done something right.

     
  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Lonergan chuckles at memories of his last competitive appearance.
    At the time, there must have seemed very little remarkable about that 3-1 win over Scunthorpe United at Spotland, other than it thrust Rochdale to within a point of those immediately above the relegation cut-off in League One, which felt fairly miraculous given the state things had been in when he arrived six weeks earlier. He had taken the temporary switch much to the bemusement of his coaches at Middlesbrough, where he had been Darren Randolph’s unused deputy all season in a squad that would end up missing the Championship play-offs by one place.
    “‘You want to go there? They’re bottom of League One’. But I was well up for it. I wanted to go and show everyone I was still knocking about, remind the world I was still there… and by the world, I mean 3,500 Rochdale fans.
    “It was shit or bust, really. If I’d failed at Rochdale, I was looking at the rest of my career in the lower leagues. I got there and the training pitch was waterlogged, but I got the goalie coach to take me out and a couple of the strikers joined in with some shooting. There was me diving about in mud and puddles. I just loved it. I remember driving to the game on that first Saturday thinking I’d really missed this feeling of wanting to play football. That anticipation.”
    Shining through was the ability he had showcased most regularly at Preston — where he debuted a few months after leaving school and went on to captain the team, win two player of the year awards and, in 2015, be serenaded by the crowd as a guest at the League One play-offs — but also at Leeds United, Bolton Wanderers and Fulham. He conceded five at Plymouth and was livid post-match, much to the surprise of the manager Keith Hill. “We’d just been pumped 5-1 and had a seven-hour journey back ahead of us,” he says. “But (Hill) said not to worry about it. ‘It could have been 15-1 if it weren’t for you’. So I knew I could still do it.
    “Don’t get me wrong, I still miss the buzz from playing. But this is different. It’s more about accepting what your role is. I train for Liverpool. I haven’t played for them. I’m part of the squad, here to help the goalkeeping group and play a small part in keeping the outfield players sharp. It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch the lads close-up. To see their drive and determination first-hand every day… wow. It is a privilege. One I don’t take for granted.
    “You get quite a lot of snide remarks, not from inside the dressing-room but particularly on social media. ‘You’ve won the lottery’, stuff like that. But I’ve still got to work hard every day. I can’t let my own standards slip, otherwise that would be me done. My focus, my mentality… they have to be spot on. I did get lucky initially to get the opportunity, but I had to take it as well. And if anyone’s still wondering why I’ve spent a year here and ‘not done anything’, I tell you what: I’m really looking forward to playing a game again, wherever that may be, just to showcase what I’ve learned.”
    Everything about this season, working alongside Achterberg and his assistant Jack Robinson, has been an education even for a veteran of two decades in the senior game.
    Lonergan knows his place. He is essentially there to ease the training load on Alisson and Adrian in a cluttered, relentless schedule. That pair, particularly the Brazilian, simply cannot work flat out in every training session squeezed between games, so Klopp leans on others to take the burden. The fourth-choice is still at the heart of most of the team drills and small-sided games. A quiet, low-maintenance constant at Melwood who rarely emerges from the shadows down the road at Anfield.

    He has taken to keeping a log of all the sessions put on by Achterberg and Robinson, noting down the drills so that, one day, he may emulate them once he has embarked on his own coaching career. “Every day, training seems to be the best session I’ve ever done,” says Lonergan, who sat his UEFA B licence during his second spell at Leeds. “The way it’s structured… I’ve always taken a note down of what work I’ve done, and I’ve got sessions from the past detailed in my books which I know I’ll never use now because they seem so basic in comparison. And I’ve always had good goalkeeper coaches. But it’d be similar: you’d catch a volley, you’d catch a half-volley, you’d have a breather and then do it again. Over and over.
    “Here, it’s speed and power and reactions. Rapid, quick-fire. Always intense. Ridiculous standards. It’s exhausting. We were back in at Melwood doing a four-team tournament two days after watching Manchester City lose at Chelsea, the night we won the title, and the competition was top notch. It wasn’t as if anyone took their foot off the gas. They never allow things to dip. Their ethos is if you don’t train, you don’t play, and that will extend to the end of the season.
    “The whole thing’s been an eye-opener. My CV became a bit chequered in recent years, with spells as a No 2 at lots of Championship clubs, and my motivation suffered. I’d played at that level for 20 years, which is why I had to come here, where I’m challenged every single day to show what I’m about and impress people. Things others might not notice become your rewards. All I want is, when we’re picking five-a-side teams, the boys know they’ll be alright if they have Lonners on their side. A ‘Well done’ from Hendo (Jordan Henderson) or Milly means a lot, as does praise from the gaffer. It shows I’m doing my job. I’m definitely a better keeper now than I was when I was playing regularly in the Championship.”
    And so, back to that ball work. Even watching Alisson — “the best in the world by a mile” — in training had sent shivers of apprehension, as well as wonder, down the new arrival’s spine. The older man has had to open his mind to what is required, and adapt his own game to fit in. “I used to be under the impression goalkeeping was goalkeeping — just keep it out of the net. But there’s so much more to it with what we do. Watch Alisson and the positions he takes up, the passes he makes… I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that 12 months ago. He’s a really talented footballer, but we’re practising that together every day and the more comfortable I get, the better I get.
    “It helps that your team-mates actually want the ball. I’ve been at clubs where the manager has suddenly decided, ‘Right, we’re going to start playing it out from the back now’. So you give it to the defenders in the game and they’re smacking it back to you on the volley and shouting, ‘I don’t want it there!’ And the manager is screaming, ‘Give it him!’, and you can sense the fans wondering what the hell is going on. I’d be standing there knowing I didn’t want to give the ball to my centre-half, and he didn’t want it. No one was comfortable with it.
    “But here at Liverpool, you can’t fail to improve in this set-up. Not unless you were too arrogant or ignorant, and closed to it all. If you listen, you’ll learn. It’s just the perfect environment. I wish I could have had this chance to experience it when I was younger because my career would have worked out very differently.”

    Should Klopp have his way, or sacrifice his own, then Lonergan will end up with three significant medals to show for his year on the fringes.
    He sat on the bench in Istanbul as Chelsea were beaten on penalties in the UEFA Super Cup in August having only formalised his contract with the club two days earlier, and felt like an imposter during the post-match celebrations.
    [​IMG]

    Lonergan made his debut for Preston at 16 and went on to play more than 200 matches for his hometown club (Photo: Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
    “It was like I was gate-crashing the party,” he says. “I remember standing on the pitch and Robbo (Robertson) and Ads (Adam Lallana) said to me, ‘Enjoy this. Seriously, milk it’. I tried to, but I kept out of the celebration pictures. I never touched the trophy, never lifted it. I didn’t feel I deserved to. But the Club World Cup in December? That was different. I’d been here six months, had worked so hard in training and felt a proper part of the squad. That was brilliant. A great experience.”
    His mind drifts to that Qatar trip and the din made by the large contingent of travelling Brazilian fans, bellowing their support for Flamengo in the final of a tournament that is cherished in South America. He allowed himself to hold that piece of silverware, claimed courtesy of Roberto Firmino’s extra-time winner. Those punters who regularly bump into Lonergan at Charnock Richard services on the M6 as he grabs a morning coffee en route to training, and always ask how things are going at Liverpool, were greeted by a world champion in the new year.
    Two weeks ago, as City were succumbing at Stamford Bridge, he found himself sitting at a table alongside Fabinho, Adrian, Mohamed Salah, Dejan Lovren and Xherdan Shaqiri at the team’s get-together at the Formby Hall golf resort, watching Willian’s penalty confirm what had long been inevitable. He celebrated that night as one who belonged. These days, he is even learning to embrace his new-found lofty status; an attitude at odds with his self-deprecating instincts. “I’ve been like that ever since I was young,” he says. “No matter how well people told me I’d done, I was always trying to change the subject. I couldn’t really take the praise.
    “Growing up, you were hammered if you showed any sign of getting above your station. You didn’t want to be called big-time. You wanted to be a normal lad who gets on with it. I’ve always been a bit like that. It’s almost self-sabotage, isn’t it? But I see lads in our dressing-room who have such different mind-sets.
    “If someone says they’ve done well, they say, ‘Yup’. ‘What an amazing goal’… ‘Yeah’.
    “Of course, the guys at Liverpool are good enough to say that. They’re winners. But I wish I’d had that same belief when I was younger, when I was playing in the Preston first-team at 20 and with England Under-21s. I should have carried myself as a goalkeeper of that stature, but I tried to stay out of the way. Always did. I was private on Instagram up until 12 months ago, when I thought I may as well get with the times. I don’t really like self-promotion. But I realise now that, to be a top player, you’ve got to have that strut and, in a good way, an arrogance about you.
    “The gaffer sets the tone at this club. He’s so positive, a brilliant guy whose managerial record is frightening. But you’ve got lads like Milly and Hendo in the dressing-room who make sure everyone’s in check. It’s such a smooth operation with everyone pulling in the right direction. Over my career, that’s not always been the case.”
    It might be an experience that is prolonged for a while yet. Liverpool are considering extending Lonergan’s stay for another season, with much dependent upon the immediate futures of Karius and the younger goalkeepers at the club. Some may benefit from first-team experience out on loan. The veteran, having embraced his position behind the scenes, could reprise his role in next term’s title defence.
    “But if they decide to extend it or not, I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity. What a year it’s been. Something to tell the grandchildren, definitely.”
    He will merit his medal.
     
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  7. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Recent displays of ‘Naby lad’ may show talk of signing Thiago is premature
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 3h ago[​IMG] 82 [​IMG]
    It would be convenient to suggest the recent speculation about a potential new addition to Liverpool’s midfield has jolted Naby Keita into life.
    After all, since Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara was linked with a summer move to Anfield, the Guinea international has delivered two match-winning contributions for the new champions.
    But in truth, the resurgence of Keita goes back beyond that, to the beginning of “Project Restart”. No one in Jurgen Klopp’s squad benefited from the three-month mid-season sabbatical more than the 25-year-old.
    That pandemic-enforced break enabled him to get fully fit after niggling muscle issues had prevented him playing more than a cameo role in Liverpool’s march to title glory. His sharpness was the talk of the dressing room after the squad resumed full training.
    “Naby lad”, as he’s affectionately known by his team-mates, lit up the friendly thrashing of Blackburn Rovers and provided one of the few positives to emerge from the dour derby stalemate at Goodison in the first league game back.
    Having come off the bench against both Crystal Palace and Manchester City, he was restored to the starting line-up against Aston Villa at the weekend. He brought the contest to life with the incisive pass which enabled Sadio Mane to break the deadlock with 20 minutes to go.
    On Wednesday night, Keita went to the next level against Brighton. Here was the player who lit up the Bundesliga in 2016-17 and convinced Liverpool to pay RB Leipzig £52.75 million to secure his services. When he performs in this sparkling manner, Klopp’s initial assessment that he had acquired “the complete midfielder” doesn’t sound like hyperbole.
    Pressing eagerly and intelligently, he robbed Davy Propper of possession and laid on the opener for Mohamed Salah. Moments later, he won the ball back once again and fed Roberto Firmino, who linked up with Salah before Jordan Henderson slammed home the second from 20 yards.
    Having gone seven hours and 47 minutes without scoring on their travels in all competitions (their previous away goal coming at Norwich in February), Liverpool had netted twice within 127 seconds. And Keita was the driving force behind that stunning early burst.
    If Firmino and Salah had been more clinical, the tireless Keita could have had a hat-trick of assists before Klopp replaced him with Fabinho for the final half-hour.
    “Naby was absolutely great,” beamed the Liverpool manager. “He’s getting better, step by step, game by game. It’s really cool. I am really happy about that and long may it continue.
    “When the boys stay fit then everything is fine with the quality they have. The way we play suits Naby, winning those balls, and being the coach I am I couldn’t be happier about those kind of goals. I am really grateful to see things like that.”
    Keita, making only his seventh league start of the season, made four key passes, two tackles and an interception, won 75 per cent of his duels, had a passing accuracy of 86 per cent and gained possession on seven occasions. Only Henderson (eight) managed more — and he was on the field for 20 minutes longer before being forced off late on with a knee injury.
    The captain will undergo a scan, with Klopp’s ominous assessment that “it will not be nothing” raising fears his season could be over.
    As thoughts turn to the transfer window, those links with Thiago have once again shone a light on the make-up of Liverpool’s midfield. The back five and the front three effectively pick themselves but the manager has regularly chopped and changed the identity of the trio in between.
    Georginio Wijnaldum (2,628 minutes) has played more Premier League football than any other Liverpool midfielder this season, followed by Henderson (2,244), Fabinho (1,804), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (1,347), James Milner (812), Keita (613) and Adam Lallana (374).
    In terms of output in the final third, Henderson has been the most productive in terms of both goals (four) and assists (five). For the most part though, Klopp has looked for control and discipline rather than dynamism and invention from his midfield — hence Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum being the most used combination. Liverpool have relied heavily on the creativity and potency of their full-backs and the front three.
    In games when teams have parked the bus and Klopp has sought a different approach, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain have given a more adventurous look to the midfield. However, both have endured stop-start seasons due to fitness and form and have only sporadically delivered.
    Lallana is preparing to depart as a free agent but Klopp believes that gap will be filled by the emergence of 19-year-old Curtis Jones.
    Do Liverpool need another option? Talk of Thiago has been fuelled by the knowledge he’s preparing to leave Bayern Munich this summer in search of a new challenge.
    The Athletic understands the Spain international is keen to move to the Premier League and would relish the opportunity to work with Klopp. Down to the final year of his contract, he would be available for around £30 million.
    Klopp has previously eulogised about Thiago’s talent but senior sources at Liverpool insist it’s currently unlikely that they will pursue a deal. There has been no contact with Bayern.
    “The question is whether there really is a position in the team for a player like Thiago,” former Liverpool midfielder and Bundesliga pundit Didi Hamann tells The Athletic. “The midfield is workmanlike. They get most of their creativity from other areas. In most games, they attack with five players — the full-backs and the front three.
    “The protection provided by the midfield means Liverpool are rarely caught on the counter-attack. There’s a nice balance. You don’t want to lose that balance but, for me, there should always be room for someone of the calibre of Thiago.”
    It would certainly be a transfer out of keeping with the model that has led the club to this point, given that he’s 29, has had injury problems in recent years and would command a huge salary.
    “But you could still get a very good three or four years out of him,” Hamann adds. “And with his contract situation, the fee would be relatively low. I’d be happy to get him for £25 million.
    “Thiago isn’t someone who relies on his pace. He’s smart. He uses the ball well. There were doubts about him when he first came to Bayern but in the last 18 months he’s been really good. That’s why they offered him a new contract. They don’t want to lose him.
    “He’s not a holding midfielder. Thiago is a No 8. My one criticism of him is that he doesn’t score enough goals.
    “There’s such a fear factor about Liverpool now. Teams come to Anfield and just try to frustrate them and that’s likely to get worse next season. Thiago has huge quality in terms of unlocking defences. He could be very useful. I think if there’s one area of this team that Liverpool can improve, it’s probably the midfield.”
    Yet in a summer when money is going to be tight due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liverpool appear to have bigger priorities in terms of squad depth.
    The win over Brighton once again highlighted the lack of cover on the left flank. Academy graduate Neco Williams could hold his head high after making his full Premier League debut but the gifted right-sided youngster, who was taken off at half-time after picking up a booking, isn’t a left-back.
    The balance of the team was transformed by the introduction of Andy Robertson and Liverpool require a deputy for the Scotsman.
    Similarly, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s display only reaffirmed that he is much more effective operating through the middle than being stuck out on the left of the front three. Liverpool need to ease the burden on Mane, given the current gulf in class between their elite front three and the back-up options. Then there’s the issue of centre-back cover, given the ongoing fitness issues of Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip.
    With Wijnaldum’s future uncertain having now entered the final year of his contract, Liverpool’s stance on Thiago could yet change.
    But if Keita can stay fit and continue to reach the standards he’s set since the resumption, Klopp’s midfield really will have a new dimension next season without the need to splash the cash.
     
  8. 6TimesaRed

    6TimesaRed Not a Bot.... Administrator

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    Stickied..

    I've also got an Athletic subscription..

    Might Cancel it now.

    (Joking btw)
     
  9. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Should have said. I've got referrals for the Athletic So if anyone wants a trial let me know. I'm only posting the lfc articles on here but their other sports coverage is superb
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2020
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  10. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Bloody hell, never had a thread stickied. I feel honoured!
     
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  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Powering the champions: Apple juice laced with caffeine, sea salt and cherries
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 3h ago[​IMG] 20 [​IMG]
    The last time Liverpool were crowned champions of England, legendary coach Ronnie Moran was still taking the players’ food orders.
    “There were four choices back in 1990,” former midfielder Jan Molby tells The Athletic. “It was chicken and chips, fish and chips, pie and chips or sausage and chips. Ronnie would write it all down and then, after every away game, we’d always stop off at a shop to collect our order for the journey home.
    “That was the refuelling back then. All washed down with a few bottles of beer. We’d always have a few beers on the bus.”
    How times have changed. Thirty years on, Liverpool have finally landed the big prize once again, with Jurgen Klopp saluting the contribution of the club’s head of nutrition Mona Nemmer. It’s telling how often she’s been name-checked by the manager during interviews since the title was wrapped up.
    “What Mona did food-wise and with nutrition is amazing,” he beamed. Klopp joked that his players would have starved during the COVID-19 lockdown but for the tireless efforts of Nemmer, who sent out recipes and coordinated the delivery of food packages to ensure every member of the squad had the required ingredients to make dishes tailored towards bolstering their immune system.
    “World class” is Klopp’s assessment of someone he regards as one of the most important signings of his five-year Anfield reign.
    Nemmer was recruited from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2016 along with head of fitness and conditioning Andreas Kornmayer. Together they have helped to take sports science at Melwood to the next level. They are key figures in Klopp’s marginal gains strategy, which has turned Liverpool from contenders into champions.
    [​IMG]

    Andreas Kornmayer, Mona Nemmer and first-team physiotherapist Christopher Rohrbeck with the FIFA Club World Cup in December (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    “Food is like kerosene,” remarked former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who revolutionised eating habits in English football in the 1990s. “If you put the wrong one in your car, it’s not as quick as it should be.”
    The fuel Liverpool have been running on has enabled them to blow their rivals away in establishing what is on course to be a record-breaking margin of victory in the Premier League.
    Nemmer, who oversees the club’s team of chefs, sources the finest organic — and preferably local — produce, from corn-fed chicken to Atlantic cod loins and roast venison. She redesigned the canteen at Melwood to introduce fruit, granola and yoghurt, juice and salad stations. She offers one-to-one consultations and cooking lessons to both players and their families.
    Whiteboards provide educational messages for players about the importance of hydration and stocking up on carbohydrates and protein. That’s especially important to aid recovery when there’s a quick turnaround like Saturday’s visit of Burnley following the midweek trip to Brighton.
    After games at Anfield, there are pasta and rice stations close to the home dressing room. Chicken, lamb, fish, steamed broccoli and mashed sweet potatoes with pumpkin are among the items on offer. All the sauces and dressings are made from scratch, with players having the option to take doggy bags home. Sea salt is used rather than table salt.
    Intra-squad games at Melwood have resulted in the losers having to cook cakes for the victors, with Nemmer overseeing proceedings. Molasses are used instead of sugar.
    Every player has his own individual diet plan for four meals a day based on a range of factors including his position in the team, height, body weight and ethnicity. Those who cover more distance during games, like full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, expend more energy, so need to take on board more calories.
    [​IMG]

    (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Heart rate and body-fat percentages are regularly checked, with blood tests revealing whether someone is deficient in certain nutrients, such as iron or vitamin D and in need of supplements. Nemmer receives daily updates from the coaching and the medical departments, so she can tweak a player’s plan accordingly.
    Liverpool work closely with a number of UK universities to ensure they remain at the cutting edge of nutritional developments. Research findings are put into practice, like the increased use of blueberries and morello cherries, which contain antioxidants and help protect the body from the risk of illness.
    Data collected by Liverpool John Moores University in 2017 showed that Klopp’s players expended an average of 3,566 calories a day and consumed an average of 3,789 calories on match days and 2,956 on training days. However, they weren’t taking on board enough carbs on match days. To optimise glycogen resynthesis (replenishing energy reserves in the liver and muscles), they required seven grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of their body weight but those tested only consumed 6.4 grams per kilogram. More screening was done to up carb intake on some days and reduce it on others.
    When Graeme Souness initially tried to change eating habits at Liverpool in the early 1990s, he ran into trouble. Experienced players were resistant to change as bacon and eggs on toast was taken off the Melwood breakfast menu.
    “I’d always have a cheese and ham omelette three hours before kick-off and then a cup of tea with four sugars at half-time,” Molby says. “Ian Rush’s pre-match was a medium fillet steak with baked beans. But when Graeme came in he said, ‘You can’t have that any more.’
    “Suddenly, it was all boiled fish, boiled chicken, pasta and vegetables. Graeme had spent time in Italy at Sampdoria and had gained an understanding on how it was done elsewhere.
    “He was right to do what he did but to this day, I just believe he went about it in the wrong way. He could have sat us down and explained why he was doing it and most would have nodded and understood. But we were force-fed it and players struggled to buy into it.”
    Nemmer has had no issues on that front. Players have bought into her ideas because they enjoy the quality and the choice of food on offer and can feel the benefits. They have embraced drinking fresh apple juice laced with caffeine at half-time rather than sugary snacks.
    Key to her strategy is that no one is forced to eat or banned from eating anything. The idea is that the more healthy food there is on offer, the less likely that players will miss unhealthy options. She teamed up with Liverpool executive head chef Chris Marshall to create the club’s own recipe for sourdough bread, which is on the breakfast menu.
    Before the appointment of Nemmer, Liverpool had only employed nutritionists on a consultancy basis.
    “The opportunity to create something at Liverpool Football Club was just amazing,” she told club media earlier this season. “Working so close with so many lovely people, you can feel the passion, you can feel the dedication. I think we all know that if you put love and passion into something you, in our context, can smell it or taste it.
    “In our menus and how we provide the meals, players always have to make decisions. Over the four years, we’ve installed a system where the players are always able to find something and learn for themselves what’s needed, what the body is craving for, how to organise best recovery. They are so well-trained that they know what to do.”
    A frustrating 1-1 draw with Burnley ended Liverpool’s proud run of 24 successive home league wins stretching back 18 months. When the final whistle sounded on Saturday, Nemmer and the rest of the club’s sports science staff were already focused on Wednesday’s trip to Arsenal and the task of refilling muscles with glycogen to repair and rebuild damaged tissue.
    Endurance and durability have been at the heart of Liverpool’s title triumph. Virgil van Dijk, Roberto Firmino and Alexander-Arnold have played a part in every single league fixture. Georginio Wijnaldum, Robertson, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have hardly missed a game, either.
    That is testament to the team behind the team. Nemmer is a vital cog in a well-oiled machine.
     
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  12. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Klopp spoke out because City’s escape threatens Liverpool’s entire model
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Jul 14, 2020[​IMG] 210 [​IMG]
    There was certainly no whispering from Jurgen Klopp at Melwood. The message from the title-winning Liverpool manager was loud and clear.
    “I don’t think it was a good day for football,” was his blunt assessment of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to overturn Manchester City’s two-year ban from the Champions League.
    When Pep Guardiola’s men were initially hit with the suspension by UEFA in February, Klopp picked his words carefully. Privately, there was a collective sense of satisfaction and relief within the club that the governing body had finally got tough with the alleged rule-breakers. But with the title still to be won and a City appeal pending, there was little to be gained by expressing those sentiments publicly.
    “I really feel for Pep and the players,” Klopp told the media after the narrow win against Norwich City. “What they did since I have been in England is exceptional.”
    His tone was very different on Tuesday as he spoke to the media before Wednesday’s trip to Arsenal. The gloves were off.
    Klopp spoke passionately about the potential impact of City’s punishment being overturned and why financial fair play (FFP) rules must be upheld for the good of the game.
    He also admitted that, on the face of it, City playing in Europe next season could actually help Liverpool when it comes to trying to retain the Premier League title, saying he’d feared that if Guardiola only had domestic football to contend with then “I don’t see any chances for any other teams”.
    But this goes much deeper than the fixture list. For Klopp and Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG), this is about the ongoing battle to ensure it’s a level playing field in the race of the biggest honours. That all members of Europe’s elite abide by the rules regarding expenditure and that those who fail to do so are punished accordingly.
    “I think FFP is a good idea,” Klopp said. “It’s there for protecting teams and protecting competition so that nobody overspends. Clubs have to make sure that the money they want to spend is based on the right sources.”
    If you lose FFP, Klopp said, then “nobody has to care any more. The richest people or countries can do whatever they want in football. That would make the competition really difficult.
    “It is a little bit like Formula One — if you open the door (to competing in F1) to a private jet and you see who is quicker, the aeroplane will win. If the car is in a specific way, then the best driver wins.
    “If you qualify for the Champions League, you have more money. Since I have been at Liverpool, it was always the most important thing that we qualify for the Champions League for money reasons. If we wanted to buy a player, we had to sell before. That is how it is.
    “I am not worried about Liverpool in this sense, I don’t think, ‘Oh my God, what can we do?’ But I am really happy we won the championship this year because it will not be easier in the future.”
    Empowered by the CAS verdict, Guardiola went on the offensive himself, demanding an apology from UEFA and criticising “whispering” Premier League bosses for speaking “behind our backs”. Yet the Spaniard’s suggestion that a traditional giant of English football such as Liverpool is “uncomfortable” with City’s emergence as a major force spectacularly misses the point.
    For FSG, this has always been about fairness rather than trying to protect the established order. After all, either side of the £300 million takeover nearly a decade ago, Liverpool finished seventh, sixth, eighth and seventh from 2010-13. Liverpool had fallen out of the elite themselves and had a fight on their hands to clamber back in.
    It was UEFA that decided to introduce the FFP rules that helped convince John W Henry and Tom Werner to buy Liverpool. FSG was never going to bankroll Liverpool in the same manner as Roman Abramovich at Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. It was attracted by the prospect of clubs having to operate within their means and the challenge of gradually reviving Liverpool’s fortunes by raising revenues across the board.
    To say FSG has felt repeatedly let down by how those rules have been enforced would be an understatement.
    When Manchester City stood accused of financial doping after unveiling a £400 million sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways in 2011, Henry tweeted: “How much was the losing bid?” Etihad Airways was chaired at the time by Sheikh Mansour’s half-brother.
    “The biggest challenge for us has been the ignoring of financial fair play,” Henry said in 2014. “It makes it very difficult to compete. We really don’t have financial fair play, or at least people are not abiding by it.” When City were fined £17 million (with a further £32 million suspended) for FFP breaches a few weeks later, FSG viewed it as a pitiful slap on the wrist.
    Liverpool were themselves cleared of breaking FFP rules in 2015 after UEFA accepted that £49.6 million had been spent on stadium costs. FSG had to effectively write off £35 million due to the ditched plans of the club’s previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
    After German newspaper Der Spiegel published damaging claims about how City had allegedly manipulated sponsorship deals and masked payments from their owners, Liverpool privately welcomed news of UEFA’s investigation. Their name was among the long list of clubs who contacted the Premier League asking them to look into City’s conduct further.
    “It’s no secret that we are big supporters of financial fair play,” Werner told The Athletic last summer. “We believe it makes sport and on-pitch performance more competitive. UEFA must be successful in implementing it. If there are infringements then we would expect punishments. Everyone should abide by those rules in a very transparent way.”
    The two-year Champions League ban issued to City in February was viewed at FSG as UEFA finally baring its teeth. Now there’s a sense of dismay over CAS lifting that suspension and reducing the fine from €30 million to €10 million. CAS cleared City of “disguising equity funds as sponsorship contributions” but found they had “failed to co-operate with UEFA authorities”.
    The Athletic understands that Liverpool’s owners were left stunned by Monday’s decision and are awaiting the publication of the full report with interest. They believed that City had broken the rules and would be punished accordingly. They continue to view FFP as critical to a fair sporting competition.
    For Liverpool, there’s frustration that UEFA was undone to a degree by City’s legal team and its own regulations, with CAS saying part of the reason for its verdict was that some alleged breaches occurred more than five years ago, so were deemed inadmissible. “Most of the alleged breaches reported by the adjudicatory chamber of the CFCB (UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body) were either not established or time-barred,” it said.
    Relations between Liverpool and City have become increasingly strained in recent years. At the end of last season, Guardiola’s players were filmed mocking Liverpool as they passed the Premier League trophy around the plane flying them back to Manchester after the final day win at Brighton that ensured they pipped their rivals to the title.
    To the tune of the Kop anthem “Allez Allez Allez”, they sang the version adopted by City fans.
    “All the way to Kyiv, to end up in defeat, crying in the stands and battered on the streets, Kompany injured Salah, victims of it all, Sterling won the double, the Scousers won fuck all…”
    Anfield officials were equally stunned by the lack of contrition that followed in a statement issued by City, before Guardiola belatedly apologised.
    Since then, Liverpool have won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and their first league title in 30 years. Trying to extend that run of success won’t be easy in the wake of CAS’s verdict.
    Rather than City facing the prospect of key personnel wanting to leave following the loss of Champions League football, Guardiola is instead expected to embark on a major spending spree this summer to try to reclaim their Premier League crown.
    FFP rules are being temporarily relaxed by UEFA because of the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the contrasting business models between Liverpool and City will once again be laid bare. With revenue streams at Anfield having been decimated by the crisis, Klopp is expecting a quiet summer transfer window with the club unlikely to make any major signings.
    The impact of the pandemic led to Liverpool deciding not to pursue a £54 million deal for Timo Werner, who subsequently signed for Chelsea. Liverpool felt they couldn’t justify that kind of outlay in the current climate for a player who would not initially have commanded a place in their starting XI.
    “Strengthening the squad, you talk about like it is something I just have to ask for and somebody opens the well and away we go,” Klopp added when asked on Tuesday. “To strengthen the squad you need money, and these are uncertain times.
    “We did not invest a lot in the squad last year and that was before COVID. We do not know when supporters will be back in the stadium. Whoever knows, tell me and then we can plan with that. That is how the club has been led since before I was here. If we have money, we will spend. If we do not know if we will have money, we probably will not spend that much.”
    Since the start of the 2010-11 season, City have spent £1.39 billion in the transfer market, with a net spend of £960 million. Over the same period, Liverpool have spent £915 million with a net spend of £267 million.
    The new Premier League champions have bought well and they have sold even better. The £142 million sale of Philippe Coutinho in January 2018, which effectively paid for the signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, is the best example of that.
    FSG hoped financial fair play would help its mission to restore the club to the summit of English football, with Klopp leading the charge. But despite achieving that goal, the feeling persists that they aren’t all playing by the same set of rules. Hence the manager’s strong declaration that Monday was not a good day for football.
    Liverpool have scaled the mountain, but Klopp knows that staying there will be much tougher on the back of Manchester City’s reprieve.
     
  13. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Klopp is a fan but can Oxlade-Chamberlain ever be one of his first picks?
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce 1h ago[​IMG] 28 [​IMG]
    If money was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s motivation, he never would have ventured north to Merseyside. Arsenal were prepared to pay him £180,000 a week if he committed to a new contract back in 2017. Chelsea offered him the chance of a convenient move across the capital for even greater riches. It was ambition, rather than thoughts about his bank balance which convinced him to step out of his comfort zone and join Liverpool for a fee of £35 million.
    The England international, who had entered the final year of his deal, was frustrated with life at the Emirates. He felt that things had gone stale. He was unhappy with being continually shifted around by Arsene Wenger to fill gaps, rather than being played in the central midfield role he craved.
    Oxlade-Chamberlain had watched from afar with a degree of envy as Jurgen Klopp revived Liverpool’s fortunes and helped a host of players realise their full potential. Having received glowing recommendations about working with Klopp from England team-mates Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, he wanted his development to receive a similar shot in the arm. He chose Liverpool because he wanted to become an integral part of a team capable of winning silverware.
    Three years on, Oxlade-Chamberlain returned to the Emirates on Wednesday night as a Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Premier League winner. He was applauded on to the field by the club he left behind.
    His decision has certainly been vindicated, given that Arsenal have been trophyless since he moved on — stumbling from Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery and now Mikel Arteta — yet Oxlade-Chamberlain’s battle to truly carve out a niche for himself in Klopp’s side remains a work in progress.
    Since the Premier League restart, he has started just three of the champions’ seven games and he was taken off after an hour against Arsenal, with the manager looking elsewhere for inspiration as they tried in vain to repair the damage done by rare errors from Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, which were punished by Alexandre Lacazette and Reiss Nelson respectively following Sadio Mane’s opener.
    Oxlade-Chamberlain’s tally of 85 appearances for Liverpool includes just 45 starts and he has been substituted on 35 occasions. Convincing Klopp he can last the pace has been an ongoing issue. He hasn’t completed 90 minutes in the Premier League all season. The 26-year-old has also had to accept playing out wide and doing a job for the team at times, despite clearly looking happier and more effective when operating through the middle. Only 25 of his 41 outings in all competitions this season have been in a central role.
    On a personal level, life at Liverpool has been full of ups and downs for Oxlade-Chamberlain. There was the difficult start to his first season when he had to wait until November to make his full Premier League debut for the club as Klopp sought tactical adjustments from him on the training ground.

    Then, the penny dropped and he blossomed. Powerful and direct, he gave Liverpool’s midfield a new dimension with his driving runs and ability to exploit small pockets of space. There was the stunning piledriver in the Champions League quarter-final triumph over Manchester City before his world was rocked by the serious knee injury he suffered in a challenge with Aleksandar Kolarov in the semi-final against Roma at Anfield.
    “We will wait for Alex like a good wife when a man is in prison,” Klopp vowed shortly after Oxlade-Chamberlain underwent surgery.
    There was the image of him on crutches and in floods of tears amid the heartbreak of defeat to Real Madrid in the final in Kiev. The rehab was gruelling and lonely but Oxlade-Chamberlain enhanced his standing among players and staff alike with how he faced those dark days at Melwood.
    [​IMG]

    Oxlade-Chamberlain watches on in Kiev during the Champions League defeat to Real Madrid (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
    His charity work for Zoe’s Place, a Liverpool children’s hospice, helped to provide a sense of perspective. He was also indebted to the support of pop star girlfriend Perrie Edwards. After 367 days on the sidelines, there was an emotional return to action against Huddersfield Town as Anfield welcomed him back. The 2018-19 season was effectively a write-off, with Oxlade-Chamberlain making just two substitute appearances, and he didn’t feature in the Champions League final victory over Tottenham.
    When he was handed a new contract by Liverpool last August, it was a symbolic and classy gesture. They were effectively giving him back the year that he had lost, with a 12-month extension tying him to the club until the summer of 2023. This season, he has rallied. His form earned him a return to the England fold as he was trusted by Klopp to start in both the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup triumphs.
    He lit up the Luminus Arena with a classy double against Genk in the group stage of the Champions League back in October. But even on that night, Klopp wanted more from him in terms of his work off the ball.
    “Ox’s performance was exactly like the performance of the team: the goals were great but all the rest could have been better,” was the manager’s assessment. “Finding your flow and your rhythm again is not too easy.”
    Assistant coach Pep Lijnders spoke about how Liverpool had seen “glimpses” of the “completely different dynamic” that Oxlade-Chamberlain provides. Nine months on, that statement still stands. Real consistency has eluded him.
    With seven goals and one assist in all competitions, he’s Liverpool’s fourth-top scorer behind Klopp’s established front three this season. It’s been his most prolific campaign since he netted nine times for Southampton as a teenager in 2010-11.

    But Oxlade-Chamberlain, who hasn’t added to his account since early February, doesn’t need telling that there’s still plenty of room for improvement. He’s his own biggest critic and hasn’t been able to hide his feelings at times, most noticeably when he took his frustration on a seat after being substituted against Manchester United at Anfield.
    He later confirmed that his issue was with “not doing as much as I’d like when I’m on” rather than Klopp’s decision to take him off. “I still need to do more. Quality-wise, I was a bit disappointed with myself,” he told the media after scoring in the win at West Ham United in January.
    Klopp has urged him not to be so hard on himself. There was a public show of support when the topic of Liverpool’s squad depth came up last week.
    “Oxlade-Chamberlain, if he’s not in your first XI; he played incredible games for this club. He won (the game) pretty much alone against City a year or so ago,” Klopp said. “He’s not a worse footballer since then. It’s just not easy always to be there.”
    The reality is that few would name Oxlade-Chamberlain in the champions’ first-choice XI. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum has been Klopp’s favoured midfield combination en route to Premier League glory.
    However, there is no doubt that Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth persevering with. “I like him. He’s a flair player, who gives them something different,” declared former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness from the Sky Sports studio prior to Wednesday’s game. “He’s got great quality but I’m still waiting for him to put a real run of games together.”
    It didn’t start at the Emirates. There were moments of promise but at times, his touch and his decision-making let him down. Once again, when Klopp rang the changes early in the second half, the No 15 went up on the board.
    Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a decent asset for Liverpool — both on and off the field. But his mission to take the leap from versatile, valuable squad option to being a mainstay of the team will continue into next season.
     
  14. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Milan Jovanovic: Hodgson’s Liverpool, rejecting Real and a Neighbours shoutout
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Jul 18, 2020[​IMG] 60 [​IMG]
    A decade has passed since Milan Jovanovic proudly stepped on to the turf at Anfield for his unveiling. Holding up a Liverpool scarf, he was joined for the official photocall by fellow summer signings Joe Cole and Danny Wilson, alongside new manager Roy Hodgson.
    The Serbian attacker had arrived on a free transfer from Standard Liege. He had a spring in his step after becoming a national hero a month earlier when he scored the winner against Germany at the World Cup in South Africa.
    Jovanovic told the assembled media in July 2010 that he had joined “one of the biggest clubs in the world” and set his sights on winning silverware. However, the dream move he talked about soon turned into a nightmare.
    Liverpool were in a state of upheaval — both on and off the field. Hodgson dragged them down even further before Kenny Dalglish was tasked with reviving their fortunes. Jovanovic couldn’t help stop the rot and he barely featured in the resurgence.
    After just one season and 18 appearances, he returned to play in Belgium without a Premier League goal to his name. He won back-to-back titles with Anderlecht before retiring at the age of 32 in 2013. He has kept a low profile since.
    “I’m glad that someone from Liverpool remembered me and wanted to speak,” he tells The Athletic from his holiday home in the stunning surroundings of the Tara mountain in western Serbia. “I’m aware that my career there was modest but I’m proud that I played for such a big club and every single minute I spent in that jersey I gave my best.
    “Ten years! I feel a little sad that the time has gone so fast. It feels like one single moment. Ten years since the World Cup and signing for Liverpool — two of the most important things I did in my career. Honestly, playing for Liverpool was my biggest achievement. I’m just sorry that I stayed for such a short period and that I didn’t leave a bigger mark there.
    “I want to say thank you to the fans who were always very supportive and I want to send my regards to Liverpool, the great city and the great people. I want to congratulate the people in the club for the big success they have enjoyed this season. I really hope they can keep it up because I’m still a fan.”
    The image of Jovanovic alongside Cole, Wilson and Hodgson is often used to underline just how far Liverpool had fallen. It was the summer when a debt-ridden club, in crisis following the departure of Rafael Benitez, also signed Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky.
    [​IMG]

    Jovanovic joins Wilson, Hodgson and Cole in a photo that would become of symbol of the manager’s ill-fated reign (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Jovanovic was written off as a flop who was simply out of his depth at Anfield. But this was a man who had been crowned footballer of the year in Belgium and had turned down Real Madrid the year before Liverpool came calling.
    With a civil war raging in the boardroom and star players desperately trying to secure moves elsewhere, it was hardly the perfect environment to flourish for someone adjusting to a new country and a new language.
    Jovanovic doesn’t look for excuses but, over 70 minutes, he’s engaging company as he reflects on his time at Anfield, the turmoil behind the scenes and life since hanging up his boots.
    The first issue facing him at Liverpool was that the manager who signed him had already left by the time he arrived. It was February 2010 when he met with Benitez and agreed a three-year deal starting that summer. With money tight, he had been recommended to Benitez by Liverpool’s chief scout Eduardo Macia.
     
  15. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    There was also interest from AC Milan, Juventus and Valencia as he entered the final months of his contract with Standard Liege but Jovanovic’s mind was made up.
    “Many big clubs followed me that year but I made a decision after speaking to Rafa on a visit to Melwood,” he says. “Rafa said that he had serious plans for me and that he wanted me to play on the left side. It wasn’t really a hard choice when such a big club and such a great coach wanted me. If Rafa had stayed as the coach, I do think my adaptation period would have been shorter and all would have been easier for me.”
    Born in the Serbian town of Bajina Basta, Jovanovic started his career at Vojvodina in the city of Novi Sad. He then had spells with Shakhtar Donetsk and Lokomotiv Moscow before moving to Standard Liege in 2006. Across four seasons, he scored an impressive tally of 69 goals in 153 appearances and established himself as a firm fans’ favourite. He won two league titles and two Belgian Super Cups.
    Jovanovic could have joined Real Madrid in 2009 but decided to stay put. “Yeah, it’s true,” he says. “Predrag Mijatovic was sporting director of Real. We spoke but I didn’t like the length of the contract. It was too short and that was the decisive factor. I wanted a longer contract to have peace and security. I never regret that decision.”
    He top-scored for Serbia in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and then famously slammed home the only goal in the group stage game against Germany in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Jovanovic’s jubilant celebration saw him vault over the advertising hoardings and end up in the moat surrounding the pitch.
    “After that World Cup I went to Liverpool full of confidence,” he says. “I was sure that my career would keep going up after that. How could I forget that celebration! But I can’t get all the credit because we wouldn’t have got that victory without Vladimir Stojkovic’s penalty save and (winger) Milos Krasic playing probably the best match of his career.
    “We should have gone through to the knockout stages. We had so many chances against Australia (Serbia were beaten 2-1). We were better than them in all aspects but luck was missing. Some will say it was destiny, some that it was god’s will, cosmic balance or whatever, but some things have to align for that to happen.
    “In that team we also had Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Neven Subotic and many other great players. In the best years, we deserved more. A lot of credit has to go to Radomir Antic as he made us a real team. All of us respected and appreciated him so much.
    “He made logical, fair, honest decisions. He gave everyone equal importance. He is the personification of everything we made in the national team. But I’ve got to say, it’s kind of disappointing that the win against Germany is still our biggest win 10 years later. That says a lot about our generation.”
    Jovanovic, who was 29 by the time he joined Liverpool, started for his new club on the opening weekend of the Premier League season against Arsenal at Anfield. He played on the left of a frontline that also included Dirk Kuyt and David N’Gog.
    [​IMG]

    (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Cole was sent off for a lunge on Laurent Koscielny but N’Gog fired Hodgson’s 10 men in front. They were seconds away from a morale-boosting victory when Pepe Reina spilt the ball into his own net late on.
    “That game is one of my happiest memories at Liverpool,” Jovanovic said. “I was out there starting alongside Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt. Fernando Torres came off the bench.
    “I remember that it was the only game I played with Javier Mascherano. He left for Barcelona soon after. I was so proud of myself after that game. I had big personal expectations and thought that games like that would become routine for me.”
    Instead, as performances and results nosedived, his opportunities dried up. There were angry protests from supporters against owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett with patience for Hodgson in short supply.
    When Jovanovic finally got off the mark in a League Cup tie against Northampton Town at Anfield in late September, his contribution was forgotten amid the furious backlash which followed Liverpool’s humiliating exit at the hands of the League Two side.
    Another home defeat to Blackpool in the Premier League left them in the bottom three with just six points out of a possible 21. Hodgson was openly talking about the prospect of a relegation battle.
    “In England, I learned about the relationship between the crowd and fair play, and loyalty to clubs, especially towards Liverpool,” Jovanovic says. “Of course there would be boos at times but Anfield was always full. They always showed their love towards the club.
    “I can’t say anything bad against Hodgson. He treated me well from the start, always correctly, and behaved like a gentleman. He wasn’t the biggest obstacle of my career because some blame has to be on me.
    “In England, it’s a very specific league. Some players much better than me had a tough time adapting and needed more time. I just needed more time. But I didn’t have any extra credit and in those situations, you need a lot of things to go your way for the puzzle to be perfect. I played some very good games. I still have the English media reports in my house in Novi Sad. It wasn’t just me, others thought I played well.”
    Away from the pitch, there was little sense of spirit or camaraderie in Hodgson’s squad.
    “No, we didn’t hang out or spend time together after training and matches,” Jovanovic says. “There weren’t any organised lunches, drinks or something like that. I wasn’t that close with the others.
    “My communication with all of them, before and during training or when we were travelling to away matches, was good but I didn’t feel anything special. There wasn’t any warmth between us. I lived in a peaceful part of Liverpool, surrounded by parks, with my family. I spent my spare time at home.”
    Did all the unrest and problems off the field with the owners contribute to bad results on it?
    “It was a period of big transition,” he says. “But I’m not sure that it influenced the games. For a club as big as Liverpool it’s unimaginable that players feel issues like that. For the results, the blame is always on the players and the staff.
    “But when things like that happen, then the people who end up paying for it are mostly the new players. My impression is that Liverpool at that time needed to play more offensively. We also needed a bit of luck at times.
    “I remember the match against Everton at Goodison Park when we lost. Hodgson was sad when he came in the dressing room after but he told us that he knew that we had given our best and that football wasn’t fair towards us that day.”
    That Merseyside derby was Liverpool’s first game under the ownership of Fenway Sports Group (then known as New England Sports Ventures). Sitting in the Goodison directors’ box, the eyes of John W Henry and Tom Werner were opened to the size of the task they had taken on following the completion of their £300 million takeover.
    A wretched 2-0 defeat left Liverpool only off the bottom of the table on goal difference. Hodgson limped on before he was finally sacked early in the new year.
    A cloud was lifted by the appointment of Dalglish. Jovanovic, who had scored his second goal for the club in a Europa League draw with Steaua Bucharest, hoped for a fresh start under the legendary Scot.
    He was picked to start Dalglish’s first league game back in charge away to Blackpool but struggled and Liverpool were beaten 2-1. He was immediately cast aside — making just one substitute outing against Wigan Athletic during the rest of the season.
    “Kenny is a club legend and he has that status with fans and players. I was honoured to meet him and work with him,” he says. “He gave me a chance immediately and if we had won that game, things might have been different. Kenny may have kept the same team. Those are the moments that can make a difference. Coaches form opinions and get their own impressions about what happened and it can affect a player.
    “By then, the media were asking questions about whether I should leave the club and that put huge pressure on me. It felt like an unbelievable thing would need to happen for things to turn around.
    “A player can’t just forget to play football like that. I played against that same Everton team when I was with Standard and we knocked them out of Europe. We were better than them.
    “I played really well for the national team and showed my qualities. I didn’t forget how to play, it’s just that the circumstances were different at Liverpool. But I’ll always say that part of the responsibility for that is on me.”
    With Dalglish lifting Liverpool to a sixth-placed finish and being rewarded with the job on longer-term basis, Jovanovic remained out of favour and decided to move on. He hasn’t been back to Merseyside in the nine years since he packed his bags and headed to the airport.
    “After that second part of the season, I had to find a rational solution to extend my career,” he says. “If I had been 25, I would definitely have stayed and fought for my place in Liverpool, like I did always in my life and I believe I would have had success. But I was 30 and needed to play.
    “Newcastle called me and I could have stayed in the Premier League but I turned them down. With all due respect towards them, if I couldn’t find my spot and leave a trace in Liverpool, I didn’t want to go one step down in England.
    “I wanted to sign for a club that had winning ambitions and played in the Champions League. The Belgian league is not as strong as the Premier League, but Anderlecht is a big club too. They are called Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht. They have incredible organisation and the social status of the players who play for them is extraordinary.”
    His admirers included a scriptwriter for Australian TV soap Neighbours. In an episode in late 2011, fictional character Andrew Robinson referred to Jovanovic as “one of the greatest soccer players in the world”.
    “No, I didn’t hear about that. I don’t know that show,” he says with a mix of surprise and delight. “But I do know that back in 2010, I was picked by the media in an ideal team based on qualification games for the World Cup. I’m very proud of that. I don’t know exactly what parameters they used but it means a lot to me that I was chosen.”
    Jovanovic certainly finished his career on a high with successive title triumphs in Belgium. He scored 24 goals in 90 games as Anderlecht won successive championships. Then at the age of 32, he decided to walk away from football.
    “I had an option in my contract that if we won the title, my contract would get extended for one more season but I decided not to use it,” he says. “I was the league MVP. I scored eight goals, that might sound modest, but I also had 14 assists in the league. They were all from open play, not set-pieces. Those numbers surprised everyone, even my closest family members.
    “Before my generation, Standard had been waiting 25 years for the title and they haven’t won it since we won two in a row. Anderlecht have also been struggling. I’m not trying to imply it’s because of me, one player can never do anything alone, but I was part of a great generation at both clubs.”
    He could have enjoyed a swan-song in his homeland or a lucrative move to the Far East. Why did he retire relatively young? “Red Star and Partizan both wanted me in Belgrade. Radomir Antic called me to come with him to China and I had some calls from Bundesliga clubs,” he reveals. “Should I have played more? Yes, definitely. I should have played for three or four more years. I felt perfect physically. I feel great even now and I am a similar weight to when I retired seven years ago.
    “Maybe I made a hasty call but the truth is I made it more because of psychological exhaustion. I had taken a lot of different paths in my career. I’d had eight surgeries.
    “Your brain notices all those stresses and everything that happens to you and in the end, your brain just gives you the bill and says that it might be better to go on with life without one thing that is so important. So, I just said that’s enough.”
    In the seven years since he stopped playing, Jovanovic has enjoyed the quiet life. Moving into coaching or management never appealed to him. Occasionally he works as a pundit on Serbian TV, as he did for Liverpool’s 2019 Champions League final triumph over Tottenham.
    “When the team is winning, the credit goes to the players. When the team is losing, it’s the fault of the coach,” he says. “You have to take care of many different players, their characters, their private lives, it’s very hard. I don’t have that ambition. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. I tried working as a scout but that part of football isn’t very clean with all the money involved in football.
    “The beautiful thing is to watch those 22 players on the grass. All the other things that surround it are things that I, as an athlete, don’t like. I still miss playing, it’s my love. I still play with my boys and five-a-side with my friends. Sometimes Milos Krasic plays with us too. It’s even harder to play as you never stop running with five-a-side.”
    [​IMG]

    Jovanovic with his three sons
    Jovanovic lives in Novi Sad with wife Natasa and their three sons Lazar, 13, Dusan, 12, and Milos, eight. They have moved south for the summer to their second home on the Tara mountain in the tranquil surroundings of the Tara National Park.
    All three boys are in the academy at Vojvodina, the club where their father started his career. They wear the Liverpool shirts he bought them with pride and are dreaming of following in his footsteps.
    “Here on Tara, we have a field with artificial grass and the conditions are awesome for them to train during the holidays with the air so clean,” he says. “Even if they don’t become professional players, the biggest benefit for us as parents is that we raised them in the sporting spirit to shape their character and to live a healthy life.
    “They’re very talented and ambitious with great potential. They have good coaches and I’m giving them some advice. I told them that their motivation should be that one day they could play for one of their favourite clubs.
    “My older two boys went to kindergarten in Liverpool and have some good memories from there, they remember it. Lazar loves Mo Salah and Dusan likes Gini Wijnaldum, he plays in midfield like him. My youngest, Milos, prefers Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar.”
    The Jovanovics sit down together to watch Jurgen Klopp’s side in action. His sons are in awe of the fact their dad played in front of the Kop. The contrast between the club he joined in July 2010 and the club crowned Premier League champions 10 years on could hardly be greater.
    “Football is a religion for the people in Liverpool and after waiting 30 years for the title I am so happy for them. They showed such loyalty and patience,” he says. “Liverpool are the biggest club in England and they have lots of fans here in Serbia. In my house, we are fans of Liverpool and we cheer for Anderlecht and Standard too.
    “For me, last year Mo Salah was the best player and this year it’s been Sadio Mane. Klopp did some incredible things. First of all, he is a great man. If you want players to respect you, you have to make fair decisions and that’s what Jurgen has been doing. He’s charismatic, not a classic German who is always frowning, but he brought German discipline.
    “If people from the club could send me the new, original Nike jerseys, I will let them know the kids’ sizes and I’ll pay for them of course. That would mean a lot to them. My boys are watching the games all the time and understand a lot about football. We talk about the game on the same level.
    “In life, as in sport, you need some things to align and a bit of luck. Maybe their success can be compensation for all that I went through. But more than anything I want them to be happy and healthy.”
     
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  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    How Chelsea usurped Liverpool. And how Liverpool fought back
    Simon Hughes Jul 20, 2020[​IMG] 57 [​IMG]
    When Roman Abramovich turned up to his first competitive match as a football club owner, he was stopped by the doormen at Anfield’s boardroom. Around his neck was a lanyard, which confirmed his accreditation. Not around his neck was a tie. It says much about the way things were at Liverpool, where longstanding traditions were followed, that one of the richest men in the world and soon to be foremost influences in the game was held back because he did not look like he was there on business.
    “There was a kerfuffle with stewards,” Rick Parry, Liverpool’s former chief executive, explained in 2018. “David (Moores, then chairman) went over and told them to let him in but Abramovich was full of apologies, saying something like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise; I’ll find a tie’, which one of his people went and got from somewhere very quickly. In fairness, he was quite decent about it, he didn’t say, ‘I’m not following your rules’. He tried to adapt. He seemed quite humble, smiled, but he didn’t say very much. He certainly didn’t appear arrogant – though after that game, he didn’t come very often.”
    The period is the most significant in Chelsea’s modern history. The ripple effect of Abramovich’s arrival in football was dramatic and it also, to a large degree, explains Liverpool’s path ever since: a club who were trying to catch up to Manchester United and Arsenal but suddenly had a new, more aggressive, competitor, meaning they would have to think and act differently or risk falling further behind. This was five years before Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City and shifted football’s money table again.
    In 2003, Moores was Liverpool’s principal owner and he had already agonised over whether he was the person to take the club forward. He was sensitive and would get upset if he ever read a negative letter about him in the Liverpool Echo. He was a wealthy man but not in Abramovich’s league. When the Moores family’s Littlewoods retail company was sold in 2002 – a year before Abramovich bought Chelsea – it went for £750 million. Considering Abramovich’s resources have reduced in the 17 or 18 years since and at the start of 2020 he was worth £12 billion, you can understand why Moores’ anxieties about what he was up against increased.
    Within six months, Moores had decided it was time to sell Liverpool. Considering the club’s potential and history, it seems incredible that the sale was not completed until three years later. Due to delays, false promises made by prospective buyers and the necessity to finance materials for a new stadium, this sent Moores and Liverpool hurtling towards an agreement with George Gillett and Tom Hicks, whose reign was brief and catastrophic.
    It proved to be a sequence of events that contributed enormously towards Liverpool’s slide on the pitch and it has taken the club, under a second round of new stewardship, almost a decade to wrestle the initiative back towards something anywhere near like it was before an unshaven Abramovich got the knock-back at Anfield’s board room.

    “People forget, Chelsea were a bit of a pest,” Roy Evans told me in 2014.
    The former Liverpool manager was describing the pressure he started to feel when other clubs – but particularly Chelsea – started signing exciting foreign footballers. That was when the conversation really ramped up about Liverpool’s place on football’s map.
    Before a visit to Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup fourth round tie in January 1997, Liverpool were top of the Premier League and believing that a first title in seven years was not far away. Confidence oozed in a first half performance which saw them open a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes, with goals from Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. Yet the final score that day was Chelsea 4 Liverpool 2. In the second half, Gianfranco Zola equalised then Gianluca Vialli scored twice.
    While Chelsea would end that season as FA Cup winners, Liverpool slumped to a fourth-place finish – another trophyless campaign despite promise. The conversations about Liverpool’s capacity to deliver when it mattered centred around the personality of the team, and this involved concentration levels. Professionalism at other clubs was supposedly improving because of the arrival of experienced foreigners such as Zola and Vialli. In that 4-2 cup victory, Chelsea also had Roberto Di Matteo, Frank Leboeuf and Dan Petrescu in the starting XI. For Liverpool, much of the hope fell on Bjorn Tore Kvarme, a recent recruit from Rosenborg of Norway. Could he solve the team’s defensive problems? He and fellow Norwegian Stig Inge Bjornebye (you can include Birkenhead’s Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer at a push) were the only non-Brits in Liverpool’s starting XI that day.
    Evans admired Fiorentina’s Gabriel Batistuta as well as Alen Boksic of Juventus and the way he spoke about the two centre-forwards, you could tell he’d watched them closely. Ajax’s Jari Litmanen was another he attempted to sign, because he felt Liverpool relied too heavily on Steve McManaman’s creativity and wanted someone else who could help link the midfield with the attack. Yet he was never tempted to emulate what he called a “Chelsea-type” signing just for the sake of it.
    “I didn’t want to go and get someone just to put more bums on seats — we filled Anfield anyway,” he explained. “You saw (Ruud) Gullit and Vialli (go to Chelsea), they were both well into their thirties and cost a lot of money. How long did Chelsea get out of them? If the chance had come to sign an older player – maybe in his late twenties, like Teddy (Sheringham) – I would have done it. But I wasn’t someone who wanted to fill the place full of foreigners. I thought there was enough talent in this country at the time.”
    Attendances had shot up at Stamford Bridge because of the club’s new and exciting recruitment drive. At the end of the 1995-96 season, the average home gate was 25,598. By the time Abramovich bought the club, it had risen to 39,781. In the corresponding period, crowds at Anfield had risen also but much less sharply, from 39,605 to 43,243.
    Matchday revenues in this period were not defining but they did have a major impact on possibilities in the transfer market. Chelsea, indeed, had almost caught up with Liverpool by 1998 – that summer, both clubs tried to sign new World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, who decided he’d prefer to live in London.
    Evans stressed that the relationship between Liverpool and Chelsea had shifted quietly before Abramovich’s arrival in England, emphasising that Chelsea’s increased capacity to compete with Liverpool in the transfer market and the greater desire of foreign players to move to the capital rather than a major provincial city impacted on the mood across Merseyside. It was around that point Evans stopped listening to the phone-ins on the drive home to Ormskirk, even after games Liverpool won. “The ones who complained had the loudest voices and they always seemed to want a sexy foreign name,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, what Chelsea were doing featured in the conversation.”
    On the pitch, Chelsea were now competing with Liverpool, who did not win a trophy of any kind between 1995 and 2001 – a period in which Chelsea lifted two FA Cups, a League Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup. There were nevertheless limits to Chelsea’s growth and this was largely down to the size of Stamford Bridge, a stadium with just over half the capacity of Manchester United’s Old Trafford. It later became clear that Chelsea’s spending post-2000 was reliant on Champions League qualification and that without that, the club was in trouble.
    Had Liverpool, now under Gerard Houllier, held on to another lead at Stamford Bridge — 1-0 this time — on the final day of the 2002-03 season, they would have qualified for European football’s elite competition at Chelsea’s expense. Instead, inside 17 first-half minutes, Chelsea had seized control of the match and finished fourth, avoiding financial turmoil by a whisker.
    Without Champions League football featuring on Chelsea’s schedule the following season, Rick Parry is not alone in wondering whether Abramovich would have overlooked what was happening in west London and decided to spend his money elsewhere.
    “I had no concept of how important Abramovich would become, or even the immediate significance of his investment,” Parry admitted. “Why would an oligarch or billionaire have any interest in football, particularly a football club from a country that wasn’t his own? The mega-mega-rich buying football clubs was still new. At this stage, someone wealthy with an interest in football was Jack Walker at Blackburn.
    “This took it onto a whole new level.”

    In the 33 seasons before Abramovich, Chelsea had only twice finished above Liverpool – and each of those occasions were in two of the previous four campaigns before the start of 2003-04.
    Both his impact and Liverpool’s toil between owners who failed and owners in Fenway Sports Group who have taken the long route back to the top, have meant that in 11 of the 17 seasons since Abramovich’s arrival, Chelsea have finished higher.
    In the same period, Chelsea have been above Manchester United at the end of eight seasons. Back in 2003, United were the club to beat and those in charge at Liverpool were confident of catching them.
    Parry outlined the challenge in front of him by acknowledging Liverpool did not have the resources of United “but at least we knew what the resources were”, which mainly came from the income they generated. Parry believed that if Liverpool could build a new stadium and increase revenues, it would be easier to compete with United.
    “It was more of a level playing field, to that extent,” he reflected. “Then, all of a sudden: wham, here comes Abramovich. It was back to the drawing board because we had to stop and think about the long-term impact of a new rival with unlimited funds.”
    The new-found negotiating positions of Liverpool and Chelsea were reflected by the transfer of Damien Duff. His club, Blackburn Rovers, had finished one place and four points behind Liverpool in 2003. Twelve months earlier, Liverpool had tried to sign the winger but the maximum they could afford was £12 million. Blackburn did not want to sell because they did not need the money and, in the meantime, Duff agreed a new contract.
    Parry and Houllier knew that Duff was a Liverpool supporter and hoped that they’d eventually be able to win him around. His new contract had a £17 million buyout clause, which proved in Parry’s words: “just about the least helpful thing that could happen,” because Chelsea paid it straight away, making Duff the club’s most expensive signing in a groundbreaking summer where they also bought established players from United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
    “Immediately we were thinking, ‘Oh no – is this how it’s going to be from now on?’,” Parry recalled. “There was going to be one market for Chelsea and another for the rest of us.”

     
  17. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    In the Premier League’s new world, where oligarchs and sheikhs compete against US investment firms for titles, Liverpool’s rivalry with Manchester City has developed a sharper edge in more recent times because the teams are competing directly against one another for trophies.
    Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola might disagree on the purpose of significant issues such as Financial Fair Play but a respect exists between the pair. Similarly, friendships spread across both teams. Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana remain in regular contact with Raheem Sterling, while the Brazilian contingents at each club socialise together.
    Such relationships never existed between Chelsea and Liverpool, where supporters considered themselves as opposites and each manager made no attempt to hide their resentment for the other’s success.
    In an alternative universe, Jose Mourinho could have taken charge of Liverpool and there are varying accounts of what happened when his representatives approached Parry in the spring of 2004.
    Mourinho was ready to move on from a Porto team he would soon lead to Champions League success and Houllier’s time at Liverpool was almost over. It has been claimed Mourinho had agreed to join Liverpool before Porto knocked out Lyon in the April quarter-finals. Parry allegedly told Mourinho’s adviser, Jorge Baidek, he needed 15 days to agree a severance package with Houllier and, in the meantime, Jorge Mendes approached Mourinho with a more lucrative offer from Chelsea even though the pair had never worked together. This led to meetings with Abramovich ahead of Porto’s semi-final with Deportivo La Coruna and then on the billionaire’s yacht in Monaco the day after Porto lifted the trophy.
    Parry tells a very different story, where he received an unsolicited knock on his door at Melwood the early March afternoon before Porto played at Old Trafford in their last 16 tie’s second leg. Though he never revealed the name of the agent standing there, The Athletic believes it was Frenchman Bruno Satin, who had spent the previous hour discussing players he could sell to Houllier. Parry concluded it summed up the ruthlessness of the transfer market that in one conversation an agent could be trying to help a manager and in the next he might be attempting to undermine him.
    “I was told at the meeting that Jose Mourinho was very interested in managing Liverpool and asked whether Liverpool might be interested in appointing him for the following season,” Parry recalls. “It tasted badly. The agent had been to meet Gerard trying to sell him players with one hand, but then moments later was ostensibly trying to get him fired. It was classic football. There has to be a more dignified manner, surely?
    “I said, ‘Look, we do things a certain way and we are not going to make an appointment behind Gerard’s back, a) out of respect to him, and b) because we are still in contention for the Champions League and we do not want to make a decision in March’. Had we done so and it had derailed the campaign entirely, we might not have qualified for the Champions League that season and 12 months later we mightn’t have had Istanbul under Rafa Benitez.”
    That evening, Porto knocked United out 3-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Manchester and Mourinho reacted to Costinha’s last-minute equaliser by running down the touchline to join in the celebrations with his players.
    “We all share the euphoria of beating United and nobody (feels it) more than me. But one of our core values was respect and that includes treating other clubs and people with respect,” Parry said. “There are limits and ways of doing things. Seeing Mourinho celebrate like that reinforced my initial belief. The way he behaved sowed another seed of doubt. Of course, I’m sure he’d have been a great manager for Liverpool – there is no doubting his qualities. But was he really a Liverpool manager – did he characterise the club’s values?”
    Parry figured that Benitez did; someone who could not hide his disdain for Chelsea’s spending power, which accelerated under Mourinho after he announced his appointment at the club by declaring himself as the “Special One.” In the summer of 2004, Mourinho splashed out £100 million on new players while Benitez sold one of the team’s two world-class players in Michael Owen and still had less than £20 million to spend.
    The first sign of developing tension between the clubs came in that season’s League Cup final when Mourinho shushed Liverpool supporters after Chelsea took the lead and clinched the first silverware of the Abramovich era. Three months later, Liverpool got the better of Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals despite finishing 37 points behind them at the top of a league table which meant a first title at Stamford Bridge for 50 years.
    Fifteen years on, there are still debates whether Luis Garcia’s sole goal of the tie crossed the line. Mourinho was the first person to call it the “ghost goal.” Parry thinks of that second leg as Anfield’s greatest night. “What made it even better was the Eidur Gudjohnsen miss really late in the game, which was kind of a repayment for all of Chelsea’s evil over the years. You just thought, ‘Great!’”
    [​IMG]
    The regularity of the games between Liverpool and Chelsea led to a new rivalry.
    Over five seasons from 2004-05 to 2008-09, the clubs met a staggering 24 times in all competitions and this familiarity bred more contempt. The acrimony increased because of Mourinho’s pursuit of Steven Gerrard across two summers, the second of which led to Liverpool’s captain submitting a transfer request barely a month after leading them to improbable Champions League success in Istanbul. Gerrard felt that Liverpool didn’t really want him to stay at the club because of the way new contract negotiations were handled. Though fans assembled outside Melwood and Anfield and burned shirts with his name on the back, he retreated from the decision when he realised what it would mean for his legacy at the club, as well as his family’s reputation in his home city. He described the night when it seemed like he was on the verge of leaving as “the most emotional of my life,” where he was reduced to “eating paracetamol like Smarties.”
    While Gerrard played 39 of his 710 Liverpool games against the club who tried so hard to sign him, Jamie Carragher turned out 45 times against Chelsea. Gerrard would never win a title with Liverpool but Carragher believes that Gerrard realised “the satisfaction of one with Liverpool, no matter how long it took, would always eclipse three or four at Stamford Bridge”.
    Carragher came to think of fixtures against Chelsea as having an importance in line with derby games and sometimes, “maybe even above United” for significance. “Sometimes I would watch United against Chelsea and I’d want United to win. That’s how much Chelsea used to wind me up. So when we used to play them, you don’t just want to win, but you want to stop them winning.
    “The two managers had an ego where they thought they were the best. I think that when Abramovich came in and he had all that money, the arrogance kicked in. They were a bit cocky.”
    After he’d retired, Gerrard described the rivalry as being “bigger than what people thought.
    “Being a Liverpool player and a Liverpool fan, to get any kind of success at some stage, we had to knock Chelsea out,” he said in 2017. “For us to get any kind of success we knew we had to get the better of them. It’s almost like hatred for 90 minutes.”
    The feeling was mutual. On England duty, both Carragher and Gerrard say the clubs’ players got on fine but whenever Frank Lampard and John Terry came to Anfield, they were reviled figures. Lampard was especially a target in the early years after his tackle on Xabi Alonso in 2005 left the Spanish midfielder with a broken ankle.
    “Going to Anfield was horrible,” Terry recalled. “You drive from the hotel, just a 30-minute bus ride, they’re all on the streets winding you up, throwing stuff at the bus — it was a nightmare.
    “Jose knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he could wind Rafa up. He would sometimes have a joke that he was going to say this, he was going to say that. Everyone hated us because we had money, we were the new kids on the block. That siege mentality was from him, from his staff and from everyone. The whole world was against us.”
    Lampard saw the relationship similarly: “Chelsea’s traditional rival, outside London, was Leeds. Then we started playing Liverpool regularly and it grew from nowhere. For five or six years, it was so intense.
    “When Jose came in and Abramovich took over, we became the money team and people disliked us. There is a natural divide from Liverpool — a working-man’s club that’s had a lot of success off the back of tradition. We were the new kids on the block who had a few quid and signed a load of players.
    “Jose puffed his chest out, and then we kept playing each other. It was a clash of two ideals.”

    Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea (the first time) in September 2007 but the battles between the clubs continued under Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti. When Benitez labelled Didier Drogba a diver, the Chelsea striker responded by telling the Liverpool manager he lacked class. Drogba would score twice in a 3-2 extra time win in the 2007-08 Champions League semi-finals as Chelsea advanced at Liverpool’s expense.
    The following season, as Liverpool finished above Chelsea for the first time in the Abramovich era, they became the side to end Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge thanks to Alonso’s winner.
    Liverpool, however, fell away after that second-place finish and in 2009-10, a comfortable 2-0 Chelsea victory at Anfield in the second to last game of the season put the visitors in pole position for a third title in six years. It proved to be Benitez’s last home match in charge and he would not return to Anfield in any working capacity until nearly three years later, when he was managing Chelsea.
    That story is worth an article on its own, given how unpopular Benitez was at Stamford Bridge.
    Though his relationship with Abramovich was as healthy as it has been with any owner in his career, the same could not be said about the one with the club’s board, whom he criticised publicly for labelling him an “interim” manager though he held the job from November until the next summer. Following an FA Cup game at Middlesbrough and after only three months in charge, he confirmed he would leave at the end of the season due to the sustained protests against his appointment. Many supporters never forgave him for some of the comments he’d made about Chelsea from his Liverpool days. Despite winning them the Europa League, Benitez was called a “Fat Spanish Waiter” by Chelsea’s fans.
    Benitez had inherited Fernando Torres – a player he’d signed for Liverpool in 2007. Three and a half years later, Torres moved on to Chelsea for a British record fee, which made him a traitor on Merseyside.
    [​IMG]
    While Liverpool supporters tended to sympathise with Benitez, whose time at Chelsea was separated from his Anfield reign by six months at Inter Milan and almost two years out of football, Torres got the same treatment as Gerrard when he threatened to leave, with shirts being burned outside Melwood. When the striker made his Chelsea debut, it was against Liverpool, and former team-mate Daniel Agger welcomed him to the game with a thumping challenge which left him in a heap on the floor.
    Torres never reached the same standards with Chelsea he’d achieved on Merseyside but he was a part of the squad that beat Liverpool in the 2012 FA Cup final at Wembley – denying Kenny Dalglish’s team a domestic cup double. Almost a year later, there was the Luis Suarez biting incident on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, which earned the striker a 10-game ban. That suspension ruled Suarez out of the first six weeks of the 2013-14 season, where Liverpool finished above Chelsea for only the second time since Abramovich and nearly won the title for the first time in 24 years.
    It was in Liverpool’s hands until Gerrard slipped at Anfield, allowing Demba Ba through to slide Chelsea into a lead which extended to two goals after Liverpool failed to break down a weakened team led again by Mourinho, who relished his role as pantomime villain, marching down the touchline towards the away end, beating his chest in celebration as the ground lay otherwise silent. That result allowed Manchester City to take full advantage, and Liverpool’s title wait would last for another six seasons.
    Gerrard played his final game for Liverpool a year later and Chelsea fans were always quick to remind him of his heartache. Despite granting him a standing ovation in his final appearance at Stamford Bridge having derided him for the entire game, Gerrard could not resist a dig.
    “The Chelsea fans showed respect for a couple of seconds for me, but slaughtered me all game so I’m not going to get drawn into wishing the Chelsea fans well. It’s nice of them to turn up for once today.”
    Gerrard was left to wonder what it would have been like to play for Mourinho. Despite his best form for Liverpool being under Benitez, the pair’s relationship at best could be described as businesslike. In 2015, Mourinho described Gerrard as “one of my favourite enemies”. Today, Mourinho’s reputation has shifted, but there was a time when his man-management was believed to better than anyone else’s.
    “He is the best manager in the world for me,” Gerrard said. “I’d have signed for him three times if I wasn’t a Liverpool fan. He is the reason why my head was turned on a couple of occasions, but he understood why I couldn’t do it and it’s because I love Liverpool Football Club.
    “I always said to myself when I sat down with my dad and my brother that if I win a couple of trophies at Liverpool, it will mean an awful lot more to me than if I won 10 at Chelsea or Inter Milan or Real Madrid.
    “It always means more when you win for your people.”

    Over the last decade, Chelsea have had a habit of hijacking Liverpool’s transfer plans.
    Liverpool wanted to sign Willian from Shakhtar Donetsk but he went to Stamford Bridge, via a brief spell with Anzhi Makhachkala. There were similar moves for Mohamed Salah and Diego Costa but both opted to pursue their careers away from Anfield.
    A sign that the landscape was changing came when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chose to move to Liverpool in 2017 instead of Chelsea, who were then reigning champions under Antonio Conte. The midfielder had also supported Chelsea as a boy and was offered more money to move across London from Arsenal but he plumped for Liverpool because of the presence of Jurgen Klopp, having received glowing references from Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana about how Klopp had helped improve their games. Liverpool were emerging as a force again.
    The clubs met 42 times in 12 years between August 2003 and October 2015 – the month Klopp was appointed at Anfield. Chelsea’s record in that period was superior, winning 18 games to Liverpool’s 13. There were also 11 draws.
    Under Klopp, the balance has shifted, with Liverpool winning five times, three Chelsea wins and four draws.
    For the first time since Abramovich bought Chelsea, Liverpool will finish above them for three seasons in a row. Off the pitch, Liverpool have also moved ahead of Chelsea. The most lavish investment by Abramovich came before Financial Fair Play was introduced at the start of the 2011-12 season, a measure introduced partly because of what was happening at Chelsea where the club was spending considerable amounts above its own income. Chelsea’s success meant they were also able to push their revenues above Liverpool’s and when Fenway Sports Group bought the club in 2010, Chelsea were one place above Liverpool in the Deloitte Money League having generated £25 million more in revenues in 2008-09.
    John Henry believed in FFP and it was a contributing factor behind his decision to pursue Liverpool. The commercial operation at the club in 2010 was skeletal considering its history and this is where the most dramatic changes originally took place – with new offices opened in Liverpool city centre as well as London in a bid to attract new partners and further investment.
    This was before Klopp’s arrival in 2015, when Liverpool had slipped to ninth in the Deloitte rankings (they were seventh in 2010), one place behind Chelsea who were still generating £80 million more a year in revenues.
    The swing under Klopp has been gradual over the last five years, with Liverpool becoming Champions League finalists twice, winners once – as well as Premier League winners. In that time, Chelsea have secured one league title but have slipped behind Liverpool according to Deloitte in their latest report, which was released in January. In 2018-19, Liverpool’s revenues were £75 million higher than Chelsea’s, and this was before a new kit deal was brokered with Nike, which could be worth as much as £20 million more per season than Chelsea’s agreement with the same company.
    In short, Liverpool have finally got their act together off the pitch and this has helped them surpass Chelsea through a period of transition at Stamford Bridge where a transfer ban has made the club focus on nurturing talent from the club’s academy.
    Conversations are happening across corridors of power at Anfield about how the terrain will re-shape after UEFA’s failure to punish FFP sanctions on Manchester City. Though Chelsea have continued to post losses since its implementation, Abramovich has complied with the system. Yet if rules are not going to be enforced, will it prompt him to think again and act the way he did in summer 2003?
    Their successful pursuit of Timo Werner was possible because of the deal that took Alvaro Morata to Atletico Madrid. Should Kai Havertz move to Stamford Bridge for a fee that could be twice as big as Werner’s, concerns about the threat to Liverpool’s position will understandably grow.
     
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  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool request for families to attend ‘spectacular’ trophy lift turned down
    [​IMG]
    By James Pearce Jul 21, 2020[​IMG] 40 [​IMG]
    Liverpool’s request for the players’ families to attend Wednesday night’s Premier League trophy presentation at Anfield has been turned down.
    The champions had submitted a special application for an extra 200 people to be allowed inside the stadium for the final home game of the season against Chelsea. However, Liverpool City Council’s Grounds Safety Advisory Group (GSAG) ruled on Tuesday evening that it couldn’t agree to it.
    Chair Wendy Simon explained that changing the terms of the safety certificate to allow the small increase in capacity from 300 to 500 wasn’t possible in the continued absence of written permission from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
    It was the second time the GSAG had met remotely on Tuesday after a morning discussion ended with the matter unresolved. Unless Liverpool can secure the required paperwork from DCMS early on Wednesday and another meeting is quickly convened, then the players’ families will have to stay at home.
    Chris Markey, Liverpool FC’s director of safety and security, explained that detailed plans had been drawn up for the players’ families and a number of members of staff from Melwood to watch from Anfield’s executive boxes.
    They would be temperature checked on arrival and asked to fill out forms to confirm they are in good health. They would not be allowed into the stands themselves or on to the pitch after the game. They would have to wear face masks and stick to social distancing rules.
    Markey argued that those family members and staff would be safer watching inside Anfield than in pubs nearby. The Premier League agreed to the idea to ease the rules but permission still had to be granted by the GSAG, which explained that it needed to see full approval from the DCMS.
    Without it, Simon explained that the GSAG could be held responsible if there were any repercussions, such as a spike in cases of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. As the strict guidelines only apply to the game itself, the possibility of bussing in family members just for the presentation was discussed. However, that was ruled out by police chiefs on the basis that it wasn’t realistic, given that there are ongoing concerns that fans will gather outside Anfield around that time.
    Since the Premier League season restarted last month, the players’ families have been prevented from attending matches and there have also been tight restrictions on how many members of Jurgen Klopp’s backroom staff are allowed in.
    “It’s a one-off and it would mean a huge amount to all the players if close family members can be there to share this historic moment with them,” a senior Liverpool source told The Athletic. “The trophy presentation itself is going to be spectacular. It will be a fitting way to mark the end of the long 30-year wait.”
    A huge amount of work has gone into removing seats from the Kop to make room for a podium where captain Jordan Henderson and his team-mates to lift the trophy.
    When the moment comes, the other three sides of Anfield will be plunged into darkness and there will be fireworks and a light show.
    Henderson, who will play no part in the game due to a knee injury, and other senior players have been heavily involved in drawing up plans for the celebrations and picking the soundtrack. The Liverpool squad will walk up to collect their medals on stage to Kanye West’s All Of The Lights — a popular tune in the dressing room. Then the trophy will be lifted to Coldplay’s A Sky Full Of Stars.
    The players will initially socially distance on the platform, with each having an area to stand in but they will group together when the trophy is hoisted aloft. They will be surrounded by supporters-groups’ banners, which have been laid across the Kop.
    The cost of the trophy presentation ceremony is being divided between the Premier League, the broadcasters and Liverpool FC. The Athletic understands that Liverpool’s outlay for the spectacle will be about £40,000
    The presentation party will consist of Premier League chief executive Richard Masters and Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, the last man to lead the club to a domestic title in 1990.
    For hygiene reasons in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trophy will be placed on a plinth for Henderson to lift rather than being physically handed to him. Dalglish has been asked to hand the players their medals rather than hanging them around their necks.
    There were initial fears that Henderson had ruptured his ACL when he limped off against Brighton recently but they were eased by a scan, which revealed only minor ligament damage.
    “From being worried that he would end up lifting the trophy on crutches, being told he would only be out for four to six weeks was a massive relief,” the senior source said. “The only question now is: shuffle or no shuffle? No one knows yet whether he will be able to do it but nothing will stop him from lifting that trophy.

    “Lessons have been learned from other presentation ceremonies across Europe. Rather than a sterile spectacle in an empty ground, it’s going to look very impressive for fans across the globe.
    “With the fans unable to be inside Anfield, the feeling was that taking the presentation into the Kop to bring it closer to them was the best option available. It’s about making the supporters feel like they are part of it.”
    Liverpool will receive 40 commemorative medals made of silver, which are 5.7 centimetres in diameter.
    As things stand, 23 players automatically qualify for a medal, having made five or more league appearances this season. The rest can be distributed by Liverpool to other players and staff members as the club see fit. Curtis Jones (four games) and Harvey Elliott (two games) are currently the only two players who have appeared in the Premier League this season who fall short of the five-game threshold but they will be given medals.
    There are two Premier League trophies. One will stay with the champions for the next year and the other will be retained by the Premier League. Liverpool’s name has already been engraved into them for the first time.
    The club have also repeated their calls for fans not to congregate outside Anfield on Wednesday night.
    Merseyside Police chief constable Andy Cooke gave an address before the start of Klopp’s press conference on Tuesday.
    “We are still in a public health crisis and I’d urge people to watch the match at home or in the pub if there is space,” he said. “Please don’t gather in large groups. My officers will take action if people don’t stick to social distancing restrictions.”
    That message has also been reinforced by Klopp and Henderson. A parade through the city is on hold until later in the year.
    “I promise again that we will have this party at an appropriate time. The first possibility, we will use to do exactly what everybody deserves. But we can do it only if everybody behaves appropriately,” Klopp said.
    “So, stay at home, celebrate there in a safe place with your families, and a second household or whatever. And keep it in your mind that we will be together, all together, when it’s possible again. I understand it’s a tricky situation, I really can understand. It’s a personal challenge but we had bigger challenges in the past with this club.
    “I’m really happy that Kenny will be around (for the presentation). The most deserved nickname ever, ‘King Kenny’, he will be in the stadium, exactly where he has to be when Liverpool win something. And I’m really happy about that.”
    In his column in Wednesday’s match programme, Henderson adds: “I cannot say clearly enough: it is critically important you stay away from Anfield and enjoy celebrating with us in your own way at home.
    “The city of Liverpool has been hit hard by COVID-19 and it’s important we support our healthcare heroes — the emergency services and key workers — by listening to the advice and staying away from gatherings that aren’t safe.
    “I promise you: we will feel you with us when we lift that trophy, even though you’re not at Anfield in person. We are lifting it for you – you’ve driven us to achieve this dream. But this club’s values are about taking care of each other and that means supporting us from home and in safe environments.”
     
  19. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    Liverpool’s title winners – by the coaches who discovered them
    Simon Hughes, James Pearce and more 7h ago[​IMG] 22 [​IMG]
    (Other contributors: Charlotte Harpur, Oliver Kay, Raphael Honigstein and Jack Lang)
    Liverpool are champions for the first time in 30 years. When that achievement last happened, the make-up of the squad had an exotic twist. Bruce Grobbelaar came from Zimbabwe, Ronny Rosenthal from Israel, Jan Molby from Denmark and Glenn Hysen from Sweden. Yet the majority of players were English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh and their back-stories were similar. Academy football did not exist and apprenticeships, if a player was lucky, were served from the age of 16 at the earliest.
    The landscape of the game has changed dramatically. Liverpool’s team now includes three world-class Brazilians. The wingers are the best in Africa. There are two mainstays of the Dutch national side. The early careers of some players were shaped by the consequences of civil war in eastern Europe. Unlike stars at other clubs, not all of Liverpool’s players were predicted to become legends. The majority have followed uncertain routes, their paths to the top less trodden.
    The Athletic has spent the last six months attempting to track down each player’s first coach. Where health has intervened, we have interviewed the next coach along in the process. This pursuit has taken us to villages in rural Egypt – where Mohamed Salah was spotted by a scout before he’d even played a competitive game of football. It has also taken us to the housing estates of the Netherlands and the suburbs of Switzerland.
    The subsequent testimonies are determined in order of number of league appearances before Liverpool’s players got their hands on the Premier League trophy following their game at Anfield against Chelsea. For the players who have made a handful of appearances nearer the end of the season, we look forward to telling your stories in the coming years.
    We hope you enjoy the piece.

    “The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I saw him for the first time.”
    Trent Alexander-Arnold (36 appearances)
    By Ian Barrigan, his coach at Country Park, Liverpool

    Trent’s career could have turned out differently. I have no doubt he’d have become a top-class footballer because of his talent and focus. Without the story of Ian Dawes, though, maybe his path doesn’t involve Liverpool.
    My father-in-law Jimmy Aspinall was a famous scout who identified a lot of junior players for Liverpool. In the mid-1990s he was desperate to sign Ian, a lad from the Litherland-Aintree area. He was a centre midfielder who’d been at Everton but he decided to leave because they played him left-back.
    I knew Ian’s dad, Alan. I’d worked with him for years. I went to see him on behalf of Jimmy and managed to persuade him to sign for Liverpool. It was a big catch because everyone else at Liverpool had failed, as had scouts of other clubs. Steve Heighway asked Jimmy how he’d managed to bring Ian in and Jimmy told him about my involvement. That led to a meeting with Steve who asked me to do some more scouting for him.
    The arrangement was ideal because I’d just started running a team in the Walton & Kirkdale League called Country Park. It was the most competitive junior league in Liverpool and it meant I was seeing a lot of talented players every weekend. The standard was so high in the league that Crewe Alexandra entered a team in one of the age groups and they didn’t finish top.
    As the Country Park grew as a club, with other ages playing under our umbrella, my role at Liverpool evolved. By 2005, I was in charge of Liverpool’s development centre in Norris Green. This was a place for players to come and train if they weren’t already signed on. It was an opportunity for lots of kids.
    Jimmy had always told me that whenever you see a player with incredible talent, the hairs on the back of your neck stick up. That was what happened when I saw Trent for the first time. He showed up as a six-year-old at the development centre one night and I just thought, “Jesus…”
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    I was surprised that he wasn’t already training with Liverpool full-time. I walked straight over to his mum and asked, “Is he definitely supposed to be here?” I wondered if he was meant to be at a session at the academy in Kirkby five miles away instead and she got a bit defensive about it, thinking that I was questioning whether she’d taken a wrong turning. Trent lived on Queens Drive near Muirhead Avenue and Diane explained that she knew her way around. I was, like, “Listen, he’s really good… he’s better than the development centre already.”
    I got straight on the phone that night and made sure that the coaches at the academy had a look at Trent as soon as possible. He was six but they decided he should be playing with seven-year-olds. Meanwhile, Diane told me that Trent was looking to play for a Sunday league team as well. He’d trained a couple of times for a few sides but hadn’t signed for anyone. I was managing Country Park’s under-7s so we brought him in.
    It quickly became clear that he was far too good for his own age group. He’d score 10 a game. So he often played in higher age groups with Country Park. Diane would tell me that he didn’t enjoy under-7s so much because he found it too easy. I thought it was important that he still played there because the way he dominated games gave him confidence. Sometimes if you promote players too quickly, they forget what joy feels like.
    These were small-sided games and he’d always play in the middle of midfield because he was the best player. Once he was in possession, you couldn’t get it off him. He was so driven. Sometimes in training, I’d spice things up by giving a few penalties against Trent’s team. He hated that. He’d go home and tell Diane that he never wanted to play again because of the injustice. But he was always there next week.
    Diane has been such a positive influence on Trent’s career and life. Even now, she doesn’t place him on any pedestal – always reminding him of how far he has to go. Back then, she was at every game and she’d collect the subs off the parents. She was my debt collector.
    On one occasion, both Trent and I missed the opening game of the season for Country Park. I had to attend a scouting meeting at Liverpool while Trent was in London with his mum and his brothers visiting his father who worked down there.
    I asked a guy called Frank Kelly to take charge of the under-7s and we lost 2-0. I wound Frank up telling him that we’d win again the following week 10-0 – that the defeat must have been down to him being the manager. I knew Trent was playing, of course. Frank was doubtful. He knew the team was OK, “but there are no superstars,” he told me.
    Frank went back to his role in charge of the under-11s. The next weekend, they’d kicked off a bit earlier than us on the same pitches and Frank came running over after about 20 minutes, asking how we were getting on. We were already 6-0 up but I’d lost count. I had to ask someone for the score. The next thing, Trent gets the ball, charges down the wing and blasts a shot into the top corner. Frank goes, “Where the hell’s he come from?”
    “Haven’t you met Trent?”

    “I called him Alberto but he never corrected me.”
    Roberto Firmino (36 appearances)
    By Hemerson Maria, his coach at Figueirense, Brazil

    I first met Roberto in 2008, when he came for a trial at Figueirense. I was under-17 coach. Those usually last two or three weeks, which is enough time to know whether a player has the ability or not. Roberto’s trial lasted 30 minutes. He smashed it. He scored two overhead kicks, just like that. He showed real technical quality; there was a big difference between him and the other boys. He was a class above. I knew that if he maintained that level of performance and dedication, he could become a top player — at our club and even abroad.
    For some time, I called him “Alberto”. It was, “Over here, Alberto! Make that run, Alberto!” He just kept responding to the name, because he was an obedient kid. He didn’t even correct me. He never came up to me and told me his name was actually Roberto. One day, the fitness coach gave me a nudge: “Hey, Hemerson, that kid’s name is Roberto, not Alberto.” I called him over: “Alberto, get over here!” In front of the fitness coach, I asked him what his name was. When he said it was Roberto, I asked why he had been responding to Alberto that whole time. He said, “Ah, professor, I was just following your lead.” That showed the simplicity and humility of the kid.
    What caught the eye was his vision of the game, his capacity to see things before they happened. He saw things that others didn’t see, which is a mark of the great players. He was also a very good finisher and had real discipline: he would track back and give his absolute maximum in every training session. He wasn’t just one of the most talented players I trained, but also one of the hardest workers. Honestly, he was an example to the other boys of his age.
    He was a really shy kid. Roberto was never a leader in the sense of talking a lot, putting himself out there in public. In the dining room, the dormitories or the team bus, he was very quiet and watchful. But he was always smiling: he was a happy kid, who had charisma. His leadership was to do with technique. He expressed himself out on the pitch: that was where he felt at home. He was respected by the other members of the group. Sometimes the best player gets jealous looks or thinks he’s above the rest, but Roberto was never like that. Everyone loved him.
    [​IMG]
    He came from a very poor part of the country, from a very modest family. As a result, he did not eat well for a significant part of his childhood and adolescence. We picked up on that and knew he would have to put on some more muscle mass. Especially because of the kind of player he was: he was aggressive and liked to go at his opponents. Sometimes he would be at a disadvantage when it came to physical contact, shoulder to shoulder. We worked on that a lot with him.
    We also wanted him to be more objective. He was technically gifted, perhaps the most complete player I have ever worked with. But he sometimes lacked clarity when it came to finishing moves. He liked to “decorate”, to do the aesthetic thing when he needed to keep things simple. We talked about that with him; he understood and improved.
    That move where he looks one way and plays the ball the other… he already did that when I knew him. He would do it quite often, to the point of exaggeration. It used to really annoy his opponents, who thought he was mocking them. He got a lot of kicks because of that. We told him he didn’t need to do it all the time. Time has shown that it’s one of his trademarks, but he picks his moments now.
    I remember one moment that really showed his desire to succeed. We had a few days off at the end of a regional championship, which we were going to use to prepare for the Copa Sao Paulo youth tournament. Roberto quite simply didn’t want to go home. He said he needed to keep training, to work on a few things. And that if he went home, it would just be one more mouth to feed. He said he’d only go home when he became a big player – when he had done something with his life. That was soon after he arrived. If I’m not mistaken, he went seven months without going back home. He had an objective, and things happened very quickly for him: he was one of the standout players at the Copa Sao Paulo, catching the eye of various teams in Brazil around the world. After the tournament, he was moved up into Figueirense’s senior squad.
    I lost contact with him. I became a coach in senior football and life just got in the way. But I have great admiration for the boy: not just the player, but the person. He’s one of the good guys; I don’t think he has changed despite becoming a big global star. He has the same personality, and he has not forgotten his roots. If I saw him now, I would congratulate him and tell him that he is reaping what he sowed all those years ago. All that hard work, commitment, sacrifice… the things he is achieving today all came from that. I wish him all the best and hope he keeps being the same marvellous person that I knew.

    “It looked like he was taking it easy but a fire burned inside of him.”
    Virgil van Dijk (36 appearances)
    By Rik Kleijn, his coach at WDS’19 in Breda, Holland

    To explain Virgil’s story with WDS’19, you have to begin with Jordy Brugel, the goalkeeper for our team. I have a photograph of that team. It was taken in 2001 – the year we conceded just one goal all season. In the photograph, Virgil is kneeling in the front row rather than standing on the back row and that reminds you he wasn’t the tallest player. He was an average-sized boy, but he was a central defender, and nobody seemed to be able to pass him even then. This meant that Jordy became very bored. Most games, he had nothing to do and we became champions. It proved to be Jordy’s father who recommended Virgil to Willem II and the rest, as they say, is history.
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    His background in Breda had involved outdoor soccer courts, promoted by Johan Cruyff’s foundation. There is at least one court in every city and the one near Virgil’s home, in the Kesteren area of Haagse Beemden, was very popular. The court is surrounded by more than 10,000 social houses built in the early 1980s and I suppose it has a bad image but lots of good working-class people come from there.
    The Cruyff court on the Kesterenlaan was a meeting place for people of all ages. It enabled young players to test their skills against older players. This would accelerate their understanding of the game; when to release the ball and how to ride tackles. I am told that teams would stay on the court until they lost. Virgil wasn’t always the most obvious competitor because he played the game at his own pace and sometimes this translated as him taking it easy. But a fire burned inside him, and I am told he’d regularly spend hour after hour on the courts of Breda because his team would keep winning.
    Our football club was two miles or so from Virgil’s home. The club has teams from six years old up to the veterans of 60-plus, who participate in walking football. It is a very community-minded place. There is a canteen that serves food and beer and, even in the winter, we host barbecues. We played in blue and white stripes and photographs of many of the successful teams that have represented the club decorate the walls of the clubhouse.
    Aged nine, Virgil played seven-a-side every Saturday morning. We had a squad of eight with one sub. I would be lying if I said I thought then that he would become a Premier League and Champions League winner, as well as the captain of Holland. To me, he was simply an outstanding player who had a chance of becoming a footballer.
    Frank Brugel was Jordy’s dad and he had been a professional footballer, a goalkeeper with RBC Roosendaal and Willem II, the club where he still did a bit of informal scouting. Because Frank was a goalkeeper, I think he felt as though he knew a thing or two about defensive positions. I remember him telling me that what stood out most about Virgil in those early days was his athletic ability as well as the way he struck the ball. It helped that Virgil was able to stride forward like Ronald Koeman and contribute goals. He could take free kicks. All of this led to Frank inviting him to Willem II when he was 10. When he left, it is fair to say our team was not as good as it was before.

    “He never panicked, he was always calm.”
    Georginio Wijnaldum (35 appearances)
    By Claudio Braga, his coach at Sparta Rotterdam, Holland

    Georginio joined the Sparta academy at the age of six. He was a perfect boy, always smiling. He performed so well. It’s rare for someone so young to have such a high technical level.
    What made Georginio stand out from the rest was his ability to make the right decisions in games when he was in difficult situations. He never panicked. He was always calm.
    He was a young boy with a winning mentality and he made a lot of goals. As coaches, what made us believe that he would reach the top was that he had more than just talent, he had the right attitude too.
    He was 100 per cent in love with football. Before training sessions he would be playing on the streets or in the grounds of the academy. After the sessions it was always the same. He would stay around with a ball at his feet working on his movement or his shooting. It was beautiful to watch.
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    Wijnaldum is second from left in the back row next to coach Braga
    He had the ability to play as a striker, a winger, a No 10 and a defensive midfielder but it was clear that offensive midfielder was his best role. He had lovely skill. He was always in control of the ball.
    I remember in games he would find himself in complex situations when the opposition tried to press him. But he always used his body well and found a way out of those situations. He had a great eye for a pass and created a lot of goals, which was very important for someone in his position. He had great vision. He was so good at bringing the ball forward and turning defence into attack. He would switch the play from one wing to the other intelligently.
    When he was part of my under-13s team he was the reason why we had a lot of coaches and a lot of scouts coming to watch our games. They all knew we had a good one here. It wasn’t difficult to see. By then he was in the Dutch international youth teams.
    He didn’t like going to school too much, he just wanted to play football. I remember his grandmother and his uncle would bring him to training and to matches.
    He always took on board advice from coaches about how to improve himself. In the locker room he was always friendly and helpful to his team-mates. He certainly wasn’t an introvert.
    It was 100 per cent clear at that stage he was going to the top. At the age of 14 he made the decision to take the step to Feyenoord.
    Believe me, every club in Holland wanted to sign Georginio at that stage. They all knew he was a special kid.
    I am delighted with what Georginio has gone on to achieve in his career and watching him win big trophies with Liverpool. But for me there’s greater pride in seeing what kind of man he’s become. He’s someone who always looks to help others. He’s still a role model.

     
  20. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

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    “A boy who didn’t give up and made the best of what he had.”
    Andy Robertson (34 appearances)
    By Bernie Airlie, his coach at Giffnock Soccer Centre in Glasgow, Scotland

    We used play three or four small-sided games against different teams at one hub on the same day and there would always be a bit of waiting around between matches.
    Kids being kids, most of them would be messing about and playing tag, chasing each other around. Not Andy. I remember he used that time to kick a ball off the wall, left foot, right foot, over and over again. Andy was so dedicated. A bit of a throwback in many ways.
    My son Mark and Andy became good friends. They went to St Joseph’s Primary School and St Ninian’s High School together nearby and still keep in contact to this day. Andy captained the high school team and his dad Brian, who was a good footballer himself, was a coach at the club.
    He must have been about eight when I first coached him. He was a wee bit small for his age but he was always full of energy. He was predominantly left-footed but pretty comfortable on his right too.
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    Robertson (left) takes the lead
    Andy was always great at getting up and down the pitch. He was a naturally fit boy with huge enthusiasm for the game and composed on the ball. I always envisaged him being a left-sided player – his athleticism meant he was perfect for full-back or wing-back.
    You could see from an early age that he was a good player but, as my son and I always say, Andy wasn’t an absolute standout. He was surrounded by good players. You wouldn’t have said he was head and shoulders above the rest. You wouldn’t have guessed you were looking at a future Champions League and Premier League winner.
    At these match hubs you’d have 200 to 300 kids all playing so it was a good place for scouts to take a look. At the age of 10 Andy was picked up by Celtic. That meant he couldn’t play for us anymore.
    A lot of kids get hoovered up by professional clubs and then released further down the road. It’s a conveyor belt. That’s what happened to Andy. Celtic thought he was too small but that rejection only made him more determined to succeed.
    The history of football is full of examples of really gifted young players not making it to the top. You’ve got to be exceptional. You need an inner belief and you need to be willing to make sacrifices to fulfil your dreams. That’s Andy. He was never going to be Messi or Ronaldo but he maximised his ability and he learned and developed to become one of the best left-backs in the world.
    Andy is an inspiration to the kids at Giffnock. Some of the younger boys didn’t realise that he played for the club until we talked to them about him. It’s a great example of what can be achieved if you are completely dedicated and if you respond positively to setbacks along the way.
    A boy who didn’t give up and made the best of what he had – there’s a life lesson there as well as a football lesson.

    “Working in the fields made him tough.”
    Sadio Mane (33 appearances)
    By Abdou Diatta, scout at Generation Foot in Dakar, Senegal

    Our groundsman first spotted Sadio in Mbour, which is 200 miles away from his hometown of Bambali. The first time I saw him play I was astonished. I asked myself how the club had not seen him up until now. He was formidable. He gifted us that day with his talent. He scored many, many goals.
    But on his first day of training, he was very, very shy. He was alone and kept himself to himself. The team would carry the equipment all together but when he came to the pitch he would stay to one side and carry his boots. When I saw that, I went up to him and said, “In football you can’t be shy like that. You have to approach your team-mates, you have to try.”
    I spoke to him as if he were my son. “You have come all the way from Casamance for football. You have left your family. Here in Dakar it is very tough. In order to succeed you have to work hard and commit.”
    He said to me, “Dad,” — because he called me dad, he didn’t call me by my name — “don’t worry, I am going to succeed at football.”
    That’s my most treasured memory of him and in truth he has succeeded. Gradually, he became more confident, talking to the team, drinking tea and eating together. Sadio was always very physical, that’s why his physicality doesn’t surprise me when I watch him play today because he already had it from a young age. He never got tired.
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    Mane with Diatta
    I’m from the same region as him in Casamance and in our region we work every day in the fields. Parents would say, “Get up, you have to go to work.” He already had the mental toughness as a child because if you don’t, you can’t work in the fields. That’s what life is like over here.
    We speak but not often. Sometimes he calls me to say hello. And some years I don’t hear from him at all. He’s a very busy man, a global sportsman. If he’s preparing for a match, he can’t be on the phone to me.

    “We should watch this boy closely when he puts his kit on.”
    Mohamed Salah (32 appearances)
    By Reda El-Mallah, a scout in Nagrig, Egypt

    The pitch in Nagrig had no grass. In the summer there was only dust. When it rained it turned into mud. And there was only one pitch. The fields surrounding the town were filled with jasmine and garlic. You could not play football on them.
    There are thousands of villages like Nagrig across Egypt, places built out of the countryside and often without safety permits. Most of the properties in Nagrig look the same. Bricks and cement. Very little planning.
    The sports field in Nagrig was surrounded by such buildings. Each night, hundreds of children would play there. Games were not organised. There was no official league. But scouts recognised there was talent to be found in villages like Nagrig, where players had nothing and their determination to do well took them further than kids who had more from Cairo.
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    I heard about a game that took place every week involving dozens of children so I went along to have a look, hoping I might find a player. The boy everyone in Nagrig was talking about was called Sherif. I had high hopes for him. He was a good footballer but not on the same level as Mohamed. Because he was so young, he was only asked to play because we did not have enough players to make up two teams.
    After the trial I went to Mohamed and asked him whether he’d be interested in training with Tanta Club. Tanta is a city an hour’s drive from Nagrig. All of the roads are bumpy. Mohamed told me that he’d only ever been as far as Basyoun, a much closer village. He had to ask his father for permission.
    I thought he trained well at the trial but the youth coaches decided to monitor from afar rather than invite him back. I was very surprised because I thought they would have more sense – his talent was obvious.
    The following week, I arranged another trial at Tanta Club’s city rivals, Othmason. It was difficult for any player to stand out that day because so many games were going on at the same time. Mohamed was waiting for his chance on the side of the pitch and he was still wearing his jeans when a ball was cleared and he managed to control it using his chest. There was a coach called Farag El Saidy, who said, “We should watch this boy very closely when he puts his kit on.”
    El Saidy was smart and invited him to join the team straight away. Mohamed played for Othmason for nearly a year before scouts from Cairo started watching him. He joined Al Mokawloon because of Refaat Ragab. He was a legend of Egyptian football and was running a youth training scheme in association with Pepsi. When he saw Mohamed’s speed, he told the people he knew at Al Mokawloon and his life changed from there.

    “He missed a penalty in a shootout and his lip went.”
    Jordan Henderson (30 appearances)
    By Shaun Turnbull, his manager at Fulwell Juniors, Sunderland

    We played every Saturday morning at Monkton Stadium in Jarrow. Fulwell Juniors were the best youth team in Sunderland and every side in the region was desperate to beat us. We played in black and blue stripes with black shorts and socks.
    Jordan was a talented player but there were no duds at Fulwell. Each boy brought something different to the table. Jordan as a bairn was the footballer you see today. His commitment was off the scale. And he could run for England.
    After matches, he’d leave the pitch lathered in sweat. Even if we were winning by a big margin, he’d keep going. He was always desperate for more and he’d demand the same of his team-mates. Even though he was more of a right midfielder, he set the tone for the team. He wouldn’t allow commitment or standards to slip.
    [​IMG]
    When he felt like he’d let others down, he’d sometimes get in a bit of a state. I remember him missing a penalty in a shootout and his lip went. His dad was on the side of the pitch, reminding him there was still a chance we could go through. Fortunately enough, we did and in the final he scored twice. When I look back now I think this was an important lesson for Jordan because it made him really realise how much of a team game football is. On other occasions, he was there to bail others out.
    Jordan and his best mate Michael McKeown came from Herrington to play for us. That’s about four or five miles away from Fulwell, the other side of the River Wear. Him and Michael were as thick as thieves when they were kids and both of them would join Sunderland and play for the successful youth teams there. We also had Kallum Griffiths, who went to Sunderland as well.
    In 1999, Jordan was nine. That was the year we went the whole season unbeaten, 60 games or more. We scored 150-odd goals and Jordan, I think, must have had 25 or 30. Jordan and Michael were jointly awarded the league’s player of the year trophy. You couldn’t have separated them at that point. They did everything together. They were also different players. Michael was all left foot and he made the game look easy. He could win you matches in an instant. Jordan was different, of course, but his energy helped us win on many occasions as well. When opponents were tiring right at the end of matches, Jordan tended to go up a few gears. They were mentally and physically tired, but he always seemed to have a bit more petrol in the engine.

    “My line manager said ‘I see you’ve got your pension there’.”
    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (28 appearances)
    By Mark Chamberlain, his father and coach at Southampton

    I was a footballer and played eight times for England. My career took me from Stoke to Sheffield and then to the south coast with Portsmouth, where the family settled. We didn’t live in the type of house where there was memorabilia all over the place and football photographs on the wall. Football was a central part of my life but I wanted my sons to follow their own interests. Alex is my first son of two. But he’s Alexander at home.
    When he was really young, I was still playing. He was two when I signed for Exeter. For the next few years, I was away while he lived at home with his mum.
    After retiring, I ran a soccer school in Portsmouth and that’s when Alexander started playing a bit more. He went to a private school called St John’s and the focus there was rugby union. There was also cricket and hockey. Alexander liked sport. He also played a lot of cricket and golf. But he never played Sunday league football. His experience at that point amounted to one or two games for his school team but mainly him having a kick about with me on a park field. I let him beat me all the time…
    I became the under-11s coach at Southampton. I looked at the under-9s and remember thinking to myself, “Alexander is as good as these…” It was the early days of academy football and the standard wasn’t particularly high in the youngest age groups. So I arranged for him to come in on a trial. The environment suited him well. Expectations were different at Southampton during this period. Team results didn’t really matter. I worked there for nine years and the atmosphere between the coaches was really special. We just wanted the boys to enjoy themselves. Whatever they were good at, we encouraged them to do. We were never negative around them.
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    We ended up with some good players in Alexander’s team in the early days but they kept losing and sometimes it was quite heavy. The boys were asked to make their own targets from game to game. Some would want to complete three nutmegs, others would want five shots. They were allowed to make mistakes and try new things – results really didn’t matter. Over time, they came to appreciate that the game of football is not just about the spectacular things you do. Getting the simple things right wins games.
    We used to travel to training together even though sessions started at different times. The under-11s tended to start before the under-9s. Alexander would hang around on the side of the pitch and I’d ask him to join in. The best player in my team was the centre-forward so I’d ask Alexander to play at the back. He wasn’t particularly tall or strong but he was a competitor. I remember this centre-forward saying, “Can you take him off now?” He couldn’t get any change out of him. Alexander was so sharp and so bright that it didn’t matter that the lad was 18 months older than him. It was at that point where I started to think he was doing OK. Steve Wigley, my line manager, wandered over to me one day and pointed at Alexander: “I see you’ve got your pension there…”
    I used to try to guide Alexander as much as I could but I wanted him to form his own impressions. As he got older and became a professional, I stepped back and let him know that I was always there if he needed me but he’s his own man now and he rarely asks! I don’t mind, though.

     
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