It’s hard to believe that a couple of years ago Liverpool were the team closest to us when we won the league again. In the end, they won three less games than us but there were serious worries that Liverpool were in the ascendancy and that the claims of a ‘Rafalution’ were starting not to sound so ridiculous. However, at the end of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson commented that Liverpool had enjoyed their best season in almost 20 years, but still finished 4 points short, so probably wouldn’t be much of a threat the following season. I’m sure even he didn’t envisage Liverpool slipping down a further 5 places to 7th though, particularly considering they didn’t even have the excuse of prioritising the Champions League, given that they got booted out at the group stages.
At the end of the season, Benitez plunged Liverpool in to a few more million quids worth of debt when receiving the pay off for a job he wanted to leave, and inherited Jose Mourinho’s champions of Europe. Jamie Kanwar from Liverpool Kop has spoken about his feelings on last season, Benitez and Liverpool on the up.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Jamie Kanwar: No, not at all. It was an utterly abject season in every way, possibly the worst I’ve experienced my 27 years as an LFC fan. The only other season that comes close to mind-numbing drudgery of last year is 1993-4 under Graeme Souness, but at least then the disappointment was moderated by the fact that we still had legends in the team like John Barnes and Ian Rush, and there was hope for the future with the likes of Steve Mcmanaman and Robbie Fowler coming through. Last season was always going to happen under Rafa Benitez. It was inevitable – Benitez pulled off the perfect Coup d’état at Anfield, and all the mistakes he’d consistently been making since 2004 came home to roost in one season. Benitez had too much power; he’d padded the staff with too many servile yes-men, and he had too much misguided blind-faith support from legions of manipulated fans. In short, Benitez became a sporting dictator, and the negativity of his approach suffocated and demotivated the team.
STR: Well I for one will miss Benitez. He was good for a laugh and meant there wasn’t much debate over who would reach 19 first. New manager, so what are your aspirations for this season?
JK: I have no doubt that Liverpool will finish in the top 4. On paper, it probably doesn’t appear likely, but many of our players were only functioning at 50% capacity/effort last season. That will all change under Roy Hodgson, who is an excellent manager. I just want to see players enjoying themselves for a change; unshackled, and playing without fear; unafraid to express themselves creatively. I personally want to start enjoying watching Liverpool again. I’m probably in the minority with this view, but for me, it’s all about the enjoyment/excitement of football. I really don’t care if we win trophies next season; as long as the team always gives 100%, and plays entertaining football (and hammers United along the way!), I’ll be happy. The dark days of the Benitez era are over, and Liverpool are back in the ascendancy.
STR: The ascendancy eh? After finishing 7th last season, that’s probably not too hard. But if this is true, who are you expecting to be your most important player this season?
JK: If he stays fit, undoubtedly Fernando Torres. If there’s one player in the Premier League who guarantees goals, it’s a fit Torres.
STR: Couldn’t agree more which is why it was a massive relief when he confirmed he wasn’t leaving for Chelsea! You’ve spoken about Roy already, so how do you rate his ability to take Liverpool forward?
JK: I have great faith in Roy Hodgson. He’s an old-school manager, very much in the mould of LFC greats of the past like Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly. He is not the big name that many fans hoped for but that doesn’t make any difference. Hodgson is a very intelligent man, with vast experience of football at all levels. Most importantly, he has a quality that’s been lacking at Anfield in the last 10+ years: excellent man-management skills, which will – in my view – make all the difference.
STR: What’s your favourite chant you’ve heard sung at your ground?
This one about Djimi Traore was great, to the tune of ‘Blame it on the Boogie’.
“Don’t blame it on the Biscan,
Don’t blame it on the Hamann,
Don’t blame it on the Finnan,
Blame it on Traore,
He just can’t,
He just can’t,
He just can’t control his feet.”
Another great one:
“He’s red, He’s sound,
He’s banned from every ground,
Carra’s dad, Carra’s dad.”
STR: Yeh I’d heard that Traore one before. Good shout. Anyway, where do you think United will finish this season?
JK: 2nd, behind Chelsea again. Of course, with Alex Ferguson at the club, winning the league will never be out of the question. It goes without saying that I hope United get nowhere near winning the league!
STR: Of course. I’m just glad I don’t have to hope Liverpool keep their hands off the title. It’s just common knowledge. Ouch. Anyway, if you could have any two players from United’s current squad playing for you, who would they be?
JK: Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov. To be honest, I wouldn’t really want to see any United players in Liverpool shirts (Paul Ince was bad enough), but we need strikers, and Hernandez and Berbatov fit the bill.
STR: Good choices. I honestly believe this is a season the pair of them will be grabbing lots of headlines on the back pages, although understand the feeling of not wanting to see one of your hatred rivals’ players turning out for you. Another thing we have in common is both our clubs have been lumbered with debt. What are your thoughts on United’s debt?
JK: Whether they like it or not, fans have to accept that debt is part and parcel of modern football. At first glance, United’s debt seems extreme (and like with Liverpool, the press sensationalise it), but the plain fact is the debt has had practically no impact on United’s success on the pitch. Under the Glazers, United have won every trophy there is to win, including 3 league titles in a row and the Champions League. That doesn’t make it right to have debt, but everything needs to be considered in the correct context.
STR: That’s what we’ve won in spite of the Glazers though. Can you imagine what we would have won if they weren’t hindering us? Anyway, what is your favourite game your club have played against United?
JK: The 4-0 hammering at Anfield in 1990. Such an exciting game to watch – Barnes, Beardsley, Rush, Nicol, Houghton and McMahon just tore United apart. Notable for a brilliant hat-trick from Beardsley and a rare headed goal from the most exciting player ever to grace the Anfield turf, John Barnes.
STR: And the worst?
JK: The 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford in 2003. A crushing defeat and one of the most painful Liverpool results I can remember. Sami Hyypia was (unfairly) sent off after 3 minutes (!) – What followed was just gut-wrenching.
STR: There’s nothing unfair about sending the last man off for a foul in the box! You start grabbing shirts in the box and you’ve had it, which is why there was so much fuss when Vidic didn’t get sent off against Villa at Wembley a few months back. Anyway, Alonso first, now Mascherano. Are Aquilani and Lucas anywhere near competent replacements?
JK: The Aquilani debacle was one of the final nails in Benitez’s coffin. It was utter negligence to replace Alonso, who later admitted Benitez forced him out, with an injured player who would not make his début until 3 months into the season. Having said that, if Aquilani remains fit, and is used correctly, I think he can do a good job for Liverpool. Lucas receives unfair and unfounded criticism from Liverpool fans – It’s not his fault Benitez chose to play him almost every game. Before coming to Liverpool, Lucas was an attack-minded player; like so many others, Benitez made him play defensively, and strangled the creativity out of him. Unlike many Liverpool fans, I have never rated Mascherano – he, along with Dirk Kuyt, is symbolic of the Benitez era: stamina, strength and defensive ability over flair and creativity. Lucas is not the answer – and ideally he should be retained as a squad player – but until we have an adequate replacement, I think he can definitely do a job in Mascherano’s role.
STR: I know it goes without saying, given your very public feelings on Benitez, but just how pleased are you that he’s left?
JK: I am overjoyed! I stopped enjoying being a football fan during the Benitez era, and couldn’t wait for him to leave. In the end, Benitez was detrimental to Liverpool’s forward progress: poor man-management and constant alienation of players; Ultra-cautious style of football; Dodgy formations; Ineffective, safety first subs; Continual wasting of transfer funds; Frustrating preference for stamina and hard-work over flair and creativity; Over-reliance on limited players to the detriment of the team; Constant use of the press to manipulate the fans; Public politicking to gain an advantage of H+G; regular public criticism of players; Failure to win a trophy for 4 years; failure to challenge for the league 5 years out 6; Two utterly atrocious league seasons (04-5 + 09/10); Reducing the quality of the squad from that which he inherited; somehow contriving to take an established top 4 team to 7th place; Pigheadedly refusing to deviate from playing 2 holding mids, even at home against relegation fodder. And the list goes on. It’s nothing personal – as I argued many times over the years (with endless examples), Benitez was not the man to take Liverpool forward. I only ever had a problem with his managerial approach, which was lacking in some vital ways. Having said that, Benitez deserves credit for several achievements during his time at the club; and like Houllier before him, it must be acknowledged that he moved the club forward in one important way: re-establishing Liverpool as a true European force.
STR: Do you have a case of Samson on your hands now that Torres has chopped off his blonde locks? Given that he had the best players in the world around him this summer, he wasn’t half awful.
JK: Yes, Torres underperformed at the World Cup. In his defence, he was returning from injury, and probably played when he should’ve been on the sidelines recuperating. If chopping off his hair makes Torres more aerodynamic and a more effective striker, I’m all for it!
STR: And finally, what are your thoughts on Spirit of Shankly, the fans union which speak on behalf of Liverpool fans?
JK: Xenophobic thugs, and peddlers of misinformation, exaggeration and hyperbole about LFC as part of a rabid, misguided anti-Owner agenda. A total embarrassment to the majority of Liverpool fans.
STR: Indeed! Cheers Jamie. I would wish you good luck for the season, but you’d know I wouldn’t mean it.