“..it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope”
Even though we didn’t win any silverware, perhaps the 2010-11 season will go down as one of our more significant, or at least eventful, ones?
As the 2009-10 campaign closed who would have predicted that we would see two changes of manager, the last leading to the return of a legend, a change of owner and the sale of one of our key players who was, arguably, our prized asset? All this points to a club in crisis, a club on a downward curve. If you look at the state we were in before Christmas perhaps so however, Harold Wilson said “a week is a long time in politics” well for Liverpool a season seems to be a long time in football!
Soon after Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over it was clear that things would eventually come to a head. Liverpool fans can sniff out wrong “uns”, someone who isn’t genuine it is a pity the board didn’t show the same sort of intuition when they agreed to sell to them. Many hoped that Hicks’ and Gillett’s greedy, grubby fingers would be prised away from the club before the season started however, it was not to be we ended fighting a battle on two fronts, on the pitch and off it.
On the pitch we proved the critics wrong. Pre season forecasts said we’d end up around sixth or seventh in the league but what do they know. Sixth? Seventh? What rubbish, by October were in the relegation zone! The initial optimism, which always accompanies the start of a new season, was maintained for at just one game, the home draw with Arsenal which we should had won had Jose not had an aberration. However, the dark, cold forces of reality soon introduced themselves via a limp 3-0 surrender to Manchester City at Eastlands. West Brom were beaten but that was just a blip. Defeats or draws with Birmingham, The Mancs, Sunderland, Blackpool and Everton, not to mention Northampton in the Cup, soon had us mumbling and grumbling. Roy Hodgson put on a brave, dignified face and had some success in Europe but time was soon called on the honeymoon period. By the time the clocks went back he cut a beleaguered, lonely figure and was fast running out of excuses to explain our poor form.
The players should take some blame but when one sees how basically the same squad has been galvanised under Kenny you wonder just how significant, or should that be insignificant, Hodgson’s influence was? Creativity was sacrificed for order and formula however we couldn’t keep to it. Mistakes were made especially in defence where Glen Johnson appeared to be on a one man mission to .. well I’ve no idea what he was playing at and in fairness it wasn’t just him. In midfield we were artisan at best and uninspired most of the time Meireles and Maxi laboured as if under some paralysing spell and Steven Gerrard seemed to be permanently injured and when he wasn’t he might as well have been such was his influence. Up front Dirk Kuyt laboured Ngog flickered, especially in Europe, and Fernando sulked and sulked and sulked as if he’d lost his Pokémon Cards or broken his DS Lite. For him, and us, the only highlight was his brace against Chelsea but you always make an effort to impress in front of prospective employers don’t you! The last game of 2010 was an embarrassing pathetic surrender to Wolves at Anfield. Even those who were willing to be more patient than most were hard pressed to give Hodgson more time. His goose, along with the other festive poultry, was cooked. We were fast becoming a turkey of a side.
Off the field, the club finally got their men. Hicks and Gillett desperately tried every trick in the book to wriggle out of the inevitable. Threats, be they legal or otherwise, failed to stop goodbye day. The fans, who played such a major part and taking the club to this moment, handed the baton to Martin Broughton and his team whose expertise saw it through in the courts. By the middle of October we were free of Statler and Waldorf and had installed some more Americans! Even though Hicks and Gillett were financial and morally naked, they pathetically refused to let it go ignoring pride and dignity they scrabbled about in the legal dirt looking for a last opportunity to screw something out of the club and claiming they were victims of an ”epic swindle”. They were kidding no one they took us for fools but it was they who were out manoeuvred and deservedly sent packing.
Fenway Sports got their feet under the table and as everyone was getting back into the swing of things after Christmas and New Year, Hodgson was gone. He is a decent man but the more attractive prospect of Kenny waiting in the wings as an alternative meant he was on a hiding to nothing, patience was in short supply. About all, after everything that had happened, the new owners needed some “glue” to bind club, players and fans together. Kenny’s appointment provided it. Was it a populist move? I guess there was that fear, by that I mean could Kenny still cut the mustard after long period out of the game? It was a tentative start, defeat to The Mancs and Blackpool however slowly the curve bottomed out and began its upward trajectory.
That might have been enough for one season however, what happened during the January transfer window defied belief in terms of what happened and how rapidly it came about. Had the sale of Fernando Torres been sanctioned by Hicks and Gillett I suspect they would never have been allowed to show their faces in Liverpool again. However, time and fate was on Fenway’s side. Torres was clearly unhappy. His form had dipped but oddly, even though he was free from us, it continued to when he joined Chelsea to point were now, in many quarters, he is a figure of ridicule. £50m for a player who had his best spell of the season with us! Torres was branded as opportunistic and calculating however perhaps, as a complement, this should directed at those who decided to sanction the sale? The replacements, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, proved more than up to the mark especially Suarez whose form to the end of season eclipsed Torres in every department. What a good piece of business – are you watching Tom, George and Mr Abramovich?
Good fortune and business off the pitch was soon replicated on it. Maxi and Meireles awoke from their winter hibernation, Dirk Kuyt scored goals from all angles and distances (remember the Mancs match). Youth was also given a welcome chance. How much would Flanagan command in October 2010 and how much would he command now? Goals came, three against Wolves, Stoke, The Mancs, Man City and Newcastle, five against Birmingham and Fulham and perhaps most significantly there were wins against Chelsea, The Mancs and Man City. We even kept some clean sheets.
There were still blips West Ham, West Brom, Blackpool (again) but at times the feeling was reminiscent of the games we played in the late eighties under Kenny when the opposition was flummoxed and had no answer to what they saw before them? A turnaround but should get carried away contrast the above with this cold fact, In season 2010-11 we only managed to take 7 points, out of a possible 18, from the teams that were relegated!
And Kenny? It was invigoratingly and pleasurably weird seeing him on touch line again standing there in his Adidas jacket as if nothing had changed apart from the lines on his face. After twenty years or so I never thought I’d see it again and even now I can’t really believe it! It felt great. Kenny, along with the clever recruitment of Steve Clarke, changed things different players popped in the press all speaking in complementary terms about his methods. Although we ended the season tired with two defeats, missing out on Europa, and still seeing the new owners playing cards close their chest re the stadium and the issue of new blood I think it’s fair to say the good vibrations are now rumbling through the club. All down to one man? I don’t know but how can players, who seemed stifled and impotent at the beginning of the season, suddenly bloom so bright towards the end?
They say never go back but sometimes you need to. To start again, work out were you went wrong, be reminded of how and why Liverpool became a great club. Kenny is a vital link to that era. On Match of the Day Alan Hanson said Kenny felt he had “unfinished business” with the club. He now has the opportunity to sort this. It could be a memorably journey for all of us?