TTT: Landmark Victory For Rodgers’ Reds

By Paul Tomkins. Well, that was unexpected. My pre-match fear about the Reds never doing well at White Hart Lane proved somewhat misplaced. Not for the first time, I was proved wrong. One post-match Tweeter seemed unusually keen that I admit I was “wrong over Rodgers”. Football writers are no different from terrace and armchair pundits in that we want to be right; we want to say something that rings true. After all, who wants to be wrong all the time? What kind of pundit would that make you? That said, football makes mugs of us all. Anyone who can’t see that is deluded. That said, I’m baffled as to how I’ve been wrong on Rodgers. I’ve remained fairly neutral; unconvinced either way, for much of the time. I didn’t sit on the fence over Rafa (although only RAWKites got to see my uneasiness in his first few months, as I struggled to come to terms with things like zonal marking), and I was certainly on the other side of it with Hodgson. But I don’t see why I should be in a rush to come down on one side of the fence just to please other people. I give my opinion, and if it’s not a controversial one, well then I’m sorry. I try to make my writing interesting, but bar the odd cheap shot here and there, above all else I look to be fair. I started off feeling fairly optimistic when Rodgers took charge, but why paint myself into a corner over a promising young manager with a thin CV? Why this need from people to be so entrenched in one camp or the other? I actually really enjoyed the way Rodgers’ team played when picking up just two points from his first five Premier League games. I was heartened. But then things went south, with performances dipping, even if results, on the whole, generally improved. So I became a waverer, a fence-sitter. In fairness, I was fairly confused, but my apologies for admitting it, on numerous occasions, and again now. If Rodgers wins the title I won’t be able to crow about being spot-on; and if Rodgers loses the next ten games, and his job, I won’t be able to crow about calling it right. Things improved in the second half of the season, but the pressure was off. And aside from a second-half comeback against Spurs at Anfield, the wins were almost exclusively against lower-half sides. So I remained unconvinced. This season started off better – great results, but some quite terrible second-half showings, where the Reds were hanging on for dear life. United were then beaten at home, and that felt great; but then we looked at their subsequent results, and realised that it wasn’t the United of old. Still, always a great three points. But there was still a schism. Liverpool, aside from the soporific display against Southampton, were growing increasingly sensational at home (for added sibilance, Suarez and Sturridge were simply sublime). However, on the road there were too many limp displays. Every time I thought “Rodgers had cracked it”, cracks appeared. And again, the thrashings were handed out to the weak, with all but one of Liverpool’s victories (United) coming against bottom-half sides. Having said that, the Reds, so alarming at Hull, were getting better and better against the cannon fodder, and you can still rack up a lot of points that way; it’s just limiting if you can’t win many away games, or beat the better sides in the head-to-heads. But the destruction of Spurs was a landmark for Rodgers. It was the most complete Liverpool display in quite some time, and it came at a tricky venue, against a team who had the best defensive record when it came to limiting opponents. Yes, Spurs were shafted at City, but then so were United and Arsenal. No-one expected Liverpool to go to White Hart Lane and win by a five-goal margin. The win was achieved in the style I originally expected from a Rodgers side after those early games in August 2012. There was so much energy – pressing after pressing – allied to quick and incisive passing. It may be a coincidence that it came in Gerrard’s absence (however, many think not), but the running of Allen and Henderson, along with their sensible use of the ball, was too much for Spurs to handle. That built the platform for the trickery of Suarez, Coutinho and Sterling, each of whom missed sitters and still impressed. Like many others, I’ve seen Lucas and Gerrard as one of the problems during Rodgers’ tenure. Individually I have no problem with either of them – Gerrard is a legend and Lucas is impossible for me to dislike – but there doesn’t seem quite enough movement and energy between them these days. Also, I’ve wondered when Sahko would get a chance, given his pace, power and height; he’s the kind of defender I’ve been dying to see in a red shirt for a decade. It seemed odd that he spent so long on the bench, even if I am a die-hard Agger fan. Now, can I brag and claim to be right over these decisions, which worked in Liverpool’s favour at Spurs? Maybe. Equally, I’d have sold Suarez in the summer. I also thought Jon Flanagan was never going to make it, especially once Rodgers pulled him aside in Being: Liverpool and basically told him he’d be an okay journeyman if he didn’t cross the halfway line. Of course, does Rodgers need to admit that he was wrong, especially when Flanno curled a pearler into the top corner? No. What about when Rodgers tried to offload Henderson to Fulham for a few million? Whatever led him to think that was sensible, he deserves great credit for helping the player become something rather special (not spectacular, just special). He has helped build the player up in all senses, and it has to be said, the player himself has shown an impeccable attitude, in the face of some moronic criticism. I just judge things as I see them, and I may see things differently to you. I’ve had a list of pros and cons about Rodgers that had me sitting on that fence. However, as bad as Spurs were, this weekend’s result answers the question about getting the better of a strong team away from Anfield, and it did so in some style. It showed that the goals don’t have to only flow against the minnows. In fairness, ten wouldn’t have flattered the Reds, as they ran in behind Spurs time and time again. It showed that Rodgers’ Reds could get in the faces of a good team, even if Spurs seem to suffer a Europa League hangover on a regular basis. (At least Rodgers doesn’t have that nonsense to contend with this season.) Sterling and Allen, so abject in one or two recent-ish games, were full of confidence and composure against Spurs. Who’d have thought young players could be inconsistent? Sterling suddenly looked like he was facing youth team full-backs again. Allen played with real stature against a physically bigger opposition midfield. I have constantly praised Rodgers for his foresight in bringing in Dr Steve Peters, and with so much of the game trapped inside a player’s head, it’s encouraging to see someone like Allen take up the opportunity. (Personally I’d be tempted to sell anyone who didn’t make use of this incredible resource, unless they are in such shit-hot form that they don’t need it; which basically means Luis Suarez is exempt!) Rodgers’ Liverpool have confused me these past 18 months, and this is not the first time I’ve said so. The style changed, the personnel altered, and at times it was hard to see where it was going. Hopefully the Spurs performance was precisely where it was heading. It’s just one game, but it was a big statement; just as Olympiakos was a big statement for Gerrard and Benítez. That doesn’t mean what follows will match Istanbul, but managers and players often need a touchstone performance to draw strength and confidence from. Rodgers, with few big-game wins under his belt, is starting to feel less like an ex-Swansea manager, and more like someone who can handle a big club. In fairness to him, he has never worn the confused, befuddled look of a Hodgson at Liverpool or a Moyes at United, but he doesn’t have much of a CV to fall back on. Having said all this, it could go horribly wrong in the next five games, and then people will be asking me to admit I was wrong about Rodgers in positive pieces such as this. (Sitting on the fence is hardly easy: it hurts, and you get attacked from both sides!) But that’s the way it is for young managers, just as it is for young players. They don’t have the depth and breadth in their body of work to counter any naysayers. A few weeks ago many thought Raheem Sterling was a waste of space whose career was nosediving; a bit like Gareth Bale between the ages of 17 and 20, you might think. I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done, and say it like I see it, as an expresser of opinions. But ultimately I’m just the same as almost every other football writer out there, in that I’m just flipping a coin time after time, and looking (and probably failing) to get it right more than 50% of the time. And as other football writers have no doubt said, I’m off for another toss.

TTT: The Best Liverpool FC Books This Christmas

By TTT. By no means an exhaustive list of the books available, this is a recap of some of those to have been reviewed on TTT, plus info about our own book, These Turbulent Times. As well as those reviewed below, this week sees the release of Jonathan Wilson’s book on Liverpool FC, looking at ten games which have defined the club’s history, and which is bound to be worth a read. Red Machine: Liverpool FC in the 1980s – The Players’ Stories by Simon Hughes Click to buy When I first heard that Simon Hughes was going to publish a book where he had interviewed eleven former Livepool players from the eighties to get their views of what made the side so successful, I thought that it was a great idea but, perhaps, not a highly original one. Yet, although the underlying idea might be similar, the execution is completely unique and original. This is largely because Hughes has been intelligent in the people he’s chosen to talk to. For instance, one of the most memorable chapters is the one where Hughes talks to Howard Gayle, who only played five times for Liverpool but whose story is particularly telling because of his upbringing and how this influenced how he acted within the club. Gayle was Liverpool’s first black player but his story – which was very much the result of the time and area where he grew up – and the later one of John Barnes highlight why one managed to change attitudes and the other couldn’t. Throughout the book there are common themes; threads that link each player with the rest. One of them is the heavy drinking culture which, largely because of the times we now live in, seems quite shocking. Another is the ‘banter’, that in truth verged on bullying, that went on in the dressing room. Review by Paul Grech. The Liverpool Encyclopedia by Arnie Baldursson and Gudmundur Magnusson. Click to Buy. The Liverpool Encyclopedia is such a great idea: it serves as the bible of all things Liverpool. One of the men behind this labour of love is Arnie Baldursson and The Tomkins Times got in touch to talk about this book and what led to it. How did the idea of a Liverpool Encyclopedia come about? DeCoubertinbooks published “Liverpool: The Complete Record” to great acclaim in 2011. As far as we knew that could have been the only book we would ever write, but the following year our publisher suggested that a Liverpool Encyclopaedia would be an ideal next step for us. Whereas “Liverpool: The Complete Record” focused on stats and a comprehensive narrative for each season and was in black and white with few pictures, “The Liverpool Encyclopedia” ideally complements that with profiles for every single player and key aspects of the club’s illustrious history as well as including around 1,100 images and is all-colour. Did you uncover any stories you weren’t aware of? During the research phase we discovered through some clever detective work what amounts to be Alex Raisbeck‘s mini-biography in several issues of a Scottish newspaper published in 1915. It sheds new light on the life and times of Liverpool Football Club in the first decade of the 20th century and its protagonists. Before this discovery we didn‘t even have a single quote from Raisbeck, who was Liverpool‘s first superstar, the Steven Gerrard of his time, if you will. As well as using these series of articles in Raisbeck‘s profile, they also came in handy in entries all throughout the book that relate to Liverpool‘s early history from 1900 to 1910. This is a big revelation, one which we are very proud of. Review by Paul Grech.  Red or Dead by David Peace Click to Buy In an early part of Red or Dead, the words ‘wind’, ‘rain’ and ‘storm’ keep appearing – words that will catch the eye of any Liverpool fan. At first they’re disconnected, then they come up again and again, and after a few pages, the Kop explodes into sound as we – and Shankly – encounter ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ for the first time. The book is a hugely rewarding and engaging read, but not an easy one. Actually, that’s not fair. If you get your head into the rhythm of Peace’s writing/if you let the rhythm get into your head, the story barrels along. Peace’s style becomes a red machine, working to full effect. “There was no shelter from the word”, Peace says, describing the impact of the sound created by the Kop on the opposition. The style works sublimely well when Peace is describing what to me, and maybe to you, are the iconic images of Shankly at the 1974 FA cup Final. As the game is played out, Shankly switches his arms from side to side, like a man with the power to hold the whole pitch in his hands and shape it through sheer force of will. Review by John P. Houghton.  David Peace’s new novel Red or Dead, starting with Shankly’s appointment as manager in 1959 and going right through to September 1981, is an admirable attempt to provide a more balanced account. That’s not to say that he takes a revisionist wrecking-ball to Shankly’s reputation, as he is respectfully portrayed throughout, but crucially such respect does not prevent Peace examining the personal prices paid along the way. Indeed, his Shankly ends up uncomfortably close to a tragic hero precisely because the same qualities that enabled him to succeed while working would sour into burdensome flaws in retirement. Review by Andrew McKay. Liverpool Heroes by Ragnhild Lund Ansnes. Click to Buy ‘Fourteen Anfield legends open up their hearts’ says the catchline on the front cover, and it’s hard to dispute that – they are certainly all legends, and there are 14 of them! They spill the beans – well some beans anyway – about their Anfield experiences. For me, the most telling interviews are with Roy Evans and, most of all and perhaps least surprisingly given his overt intelligence and depth of thought, John Barnes. There’s a fascinating account of Sir Bob Paisley’s cunning philosophy in getting Phil Neal to play a week after fracturing a cheek bone, and the full story behind Neal’s wife’s antipathy towards football, stemming back to when Neal signed for Liverpool without telling her they would be moving to Merseyside with their two small children, leaving behind their network of family and friends in Northampton. The book reveals how it caused her depression which Neal barely noticed – ‘I just wish I’d realised how poorly Sue was’ – as he was so tied up with Liverpool, working his way into the first XI then trying to keep his place, then travelling to Europe etc. Review by Chris Rowland. These Turbulent Times Click to Buy Paul Tomkins, Editor Chris Rowland and Deputy Editor Daniel Rhodes have tried to cultivate a style and standard for TTT, while at the same time encouraging writers and analysts to express and challenge themselves and the site’s readers. These Turbulent Times is a shining example of a community with a common interest but a vast array of differing talents, offering their individual opinions and analysis, usually (but not always) on specific areas of expertise; the sheer variety of topics within the context of Liverpool FC is extraordinary. Football writer Paul Little, in his review of the book, commented about the sheer volume of analysis and opinion on the internet, and how difficult it is to choose between the competing sources. Nevertheless, he did have this to say about TTT and These Turbulent Times: …from amongst the morass and nonsense, a legion of fanalysts has emerged to threaten the preserve of the traditional newspaper football writers. One such beacon of sense is Paul Tomkins, the father of The Tomkins Times website, one of the most lucid, intelligent and insightful sources of analysis and opinion on Liverpool FC on the web. What’s striking about the site’s output, as evidenced by this collation of work, is the realistic and largely unsentimental way in which the writers view the club. There’s little in the way of sugar-coating the plight of an institution that once dominated European football, but now struggles on the coattails of the current English powers. But nor is there any wallowing, just an acceptance of the current environment and a constant search for possible ways forward. To conclude, These Turbulent Times is a must purchase for those Liverpool fans who like to think a little deeper – no, a lot deeper – about their club, where it stands and where it is going. Refreshingly, the book is almost totally devoid of cliché; yes, the Liverpool Way gets a disappointing run-out but there is thankfully no mention of the Liverpool Family. For non Liverpool fans, the tome proves that not all supporters of that storied club are Twitter trolls and loons living in the past. The range of professional backgrounds of the book’s contributors (which includes data analysis, scientific research, law, communications and process improvement) and how their knowledge and experience informs their articles gives depth and breadth to the contents. For some, it might all read a little too much like a series of academic papers or a business textbook. So if you like your football in Match of the Day sized chunks (and there’s nothing wrong with that – football is there to be enjoyed after all), this may not be the book or website for you. But for others, that often dispassionate approach will be the book’s great strength. There was also another review, on These Football Times (who had nothing to do with the naming of the book), by Omar Saleem, who said the book appeals to more than just the average Liverpool fan: Off the bat, let’s get one thing straight; this book may focus on Liverpool Football Club but the content, analysis and understanding of modern football extends its relevance to all clubs in the Premier League and beyond. Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge of Liverpool as a supporter or neutral, or are just interested in the breakdown of performances and what methods are employed at a global super-club to achieve success, it’s likely These Turbulent Times will appeal to you. This is exemplified perfectly by Swansea loyalist Matt Harrison’s excellent feature on Brendan Rodgers. Finally, and Chris Wood reviewed the book: …this is very much a mixed bag of different topics and in that respect it probably has something for everyone … the statistician, the mathematician, the analyst, the businessman, the financier and the man in the street. Few will find every single chapter/article to their taste and some chapters will definitely need more brain cells to decipher than others. Paul Tomkins was privileged to have his finger on the pulse of Liverpool Football Club during a most difficult period in the club’s existence. It was a pulse that nearly stopped completely and this diverse collection of articles neatly recalls the ‘medicine’ that was required to keep that heart beating because … from Martin McLaughlin’s chapter “Football, Finance, Liverpool and the Top Six” that “£80m wasted on sacking managers and a phantom stadium” was indeed “the mess which F.S.G. found the club in when they arrived”. From this book we can be reassured that the mess is slowly being sorted out. Maybe soon these turbulent times will just be a nasty memory of the big, black hole into which the club nearly disappeared.