Left field

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Things may get worse before they get better at Liverpool … but there is a glimmer of hope

September 23, 2010

SOCCER-ENGLAND/CUPA damp squib of a performance from Liverpool in their League Cup defeat by Northampton Town was described by The Telegraph today as one of the most humiliating nights in the club’s history.

Given the (lack of) status the League Cup now enjoys that is probably stretching it a bit far – I don’t think it gets close to the FA Cup defeat by Bristol City , for example – but the whole dismal episode did add weight to the theory that things are likely to get worse before they get better for a club that once prided itself on striving for excellence in everything.

The problems at Anfield have been endlessly discussed. Hodgson is the first new Liverpool manager I can remember not to have significant transfer funds at his disposal and even when money was, apparently, made available by the sale of Javier Mascherano he was unable to find the forward he so obviously needed.

There is no immediate prospect of wealthy new owners coming in and solving the personnel problem, or getting the new stadium plan moving again.

Meanwhile, Fernando Torres looks less and less like the player who regularly made lives miserable for Premier League defenders and those who have come in to the first team – Milan Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and the like – seem unlikely to win places in Anfield folklore, shall we say. Hodgson, inevitably, is coming in for criticism for a lack of panache on the field.

One fan, iandman, wrote the following on the official site forum after the Northampton game: “I’ve been a Liverpool fan for 30yrs and that’s not going to change, however I felt I must write to express my absolute anger at the gutless, clueless performance put on last night against a team several divisions below us.”

“This is going to be a long season,” wrote yusuf, another supporter. “We are a mid table side, it really pains me to say it.”

Mid-table is actually a bit generous at the moment, with Liverpool down in 16th place, having taken five points from their opening five games, and by now it should be clear to everyone that there is no quick fix available. A home league game against Sunderland is next up and anything less than victory would add to what looks in danger of developing into a crisis of confidence.

Yet there is, I think, a glimmer of hope for Liverpool fans in the quality of a group of young players on the fringes of the first team.

While there are real question marks about whether Jovanovic, Poulsen, Lucas Leiva, Maxi Rodriguez, Ryan Babel and others are of Liverpool quality, there is real optimism among supporters about the next generation of players who have come through the youth set-up or been acquired as teenagers with a crafty eye to the future.

Great things are expected from Jonjo Shelvey, Dani Pacheco, Suso and Raheem Sterling, though the latter two are perhaps 18-24 months away from the first team squad. David Amoo, Martin Kelly and Nathan Ecclestone have promise too.

Kelly and Pacheco were in the starting line-up against Northampton, while Shelvey and Ecclestone came on as substitutes. It may sound perverse to highlight the potential of the youngsters in the wake of a defeat featuring so many of them but it has been a long time since a player of genuine class stepped up to the Liverpool first team and suddenly there are three or four on the brink.

If Shelvey and Pacheco are instantly promoted in place of Babel and Rodriguez I suspect most Liverpool fans would be nothing but delighted. If Suso and Sterling make the grade too the long-term future of Liverpool Football Club may not be quite as bleak as feared.

PHOTO: Liverpool’s manager Roy Hodgson walks across the pitch following their League Cup defeat by Northampton Town at Anfield , September 22, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble

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