Mark Hughes’ sacking from Manchester City inevitably conjures up comparisons with our own situation.
One wonders if Rafa would be in post now if we had accepted the DIC take over offer instead of the one from Hicks and Gillett? Would DIC have shown the same impatience as the Manchester City owners or perhaps they would be mindful of the Liverpool tradition of giving managers time? On the other hand if DIC had taken over would the situation the club finds itself have arisen as Rafa would have had more funds to strengthen the squad?
Of course we can only speculate. As it is we have Hicks and Gillett who find themselves in an increasingly awkward situation. They have been barged away from the lucrative Champions League trough and, as I write, the prospect of getting their snouts in it next year, look less than guaranteed, despite Rafa’s promises. A few years ago they sounded out Jurgen Klinsmann about taking over however, things have changed since then. They were rightly slaughtered for their underhand treachery and have since awarded Rafa with a five year contract. That will cost the Americans if they sack him. His successor will also cost to recruit.
There is also the issue of the fans. Rafa’s stock might be dwindling after recent games but there is still a large amount of support for him amongst those who lay the blame for his predicament at the owner’s door? Not only will sacking Rafa cost the star spangled duo it will, on the whole, make them more unpopular – assuming that’s possible! Never has the phrase “dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t” ever been more appropriate to Hicks’ and Gillett’s situation? It is, in the light of their clumsiness since they took over, a situation they deserve.
Behind the scenes unrest has been with us for a long time however, it’s not as much to the fore if we are doing well on the pitch. Now that we are struggling the two issues have morphed into one highly public disaster, this is hardly a big shock as the two are linked. It is easy to lay the blame at the owner’s door for lack of financial support and I believe that is a major, major factor however, when the team turns out such a listless performance as the one we witnessed at Portsmouth last Saturday thoughts must also turn to the players and manager specifically his transfer choices and his ability to get the required performance out of his team.
This is what it boils down to, regardless of the finances, the stadium etc. Rafa has rung the changes this season but so far it hasn’t involved playing Hicks and Gillett at centre back! Equally I doubt Dossena has knocked on Rafa’s door and said “boss I can’t play because the financing issue, the share offer and the delayed stadium is constantly on my mind”. So is there anything afoot in the dressing room?
It would be great to get each player in an interview room behind closed doors and have confidential conversation with each one about what they feel is going wrong this season. No holds bars, tell it like it is. I think there would be a few shocks however, is Rafa the sort of person to have “clear the air” talks? Perhaps there is stuff he knows he might hear that he doesn’t want to? We know he places a lot of emphasis on the tactical side of things but is the sort of manager who can provide a psychological pep talk to players, or the team as a whole, if needed? Playing as a team in formation and applying different tactics is one thing but what happens if the confidence goes? Steven Gerrard in this book mentioned how distant Rafa can be and then there is Carragher’s famous story about how he took him to task over a challenge he made rather than congratulate him immediately after they had won the Champions League. When things are going well its fine, when things are down things can get personal and cracks appear? Rafa needs to keep everyone unified. Can he do it?
However, it’s not all Rafa perhaps, now that things are going wrong, we will learn more about our players. How do they respond on the pitch when their backs are against the wall? Do they come out fighting, determined to change things around or do they chuck it? What is the difference between Saturday’s performance and the last season’s “come back” performances against Middlesbrough, Manchester City, Wigan and indeed Portsmouth? What has changed it’s not solely down to Alonso? Mascherano will inevitably get some flack for his second sending off however, it was a tackle of someone who was up for it even though his “enthusiasm” was misplaced. The current situation is clearly hurting Gerrard and Carragher but what about the rest of the team? Do they really want it?
Now is the time to show it. Now is the time for Rafa and his staff to employ whatever means necessary to make sure they show it. It could be his biggest challenge yet?