Liverpool have been here before, and a sacking may not be the answer
“For 25 years Liverpool were Britain’s most successful and consistent football club. For four of those years we were also the most successful club in Europe. No one has an automatic right to success but you can be sure we will all be doing everything in our power to achieve those levels again. We owe that both to our own supporters and our own history.”
The above quotation* is from the statement released by then Liverpool chairman David Moores following the resignation of Graeme Souness in January, 1994 after an embarrassing defeat to a second division club in a third round FA Cup replay.
Plus ça change, eh?
Liverpool have tried everything over the past 16 years to regain their status as England’s top club. They tried reviving the spirit of the Boot Room by appointing Roy Evans, looked outwards to the more technical and pragmatic Gerard Houllier and when that didn’t work out chose the coach with the best club track record they could find in Rafa Benitez, the man whose Valencia team had impressed management and senior players so much.
There have been successes along the way … the Houllier treble, Istanbul and a handful of other trophies but no league title since the days of Kenny Dalglish. Put simply, Liverpool are no closer to regaining their status as “Britain’s most successful and consistent football club” than when Souness waved farewell to Ray Houghton, Steve McMahon and Peter Beardsley and failed to bring in players with anything like the same quality.
So what next? Speculation is growing that the club may turn to Dalglish as an emergency short-term replacement for Benitez but Mssrs Hicks and Gillett would do well to consider whether a costly change would really help the club or just give the media another twist to a story they are telling with some relish.
Changing manager midway through the season rarely has much of a positive effect. There may be a case for it when the relationship between coach and players has broken down but there is no evidence of that at Anfield.
So Liverpool are out of the FA Cup? It is another knock to their self-esteem, another chance of a trophy gone and another missed opportunity to earn some extra income. But that does not alter the fact that success for Liverpool is all about claiming one of those places in the top four of the Premier League, and their seat at Europe’s top table for next season.
Liverpool have 18 remaining Premier League games to make up three places in the table and five points. Fact, as Rafa Benitez might say. That is all that matters and under Benitez Liverpool have a good record of putting together long winning runs. Just look at last season, when from the start of March they won 10 of their remaining 11 league games and ended up finishing second.
You might think the passion and panache with which Liverpool finished last season would earn Benitez enough credit to survive an FA Cup giant-killing.
Unless and until it becomes clear another run-in of the same sort is absolutely beyond them — and even if their injury-ravaged team fall flat against Stoke on Saturday — Liverpool should consider whether changing coach might be a very, very expensive mistake.
PHOTO: Liverpool’s Alberto Aquilani holds his face during their FA Cup defeat by Reading, Jan. 13, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble