These days most football phone in programmes seem to consist of fans criticising their team if they lose, then the next week complaining that their team doesn’t get enough credit if they win and then calling for the manager’s head when they lose the week after that. Now we have more TV channels, the web and yes, blogs there’s just too much of this sort of talk. It’s a tired, cheap, unimaginative and predictable format.
The Danny Baker Football Phone In on Radio Five Live is a class or two above this. The last thing he would want to discuss is how you team is doing, the Premiership and the merits of the top four. What could he bring to this that hasn’t already been done? So better to refreshingly dwell on whole range of off the wall subjects such as candidates for a Totalitarian League, Fraser Digby’s Washbag, the seven deadly sins of football and people with the longest run of getting into a ground for nothing! However occasionally even Baker, when not lusting after Dimitar Berbatov, can’t resist pointing a finger at the so called “elite”.
Not surprisingly this is done with the welcome aim of pricking lofty pretensions. The other day week after the Sunderland game Rafa and the team were described as “constipated”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a football team being described as that before, “full of s***” yes but “constipated”? However, the more you think about our recent form the more the description rings true. We’ve visited the ”bowl” of Anfield on more than one occasion this season and strained a lot but have shown no real movement. Tuesday night finally gave us welcome relief, we “got going” after a couple of months of er… discomfort. Timely before we visit Old Trafford which I will refrain from describing as a toilet or worse!
By now Rafa and the team should be used to such criticism, humorous or other wise. However, on Tuesday it was as if something snapped and Rafa, almost in a belligerent “I’ll show them attitude”, decided confound his critics and instruct his team to play in a way that flies in the face of everything they seem to associate us with? I’m sure Madrid expected us to sit on the lead and were taken aback by our forwardness. Add to this the crowd, and surely their chances were over before they could recover their bearings or even start to think about doing something to save them?
Inevitably Rafa was asked about why we can’t replicate this form in the league. His reply was interesting.
“Why are we so good in Europe? I can only say that we approach European games with confidence and in the right way….They were expecting us to play deep and play on the counter-attack but we were on top of them right from the start and they never really recovered from that opening spell.”
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this but does this mean we have an issue with “confidence” and playing “in the right way” in the Premiership? Some results might suggest so like our all too “constipated” performances at home. Surely confidence is the key factor. The weight of expectation for us to win the league has increased, particularly this season, and will not relent. Does Europe provide a welcome respite to this even through the standard of football is supposed to be higher?
Whatever the case it was really great to see us go for the jugular with sustained pace and confidence on Tuesday. It’s something which I hope we’ll consider doing more frequently in the league. I know it’s never straightforward but breaking through early, as we did on Tuesday, will surely make those teams who come to Anfield with the sole intention of “parking the bus” in front of goal think again if not at the start of the game then certainly after the first goal?
Finally, I don’t know if it he planned it or it was just coincidence, but Rafa’s appeal for more respect for his and the team’s achievements couldn’t have been better timed. After the game respect came pouring out of the newspaper pages! Respect should never ever be demanded it should be earned and Rafa, despite what he might think, has earned plenty. If he feels hard done by he should ignore the critics and remember the support and affection shown to him by the fans after “Klinmannsgate”?
I don’t doubt there are a number of Reds who have lost respect for Rafa and want him out however, I can only speak for myself. What I like about Rafa is that he is human. He gets frustrated, angry and pissed off and occasionally it shows in his manner during interviews and during the game. Baker’s description of “constipated” couldn’t be more wrong in this respect. Rafa might be a cantankerous, sometimes frustrating, bloody minded, old sod at times and use the word “FACT” a lot but he is OUR cantankerous, bloody minded, old sod and I for one, for better or worse and despite some the criticism than I occasionally throw his way in these pages, still trust and, above RESPECT, him. Regardless of what happens this season, he remains the man to take us forward.