The Importance of Winning


When you listen to Rodolfo Borrell or Mike Marsh talk after a defeat, you can feel their annoyance at the result.  They might try to be diplomatic in what they're saying but their tone of voice and body language betrays their true feelings.

It might seem petty but the coaches' reaction is, in truth, more than justified.  If you've been involved with football as much as they have, then you're bound to realise that for some of these players winning the FA Youth Cup or the reserves league might just be the pinnacle of their career.  It is out of respect to such players that they show such a strong desire to win games and, ultimately, competitions.

The second reason is less altruistic.  They know that winning is the best advert for their own work.  People buy into success and if they see a side that is winning they attribute part of those results to the coach.  Equally, a losing side is - in the mind of most people - at least partially down to bad coaching.  It doesn't matter what kind of players you have, how tough the competition or whether they're playing against older kids.

Yet by far the most important reason for such an attitude is that winning needs to become a habit that these kids has to learn.  This was highlighted by Iker Casillas following Spain's win at Euro 2012 when he said "We have got used to winning from a very young age. We won the Under-16s, the Under-19s, the Under-20s.  We learnt to win."

What Winning the League Cup Really Means



Winning; a seemingly unassuming word tasked with describing something that is seen as being fundamental in a human being’s life.  Each day we are asked to win, to wake up when we want to give in to sleep, to beat the competition, to fight the urge to eat or drink excessively.  Win, win, win.

Last Sunday, we were told that Liverpool had to win.  They had to in order to justify the £100 million spent on new players.  They had to if they wanted to justify the faith in Kenny Dalglish.  They had to in order to save this from being a disappointing season.

And, once the League Cup had been won, we were told that this was of huge significance in the grand scheme of things.  Winning is infectious and it would inspire the players to try and repeat such a success.  It was even suggested that players would now be joining Liverpool because they had seen them win this trophy.  This win would lead to more wins.

At the end of the day, however, winning the League Cup was only important because it added another trophy to the list of those won by the club.

It has side benefits, undoubtedly.  Players’ morale, you would imagine, will be higher than normal and if that translates to added confidence then it will help in upcoming games.  Financially it should be a boost because it puts the club in the headlines (for the right reasons) whilst offering a trinket to parade around.   Note, however, the conditional in those statements.

In itself the League Cup means nothing and it certainly isn’t any guarantee for any future success.  History – in the form of the Liverpool side managed by Roy Evans and its inability to win anything after a League Cup success that was similarly heralded as the start of great things – teaches that.  History also shows that performances can worsen after a similar win, with players feeling that they’ve won enough and suddenly can’t find the motivation to pull themselves out of a slump.  For evidence just look at Birmingham last year.

What the League Cup does show is that there is enough in this Liverpool team to achieve success.  Perhaps not through the final itself but certainly through the route to Wembley that included wins at Stoke, Chelsea and Manchester City.  Those were truly big wins, not because of the opposition or competition but rather as they required character and tactical discipline just as much as they required skill.

Indirectly, however, the League Cup also highlights that this is a good cup side, a team that can raise its game on special occasions. 

A comparison with the league exposes a different side, one that stutters more than it should.  It has shown this team for what it is one that can sparkle on occasion yet on others falls victim to a disjointed pattern of play that is caused by the heavy influx of new players that it has experience over the past twelve months. 

Only when that rhythm of play of all players is more in tune and incisive will those problems fade away.  And only then will the truly important winning – that which leads to the Premier League – commence.

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What Winning the League Cup Really Means



Winning; a seemingly unassuming word tasked with describing something that is seen as being fundamental in a human being’s life.  Each day we are asked to win, to wake up when we want to give in to sleep, to beat the competition, to fight the urge to eat or drink excessively.  Win, win, win.

Last Sunday, we were told that Liverpool had to win.  They had to in order to justify the £100 million spent on new players.  They had to if they wanted to justify the faith in Kenny Dalglish.  They had to in order to save this from being a disappointing season.

And, once the League Cup had been won, we were told that this was of huge significance in the grand scheme of things.  Winning is infectious and it would inspire the players to try and repeat such a success.  Continue reading "What Winning the League Cup Really Means"

Book Review: The Didi Man


First off, a confession: I don't like biographies.  In particular, I don't like player biographies.  Too often they're pretentious, ego-massaging,bank account boosting exercises in self-promotion that offer little in the way of genuine insight.  Unless, of course, you consider tales of lads' nights out or those of puerile banter as falling under the category of insightful.

It is for this reason that I tend to avoid biographies especially those of players I like. Because just as it is said that you should not meet your heroes for fear that reality tarnishes the image that you might have built of them, so too (perhaps even more so) biographies because you might realise just what sort of person they are.

So it was with something approaching reluctance that I approached Didi Hamann's biography.  As a player, Hamann wasn't as visible as Robbie Fowler or Steven Gerrard but that didn't mean he went Continue reading "Book Review: The Didi Man"

Book Review: The Didi Man


First off, a confession: I don't like biographies.  In particular, I don't like player biographies.  Too often they're pretentious, ego-massaging,bank account boosting exercises in self-promotion that offer little in the way of genuine insight.  Unless, of course, you consider tales of lads' nights out or those of puerile banter as falling under the category of insightful.

It is for this reason that I tend to avoid biographies especially those of players I like. Because just as it is said that you should not meet your heroes for fear that reality tarnishes the image that you might have built of them, so too (perhaps even more so) biographies because you might realise just what sort of person they are.

So it was with something approaching reluctance that I approached Didi Hamann's biography.  As a player, Hamann wasn't as visible as Robbie Fowler or Steven Gerrard but that didn't mean he went by unnoticed.  Particularly when he didn't play, as happened in the 2005 Champions League final, when the team clearly missed the defensive balance he brought to the side.

The fans certainly appreciated him and the feeling was mutual: when his career was over, Hamann opted to stay on Merseyside rather than return to Germany.  So there was a lot to like about him, and that was something that I didn't want to ruin.

Thankfully, there was no need to worry.  Hamann does talk about the people he met at Liverpool as well as recount some very colourful stories of his time in England.  He certainly confirms the rumours of him being at the heart of most pranks that took place at Melwood. But there's also a lot of thought here.

Unlike many others, he underlines the importance of Gerard Houllier in restoring Liverpool's status as a top side. He might not always have agreed with him, and he states this, yet he still manages to talk repeatedly about what was good about the French manager.  You're left in no doubt that certain aspects of Houllier's management style will be adopted by Hamann himself.

His analysis of the problems of the English national team is among the most incisive I've read, one that should be picked up by those at the FA.  There's his appreciation and admiration of Giovanni Trapattoni, who won him over by his desire to teach irrespective of whether the players in front of him where first teamers or reserves with little chance of making it.

Most of all, there's his wonderful assessment of Rafa Benitez whom Hamann ultimately defines as a genius.

And whilst the tales of his pranks are admittedly funny, the real entertainment is provided by the strength and clarity of these views in a book that will leave you not only with a greater knowledge of Didi Hamann as a player and a man but also with the ability to better appreciate the game of football.

Full disclosure: a review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

January Not a Bad Month for Deals


January, the start of a new year, is often seen as a month of hope.  Resolutions made as the previous year came to an end are still fresh in the mind as is the belief that they will be maintained.  That similar resolutions were made (but not kept) before doesn't matter.  This time round will be different, this time round I will make it.

Football, however, is much more cynical and allows no space for such naive hope.  So it is that January is seen as the month for the desperate, when those who are in trouble trash about in a made bid to change the flow of things.  Only they look imploringly at the transfer window that January brings with it, praying that it will deliver that player which could save their season.

With choice not being on beggars' menu, so it is that they must make do with what is available.  And pay exceedingly for it.  They have to look for players that others don't want; those who are either playing badly or whose character has proven to be too difficult to handle. Or else take punts on young players who are on the fringes of others' squads in the hope that their talent makes up for their lack of maturity and experience.

That is how the January transfer window is seen.  There is no value in it and you cannot get the players you really want unless you're willing to spend far more than they are worth.  It is a sellers' market, and that's never a good thing for those on the other side of the bargaining table.

Such truth holds most of the time, but not always.  The £23 million that Liverpool paid Ajax last January, when they exploited the Dutch club's financial worries, was a pretty good deal.  It was the same when Maxi Rodriguez joined with Atletico Madrid unwilling to keep paying his wages.  So too when Deportivo La Coruna opted to cash in on Alvaro Arbeloa so desperate were they to get their hands on the money.

Then there were those instances where January happens to be an off-season month.  It was such a timing anomaly that brought Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel to Liverpool.

This does not mean that Liverpool will sign any players during this transfer window much less that they will be successes if so.  But it does show that there can be exceptions to any theory, regardless of how firm the wide spread belief in it is.

And that should be enough to allow you to enjoy transfer rumours in hope, rather than look at them in cynicism.

Why Carroll Needs Patience and Time


It only takes one bad touch for the criticism to start.  You know that it's coming as soon as Andy Carroll misplaces a pass or fails to control a ball; the comments that he's not worth the money spent on him, how he's a big mistake, that he's too lazy to try and make it work.

You can even sense some wanting him to fail so that they can tell everyone that they told you so.

There is a lesson about not writing players off prematurely in Lucas Leiva's transformation from Liverpool's fall guy into one of the team's most important players. Yet, judging by the negative feeling towards Carroll, there are quite a few who seem unwilling to heed it.

It is undeniable that so far Carroll hasn't really delivered.  Just as there's no arguing that he has struggled to make an impact.  But there have also been enough glimpses of his potential to see that there is something quite interesting there.  That game last season against Manchester City where Carroll scored twice by itself should be enough to convince just how good he could become.

That is hardly surprising.  Carroll has all the characteristics that you could want in a striker: incredible strength, a tremendous shot, virtually unbeatable in the air, the willingness to sacrifice himself for the team and also a good technique.  

Yet in his lack of experience he is missing one very important element.  Barely eighteen months of first team football - most of which were in the Championship - aren't enough for a player to have developed fully.  He still has to learn about his own game as much as anything else.

What has made Carroll's life particularly hard is the £35 million Liverpool paid to get him.  Had he joined for even half of that amount, there would be far greater acceptance and willingness to allow him to grow. But instead people look at the size of the fee and decide that for that kind of money Liverpool should be getting a player who is at the peak of his ability.

Yet he isn't.  The fee was simply a product of the circumstances that preceded the transfer and not really an evaluation of Carroll's value at that point in time.  Liverpool were willing to pay such an inflated amount because they had the cash and wanted to send out a message of their ambition.

But they were also willing to pay it because they believed in Carroll's potential.  The trick with potential, however, is that it can be difficult to coax especially when the player is under pressure.  Young players will go through rough patches, they will make mistakes and they will struggle.  It is all part of the learning process.

That's what's happening to Carroll who has to get used to a team playing in a different manner and with greater expectations then he's been accustomed to.  The potential is definitely there but the pressure is eroding his confidence.  As he doesn't yet have the maturity to deal with it so the problem keeps getting bigger with every game where he disappoints.

It is a vicious cycle that only Carroll himself can break.  Just as Lucas found the inner strength to dig deep and eventually prove his critics wrong, so too must Andy Carroll.  With time hopefully he'll manage to do just that so that Liverpool will finally get the player worthy of all that money they paid for him.