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Who is leading Liverpool behind the scenes?

February 12, 2012

Having been chided from all sides for a perceived lack of contrition during recent months, Liverpool today released a trio of apologetic statements from Luis Suarez, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Ayre, the Managing Director. These seem to have been well received and will hopefully serve to prevent the story from rumbling on far into next week. André Villas-Boas must be worried that media attention will turn back to Chelsea’s current form. Nevertheless, there are serious questions to be asked about why it took until today for the club to such direct steps to end the situation.

That Liverpool felt compelled to release these statements shows just how badly wrong Suarez got things yesterday. While it is possible to empathise with a man, a strong believer in his own innocence, who reacts angrily when faced with his accuser, it became increasingly clear yesterday that the Uruguayan had made the wrong decision in refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand before the match. How much better would Suarez have felt had he tormented the Manchester United left-back during the game instead? While the incident did not spark a violent match, it prompted scuffles in the tunnel (including, amusingly, Daniel Agger’s apparent offer to Rio Ferdinand to take matters outside) and almost certainly contributed to Evra’s celebrations after the final whilstle. It also forced Dalglish, who has been fiercely protective of his player, to defend him once more in a highly-charged post-match interview. He had commented earlier in the week that his number seven had agreed to shake Evra’s hand, so Suarez’s decision to renege on his word undermined both his manager and his club.

For Liverpool, however, there is (or should be) a wider concern about the handling of the Suarez affair, not just this weekend but ever since the allegations of racial abuse first surfaced. It seems absurd that a Premier League team owned by a group of investors who also run the Boston Red Sox, one of the biggest baseball franchises in the United States, has handled thing so poorly. John Henry and Tom Werner gave the impression that the investors who make up Fenway Sports Group (FSG) were a media-savvy bunch. It seems odd, in this case, that they should not have employed someone who specialises in media relations to advise the club.

Even if we were to give FSG the benefit of the doubt and say they perhaps became distracted by other things (such as the appointment of a new Red Sox General Manager and Manager), they presumably believed that the club was in safe hands under the control of Ayre. Here was a Managing Director who knew the club and English football well enough to offer a steady hand through any crisis. Sadly, his leadership has seemingly been lacking. Dalglish has been the only club employee – aside from the players – to publicly defend Suarez and there has been no sense that someone high up at Liverpool is in control.

But what of the message that club was putting out? Dalglish was combative in front of the press and the official statements released in the aftermath of Suarez being given an eight-game ban suggested that the club would blow the FA’s charge out of the water on appeal. While this tone was heartening to hear for fans, it was pointless and frustrating for the club to adopt such an aggressive stance only to then accept the sanction. If Dalglish was putting forward an agreed-upon message, why was the decision reached that such a message was appropriate? And if he was left to get on with it, why was that the case? Older, wiser heads have suggested that the club would never have found itself in this position under Peter Robinson. It is hard to argue with them.

The statements released today suggest that someone at the club has got a grip of the communications policy. Henry and Werner appear to have cracked some heads together, perhaps spurred on by the presence of the story in various quarters of the American press today. It seems far-fetched to say, as some have, that the owners only became aware of the story after the New York Times picked up on it, but the fact that it is being reported outside the UK may have set alarm bells ringing that no good was being done to the club’s reputation. The question is, why was this conclusion not reached sooner? Why did it not become obvious that some clear direction was needed earlier on?

Today’s apologies from Suarez, Dalglish and Ayre will hopefully allow Liverpool to concentrate on football again (particularly as Manchester United responded quickly and favourably) but there are significant lessons to be learnt. If football can move on from this particular issue (the Suarez-Evra situation, not the wider problem of racism in football) then so much the better. But while this nightmare may be over for Liverpool, certain individuals within the club should take a good, long look at where things went wrong.

Manchester United v Liverpool – some thoughts

February 11, 2012

I would love to be able to weave various points about today’s game into a single stream of connecting paragraphs, but there are too many things to say and I am not really sure where to begin. So with that in mind, here are some thoughts on what we witnessed (and, come to think of it, heard) at Old Trafford, in no particular order.

  • The handshake, then. Whatever your views on the pre-match handshakes, the established (but not too well established) pre-match display of often-faux sincerity in front of a huge advert for the Premier League’s title sponsor was given the go-ahead before the match. Either the league were informed (or simply assumed) that both Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra intended on letting the moment pass off without incident or someone failed to consider the consequences of lingering resentment on the part of either player. Liverpool would have avoided a major headache had the two players in the spotlight shaken hands. I can understand why Suarez might have been reluctant – if I were publicly accused of racism but were sure of my own innocence, I would certainly feel resentful of my accuser – but it is safe to say that a handshake would have been better for all concerned. Journalists would have to focus on the game, Sky’s multiple slow-motion replays would have been redundant and something of a line would have been drawn under the whole affair.
  • When we learnt that Gary Neville would be joining Sky Sports as a pundit and co-commentator, I never thought I would end up agreeing with him so often. His studio analysis before Monday night games has usually been very good and he called it right again at half-time in this match in downplaying the significance of the aborted handshake. “It wasn’t that big an issue” will not sell newspapers, of course, and while Neville was reminding viewers that games between Manchester United and Liverpool should have an edge to them, should be contested by sides with at least a dislike for one another, the Sky producer was cueing slow-mo replay after slow-mo replay of the pre-match incident. Still, it was refreshing to hear that not everyone was resorting to hyperbole.
  • During the recent FA Cup game between the two sides, Anfield was treated to “The Sun was right, you’re murderers”, “without killing anyone, we won it three times”, “always the victim, never your fault” (perhaps sung with reference to Suarez but with an obvious, chilling Hillsborough undertone), all belted out with gusto. There was no let up at Old Trafford. Park Ji-Sung’s absence today spared us of another rendition of “you eat dogs in your home country” (racist?). The Stretford End songbook is worthy of more condemnation than it receives. (Manchester United supporters may make reference to Liverpool fans singing about Munich. I do not know whether this happened today – it certainly did not happen at Anfield in the recent game – but such singing is also deplorable.)
  • The match was a dispiriting, low-quality affair. Two of the three goals came from mistakes (Spearing conceding possession in the build-up to Rooney’s second, Ferdinand failing to deal with a free-kick allowing Suarez to find the net) and the game was nothing like as exciting as the home side’s last fixture, the 3-3 draw with Chelsea. That game had shown that encounters between the biggest teams do not necessarily have to be cagey. Today’s game was the kind that neutrals dislike but still watch because of the teams involved. It was not as toxic a 90 minutes as was feared with only two bookings handed out by the referee, Phil Dowd. Considering the pre-match events, we can be thankful that this was the case.
  • Stewart Downing. Until his yellow card you’d barely have remembered he was on the pitch. He needs a word in the ear or a boot up the arse. And quickly.
  • I’m no fan of Manchester United or many of their supporters, but it was worrying to hear that police were confiscating copies of their fanzine, Red Issue. The publication contained, amongst other things, a cut-out-and-keep Ku Klux Klan mask for supporters to wear (I’m all for puns, but Klanfield ceased to be amusing, even objectively, after about a day). The police acted not in response to a complaint, but because they claimed the magazine was inciting racial hatred, which seems a fairly flimsy claim. I have never read Red Issue and I have no intention of doing so any time soon, but the decision to confiscate copies of the new edition from over 1000 sellers (according to their official Twitter feed) is worrying and typical of the way in which many football matches in this country are policed. Still, so long as plenty of tourists can get their half-and-half scarves (why, at this fixture of all fixtures?) who’s complaining?
  • If Sir Alex Ferguson had not already ended his boycott of the BBC, I suspect he would have picked today to start speaking to Match of the Day again as he revelled in the post-match spotlight, declaring that Suarez should never play for Liverpool again. Quite how he would react were another manager to ever suggest similar treatment for one of his players, I am not sure (actually, I am fairly sure). But that aside, his rush to condemn Suarez and Liverpool’s protection of him meant he forgot to consider his behaviour in previous years. How, for instance, did he react to Eric Cantona’s decision to jump into the crowd and attack a Crystal Palace fan in 1995? Well, let’s just say that Cantona lived to play another day at Old Trafford. It is pointless trying to argue whether Suarez’s offence was worse than Cantona’s, but Ferguson certainly has no moral high ground from which to hector.
  • Danish media reported that Daniel Agger offered Rio Ferdinand outside. When I heard of this at about half past five, it was the first time I had smiled in about five hours! Agger would have had him too, you know.

United have a serious chance of winning the league again. Liverpool sit seventh yet only – ridiculously – four points off fourth place. The Best League In The World, it is fair to say, will likely be rewarding a mediocre team with Champions League football at the end of the season.

In print

January 10, 2012

I’ve written a piece on the recent goings on at Ajax, and you can read it in the current edition of Late Tackle. The magazine is available in most branches of WH Smith.

Late Tackle issue three

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – a review

November 22, 2011
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If asked to nominate an episode of scarcely-believable sporting drama, most people would have little difficulty in proffering an example. The 2005 Champions League final, the second Ashes test of that same year, game six of the 2011 World Series – three events in recent times where the incredible has happened. It is not just at the pinnacle of professional sport that such moments unfold however, and The Miracle of Castel di Sangro begins in the aftermath of a less widely-renowned sporting shock.

Castel di Sangro, a town of little over 6,000 people, is not a place with a great deal of sporting pedigree. It appears to be rather unremarkable, full stop. But for a short period in the 1990s, its footballers ensured that it gained unprecedented national recognition, at least among football fans. A hitherto perennial resident of Serie C1 and below, the 1995-96 season saw the club reach Serie B, beating Ascoli on penalties. Joe McGinniss, an American with a child-like enthusiasm for the game, arrives to find the town and its team still savouring the joy of promotion, but also apprehensive at the prospect of a hard season in the second tier of Italian football.

The book tells the story of the season from beginning to end, but it is more than simply a chronicle of the team’s performances. The majority of matches are dealt with in some detail, but these accounts are often much less interesting than the other aspects of the author’s time in Italy. McGinniss evidently gets caught up in each game, from the unexpected victories to the heart-sinking losses, but it is the people he encounters that elevate the book from simply a blow-by-blow narration of Castel di Sangro’s attempts to avoid relegation.

While McGinniss charts the club’s fortunes on the pitch, his seemingly ever-improving Italian allows him to connect with the players, the manager and other individuals connected with the organisation, without the shackles of an interpreter. He is helped in this regard by the fact that the team and their manager, Osvaldo Jaconi, all eat at Marcella’s, a restaurant in the town. It is quite a set of characters that sits round the table. There is Luca D’Angelo, intensely disliked by the manager because of his communism, curious as to the author’s role in the Vietnam war; Gigi Prete, arrested along with his glamorous South American wife mid-way through the season in connection with cocaine smuggling; and Roberto Alberti, initially cold towards the outsider but a man whose respect for McGinniss grows.

The stories of these people, the majority of whom are lower-league journeymen who have reached the zenith of their careers, and the way in which they respond to triumph, adversity and genuine tragedy, are compelling. There is no indication as to whether the season described in this book is typical of those endured by Serie B teams at the time (one hopes not), but those who represent this particular town on the pitch have to deal with significant problems. Castel di Sangro has no stadium at the start and is forced to play its home games in the city of Chieti, over 60 miles away. When the new ground is finally constructed, the pitch is unusable. Later, one player receives treatment in a local hospital and is nearly killed after being jabbed with an unsterilised needle. Such concerns pale into insignificance, however, when compared with the death of two players in a car accident during the season. Their memories seem to act as a spur to the remainder of the squad to try their very hardest to remain in the division for at least another year.

It is not just the players with whom McGinniss converses; he and Jaconi enjoy a testy relationship. While the two get on well for long periods – indeed, the author thanks the manager for being “the finest next-door neighbour a man could ever have” – there are times when each becomes impatient, sometimes angry, with the other. Usually these arguments arise because of tactics. McGinniss chastises Jaconi for favouring a negative approach and using the wrong players; the manager responds angrily by criticising the American for trying to meddle in a sport about which he has insufficient knowledge.

The author’s desire to involve himself in the the football as much as possible is probably down to his keenness for the game but it does become irksome. McGinniss is one of the least interesting characters in the book, yet at times he appears to want to be central to the story. On more than one occasion, for instance, in protest at the club’s off-field affairs (he is angered by a publicity stunt pulled by president Gabriele Gravina, for example), he scribed his concerns onto flyers before distributing them around the town and sending them to notable individuals such as the mayor, some of the players and Gravina himself. His continuous questioning of Jaconi’s team selections understandably irritated the manager. For all we hear of that man’s stubbornness, it is a shame that his neighbour never grew to consider him so obstinate that any attempt to change his mind would prove futile.

Then there are the two men running things behind the scenes, Gravina and Signor Pietro Rezza, a man seemingly plucked from every mafia film you’ve ever seen, whose not-so-humble abode overlooks the town. Smoking a fat cigar and forever accompanied by bodyguards, Rezza is the man with the money and the muscle. Gravina is his son-in-law. While Castel di Sangro’s footballing fate is sealed in dramatic fashion during the penultimate match, Rezza is central to the finale to both the season and the book. Consequently, McGinness’s season abroad ends on a sour note (this is in no way a reflection on whether or not the team avoids relegation or not). The author’s reaction to the events of the final two chapters suggest that for all his wish to get to know the club and its key individuals throughout the season, it is harder than it appears to shake off the mentality of an outsider.

McGinniss writes well and at a lively pace and the book details a frankly extraordinary season. It has clearly been produced with the American market in mind, but it is a testament to its quality that such Americanisms such as “overtime” instead of “stoppage time” or “injury time” (to give one example) do not become an annoyance. Similarly, the basic rules of the game are outlined early on in the book, but despite making sure those who know little about football, still less about Italian football, are aware of the necessary basics, McGinniss does not give the impression he looks down to his readership. The book would have benefited from the author attempting to speak to the fans – the tifosi – but sadly we never hear their take on people or events. Despite this oversight, the book is an energetic, well-written account of a small club’s search for a second miracle.

A resolution to the Suárez affair cannot come soon enough

November 16, 2011

Two things happened on Wednesday afternoon which caused a lot of people to get very worked up. First of all, everyone’s favourite football administrator, Sepp Blatter, declared that racism on the pitch is no big thing and such issues can be solved with a handshake after the final whistle. Rightly, these comments provoked amazement, anger and ridicule.

Not long after this incident, the FA – not quite on the same level as FIFA but by no means a universally popular organisation – outlined a disciplinary charge against Luis Suárez. “It is alleged that Suárez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules,” read a statement. “It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra.”

If the outrage and scorn directed at Blatter on account of his latest “he didn’t, did he?!” moment was understandable, the reaction of some Liverpool supporters to the news was downright hysterical. “They haven’t got a shred of evidence! The FA are in Ferguson’s pocked,” was a popular line. “Nice to see they’re charging Suárez but letting John Terry get off scott free!” was a similarly angry complaint. Then, of course, there were plenty calling for Evra’s head should the Liverpool number seven be exonerated.

The atmosphere on supporters’ forums and Twitter becomes particularly febrile during moments such as this. When people are able to comment instantaneously on an issue, the rush to pass judgement often comes before clear thought, as shown by the fiasco surrounding FIFA and the right of the England team to wear poppies on their shirts during the match against Spain. Liverpool have, rightly, given backing to their player, but the siege mentality which has been created does nothing to lend itself to rational thinking. Had people engaged their brains for a moment, they may have realised that the more ill-tempered responses were not particularly well considered.

Now that the charge has been brought, any evidence will have to be produced. Until now, there has been considerable doubt as to both what Suárez is alleged to have said to Evra and what he actually said – if anything at all. Now is the time for Manchester United to set out their evidence. Bringing the case to a disciplinary hearing is something that everybody should welcome. The debate can move on from snide remarks about the character and past behaviour of both players. If, as so many Liverpool fans believe (and I hope), there is no evidence to back up any accusation of racist abuse, this charge and subsequent hearing should be welcomed. If Suárez is found guilty, he should be punished. (The question of cultural misunderstandings is one for another piece.)

It should also be noted that John Terry’s case is different. The FA’s failure to charge the England captain, despite video footage allegedly showing him racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, is not down to favouritism (although there is little doubt that they would prefer the matter to go away as quickly as possible). Terry is subject to a police investigation, however, and any FA charge will have to wait until that is concluded.

There are aspects of this case which cause concern: Suárez will be seen by many as a racist, no matter the final outcome, in part because of Evra’s decision to air his grievances after the match on French TV rather than keeping the matter firmly in-house. The briefing of the media that appears to have taken place has been unfortunate and some of the language used has given the impression – deliberately or otherwise – that the Uruguayan is the guilty party (see the Independent’s headline on Monday that “Spanish slang may get Suarez off the hook“). That the FA has taken this long to investigate this issue does beg the question “what have they been doing?”.

Suárez has been charged, he will appear before an FA hearing. This fact does not mean he has been found guilty. The capacity for people to post instant reaction to events like today’s is fine when a famous figure at the top of football is being roundly condemned for ridiculous comments which appear to make light of racism in the game. When supporters turn racist abuse into a partisan issue, however, they would do well to stop and think before hitting the ‘post’ button. An outcome in Suárez’s case cannot come soon enough.

Utrecht 6-4 Ajax – leaky defences make for an entertaining game

November 7, 2011

Defensive blunders proved Ajax’s undoing as Utrecht won an exciting game at Nieuw Galgewaard to secure their first points since Jan Wouters took over as manager last month.

The Dutch champions came into the game having scored more away from home this season than any other Eredivisie side and they continued in this vein putting four past Roberto Fernández. Utrecht had not won since October 1, conceding eight goals in the following three games. Despite exhibiting a leaky defence again on Sunday though, they were able to take advantage of their opponents’ sloppy defending.

It was clear from the first minute that it was going to be an open game, as Ajax right-back Gregory Van Der Wiel popped up in the Utrecht penalty area before dragging a shot past the far post.

The away side picked up two injuries in the first half, as both Siem De Jong and Toby Alderweireld were forced to come off. This setback did not prove disastrous for Frank de Boer’s side as De Jong’s replacement, Dmitry Bulykin, scored two goals including the game’s opener on eight minutes following good work by Derk Boerrigter.

Despite both sides playing only one striker, neither could really claim to be controlling the midfield for extended periods. Utrecht took just 11 minutes to wrest the lead from Ajax, as first Nana Asare and then Edouard Duplan found the net. The former’s shot from outside the box was deflected past Kenneth Vermeer, while the latter seized on a loose ball after Jacob Mulenga had failed to control a long punt over the defence, and finished with aplomb.

By half-time the visitors were leading again. Andre Ooijer – who had been introduced in place of Alderweireld and was fortunate to have seen only a yellow card for a tackle on Rodney Sneijder – bundled the ball in at the back post from a Theo Janssen free-kick after 32 minutes. Then, four minutes before the interval, Bulykin scored his second, heading home Sulejmani’s cross from the right.

Both teams were playing three central midfielders and there was little creativity in the middle of the pitch. The goals that did result from this area came about from long balls over the top. The wingers often had space to exploit and were much more creative than the players in the centre. Both defences were troubled by crosses into the box and so it was of little surprised that the wingers in the game stayed wide for long periods.

Four minutes after the restart, Utrecht drew level again. Alexander Gerndt crossed from the left and Daan Bovenberg scored from close range. The defending was poor. Neither Vermeer nor his defenders took control of the situation so the Utrecht right-back was able to find the net from five yards out.

Five minutes later the home side were 5-3 up. In the 52nd minute a high ball over the defence caught Vurnon Anita napping, the right-back playing Mulenga onside. The striker held off Jan Vertonghen before firing past the goalkeeper. Two minutes later, Vermeer presented the first of two gifts to Utrecht as he scuffed a clearance straight to Asare. The Ghanaian kept a cool head to find the open goal from his position on the left wing.

It was at this point that Ajax began to take more chances. Christian Eriksen was pushed further forward in order to give greater support to Bulykin, and Utrecht’s defence assumed a deeper line. In the 72nd minute it was the Dane who scored Ajax’s fourth, setting up a nervy ending for the home crowd. The goal came about from more good wingplay, this time from an overlapping Van Der Wiel.

Utrecht dropped back for the remainder of the game, although they still created chances on the counter-attack. Duplan and Marcus Nilsson both went close, but it was Ajax who were controlling the midfield by this point, even if they could not find a fifth goal. With the referee’s whistle seconds away, Vermeer hit a clearance straight to substitute Anouar Kali who fired back into an unguarded net from 30 yards. The game finished 6-4.

This game was a tale of two mediocre defences, but it was an entertaining watch. Vermeer will doubtless have seen better days, and his confidence will need rebuilding; he was very reluctant to play anything other than short passes after his first kicking error and consequently Ajax came perilously close to playing themselves into trouble at the back on several occasions. Both sides used the width of the pitch in attack but tried to defend more narrowly, an odd decision considering they both conceded goals which resulted from crosses. There is much to ponder for both managers, particularly for de Boer whose team of champions currently sits in fifth place, 11 points adrift of AZ Alkmaar, having won just twice in the past eight games.

Ayre’s ambitions are bad news for the Premier League

October 12, 2011

The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football and the way I see life.” – Bill Shankly

Football has changed significantly since Bill Shankly hoisted Liverpool to domestic superiority. Even in the era of the ever-expanding Premier League though, the game has not become a totally anarchic, lawless affair. The strongest sides do not yet have everything their own way. True, the concentration of capital among an elite band of sneering titans cannot be denied, but certain conditions have remained which at least pay lip service to the belief that the smaller teams matter. Now Liverpool are seeking to undermine one such condition – the collective selling of Premier League TV rights. Supporters of the league’s business model have pointed to this arrangement as evidence that it is as much a socialist construction as one of the free market. There is a painful irony to the fact that Shankly’s club appears so willing to lead the campaign for further elite enrichment.

It should be noted that Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s Chief Executive, has talked up the possibility of clubs selling only overseas TV rights individually; revenues from domestic contracts would still be distributed as normal. Ayre’s focus on international markets clearly demonstrates not just that potential earnings abroad are greater than those to be found in Britain, but also that these markets are far from being fully exploited. From the club’s perspective, one could understand the frustration that, despite being second only to Manchester United in terms of foreign presence, the proceeds from the sale of TV rights outside the UK – £1.4bn over the current three-year period – are divided up equally between the 20 Premier League clubs.

Financial Fair Play has increased the need for clubs to wring as much cash from every possible revenue stream, including media rights. There has been a lot of positivity surrounding FFP (Liverpool owner John Henry is among its supporters), football supporters hopeful that it can rein in the power of the biggest sides. Perhaps now we are seeing the downside. The need to balance the books, as opposed to relying on investment from rich owners to keep a club afloat, may mean that unpopular revenue-raising decisions are taken, such as raising ticket prices or supporting measures which benefit one’s own team at the expense of the majority. When FFP regulations need to be complied with, when marketing targets in the Far East need to be met, when a chief executive’s responsibility is solely to his own club, the interests of Bolton, Wigan and Sunderland are going to take a back seat. Burnishing the accounts is, more than ever, a club’s raison d’être.

This view that only the big teams are important, however, fails to appreciate the role played by other clubs in the competition. Liverpool, Manchester United and rest of the top six are part of a league of 20, and it is the marketing of the division as a whole that is partly behind the increased money-making opportunities in the Far East, the United States and so on. Fans tune in from all around the world not just to see the best teams, but also because they know games will often be close-fought affairs. On their day, any team can beat any opponent, so the story goes; the product thrives because it is exciting and competitive. The clubs would no doubt point to Spain as an example of a league containing top teams but no such sense of tension or unpredictability, except perhaps over which clubs will fail to find a shirt sponsor for the season.

Yet it the Spanish model that the English risk copying. Because Barcelona, Real Madrid and the rest negotiate their TV deals individually, the top two teams dominate both on the field and off it. They earn the most money and enjoy the most success; no other team looks likely to challenge them for the league crown. Not since 2003-04 has another club won the league (that was Rafa Benitez’s Valencia). The steady stream of cash into the coffers at the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu has placed a glass ceiling above third place in the table. Further enriching the Premier League’s top clubs at the expense of the rest would have a similar effect. The rich clubs would benefit financially, but the league would suffer.

Of comfort is the fact that 14 teams would need to vote in favour of a change to the way in which TV rights are sold. At the moment, that looks unlikely, and we should bear that in mind. It may be that this idea is kicked into touch, just as the idea of the 39th game was. A cavalcade of critics emerged to knock back that particular idea. Hopefully they will do the same this time. While it has been disappointing to see some Liverpool fans display their support for such an “I’m alright, Jack” proposal, it has been equally heartening to see many of them condemn Ayre’s comments for what they are: selfish, ill-conceived and dangerous.

We may be 20 years too late in standing up for fairness and competition. The creation of the Premier League ushered in an era where a handful of clubs have dominated. The time for arguing against the concentration of wealth amongst a small group of clubs may have long passed. Nevertheless, any further move in this direction would have negative consequences for the competition and for clubs shut out from the spoils of the Champions League and international recognition.

On Saturday afternoon, Liverpool’s anthem will ring round Anfield once more. Right now there are plenty of people wishing Liverpool would walk alone, and leave the rest of English football as it is.

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