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Liverpool: Rise and Fall

Liverpool football club

Written by Iain Swan

Not everybody looks back fondly upon the 1980s, for the legion of bitter little socialists that inhabit the media establishment, it was the decade of Thatcherism, for fashion snobs it was the time that taste forgot, but for the Merseyside clubs and Liverpool fans in particular, it must seem like a golden age following the week that wasn’t.

The era of two European Cups, seven League titles, two F.A. Cups and four League Cups must seem a lifetime away after the past seven days. Defeat to bitter rivals and usurpers Manchester United , exit  from the League Cup at the hands of Northampton and then a scraped draw against Sunderland at Anfield on Saturday that owed much to refereeing generosity, sees the once mighty Reds consigned to sixteenth in a league they once dominated. Their neighbours Everton are rooted bottom .

Yet in 1988, when the negotiations for a breakaway Superleague began, the top two in the “Big Five” conducting negotiations were the two Mersey giants (the others being United, Arsenal and Spurs). Liverpool won their last title in 1990, since then there has been a sea change in English football, the model that proved so successful for Liverpool: careful fiscal planning and letting their football do the talking, has been swept away  by the debt laden commercial behemoths of Manchester United  and Chelsea.

The baton has passed from Anfield, thirty miles along the road to Alex Ferguson’s marauding Red Devils who have dominated the Premiership era. What must be galling for the Liverpool fans is that the only resistance to United has come from arrivistes Leeds, Newcastle, Blackburn and Chelsea. Only Arsenal of the old order has had any success in the intervening years, using a financial model similar to the old Anfield bootroom plan. But the Gunners have not won a trophy in five years and their move to the Emirates Stadium was tacit acceptance that the old model could no longer compete in the cash laden new era.

The old Moores dynasty realised this and reluctantly made plans to introduce new capital and find a new home. Alas, as  David Conn magisterially records in his article in “Four Four Two” this month , the two white knights , the Americans Hicks and Gillett have saddled the club with the huge debts they incurred in buying the club and have failed to produce the new stadium that would allow the dethroned Kings of English football to at least compete with the new order, if not reclaim their throne and now the spectre of administration stalks the fallen giant.

Given the travails of the last couple of seasons, the Champions League triumph of 2005, the Final appearance in 2007 and the runners up position in the 2008/ Premiership is evidence of over achievement during the era of Rafa Benitez as manager. But for all the quality players he brought in: Torres, Reina, Alonso, Mascherano, Agger etc. a lot of money has been wasted; Glen Johnson, for example, has never looked like justifying his £15m transfer fee and Alberto Aquilani was a £20m accident waiting to happen.

As a consequence of the dire financial situation, at least one top star must be sold every summer: Alonso last year, Mascherano this, and the replacements have not matched the quality, When Benitez decided to leave in the summer the big name replacements: Klinsman, Hiddink et al were out of reach and so Roy Hodgson , an experienced , talented manager with a good track record made the brave decision to forgo the national team job in 2012 and attempt to recapture past glories.

He was helped by the fact that the three players on whom Liverpool are over reliant : Reina, Torres and local talisman Gerrard remain in red, but it would be a brave man who would wager that all three will remain at Anfield for the start of next season , and already the pressure appears to be telling: Reina has made uncharacteristic and costly lapses already this season and the injury ravaged Torres looks a pale shadow of the “El Niino” that blew into England in 2007.

Hodgson has not been helped by the fixture schedule , hosting Arsenal in the opener and having to travel to the two Manchester clubs in quick succession, but in these games against the main title challengers they have looked negative and have been second best.

Liverpool are known to give managers time and the new boss will hope that new signings Cole , Poulsen , Konchesky and Meireles will settle quickly, the team will adapt to his new tactics and a buyer can be found quickly to resolve the financial crisis. But if none of these events occur Liverpool could soon be considered one of the also-rans of the English and European games. Something that would have been unthinkable in the heady days of the 1980s.

Will Liverpool recapture the glory days of the seventies and eighties or are they in terminal decline?

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