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The Athletic - LFC related articles

Discussion in 'The Football Forum' started by Hass, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Former Liverpool prospect who went from nearly retiring at 22 to celebrating promotion thanks to a knee cartilage transplant
    By James Pearce May 12, 2021[​IMG] 43 [​IMG]
    Jordan Williams casts his mind back to the “dark place” he used to inhabit.
    After the thrill of making his Liverpool debut and being called up to the senior Wales squad, there was the crushing low of a debilitating injury in his left knee.
    At the age of 22, he was facing the grim prospect of having to retire. Everything the Bangor-born midfielder had worked so hard to achieve was slipping from his grasp. He would drink to numb the pain and then hide away from the outside world in his Liverpool city centre apartment.
    “I was scared,” he tells The Athletic.
    “When retirement first got mentioned and Alex Inglethorpe (Liverpool academy director) asked if I’d thought about another job or going to uni, I told him: ‘I’ve got nothing’. I was never the cleverest of lads in terms of getting GCSEs. I’d only ever wanted to be a footballer.
    “Alex said to me: ‘You’ll have a family of your own one day and you need to be able to walk’. At the time I was thinking: ‘Why are you saying that to me?’. Looking back now, I know he was only looking out for me.
    “Back then, I was going out in town constantly. It was a release. Then I’d go home, close the curtains and sleep all day. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I didn’t want to be around the training ground. I’d lost all my motivation. I was very close to calling it a day. I thought I was finished with football.”
    Three and a half years on from his lowest ebb, Williams found himself in the back of a police van late on Saturday night. He couldn’t have been happier.
    He had just helped Bolton Wanderers clinch automatic promotion from League Two. An emphatic 4-1 win at Crawley on the final day sparked wild celebrations.
    “The past few days have been mad,” he smiles. “There was a lot of singing and a lot of beer drunk on the five-and-a-half-hour coach journey back. Then we had a little party in Manchester on Sunday.
    “When we got back to the ground about midnight on Saturday there must have been about a thousand Bolton fans there. The police wouldn’t let us off the coach because of safety concerns. They took us 10 minutes down the road and we had to get off the coach and into the back of these matrix vans. The first one I’ve ever been in! The fans didn’t know we were in them so we got into the ground that way and then we could run out the front to share the moment with them. It’s the best feeling I’ve had in football for a very long time. Probably since I made my debut for Liverpool.”
    Williams made 21 consecutive league starts for Ian Evatt’s side after signing from Blackpool at the end of the January window. He was instrumental in Bolton’s remarkable rise from 19th to third place during the second half of the season and, crucially, he’s been playing pain-free.
    He owes a debt of gratitude to Liverpool Football Club and to renowned American orthopaedic surgeon Dr Riley J Williams for saving his career.
    Shortly before Christmas in 2017, he flew to New York to undergo a cartilage transplant. Even though Williams only had six months remaining on his contract and was set to be released the following summer, Liverpool met the £150,000 costs of the groundbreaking and complex procedure.
    “I was the first footballer from England to have it done,” he says. “Riley had done it for a few football players in the States but it was more basketball players he had operated on.
    “Liverpool club doctor Andy Massey had first mentioned it as a possible option but a lot of people were wary about it at the start. I’d never even heard of a cartilage transplant.
    “I’d been operated on previously by Andy Williams in London and when I went to see him after breaking down again on loan at Rochdale, he said the chondral defect in my knee was the worst he’d seen. It was just bone on bone.
    “He had given me three options. One, more injections and then strengthening my knee. Two, an operation with an 18-month recovery and a 50-50 chance of success. Three, retire.
    “I couldn’t do the injections any more. I’d be OK for a couple of weeks and then it would come back. I was in too much pain. It was no life for me. I used to sleep with the Game Ready (ice strap) on my knee. It was always on my mind. Some days I just couldn’t face going in.
    “I talked things through with Andy Renshaw (Liverpool physio), my mum and my agent and decided to go for the option in New York rather than retire. I didn’t want to be sitting down in years to come thinking about what could have been. Thankfully, it paid off. The riskiest decision also turned out to be the best decision of my life. Riley said that he would have me back playing in six months and I’d have no problems with the knee going forward. That was music to my ears and he was spot on.”

    Williams up against Mario Balotelli in training in 2014 (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    After an initial consultation in Manhattan, Williams returned to Merseyside and waited for the call to arrive. The American donor had to be of similar age and stature.
    “About a week later, Riley called to say they had a match and I had nine days to get over there. A young lad, around my age, had died in a car crash,” he says.
    “It was a strange feeling knowing that the operation was only happening because of a tragic accident. I wasn’t allowed to know the guy’s name but I wrote a letter which they passed on to his family to thank them for what they had done for me.
    “I couldn’t tell them my full name or who I played for, but I was able to say that I was a professional athlete and that thanks to their son, my life was being transformed. I’ll be grateful forever.
    “Two days after the op, they had me on the physio bed, bending my leg right the way up to my bum. Previously, I couldn’t do that as my knee would just block it. I was all tense, thinking it would hurt, but there was no pain. I’ve basically got a brand new knee. I owe them everything for the way they looked after me.
    “I don’t know where I would be right now without that cartilage. The knee is amazing and, touch wood, I’ve had no problems at all. The happiness I get from playing football is immeasurable. It’s all I’ve done since I was a kid. Being around the lads, the banter, without that, I’d be lost in my life.
    “I can’t thank Liverpool enough because without their help and support I wouldn’t be here now. Physio Paul Kelly came with me to New York and he was great. I was so lucky that Liverpool paid for everything. If I’d been playing in League One or League Two then, it would have been just too expensive to have done.”
    Williams was 13 when he signed for Liverpool from Wrexham. He had also received offers from Manchester City and Everton. He rose through the ranks at Kirkby and graduated to Melwood under Brendan Rodgers.
    In September 2014, he made his first-team debut at the age of 18 when he came off the bench against Middlesbrough in a League Cup tie at Anfield. He scored Liverpool’s sixth penalty in a memorable 14-13 victory in the shootout.
    “My shirt from that night is in a frame at my mum’s house. I gave it to her because she took me all around the country as a kid. I’ve always been so lucky to have her support,” he says.
    “I still look back on the footage from that night. My girlfriend’s lad is into football and he can’t believe I’m on YouTube. Scoring that penalty was the best moment of my life. Stepping up to take it, hearing the roar of the Kop when the ball hit the net. What I’d do to go back to that day and take that penalty again. Looking back, I still get goosebumps. The best feeling in the world.
    “Some of the senior players were hiding a bit when it came to putting hands up for the penalties and didn’t want to be responsible for sending us out of the cup. My attitude was ‘what have I got to lose?’. As a young lad, you need to get your name out there. I remember Mario Balotelli coming up to me after, putting his arm around me and saying: ‘I’ve got so much respect for you!’.”

    Williams playing for Liverpool under-21s at Anfield in 2014 (Photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    The pursuit of regular game time saw him head out on loan to first Notts County and then Swindon Town. His eye-catching performances in League One earned him a maiden Wales call-up from Chris Coleman in August 2015. His initiation involved singing R Kelly’s The World’s Greatest to his team-mates.
    “Moving around clubs, I’ve done a few of them now, but Wales was the hardest one because I had Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey staring at me,” he says. “I was shaking and all the boys were laughing at me. It’s the hardest thing in football. I dread it every time it comes.
    “Chris Coleman had been coming to watch me play for Swindon and was very complimentary. It was the Euros at the end of that season so I was on course to be part of that. I still had hopes of going back and making it at Liverpool. I was right up there one minute and then right down there the next…”
    Shortly after returning from international duty, Williams was hurt playing for Swindon against Colchester United and a subsequent scan showed he needed surgery on his meniscus. It kept him sidelined for a year.
    The only headlines he made were unwanted. In March 2016, as he continued his rehab, he found himself in the middle of a social media storm.
    He had been in the triumphant away end at Old Trafford when Liverpool knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League. Responding to a friend’s video of the Liverpool fans celebrating, Williams tweeted two emojis — clapping hands and an aeroplane.
    There was an angry backlash from United supporters who accused him of mocking the Munich air disaster. Williams has always insisted that wasn’t the case but he regrets falsely claiming that his Twitter account had been hacked.
    “In Liverpool, when you’re doing well, we say you’re ‘flying’,” he explains.
    “That’s what I meant. I didn’t think about it too much. I just thought we’ve won, we’re flying, we’re into the next round. It certainly didn’t occur to me that anyone would possibly think I was referring to Munich. I would never, ever have done that.
    “I just remember being halfway home, looking at my phone, and seeing all these notifications coming through. One was from Empire of the Kop, a big Twitter account, saying, ‘You need to delete this now’. I just thought, ‘What’s going on here?’.
    “Then a mate rang me saying, ‘You’re all over the news’. I was like, ‘For what?’. He explained that it was the aeroplane emoji, ‘They think you were talking about Munich’. I was horrified. The Mail had already done a story online.
    “I remember ringing Phil Roscoe (player care manager) at the academy and asking for his help. I panicked late that night and asked my friend to send a tweet from my phone saying my account had been hacked.
    “It was the worst thing I did. I should have just made it clear what I meant, that Liverpool were flying. Because I’d made up about my account being hacked, people didn’t believe me when I explained what the initial tweet actually meant. They thought I was lying about that too.
    “I was scared of Alex (Inglethorpe) at the time. He rang me and I said, ‘Alex, I’ve been hacked’. He was like, ‘Jordan, tell me the truth’. When they looked into it they could tell the tweets had only come from one device, my phone.
    “All these people online were calling for me to be sacked. I was feeling down anyway with the injury. Thankfully, Phil, Alex and everyone at Liverpool believed me and stuck by me. It was a tough time. I’ve been through a few of them.”
    Another comeback resulted in another loan to Rochdale in August 2017 but by the end of October, he was in so much discomfort that he had to admit defeat.
    “In the warm-up at Plymouth, my leg was so weak I could barely move,” he says.
    “I was taking so many anti-inflammatories and painkillers. My mum always used to say to me as a kid ‘you don’t come off that pitch unless you can’t walk’. I still don’t know how I got through that game but I knew I couldn’t go on like that. I went back to Liverpool.
    “I was living by myself in an apartment in town. I don’t look back on that period with fond memories. My agent Bradley Orr kept saying to me, ‘You can’t give up, you’ve got to give everything you can until you’ve got no options left’, and I was lucky to have him by my side.
    “The few months before I went to New York were the darkest times for me. I didn’t have suicidal thoughts, but looking back I was definitely depressed. I’d lock myself away. My mum was really worried about me.”
    Six months after the surgery in New York, Williams’ outlook had been transformed. He was fit enough to earn himself a two-year contract with Rochdale, making 68 appearances for them before joining Blackpool as a free agent last summer. During his time at Rochdale, he found himself renamed”MJ” rather than “Jordan” and it’s stuck ever since.
    “There was another lad there called Jordan Williams,” he explains. “We played Southend away and there were two Jordan Williams on the team sheet. Southend complained because the two lads who were supposed to be marking us at corners didn’t know which Jordan it was.
    “The EFL got in touch with Rochdale and said one of us needed to have a different name. My birth name was Michael Jordan Williams, but I never used the Michael. Everyone always called me Jordan. But from then on they put ‘MJ’ on my shirt. I’ve wanted to go back to Jordan since but when I walked into Blackpool and then Bolton it was ‘all right MJ’ so I’ve just stayed with it.”
    Shortly after relaunching his playing career in 2018, he met his girlfriend, Claire. They have recently bought a house together in the Wirral town of West Kirby.
    “We’ve been together about three years and she’s everything to me, she’s my rock,” he says.
    “She’s such a strong person and she’s been so supportive. She said to me, ‘It’s such a short career, you need to dedicate your whole life to football’. I’ve done that and it’s paying off.
    “She’s got two little lads who are amazing. Even if I have a bad game and I’m feeling down, I come home and I forget all about it now. I’ve got a family of my own to look after and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I just wish I’d met her earlier because with her by my side I wouldn’t have ended up in such a dark place.”
    A cracked bone in his arm hampered his progress at Blackpool before Christmas and when Bolton came calling in January, Neil Critchley didn’t stand in his way. Williams embraced the challenge of trying to help revive the fortunes of a club that had fallen from the Premier League to League Two inside eight years and was on the brink of going out of existence just two years ago.
    “The manager Ian Evatt was one of the main reasons I went there. He really sold it to me,” Williams says.

    Williams was part of the Bolton side that sealed promotion with a win at Crawley (Photo: Getty Images)
    “I wanted to be part of something special. I don’t think either of us thought it would go this well but I’ve absolutely loved it. I love playing for him, he’s a top manager and a top guy.
    “I signed for 18 months and if I play a certain number of games next season it will secure me an extra year. We’ve got ourselves back into League One and the fans deserved that after everything they’ve been through. Now the club is on the way back up and we want to go even higher. The target now is to get into the Championship. I’m sure next season when the fans are allowed back in the place is going to be rocking and I can’t wait for that.”
    Sat among those Bolton supporters come August will be mum Alison. There was an emotional phone call with her on the pitch following last weekend’s promotion-clinching win at Crawley.
    “I think she’d had a few drinks as she was screaming down the phone! My mum is so happy right now,” he laughs.
    “It’s been tough for her this season, watching all the games on iFollow on her iPad. I owe a lot to her. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
    “Next season she’ll be there. I’m just glad that when the stadium is rocking at Bolton I won’t be able to hear her shouting. At Rochdale, I’d always hear her on the sidelines and the boys would be looking at me as if you say, ‘Who’s this?’. She’s brilliant. It means a lot to her because it hurt her when I couldn’t play.”
    For everything he’s been through, Williams is still only 25. Where once he looked ahead with a sense of dread and fear, now there’s only positivity and optimism.
    “The tough times made me stronger and made me realise what’s important in life,” he says.
    “I still speak to Riley in New York and I’m sure he’ll be buzzing when I tell him I’ve got promoted. To him, that operation was just a little job. But for me, it was absolutely life-changing. He’s an amazing man.
    “I was so close to retiring from football at such a young age. I didn’t think there was a way back. It nearly got taken away from me. It makes me really appreciate what I’ve got now, on and off the pitch.”
  2. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    The other knee injury that made Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk think again about the Euros
    Simon Hughes May 13, 2021[​IMG] 66 [​IMG]
    Deep down, Virgil van Dijk must have known his season would end like this after leaving Goodison Park in an ambulance. He had marched around the pitch that autumn afternoon trying to show he was still in control but apparently, as soon as he sat down in the temporary changing rooms of the Park End, Liverpool’s staff would have been unable to get him back up even if they needed to.
    There are lots of reasons why Liverpool’s title defence has been an abomination but any sober version of events would centre on this awful moment, which left the player wondering whether he’d ever be able to take to the pitch again.
    Being the person he is, Van Dijk got over those dark thoughts quickly enough and made himself believe in the impossible. He appreciated that patience was needed but there could be no other way out. A return to the Liverpool team by the end of the campaign was enough reason for hope but this would also in theory ensure a safe passage to the European Championship.
    By April, however, he became more accepting of his fate. News from Wolverhampton Wanderers made him think again about the future. Jonny Castro Otto, the Spanish defender, had sustained a comparable injury to his right knee in August before returning in February. He had felt fine and worked his way back into the team before ravaging the same anterior cruciate ligament as well as the medial collateral ligament in a training session. This would rule him out for the rest of this season and beyond.
    Van Dijk realised then that even if it was possible to play for Holland this summer, the risks were enormous. The odds were against him. No matter his desire, statistically there is a 51 per cent increased risk of re-injury if any player returns to competitive action within nine months of the sort of damage he saw inflicted on his knee. Given he was operated on in the final week of November 2020, he would not be in a position of relative safety until the end of July 2021. Even if he went against advice, with this nasty detail rattling about at the back of his mind, he realised he would not be able to perform with the levels of assurance expected of the Holland’s captain.
    For Van Dijk, it must have been easier to resist temptation because of the restrictions in the environment he was thinking about re-entering. In an interview with Liverpool’s official website on Wednesday morning, his eyes lit up when he spoke about the possibility of playing in front of fans again. These were not the empty words of a footballer saying what he thinks listeners want to hear.
    Sources close to him say he has been able to console himself with the fact his injury has coincided with an unprecedented period in history where but for cameras, broadcasters and journalists, stadiums have been closed. Even before his injury, Van Dijk was missing the lump in the throat and the adrenaline that invades a player when he hears the crowd while standing in a tunnel.
    At the Euros, there may have been some crowds but it was not exactly going to be the same. His absence from the Holland squad means he will be 31 if and when he plays in his first international tournament and Qatar 2022 arrives just 18 months after this summer. A more cavalier attitude could have endangered further opportunities in the not too distant future. Knowing this, it became easier to say no this time around.
    Yesterday’s news is a major blow to Holland but at least they have more than adequate defensive cover. It is true that Matthijs de Ligt has performed poorly for a struggling Juventus team since his return from his own injury but there is no doubt that he is already a top-class player. Meanwhile, Frank de Boer has Stefan de Vrij and Sven Botman to choose from. While De Vrij has been a key performer in Inter Milan’s first Serie A title in eleven years, Botman has been a star of the Lille defence that threatens to halt Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance of Ligue 1.
    For Liverpool, Van Dijk’s return at the start of next season will be crucial. His absence has had a defining role in the direction of this campaign. Though Jurgen Klopp’s team had displayed some alarming vulnerabilities before his injury, his presence in the side would surely have been worth at least another ten points and that means Champions League qualification. As such, 2020-21 would have been viewed as a disappointment rather than, as it seems with four games to go, a really, really bad one. He cannot take his place again soon enough.
  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    FA Youth Cup: Jarell Quansah emerges as a leader during Liverpool’s semi-final victory
    By Caoimhe O'Neill May 13, 2021[​IMG] 13 [​IMG]
    There was no hiding the smile on Jarell Quansah’s face as he was being interviewed live by BT Sport on Wednesday evening — and who could blame him?
    The central defender, who joined Liverpool at the age of five after being scouted playing for a local team in his native Warrington, had just captained the club’s under-18s side to the FA Youth Cup final and felt “unbelievable”.
    Just as he had been in victories over Sutton United, Manchester United, Leicester City and Arsenal in previous rounds, Quansah, who can also play at right-back, was a composed leader in the 2-1 comeback win over Ipswich Town in the semi-final.
    In the first half, Liverpool had struggled against a team who looked to relish their “underdogs” tag. It was an inspired display from Ipswich and Quansah was forced to make two crucial blocks within the first 30 minutes as Ipswich pushed to take advantage of their positive opening. One block ensured Cameron Humphreys’ low cross didn’t find its way to an Ipswich attacker on the edge of the six-yard box, while the other arrived soon after as Quansah threw his body in front of a shot fired from range.
    Quansah, an England youth international, is committed to the cause and has been all season. His second year with the under-18s has gone precisely as Liverpool hoped it would. The club is pleased with the progress he has made, and whether or not it ends in silverware later this month, Quansah has already earned something more valuable. In February, the teenager was awarded his first professional contract with the club. A three-and-a-half-year deal with the option of another year pleased not only Quansah but his mum and dad, whom he lives with in Warrington.
    Football runs in the family. His grandfather, Sam, played for Ghana at international level in the 1950s, and his older brother Keenan, who is also a footballer, spent a period at Liverpool’s academy when he was younger.
    Though despite all the positivity surrounding Quansah, he has — in a season defined by the centre-back injury crisis — been a player whose name not all fans will yet recognise.
    The comfort to Quansah is that he is familiar to Jurgen Klopp and his staff, not least because the first-team manager watched him in action at Anfield in the 3-1 quarter-final victory over Arsenal recently. Earlier this year, along with several of his academy peers, Quansah was invited to train with the first team. That is an eye-opening experience for any young player, but those close to Quansah say it has helped direct his focus even more.
    When asked by The Athletic earlier this week as to whether or not Quansah is a player who has gone under the radar, his manager Marc Bridge-Wilkinson agreed that was “potentially” the case for those outside of the academy sphere.
    “From our side of things, we have worked with him all season and I’ve been fortunate to have worked with him for several years now,” Bridge-Wilkinson explained. “I know the potential he has got. He’s really stepped up to the captain role that we gave him at the start of the year. He’s becoming more of a leader; his performances have merited that on and off the pitch. I would imagine from the outside looking in that he has gone under the radar a little, but within these walls, there are a lot of people who think a lot of him.”
    It is a season when young players such as Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams are being paired up at the back for the first-team in crucial games. Billy Koumetio, who played alongside Quansah on Wednesday, has also seen his exposure to the first-team rise. For example, Koumetio spent his Saturday evening last week on Liverpool’s bench against Southampton. Quansah is yet to have the luxury. He hasn’t profited in the same way others have in the absence of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. However, he is making progress incrementally — and the praise from his own manager has been omnipresent.
    “First and foremost, he does things properly,” Bridge-Wilkinson said when asked why he chose Quansah to wear the captain’s armband at the start of the 2020-21 season. “He trains properly. He acts and he handles himself — around the building, on buses, wherever you are — in the right way. The example he sets for not just the group that we have but for the younger groups too. When they are in and around, he sets the example for everyone. He has been a worthy captain, and I think he’s performed in that role really well.”
    His performance in midweek lived up to the in-house hype building around Quansah. After going into the break a goal down, Liverpool reemerged in the second-half intent on fighting their way back into the fixture. For a side who like to control the ball and zip it around the pitch, they had been held at arm’s length by Ipswich but after half-time that changed.
    Following a string of chances, including two wayward shots from Max Woltman and Conor Bradley, Liverpool soon got back on level terms.
    A free kick awarded to Mateusz Musialowski had annoyed Liverpool, who wanted the advantage to be played as Tyler Morton bared down on goal. The resulting set piece was fired into the box and just as he did in his own area all game, Quansah rose highest to ensure it was his head getting to the ball first. His subsequent knockdown fell perfectly into the path of Musialowski who shimmied his way past Ipswich defenders before his deflected shot made it over the line. Melkamu Frauendorf then came off the bench to make an immediate impact as he put Liverpool ahead with 10 minutes remaining.
    Those final minutes were nervy but Quansah looked calm — as he had done throughout the game — and those close to him say he is a relaxed and laidback guy off the pitch as well as on it.
    He was still very much alert to danger when a ball over the top saw him, as the late man back, win a race with Gerard Buabo. Quansah, an England Under-18s international who is also eligible to represent Ghana and Barbados, showed incredible speed to recover the ball. The commentators marvelled at his “imperious stroll” — and Quansah did not stop there. As the seconds seeped away, Ipswich fired cross after cross into Liverpool’s area, desperate for one last opportunity to take the tie into extra time. Quansah was on his toes and made two crucial headed clearances just before referee Craig Hicks blew the final whistle.
    If one good thing has come from Liverpool’s centre-back injury crisis, it is the raft of youth players who have shown immense promise and prospered in that time. Maybe Quansah’s name isn’t the first to come to mind, but if he lifts the FA Youth Cup in Birmingham later this month, he will be only the fifth captain in club history to do so — and for that alone, he is a name worth remembering.
  4. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Liverpool hope the lessons Matt Beard has learned in his six-year absence can help them back to the WSL
    By Caoimhe O'Neill May 13, 2021[​IMG] 8 [​IMG]
    The long and winding road of Matt Beard’s football career has led him back to Liverpool — a city where he has enjoyed his biggest successes as a manager to date in the shape of back-to-back Women’s Super League titles in 2013 and 2014.
    The 43-year-old, who emerged as the immediate favourite for the job following Vicky Jepson’s departure in January, was announced as Liverpool Women’s new manager on Thursday.
    The news came 121 days on from Jepson’s exit. It sees Beard return to the Liverpool hotseat after a half-season pitstop at Bristol City Women — where he was unable to avoid relegation while working as interim boss in the absence of Tanya Oxtoby (who was on maternity leave).
    In 2014, Liverpool were crowned champions for a second time under Beard’s tutelage. The club leapfrogged his former side Chelsea into first place on the final day. Beard needed another miraculous season finale if he was to avoid the drop with Bristol City this season. However a 3-1 defeat by Brighton saw City drop into the Championship — the division Liverpool are desperate to escape. They now believe Beard is the manager to help guide them out, after they failed to do so last term.
    From 160 applications and what the club have described as a “long and rigorous” interview process, Beard emerged as their first choice.
    The board at Liverpool Women, which consists of LFCW executive director Susan Black, chief executive officer Billy Hogan and Liverpool owners FSG’s president Mike Gordon — eventually arrived at the decision to appoint Beard based not only on his vision moving forward but due to the foundation of success he has in place at the club to build on.
    Beard also left the club on good terms in 2015, which helps. A job with now-defunct National Women’s Soccer League side Boston Breakers was an offer he could not refuse, and he departed England with the club’s well-wishes.
    Having relocated his family to the US, it would be reasonable to suggest Beard’s American dream did not quite come true.
    The south London-born manager stepped off the plane in Massachusetts to “cautious excitement”.
    This apprehension locally was “nothing to do with Matt”, former Boston Breakers beat writer Steph Yang tells The Athletic. “Obviously his Liverpool success did make for optimism. It’s just the fans and the team were really in a slump after some seriously rough seasons, and I think that made everyone a little hesitant to buy into anyone from the jump.”
    To Yang’s recollection, the fans warmed to Beard even when results did not go their team’s way.
    “Even if the team was losing, he was always amiable, willing to chat on game days, that sort of thing,” she says. “I think my recollection of that time covering the team was one of frustration. The Breakers seemed to have a lot of the pieces to put together at least a very solid, mid-table team and it wasn’t consistently coming together. I will say, sometimes it did feel like they just had a ton of rotten luck, but you might also say that great teams make their own luck.”
    Beard had some formidable talents to call on in Boston, including Rose Lavelle, Adriana Leon and Natasha Dowie (who he had worked with at Liverpool). So, did he struggle to get the best out of them?
    “I think it depended on the player,” Yang says. “You look at someone like Adriana Leon, who you wouldn’t immediately name as a ‘Lights out’ player but still managed to assemble solid stats that any team would accept. From talking to her at the time, it seemed like Matt giving her lots of playing time helped her maintain her confidence, which in turn helped her maintain her performance.”
    Trouble was on the horizon, though. Failed attempts to sell the club meant they were dissolved in January 2018. The reaction was naturally one of despair. “There seemed to be a lot of sadness. I know he had a young family that had been settling down and making connections and friendships. That would be tough on anyone,” Yang says.
    With his American odyssey behind him, Beard returned to England and was named head coach of West Ham United Women in the summer of 2018. Less than a year into that job, he took West Ham to the FA Cup final — losing 3-0 to Manchester City at Wembley.
    “He will always be considered a West Ham legend for the FA Cup final alone,” West Ham fan and blogger Allie Coker says. “He was always very personable when he was at the club with all of the fans. So even if we didn’t agree with his methods, as a person we liked him.”
    As well as placing a strong emphasis on defence, Beard had West Ham at times trying to play a more possession-based game but, as Coker highlights, this backfired slightly.
    “I know this caused a lot of frustration for fans,” Coker explains. “We would see players like Ellen White or Kim Little coming forward for a goal kick — knowing we are tapping it to a defender so they could easily intercept it.
    “The first season and a half definitely was a success, with a cup final and a decent mid-table finish. However, towards the end of the aborted season and the beginning of the 2020-21 season it seemed to unravel. And after a few really heavy defeats, it definitely felt like his good work was being undone.
    “Fans were definitely calling for his head by the end.”

    Beard took West Ham to the 2019 FA Cup final (Photo: Getty Images)
    Coker says that the timing of the announcement last November that Beard was stepping down from his role as manager was a shock — however the writing had been on the wall. “A lot of fans thought he would hang on until January. But we all knew he was going. We miss what he did for us but we definitely needed a new direction. The football became very predictable.”
    It was in January that the job at Bristol City cropped up. With Beard having been top of the list of favourites to take over at Liverpool, many were surprised to see him posing with a red and white scarf of a different kind three days later at Ashton Gate.
    A couple of months passed and, as well as keeping his side in the fight for survival, Beard led his temporary team to the final of the Continental Cup.
    Title and Champions League final-bound Chelsea cruised to a 6-0 win in that match at Vicarage Road but it didn’t take away from what an achievement it was for Bristol City get there at all. Indeed, it was viewed as another successful milestone in Beard’s 13-year management career.
    “They reached the Continental Cup final, so it was a pretty good few months, really,” writer and broadcaster Carrie Dunn, who follows Bristol City closely, tells The Athletic. “The fact they took the relegation fight down to the last game of the season will have come as a huge surprise to some people. Matt said in press conferences that people had assumed Bristol City were dead and buried by the end of January. The fact they managed to stay in touching distance and stay in contention was a huge achievement in the circumstances.”
    Oxtoby being on maternity leave, Dunn says, did not stop Beard having free rein over her squad. “He wasn’t being told what team to pick or he wasn’t limited by what had happened previously that season or Tanya’s choices. He was the manager for those months so (at Liverpool) he will want to have that free rein and that backing.
    “It was a side that was playing a decent passing game, with players like Ebony Salmon, and Gemma Evans who was slightly more experienced. Matt gave them the licence to express themselves a little bit more and play with less fear. That is a really difficult thing to do when you are bottom of the league and you are struggling. It can be quite nerve-racking for players. Matt managed to instil that confidence in them to tell them, ‘We can still do this’ — and the fact they went so close just shows that he was right.
    “He did an exceptional job there. I would hope Bristol City fans are grateful for his efforts. If Matt Beard has the same kind of support at Liverpool as he had at Bristol City, I see no reason why he couldn’t return to the level of success he has had previously.”
    Beard isn’t relying on his past successes, though.
    “It’s about what I do this time and hopefully getting the club back into the Super League,” he said when being unveiled on Thursday. “One thing I can promise the football club and the fans is that I’ll work as hard as I can to get us back there. I’ve come here to get the team promoted. It’s not going to be easy and it’s probably going to be the toughest Championship season ever.”
    While the memories of those two title-winning campaigns will always be with him, it may be that the experiences he endured during his six-year absence from Liverpool are what Beard calls upon more regularly in the coming months.
  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Manchester United put beds for players in corporate boxes at Old Trafford ahead of Liverpool clash
    By Laurie Whitwell, David Ornstein and more May 13, 2021[​IMG] 36 [​IMG]
    Manchester United turned corporate boxes at Old Trafford into bedrooms so that players arriving early to avoid fans’ protests could try to relax inside the stadium before facing Liverpool, The Athletic can reveal.
    Officials hatched top-secret plans to make sure the Premier League game between the two rivals would go ahead on Thursday after the original fixture was postponed on May 2 when two groups of fans invaded the pitch and barricaded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his United players inside The Lowry Hotel in central Manchester.
    Usually, United’s squad stay at the Lowry before home games, with group meetings held and players able to sleep as required, before being bussed to Old Trafford, which is a 10-minute drive away. But the extraordinary events earlier this month prompted a drastic change to preparations.
    Instead, players drove themselves to Old Trafford more than six hours before the 8.15pm kick-off to make sure there was no possibility of them being delayed entry into the ground. Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood were among those seen driving through the gates of the ground from 2pm.
    United staff appreciated that Old Trafford was not an ideal setting to spend such a long time ahead of the game, so transformed boxes in the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand by moving in beds to help players who were recovering after two matches in 72 hours to be able to rest properly.
    To throw militant fans intent on disrupting events off the scent, two buses made dummy runs from Old Trafford to The Lowry. Normally, on the afternoon of a night game, players drive to the stadium to be picked up and taken by bus to the hotel for a few hours. But ahead of the rearranged Liverpool match, United’s team coaches were empty, intended only to create confusion and avoid the risk of the match being cancelled again.
    The Liverpool squad spent Thursday afternoon at their own hotel in Manchester city centre, the same one they used before the original fixture earlier this month. But a bus emblazoned with the Merseyside club’s crest was blocked into a side street near the hotel by a number of vehicles at around 5.40pm. Some of its tyres appeared to be punctured but it moved on shortly after 6pm, accompanied by a police escort.

    Another Liverpool bus left the team hotel, again accompanied by police, at around 6.25pm to make the two-mile journey to Old Trafford as substantial crowds gathered outside the stadium. Two Liverpool coaches were inside the ground by 6.55pm, having gone in through a back entrance.

    United have been genuinely concerned about receiving a possible points deduction after being issued with a warning from the Premier League over a postponed home game against Bournemouth in 2016. On that occasion, a fake bomb was the cause, but United’s security was criticised again in the wake of the scenes nearly a fortnight ago.
    Serious measures have been taken to beef up protection for Old Trafford, with 10ft-high temporary walls erected around the Munich Tunnel where fans were able to break into the ground before the first Liverpool game 11 days ago.
    Dozens of extra police, some with dogs, were present for Tuesday night’s home match against Leicester City, although there was no protest planned for that one.
    Plans for the rescheduled Liverpool game have been kept closely guarded, with only a select group outside of players and coaching staff informed. People have been sworn to secrecy over the arrangements as internal communications stressed the importance of the match going ahead.
    Solskjaer has been across everything, determined that his team are not undermined in their ambitions to finish second in the Premier League.
    “Security measures are being looked at, of course, and I hope that we can keep the protests — if there are protests — down to loud voices, nothing violent,” he said after United won at Aston Villa on Sunday. Solskjaer viewed that result as enormous for the week ahead, enabling him to rotate his squad against Leicester.
    He added: “We want to listen. The players want to play the game. We play Liverpool. Of course we want to beat Liverpool, so we’re going to do everything we can for our fans to celebrate what we’re doing on the pitch.”
  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Klopp’s Liverpool attacked like their old selves (even if upset Mane might not agree)
    By James Pearce May 14, 2021[​IMG] 93 [​IMG]
    Sadio Mane may not agree but Jurgen Klopp got the big decisions spot on.
    With Liverpool’s season on the line, their manager masterminded their most fluent attacking display of 2021 to keep their hopes of Champions League qualification alive and kicking.
    Not even the Senegal international’s show of petulance after the final whistle could wipe the smile off Klopp’s face after he savoured victory at Old Trafford for the first time in his Anfield reign. He had made the decision to leave out Mane and start Diogo Jota instead on the left of the front three late on in Wednesday’s session at the AXA Training Centre.
    “There’s no problem,” Klopp insisted. “The boys are used to me explaining but there was no time for that. Sadio was obviously not too happy. All is fine.“

    Mane was left out by Klopp and was not happy (Photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)
    Considering how Klopp has stood by Mane during an alarming slump in form this season, the sight of the former Southampton attacker publicly shunning him didn’t sit right, especially given the magnitude of what Liverpool had collectively just pulled off.
    But this wasn’t a night to dwell on a fit of pique that the fiery substitute will surely regret. There was too much else to admire about how Liverpool recovered from a disastrous start to rip Manchester United to shreds.
    For most of the opening half-hour, Klopp’s men were a distant second best as the hosts swarmed all over them. If Edinson Cavani hadn’t somehow failed to punish Alisson’s early blunder, the damage would have been greater than Bruno Fernandes’ strike which was deflected into his own net by Nathaniel Phillips.
    “At the start we struggled to defend the wings. They outnumbered us there and we had to adapt to that,” explained Klopp. Even the lifeline of a penalty awarded after Eric Bailly upended Phillips was swiftly taken away after referee Anthony Taylor went to the monitor and changed his mind. Liverpool looked like they would have to get used to playing Thursday night football.
    But rather than feel sorry for themselves and wilt, they dug deep. Rather than retreat into their shells, they played on the front foot. Too often in recent years Liverpool have gone to Old Trafford and played with the handbrake on, seemingly afraid to throw caution to the wind. This time Klopp went for broke and United couldn’t handle the onslaught. Liverpool hadn’t scored four times at Old Trafford since Rafael Benitez’s side won there in 2009.
    Jota, who repeatedly troubled the hosts with his movement, more than justified his selection ahead of Mane. The Portugal international produced a clever, instinctive finish to restore parity after fine work from Phillips. He should have scored again in the second half when he rattled the post.
    Andy Robertson epitomised Liverpool’s show of hunger and desire as he gave Marcus Rashford a five-yard head start and still got back to dispossess him. It was a gamble by Klopp sticking with the rookie centre-back combination of Rhys Williams and Phillips. The safer option would have been to start Fabinho back there but he didn’t want to upset the balance of the midfield. Klopp’s faith was rewarded as Williams and Phillips settled and flourished after a nervy opening. Thiago continued his resurgence as he helped set the tempo.

    Klopp made a bold call and was delighted afterwards (Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Images via Getty Images)
    With all the talk about United being hamstrung defensively without Harry Maguire, it’s worth remembering what Klopp has had to contend with himself this season. Imagine if Maguire had been out since October with Victor Lindelof and Bailly also missing most of the campaign. That’s been the equivalent of Klopp’s plight. Liverpool had five senior centre-backs out injured at Old Trafford, along with Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
    That’s why if they could somehow clinch fourth place and retain their place among Europe’s elite it would be such an impressive salvage act from a largely torturous season.
    Given the fact that Leicester City and Chelsea face each other next Tuesday, Liverpool’s fate is in their own hands with the finish line in sight. Wins on the road at West Bromwich Albion and Burnley in the coming week would set up a thrilling final day when 10,000 fans will be inside Anfield for the visit of Crystal Palace.
    Key personnel are ending the season strongly. Trent Alexander-Arnold deservedly walked away clutching the man of the match award after once again shining in front of watching England boss Gareth Southgate. As much as Liverpool would benefit from their dynamic right-back getting a breather this summer, it would be inexplicable if Southgate overlooked him for the European Championship on this form.
    Alexander-Arnold was so influential at both ends of the field. No one on either team had more touches (89). There were three clearances, two interceptions and five key passes, including the pinpoint free kick which Roberto Firmino nodded home just before the break.
    What a night for Firmino, whose barren run had seen him score just once in his previous 23 outings in all competitions. His confidence has looked shot to bits but against United his mojo returned and so did the megawatt grin. The Brazilian was on hand to double his tally early in the second half after Dean Henderson spilled Alexander-Arnold’s effort. It was only the second time since December 2019 that Firmino has scored twice in a game for his club.
    Liverpool pressed so much better as a unit as they forced a succession of errors from United. There was a pace and incision to their counter-attacks that hadn’t been seen since December’s thrashing of Crystal Palace.

    After Rashford halved the deficit, Phillips cleared off the line and Williams made a goal-saving block, but still Klopp’s side never sat back. The game plan was clear — attack was the best form of defence.
    Mohamed Salah had been a great outlet for Liverpool all night as he held the ball up intelligently and he delivered the killer blow late on. He ran half the length of Old Trafford after a pass from substitute Curtis Jones sent him scampering away. By then Salah was wearing the armband and his emotional reaction to slotting past Henderson spoke volumes. He wants that Champions League spot. He also wants the Golden Boot having moved level with Harry Kane.
    What a way to celebrate his 200th appearance for Liverpool. Only Roger Hunt (133) and Gordon Hodgson (125) have been more prolific than Salah (124) in reaching that milestone for the club.
    “It was exactly what we needed,” Klopp said. “We have to win our games to stay in the race. Somehow with everything that’s happened this season we’ve come into a position where it’s in our own hands.”
    Liverpool had earlier sidestepped the attempts of protesting United fans to hijack the fixture once again with a new unbranded team bus arriving in Manchester and a secret diversion getting them safely to the stadium from the Hyatt Regency Hotel. There was no stopping them on the field either as the seven-year wait to triumph at Old Trafford was ended in style.
    Three games to go. Three wins from salvation.
  7. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    The Premier League may have opted for the TV rights status quo, but profound change is inevitable
    Matt Slater May 15, 2021[​IMG] 131 [​IMG]
    If we think of English football as a muddier version of The Truman Show, this week’s episode has reminded us that old-fashioned centre-backs matter, the battle to finish fourth is sometimes as much drama as we are going to get, and 29-year-old agents who do not appear to have many clients probably cannot afford Championship clubs.
    But the biggest revelation has been that under no circumstances should you ever play poker with Premier League boss Richard Masters.
    He was dealt a non-aggression pact between the two broadcasters most likely to get into a bidding war for the league’s live rights, a pandemic that has shut stadiums for over a year and threats from his most marketable assets to break away and do their own thing. It was the equivalent of turning over a two and a seven in Texas hold ’em, but he has turned it into a hand worth £5 billion.
    And this is only two months after he poker-faced us all at The FT’s Business of Football summit.
    “We are in no rush to go to market at the moment, we are going to take our time,” said Masters, having already started talks to scrap the usual rights auction and simply extend the current deals with Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime Video and BBC Sport.
    “In a normal three-year cycle, we would have just completed (the auction) or be in the market now. It will take place at some point this year but it is too early to say whether there will be any material deviation from our historic packaging strategies.”
    Richard masterclass, more like. On Thursday, it was confirmed the government has, in principle, approved the rights rollover — a plan the Premier League’s clubs have unanimously backed. When you thought you were going to be getting less, being offered the same feels pretty good.
    Speaking to reporters shortly after he had laid his cards on the table, Masters explained: “We decided to go with certainty over uncertainty.
    “You can’t run a process and do a renewal — you have to make a choice. Obviously, we aren’t able to do a renewal without assistance and so that’s what we’ve been concentrating on. It was our judgment at the end of last year that this was the best route.”
    The “assistance” he referred to is the government agreeing to grant an exclusion order — an exemption — from the Competition Act 1998 that requires the league to hold an open tender process for its broadcast rights every three years.
    The pros are obvious. Premier League clubs will lose about £2 billion in revenues over the two seasons that have been impacted by the virus so far. Knowing they have at least £1.7 billion a year in domestic broadcast revenue to share between now and 2025 should help their chief financial officers sleep more easily.
    And the fact the deals are being extended on the “same terms” is a big win when you remember the last auction in 2018 saw the value of the rights dip by 10 per cent and that was the consensus prediction for this auction, too.
    The Bundesliga and Serie A have already received that haircut, while French clubs have practically been scalped after their deal with Mediapro collapsed, forcing them to go back to their old partners. They were in no mood to be magnanimous and offered the French league half of what it had budgeted for.
    “It provides certainty for both sides,” explains Alexios Dimitropoulos, a senior analyst at communications and media specialists Ampere Analysis.
    “All sports have been under financial pressure because of COVID-19 but even before that we could see the inflation of previous rights cycles had disappeared. The European Super League story added more uncertainty, so rolling the rights over offers stability.
    “On the other side, Sky and the rest of them would, of course, love to pay less but there is always a risk when you go to the market, so they get certainty, too. They get the content they need to drive subs and keep customers happy, without any of the stress.”
    Stephen Taylor Heath, the head of sports law at Manchester-based JMW Solicitors, agrees.
    “Companies such as (British-based sports streaming service) DAZN have expressed concern that they have been shut out, but the government will have come to a conclusion that this was in the best interest of the game,” he says. “The broadcasters will have weighed up potentially paying less for the rights but also possibly losing packages they currently hold.”
    And that, in theory, is good news for fans.
    “Sticking to the status quo means consumers won’t have to fork out extra money on another TV or streaming service,” says Uswitch.com’s TV expert Catherine Hiley.
    The folks who have agreed to keep writing the cheques that keep football afloat seem pretty happy, too.
    “This in principle renewal of our broadcast rights is great for our viewers but also helps to provide vital support for the broader football community that relies on the Premier League,” claims Marc Allera, the chief executive of BT’s consumer division that includes BT Sport.
    He has more reason than most to be pleased as BT Sport is the only partner to have improved its lot with this rollover, as it will be able to move its lunchtime game on Saturdays to the evening if it features a club involved in European competition on a Wednesday. In other words, BT has gained a primetime slot for its most attractive games.
    The rest of the company’s official statement contained a line that on the face of it said nothing but hinted at so much more. Or perhaps less.
    “Under the terms of the agreement with the Premier League, BT is unable to confirm the exact cost for the extended rights,” it explains. “However, BT can confirm the cost reflects current market conditions and is in line with market expectations.”
    Seasoned BT watchers have suggested this was a message to shareholders to assure them the company has not been overpaying for football again, and it is interesting that nobody has revealed any precise numbers for the rollover, beyond the diplomatic “same terms”.
    Amazon has never admitted how much it paid for its current package of 20 games a season but it is widely believed to have cost about £100 million a year, which adds up to half of what BT and Sky were paying per game at the height of their battle for customers between 2016 and 2019.
    That package, which gives them two full rounds of fixtures in December, including the Boxing Day holiday round, was designed with the internet giant in mind. The league was desperate to bring a third player into the market after BT and Sky agreed a carriage deal, an agreement to sell each others’ channels on their platforms, in late 2017.
    Knowing how keen the Premier League was to bring them in, Amazon played it cool during the first auction, forcing the league to lower its price. Nobody is moaning about that any more, though, as Amazon Prime has become a trusted partner to the league and Premier League football has sent plenty of Christmas shoppers in Amazon’s direction.
    Amazon Prime’s subscriber base showed annual growth of more than a third after its first stab at football streaming in 2019, and the latest figures show streaming hours are up by more than two-thirds year on year.

    Amazon Prime broadcasting from Selhurst Park in December 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)
    In an interview with The Athletic’s Business of Sport podcast, former English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey puts it like this.
    “The ability to consume football is growing but the market is constricting,” he says. “If you get understandings between the major broadcasters, where is the market?
    “(An extension) is really sensible on two counts. Firstly, protecting where you are now would be the top of anyone’s list. However ambitious you may be, to stand still would be a massive achievement.
    “But you’ve got the other factor to take into account: loyalty is massive in football. Sky, BT and Amazon all stood by the Premier League at a time when contractually they could have taken a far harsher financial approach than they did.
    “Football owes them. This isn’t the time to go looking for that extra one per cent. What football needs to do over this next three-year cycle is consolidate and build again for the future.”
    When you put it like that it really does seem like Masters has delivered almost everyone’s Christmas presents early. And he has done it for a bargain price.
    “The Premier League has effectively paid to get an otherwise anti-competitive deal over the line at a time when the clubs would have been very nervous about testing relations with existing partners, who have shown relative patience throughout COVID-19, as well as the wider market in terms of values,” said Alex Haffner, a partner at international law firm Fladgate LLP. “The price paid, of course, is a cool £100 million to the football pyramid below the Premier League.”
    This refers to the additional money the league has promised to share with the hundreds of amateur and professional teams below the Championship over the next four years. Some of this will also be used for what the Premier League calls “whole football projects” — things that benefit everyone, such as the infrastructure grants the Football Foundation hands out or the initiatives being taken to investigate football’s possible links to dementia or to tackle discrimination.
    All great causes but an extra £100 million between now and 2025? The league has just saved a similar amount on parachute payments from the immediate return of Norwich and Watford.
    The EFL does not think there is anything cool about the government’s failure to better use the leverage it had over the Premier League. In a punchy statement, they said: “The current media rights deal will preserve the status quo of an unbalanced, unsustainable, and unfair financial distribution model (…) while continuing to distort competition between clubs and threaten the long-term viability of EFL competitions and clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two.”
    Pointing out that Championship clubs have lost a combined £600 million over the last two years, the EFL reminded us all that the league has been forced to borrow £117.5 million from MetLife Investment Management, “albeit with assistance from the Premier League to cover interest charges”, to help Championship clubs pay their tax bills.
    “(This) appears to have been a missed opportunity for the government to obtain a commitment from the Premier League to address the financial imbalance that exists between the top division and the rest of football,” it continued.
    “The EFL maintains that sustainability can be achieved with 25 per cent of football’s pooled net media revenues distributed to the EFL, alongside the abolition of the outdated parachute payment system and introduction of appropriate cost controls. It is our strong view that parachute payments are not a form of solidarity and instead provide a reward for relegation while distorting competition.”
    Masters will not be moved, though.
    He wants to put the turmoil of the last two seasons behind the Premier League — the padlocked gates, COVID protocols, rebates, power grabs and rows about breakaways — and get back to what the league does best: provide hours of premium, unscripted drama to generous media partners, live entertainment to thousands of fans and millions of pounds in tax revenue to a grateful Treasury.
    It is a reset. Only 200 of the 380 games will be broadcast in the UK, simultaneous games will be played at 3pm on Saturdays again and those who want to watch everything will need to pay for three subscriptions.
    The “normality” he craves can only be temporary, though, because everyone knows things are about to change forever, they are just not sure when, how and who will emerge on the other side.
    When Harvey did his last TV deal at the EFL in 2018, it was for £595 million over five years with Sky Sports. Some clubs wanted him sacked on the spot for signing it. They thought it was not enough cash, it tied them in too long and it gave Sky too much control over the growing market for streaming.
    They did not quite get their way but Harvey did leave the organisation a year later. That deal, however, has looked better with each passing month and, as he points out, it was the last domestic deal to produce a significant increase in revenue.
    “The view was let’s lock the money in now and build for the future,” he said. “Let’s see if there are lots of new entrants, let’s see if someone wants to take the (Over The Top streaming) offering on.
    “We were never going to be the first competition that had that opportunity — it was always going to be the Premier League to test that model.
    “The EFL has a critical mass in terms of games but not a critical mass in terms of supporters. There is always the view that somebody might have been able to do a better deal and there’s no doubt that certain clubs could get a better deal if they sold their rights individually. But who do they play?
    “This is where we get back to the point of collective selling versus individual selling. In the Premier League we’ve seen that some of the bigger clubs want to sell some of their games to overseas fans on an OTT basis. But that builds the clubs, not competitions. You need strong competitions to create collective wealth for everybody.”
    That plan to carve out some of the games from the international rights deals so that Liverpool, Manchester United and the other global brands could sell games directly to fans from LA to KL, via their own club platforms, was part of Project Big Picture plan that was leaked earlier this season. The league and its more regional brands saw it for the booby trap it is and immediately shot it down. You either sell collectively, and share on a reasonably even basis, or you don’t. You cannot do both.
    But a few months later, the big clubs were back with an even more dramatic plan to bulldoze the broadcast landscape.
    The European Super League did not last long enough for everybody to fully consider all of its implications but the only way it was going to generate the riches it promised was if it hoovered up a huge chunk of the money that is currently allocated to premium live rights in Italy, Spain, the UK and beyond.
    But even that would have only been the start — the real goal was changing the relationship the elite clubs have with their international followings. No broadcast partner was named when the ESL press release went out but that is because that partner does not exist yet, not in the current European sports market, anyway.
    Paolo Pescatore is a London-based technology, media and telco analyst and he believes it is only a matter of time before the Premier League, or its clubs, cut out the middlemen and come straight to us directly.
    “Sport is one of the few genres that makes people tune in to a live event,” he explains. “That brings in revenue streams, whether that’s subscriptions, advertisers, sponsorship and so on. There is so much focus on streaming now because you can go direct to the consumer. You cannot ignore the phenomenal rise of the digital services. Netflix paved the way but Disney+ has come at an opportune moment and now all the others are jumping on the bandwagon.
    “The other advantage of streaming is that it lowers your costs of delivery. If I’m a rights-holder, I cannot ignore the streaming opportunity.
    “In very simple terms, if you have a global fanbase of 100 million people, you could charge £1 a game and there’s a £100 million in your pocket there already.
    “Of course, there are challenges with streaming in being able to deliver simultaneous games with a good experience. The infrastructure still isn’t robust enough to deliver that reliable quality. Many of the games now are being broadcast in 4K, HDR and, eventually, 8K to deliver that really immersive experience. That requires higher bandwidth.
    “But (launching a streaming service) is the path we’re going towards. It may take another one or two rights cycles but the league could do it or the clubs could. That’s where we’re heading.”
    The EFL, of course, already has one in iFollow — and it has been a lifeline for lower division clubs and their most committed fans during the pandemic — but it was not created to achieve what Pescatore is fishing at.
    “We set iFollow up to maximise revenue from overseas fans who couldn’t get to the game,” explains Harvey. “But that’s the key bit: fans who couldn’t get to the game. It was all about supplementing gate revenue, not replacing it.
    “Do clubs want that fan watching at home or coming through the turnstile? Are you replacing a £20 ticket with a £10 one-off payment? Live sport in person or live sport on a screen?
    “If you can sell it only to people who cannot get to the stadium, great. But if we’re talking about the UK, it’s a single transmission area and then you have all the competition arguments. Why should someone who lives 200 miles away have an advantage over someone who lives 200 yards away?
    “That’s the Saturday afternoon blackout debate, too. If Watford versus Barnsley at 3pm can be broadcast or streamed, so can Manchester United versus Liverpool. The challenge is not just losing your fans from the live experience, it’s losing them completely to another game. Answers on a postcard, please.”
    If the Premier League going fully OTT, in one shape or another, feels like a revolution that is still far enough away not to worry about just yet, there is a huge potential change that this week’s rollover might have accelerated.
    Last month, BT was forced to confirm media reports it was in “early discussions with a number of select strategic partners, to explore ways to generate investment, strengthen our sports business and help take it to the next stage in its growth”. In other words, BT was trying to sell all or some of BT Sport.
    Launched in 2013, BT Sport’s slogan is “take them all on”. That sounds quite aggressive, and some of their early moves in the sports rights market were certainly that. But the move to create a sports service was purely defensive.
    At the time, BT was haemorrhaging broadband customers to Sky. The latter had just bought Easynet and was enticing customers away from BT, Virgin and others by bundling its broadband and landline offer with its sports content. Led by chief executive Gavin Patterson, BT decided to get in the game and fight back.
    He spent £1.5 billion on sports rights, which he effectively gave away for free to BT customers, undercut Sky Sports in pubs and stopped the bleeding. Both companies’ share prices dipped but BT signed four million customers up to BT Sport and the Premier League’s domestic rights tripled in value between 2013 and 2019.
  8. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Part 2


    BT Sport have broadcasted Premier League matches since 2013 (Photo: Getty)
    “If you look back over the last 15 years, no other product has done as good a job at stemming those losses as sport,” says Pescatore. “And they’ve also given Sky a good run for their money, so it did what it had to do.
    “But now the dynamics in the market are completely different. They’ve got a broad portfolio of rights and a carriage deal with Sky. We’re in a very different place.
    “Now, BT must focus on connectivity in the UK, driven by fibre rollouts and 5G. There’s going to be a huge investment drive to achieve UK-wide coverage. It has got BT Sport into a good place but if they want to take BT Sport to a new level, which seems to be the objective within BT Sport, they’re going to need outside investment.”
    The names in the hat are Amazon, DAZN, Discovery, Disney — the usual suspects — and ITV. But industry sources have told The Athletic that Amazon does not need to buy a stake in BT Sport, DAZN and Discovery cannot afford it, Disney is building its Disney+ streaming service by adding more adult-oriented content but not sport (yet), and ITV “is not interested”.
    Ampere’s Dimitropoulos, however, thinks there is some haggling going on.
    “BT is in a stronger position now with the rollover of the rights,” says Ampere’s Dimitropoulos. “That gives them a strong selling point.
    “Disney+ and ESPN+ is an interesting bundle in the US market but Disney hasn’t added any sport yet in the European market. But it’s still early days for this and I can’t see them making a big move here yet. That’s one for the future.
    “DAZN likes to surprise us. The Serie A deal with (Italian telecom giant) TIM was a big move for them and they have been doubling down in their key existing markets: Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain. But they haven’t got much of a presence in the UK. They’ll need some top-tier rights to break this market but premium rights are very expensive, so they have quite a project on their hands to be profitable.
    “BT is becoming more of an aggregator of content now. Could they do something similar with Amazon Prime?
    “But I wouldn’t expect anyone to come out now and say they definitely want it — that’s not a very clever negotiating tactic!
    “It makes a lot of sense for BT to sell a stake to somebody who can bring more content to their platform, which is why a link with an OTT provider makes more sense to me. I think ITV would have to offer a bit more than an OTT platform for BT because they’re not bringing any exclusive content to the party. On the flip side, they do provide eyeballs.”
    Pescatore sees it in much the same terms. For him, DAZN is the big loser in the UK rights rollover but buying a stake in BT Sport would fix that problem.
    Likewise, he can also see BT Sport’s appeal to Amazon Prime, which already uses the BT Sport studio for its Premier League production. And then you have Disney, with its clear desire to take on Netflix as the number one, premium content streaming service, and ITV with its desire to get more top live football back in its schedules.
    “But having said that all of that, this does feel like the slow, painful demise of BT Sport and the writing has been on the wall for a number of years,” says Pescatore.
    “BT has gone through turmoil, with the departure of the CEO, the takeover of (mobile phone company) EE and a number of other issues. It feels like a complete sale of BT Sport is unlikely but you’re looking at a £1 billion a year for the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League and everything else. Then you’ve got all the production costs, which aren’t insignificant, and the studios. So who will come in?
    “The rights extension definitely helps but BT’s shareholders could say, ‘If BT Sport is no longer a strategic asset, why are we supporting this for another three or four years?’
    “The rollover puts BT in a far stronger position to forge a strategic deal with DAZN. Otherwise the streamer will be forced to wait another three years to get a shot at these rights.”
    Three years? Given the one year we have all just experienced, the thought that anyone could or should wait that long for an opportunity seems like an idea from another age.
    And, deep down, Masters knows he played his hand as well as anyone could have this time but he is unlikely to win with a pair of sevens again. Change is coming and it will be profound.
  9. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    This season has definitely reminded me of the Treble season in 2001. For those of you who remember 2001 or were too young to understand. Read this.

    ‘Superhuman’, ‘Phenomenal’, ‘Out of control’ – Reliving Liverpool’s epic with Alaves that crowned Houllier’s treble
    James Pearce, Simon Hughes and more May 16, 2021[​IMG] 38 [​IMG]
    Twenty years have passed since Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool completed an unprecedented treble.
    Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion was the setting for an extraordinary UEFA Cup final against Spanish minnows Alaves on May 16, 2001. A golden goal late in extra-time clinched a 5-4 victory as Liverpool celebrated their first European trophy since 1984.
    Houllier’s side had started that week by adding the FA Cup to the February’s League Cup triumph, courtesy of Michael Owen’s late double against Arsenal in Cardiff. They ended it by thrashing Charlton Athletic on the final day of the Premier League season to secure Champions League qualification for the first time.
    “It was superhuman,” says assistant manager Phil Thompson of what was a marathon 63-game campaign. “What we achieved that year was incredible.”
    “If I could go back to any period in my career and relive it again, it would be the months of April and May 2001,” says then-defender Jamie Carragher. “Pressure games every three days. Trophies on the line. Winning.”
    “I count myself lucky that I was alive at that time,” says that team’s goalkeeper, Sander Westerveld.
    The 20th anniversary of the treble is especially poignant given that Houllier passed away at the age of 73 in December. He made Liverpool a force to be reckoned with once again on the European stage.
    What was it that propelled that team to such glory? How did a side lauded for their defensive strength that season end up being involved in such a crazy, chaotic, goal-filled final?
    The Athletic has spoken to several of Houllier’s players and staff to tell that story. From the “masterstroke” summer signing to the runway drama in Germany and their manager’s strict orders about keeping the Champagne on ice.
    There’s also insight from the Alaves camp, including from Delfi Geli, who had the misfortune of scoring the golden goal own goal when a penalty shootout was looming.
    Alaves had surpassed all expectations in reaching their first major final and then threatened to spoil the party by fighting back from 3-1 and 4-3 down.
    This is how Houllier’s Liverpool wrote history.
    Rick Parry, Liverpool CEO
    Thompson, Liverpool assistant manager
    Gregory Vignal
    Didi Hamann
    Robbie Fowler
    Sander Westerveld
    Markus Babbel
    Danny Murphy
    Erik Meijer
    Delfi Geli
    Jordi Cruyff
    Cosmin Contra

    In the summer of 2000, it had been 10 years since Liverpool’s previous league title triumph.
    The 1990s had been relatively barren with just one FA Cup and one League Cup added to the Anfield trophy cabinet. Arch-rivals Manchester United had taken over as the dominant force in English football. Houllier’s first two seasons in charge had yielded seventh and fourth-placed finishes in the Premier League as he oversaw a major overhaul of the squad and modernised the club.
    Rick Parry: “Gerard and I sat down at the training camp and discussed what mattered most to Liverpool. The club had not yet featured in the Champions League since it ceased being the European Cup. This meant we were at a financial disadvantage and ultimately, it made the challenge of becoming English champions again a lot greater.
    “Gerard understood that but I can remember him stressing the importance of becoming a club that won silverware again. The club’s last trophy was in 1995 and for Liverpool, five years was too long. Gerard was a meticulous planner. He understood that you can condition the players to believe it was possible and base your team selections around winning each competition you enter.
    “Even from the early rounds of the League Cup, Gerard chose strong starting XIs. The team that famously beat Stoke 8-0 in the fourth round of the League Cup included Stephane Henchoz, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Markus Babbel, Vladimir Smicer, Danny Murphy, Gary McAllister and Robbie Fowler. Across the course of that season, Danny played the fewest number of games in total — 47 and Markus played the most, 60 in total. It was a long, brutal season for everyone.”
    Jamie Carragher: “At that stage of my career, I only cared about myself. I wasn’t thinking about the trophies we might win. Markus Babbel and Christian Ziege had signed and their arrivals increased the competition in the squad massively. They felt like big signings. Both had won the Euros. They knew how to achieve success.
    “I was concerned I might not play. I was going to have to fight for my life. The season before had gone well. I’d played every game but we’d missed out on Champions League football so it was clear we needed to improve. Gerard Houllier got criticised after that disappointment for suggesting that not qualifying for the Champions League might prove to be a blessing in disguise but on reflection, he was probably right.”
    Eyebrows were raised when Houllier signed 35-year-old Gary McAllister on a free transfer from Coventry City.
    Parry: “Gary was my first signing as chief executive. Gerard, Phil and I were sitting together — I think at Gerard’s apartment — when he told us that he wanted to bring him in. Phil and I looked at each other with the sort of look that says, ‘Well that’s interesting’. Gerard explained to us that he thought he’d be a positive influence on the younger players. He had lots of Premier League experience and wouldn’t need any time to settle in. Just as important in Gerard’s mind was Gary’s delivery from set pieces. It was a stroke of genius from Gerard.
    “People forget Gary had a difficult start. He was sent off against Arsenal in the opening weeks of the season and sadly, his wife became poorly. In the second half of the season, he was phenomenal, though. I’ll never forget the day Gary came and signed. His agent was Struan Marshall, who also took care of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Gerard left me and Struan in the old Melwood pavilion while he gave Gary a tour. Gary turned back and told Struan, ‘Get the deal done… we won’t be long looking around here… I’m signing’. Later, at Anfield, Gary said to me that he’d like to ask just one more thing before he signed the contract. I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go, he’s going to renegotiate’. Instead, he just wanted to touch the This Is Anfield sign and look at the pitch. It showed you how enthusiastic he was. You’d expect that from an 18-year-old but not someone who has already been there, seen it and done it.”
    Phil Thompson: “When Gerard first said to me we had the chance to sign Gary I said, ‘OK, but we’re assembling a new vibrant young team, won’t that change the dynamic? Won’t the fans look at it as a backwards step?’ Gerard said, ‘I just think the young boys need a little bit of guidance and Gary is perfect to do that’. I loved Gary’s attitude from day one. He said he wasn’t coming to babysit everyone and sit on the bench, he wanted to play. His experience and professionalism was brilliant for us.”
    Carragher: “We shared the same agent but we didn’t know each other well. His signing was a masterstroke by Gerard. It’s very hard for a manager to sign a player who is going to fit in straight away but with the understanding he’s going to be a squad player. What he did instead was force his way in over the course of the season.
    “I’d played against him the season before when he was at Coventry. I played centre midfield that day and I can remember Gerard saying to me before the game, ‘He’s running on diesel while you’re on petrol’. Gerard had this way of putting things that gave you confidence. He must have thought very highly of Gary obviously but he didn’t want me thinking that. As a squad, we didn’t have much experience. Most of the players were in their early 20s. Gary was a good 10 years older than most of us. But he mixed easily. He became a very important figure.”
    Gregory Vignal joined from French club Montpellier at the end of September…
    Vignal: “I decided to sign for Liverpool because of Gerard Houllier. When he approached me, I decided straight away to come to Liverpool. I had offers from Barcelona, Celta Vigo and Paris Saint-Germain. Gerard invited me to see him in Paris so I travelled from Montpellier by train with my girlfriend. I knew even before I met him that I would say yes.
    “I loved English football because of Eric Cantona. Gerard spoke about the DNA of Liverpool being an important mix of local players and the best young foreign players. He was changing the way the players worked — the way they ate and the amount of rest they had. I could play left-back, as a winger or in the centre of midfield. Gerard liked me because he felt I had the physicality to deal with the one v one situations in England. Unfortunately, I got injured just after I joined Liverpool. This created a situation at left-back and the manager chose Carra to play there.”
    Carragher: “People associate my season with the left-back position but the manager only started playing me there partway through it. I’d played in midfield earlier on in the campaign and I’d captained the team for the first time. Though Markus Babbel became the right-back, he’d initially played more as a centre-back — which I think was his favoured position.
    “My move to left-back came after we played Olympiakos in the UEFA Cup. We went to Newcastle and before the game, Stevie and I were talking about which one of us would play left-back. Stevie thought it might be him and I think he was a bit relieved when I got the call. We lost at Newcastle but Gerard decided to stick with me there. We kept six clean sheets in the next seven games. Gerard never explained to me why he decided to use me there.
    “In training, Phil Thompson took the defenders and I worked a bit on my left foot. Fundamentally, they wanted me to be solid. When I’d played as a right-back, I could tell the fans were a bit frustrated because I didn’t get forward that much. I wasn’t an athletic player. A bit less was expected of me as a left-back because I wasn’t left-footed. My responsibility first and foremost was to get it right defensively.”
    Liverpool’s path to the UEFA Cup final was laced with danger. After overcoming Rapid Bucharest, Slovan Liberec and Olympiakos, they faced Fabio Capello’s Roma in the last 16. After a stunning 2-0 win in the Eternal City, Liverpool survived a nervy night in the return leg at Anfield. Porto were beaten in the quarter-finals and then McAllister’s penalty proved enough to get past Barcelona. Liverpool kept clean sheets away to Roma, Porto and Barcelona. The Spanish press accused Houllier of “betraying football” with his defensive tactics. “They kept the ball, but we kept the result,” the Frenchman responded.
    Hamann: “We did it the hard way. Winning in Rome when Michael scored twice was a brilliant European away performance. Capello’s team won Serie A that season. We lost at home 1-0 and we had a bit of luck when the referee initially gave a penalty for handball and then changed his mind and gave a corner instead. That was the power of the Kop! In the semis, we didn‘t concede in 180 minutes against Barcelona who had Pep Guardiola, Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert playing for them.
    “We could suck the life out of teams and nullify them. There was some criticism about the style but it was all about getting the job done. We used to joke in the dressing room after games that we’d dragged teams down to our level.”
    Carragher: “The victory in Rome gave us the confidence to go and get a result anywhere. There is something about Rome as a city. I roomed with Michael and I can remember opening the hotel window. The sun was shining and it was warm. In the distance somewhere, I could hear the Liverpool supporters singing but I couldn’t see them. I think about that moment a lot for some reason. Games in the Olympic Stadium, of course, are special. Liverpool had won two European Cups in that ground and winning there made us think we were capable of delivering when it mattered. Gerard had total control of the team at this point but the victory in Rome made everyone trust him 100 per cent.”
    Thompson: “We were labelled as a counter-attacking team as if it was a bad thing. These days hitting teams on the counter with pace and precision is regarded as a real skill. It’s a badge of honour.”
    Robbie Fowler: “It was a big ambition of Houllier’s to get the club back competing for the big prizes on the European stage. Liverpool hadn’t won a European trophy since 1984. We all wanted to push on and test ourselves against the best teams in Europe. People can argue we were lucky against Roma at home but we put in an unbelievable performance over there in the first leg. I think of Michael’s goals in Rome and Gary Mac’s penalty at home to Barca. It was a tough run. It was the first time Alaves had got to a final and we were big favourites.”
    Sander Westerveld: “When people say, ‘It was only Alaves in the final’ they forget about the run we had to get there. It was like a Champions League campaign. Our defence was so strong. Sami (Hyypia) and Stephane (Henchoz) made it easy for me. You need to have confidence in the defence in front of you and I certainly had that with those two. I was lucky to be alive at that time. Houllier was in the middle of changing the whole club and I was fortunate that he wanted to bring me in. It could have been difficult to adapt with a new keeper and two new centre-backs but from the first day, Sami was amazing. He took a lot of the load off my back.
    “Sami’s impact on Liverpool was similar to what happened with Virgil van Dijk. People would say, ‘He’s a good goalkeeper but we haven’t seen him do much!’ Sometimes I’d come off after games without a drop of sweat on me because the back four were so good.”
    Liverpool lifted the League Cup in February after a dramatic victory over second division Birmingham City on penalties at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Westerveld was the hero in the shootout as he saved spot-kicks by Martin Grainger and Andy Johnson.
    Westerveld: “I came to Liverpool to win prizes. It was my dream club from when I was growing up. I realised that dream when I signed for them and I was desperate to be successful. There was a huge personal satisfaction in saving those penalties against Birmingham. Win one, you get a taste for it, it drives you on again. I don’t think the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup would have followed if we hadn’t won that first final. You need some luck along the way.”
  10. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Part 2

    Westerveld was the hero in the shootout before his wobble against Alaves (Photo: Mike Egerton/EMPICS via Getty Images)
    Thompson: “The run we went on really started from the second leg of the League Cup semi-final in January when we beat Crystal Palace 5-0. When we played Birmingham, Gerard was emphasising the importance of winning that first trophy. He knew that it would give everyone the hunger to get more.
    “There was no time to rest. We didn’t have a squad the size of Liverpool’s today. It was a challenge to manage everything. We were still going for the Champions League spot as well. It meant we couldn’t ever relax. It was intense but it was so enjoyable. It was success. Big game after big game.
    “The derby win at Goodison was massive. We’d come off the back of losing to Leeds at home who were our rivals for the Champions League spot. We went 2-1 up but then Igor Biscan got sent off. Jeff Winter gave them a soft penalty for a foul by Sami Hyypia on Duncan Ferguson that not even the Everton fans could see. At 2-2 with 10 men you think you’ll have to hang on for a point. When Gary’s free kick hit the net, it was pure elation. Gerard’s face on the touchline was an absolute picture. The belief that win at Goodison gave us for the rest of the season was huge. It gave us such a push.”
    Carragher: “Across two weeks in April, we played Sunday, Tuesday, Friday, Monday, Thursday, Sunday. Gerard wasn’t happy about the scheduling of the Tuesday game, which was away at Ipswich. They were doing well that season and a draw wasn’t a bad result but it seemed like a worse result than it was after we lost to Leeds at home.
    “This put enormous pressure on the Everton game three days later. It felt like we had to win. At the final whistle, the feeling was incredible. I went out that night even though we weren’t supposed to. I had to celebrate a Liverpool victory over Everton in those circumstances. I ended up with my mates in the Bedford in Bootle. We had Barcelona a few days later at home and I didn’t start the game well. A few misplaced passes. I think the manager knew I’d been out. He started speaking about my ‘refuelling habits’.”
    Hamann: “It was gruelling. We were playing every three days but it was a pretty young team and we loved it. We’d do a warm down the day after a game, then a 45-minute session the following day and then it was game day again.
    “For me, it all started really with the last-minute winner at Goodison in April when Gary McAllister scored that free kick from 35 yards. That was the springboard. We only dropped two points in our last seven league games and won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup finals. What a signing Gary was.”
    Vignal: “It is the French philosophy to be ready tactically first. We are risk-averse. Gerard tried to mix the cultures. His idea was very simple but it made sense. If we kept a clean sheet, we’d end up winning games because we had players in attack that had the ability to score goals. Michael Owen was not just the best striker but the best player in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or. He was so quick and clever between the lines.
    “During this season, everybody believed in the manager. There was an incredible spirit, a mix of English, French and German. I lived in Woolton Village with Markus and Sander and we socialised a lot, though I wish now my English was better. Sometimes I missed my lessons because I was so tired from training. We were well organised and this required a lot of physical and emotional concentration.”
    Babbel: “Gerard Houllier was very important for Liverpool. Many English players loved to go out partying and drinking. I always said he was like a lovely little Napoleon. Gerard was strict and focused on discipline. We had a good side, 13 or 14 players. We could beat anyone on our day but you needed better players from 14 to 20 in order to win a league. We didn’t have that depth.”
    Danny Murphy: “I don’t think we realised when we were doing it, what we were doing. We were just enjoying it so much. We had loads of creativity and goals. The rotation was good, the attitude was good. No one was moaning about not playing all the time. There was a nice balance with young lads and senior boys. There was a great work ethic and we had a bit of luck along the way too. The longer it went, the more we felt we were going to do it (the treble).
    “I owe a lot to Houllier. One of the strengths was that the manager and all his staff worked on the same page. There was never anyone telling you something different. All young players need some help and guidance. I needed to look after myself better, be more dedicated and fitter, and Houllier put me on the right track.”
    Parry: “We had to play six games in 14 days and Gerard, understandably, wasn’t happy. We travelled to London to complain about the schedule and he suggested extending the season. Instead, we had to go to Barcelona before an FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park against Wycombe, then play Ipswich Town.
    “The game that Gerard wanted moving was Ipswich, which we ended up drawing. I was concerned that the complaints might get inside the heads of the players and make them think everything was too much with them. Losing to Leeds felt like a kick in the guts and I began to wonder whether the efforts of the season were beginning to catch up with us.
    “It was the middle of April and including the Everton fixture, we still had 10 games left. After Everton, there was the second leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final with Barcelona at Anfield. Quite a week. The circumstances of the win over Everton gave us another shot of adrenaline. After the game, we drove back to Melwood in the bus and Gerard invited me into his office where he opened a bottle of Champagne. This isn’t something Gerard tended to do. It was his way of saying. ‘We’re back’.”

    McAllister his dramatic, transformative winner against Everton (Mandatory Credit: Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT)
    Liverpool’s marathon season came down to a high-stakes week in mid-May. The FA Cup final on the Saturday against Arsenal was followed by the UEFA Cup final against Alaves on the Wednesday. Three days later, there was a must-win final league game against Charlton Athletic if they were going to secure Champions League qualification.
    Parry: “The FA Cup final was played in incredible heat and we were outplayed. Patrick Vieira was magnificent. Even though we somehow won the game, Gerard was adamant that celebrations should be kept to a minimum and that meant no drinking. Everyone had to abide by that, even staff and board members. Gerard thought it was important that if you represented Liverpool you were all in it together and that meant keeping to the same standards and rules.”
    Hamann: “There wasn’t much of a celebration in Cardiff because we had another massive final just a few days away. A European trophy was what we all wanted. We knew that if we played to our level then we would beat them. People expected us to win. We’d knocked out Barca, who were way ahead of Alaves in La Liga. But we knew Alaves posed a threat going forward. They’d beaten Kaiserslautern by a cricket score (9-2 on aggregate) in the semis. Two of their players, Cosmin Contra and Javi Moreno, earned moves to AC Milan that summer.”
    Fowler: “Everything about that week was brilliant. People talk about fatigue but when you get to the business end of the season you want to be playing big games all the time because it means you’re successful. Going all the way in the three cups meant we played every game we possibly could have done that season.”
    Westerveld: “I remember Alaves sent tickets back because they couldn’t sell their full allocation. Liverpool fans are like the Dutch at major tournaments — they always get their hands on tickets. There was a small section of Alaves fans in the corner behind the goal but the rest of the stadium was red. Walking out in Dortmund was the most amazing feeling.”
    Former Liverpool striker Erik Meijer, who had left to join Hamburg the previous year, was among the 40,000-strong red army in Dortmund.
    Meijer: “What a day that was! I was injured. I’d ripped the ligaments in my right ankle. I called Sander Westerweld and asked him to arrange four tickets for me. I took the physio who had helped me and two of my best friends. We drove to Dortmund. There was no traffic so we were much too early. We parked the car next to the stadium and walked into the city.
  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Part 3

    “As we came to the square, my friends all had Liverpool shirts on with ‘Meijer’ on the back. I had the same shirt on but with a jacket over it. One of my pals went to the bar and ordered a beer. A Scouser came up to him and asked where he’d got that shirt with Meijer on the back. He said, ‘From him’ and pointed at me. From that moment on, I was with the Liverpool fans. I must have drunk 15 pints. I sang every song. I went to the stadium half-drunk and watched a marvellous 5-4 win. A day I will never forget.
    “Football is like a religion in Liverpool and I get goosebumps every time I hear You’ll Never Walk Alone. I always gave everything I had when I played there. The reality was that Owen, Heskey and Fowler were better than me so I had to leave to play football. The fans sang my song, ‘He’s big, he’s red, he’s off his fucking head, Erik Meijer’. It was the truth! I enjoyed that song so much. I take it with me for as long as I live. They were always very good to me.”
    Alaves fan Inigo Exposito Saez de Ibarra: “It took us 17 hours to get from Vitoria to Dortmund. We went by bus for four hours to Hendaye on the border with France and Spain and then took a train to Dortmund, which took 13 hours. We had beds but I didn’t sleep at all. We sang through the night, we were so proud of our team. We arrived in Dortmund on the morning of the game and spent the day in the city. I cannot recall one bad word between us and Liverpool fans, the atmosphere was magnificent. We were so proud to represent our small city. Athletic and Real Sociedad, who are also from the Basque Country, had played in Europe before. This was about Alaves from Vitoria, a city where basketball was the most popular sport. The names of all the socios – 12,000 of us – were woven into the shirt for the final.”
    Villareal defender Delfi Geli: “We had a very good team, a group of friends. We’d go for a meal every Thursday night and sometimes it went on a little late. The manager got to find out and I think he was a little confused. How could we go out so late and keep winning? We were relaxed and confident and that came from our results.
    “Alaves finished sixth the previous season straight after promotion, the highest ever finish for and meant we played European football for the first time. We did well in Europe and were fine in the league – mid-table. We knocked out Inter Milan and Kaiserslautern. Nobody expected that. We enjoyed the experience of travelling around Europe, playing and winning these games. It was new for most of us and then we met Liverpool in the final. It was the first final in the entire history of Alaves. We felt the whole city of Vitoria behind us.”
    Jordi Cruyff: “We had something special at Alaves. In the UEFA Cup, we travelled to Milan for the away game in our own clothes because there were no club suits. The Italian media were waiting for us at the airport, but they didn’t recognise us, so we sent fans to do interviews with them and pretend they were players. We played Kaiserslautern in the semis. I remember that my father’s team had struggled against them in the 1992 European Cup, Barca’s first. Alaves didn’t struggle. We absolutely hammered them — beat them 5-1 at home and 4-1 away. People reading this won’t believe it, but we thought we were favourites against Liverpool. We’d beaten big teams in Europe that season.”
    Parry: “Ahead of the final in Dortmund, we landed in Cologne. I remember the bus picking us up on the tarmac and driving down the runway just as another plane was coming into land, flying over our heads. It was a scary moment. We also had an issue on our way to the game. The coach was halfway to the ground when a policeman on a bike lost control and crashed. Then, as we steered in towards the stadium, the driver got us stuck at the entrance. We couldn’t move forwards or backwards and for 10 minutes we couldn’t move. It was far from ideal.”
    Carragher: “On the coach before the game, it was very quiet. Usually, the players would be sitting upright, focusing on what was to come. But we were tired mentally after the FA Cup final. It felt like we were all slouching. Alaves had beaten Inter Milan on the way to the final but we didn’t have much info about them aside from a few video clips. I think if we were better prepared physically, we’d have won the game comfortably.”
    Houllier made just one change to the starting line-up from Cardiff with McAllister recalled in midfield in place of Vladimir Smicer.
    Thompson: “Gerard had it all planned out. He felt we needed more energy in the middle of the park for the Arsenal game and that Gary’s experience and ability to keep possession would be more important against Alaves. At that stage of Gary’s career and with the conditions, the feeling was that he could only start one of the two finals. He had a massive impact towards the end of that season. It was Gary Mac’s season.
    “We had done our homework on Alaves with scouting reports and watched a lot of videos of them. I’d gone through all the tapes and picked out their strengths and weaknesses. Alaves were a decent outfit. They had surprised a lot of people in getting to the final. Going into the game I think it was Johan Cruyff who said it was going to be one of the most boring finals ever. Everyone was saying it would be 0-0 and go to penalties. It turned out to be one of the most astonishing finals ever.”
    Liverpool got off to a flyer with Babbel nodding home McAllister’s free kick inside four minutes. It was soon 2-0 as Gerrard rifled home an inviting pass from Owen.
    Parry: “Babbel was another key signing. He was a top-quality player and a proven winner. He was very unassuming and brought a calmness to the defence that the other players fed off. He also played a big role in Michael’s equaliser against Arsenal in the FA Cup final and that gets forgotten. There was a really nice mix of lads in the squad. It was always important to Gerard that he signed good people as well as good players.
    “You can throw Pegguy Arphexad into that mix. He barely played but he was a popular member of the squad. Gerard decided to sign him because he was a good back-up goalkeeper but he was also a mate of Emile Heskey. Gerard thought Pegguy would help him settle down at Liverpool after his big-money move from Leicester and he did.”
    Carragher: “Being a German from Bayern Munich, Babbel brought a winning mentality. You wouldn’t say he was amazing on the ball or particularly quick but he always seemed to know where to be. He was very good in the air. That season, he rarely missed a game and was one of our most reliable players.”
    Babbel: “After 16 years at Bayern I’d decided to move in 2000 and it was the best decision. I’d been in touch with Liverpool from 1998 onwards. It was always my dream to play in the Premier League. When Liverpool came in for me I thought, ‘Oh my God, what a club, what a tradition’. I had an offer from Real Madrid to sign for them. I was on the way to the airport in Munich at 6am to fly to Liverpool to sign the contract when I heard on the radio that I was flying to Madrid to sign for Real. I had a smile on my face!
    “Manchester United and Newcastle United also wanted me. But from the moment I first spoke with Liverpool I said to my agent, ‘This is the club, I want to join them’. It was nice for us Germans that the final was in Dortmund. Alaves were not the biggest name, but they had a very strong side. The final was amazing. It was like 10 minutes for us, 10 minutes for them, 20 minutes for us, 20 minutes for them. It was one of the best finals ever. I feel proud to have been part of it.”
    Liverpool were running riot. Midway through the first half, Alaves boss Mane took action as he replaced centre-back Dan Eggen with attacker Ivan Alonso and switched from three at the back to a four-man defence. Within four minutes the deficit was halved when Alonso headed in Contra’s cross. Suddenly, Houllier’s side looked ragged with Westerveld called upon to thwart Javi Moreno and Ivan Tomic. They survived and then restored their two-goal lead just before the break. McAllister scored from the spot after Owen had been brought down by Martin Herrera.
    Carragher: “The start of the game was fast and it felt easy. Credit to their manager for a big call. It transformed the game. We were knackered and it showed each time they scored a goal. Rather than pointing fingers and trying to sort it out, there was more of a feeling of resignation. It felt like there was nothing we could do about it.”
    Geli: “When Liverpool scored twice in the first 15 minutes, we didn’t panic. It was a shock but we still had that confidence in ourselves. We had some very good forwards and we were able to counter-attack.”
    Thompson: “What happened? The game went out of control. I think it was a bit of complacency. We were 2-0 up in no time and you’re thinking, ‘We’ll get four or five here’. Then the intensity levels dropped. We allowed them back into the game. They started off with a back three but after we went 2-0 up their manager changed it and went to a flat back four. It was very good tactically from him because it changed the game.”
    Hamann: “We showed a side to us that we hadn’t really shown that season. We’d been one of the best around at seeing games out. We could stifle teams and run the clock down. It was poor the way we let them back into it.”
    Contra: “It was the most memorable game of my entire career. We made a great game against a great team, but ultimately we lost the cup – that’s what still hurts 20 years later. I had never heard of Alaves before I went there. Yet I felt at home straight away. There was a warmth among the people unlike any I’ve ever seen before. There were not so many foreigners in Vitoria like me so I was a curiosity to them. People would invite me to dinner in the street and sometimes I accepted. The Basque cuisine is the best in Spain, so I never complained.
    “It was the start of a beautiful story. It was a small city and I lived two minutes from the training ground, two minutes from a marvellous dressing room. We succeeded by playing great football. Mane would say, ‘Attack them, don’t be afraid’. But he was very clever too. We knew how to play cynically if needed, with long balls. At other times we played a possession game. We could change that from game to game and within matches. Mane was strong on planning, but he had experienced players who knew when to do what. I didn’t see or hear from a lot of the Alaves players for years but now we have a WhatsApp group and we keep in touch. We speak a lot in this chat.”
    Westerveld: “As a goalkeeper, it always felt shit to concede goals. I let in four that night but I got a photo with the trophy and a shiny medal and that’s what really counts. We were cruising at 3-1. At half-time Houllier was saying, ‘This isn’t over, we have to go out and kill the game off’. But maybe in the back of our minds we thought the job was done.”
    Moreno struck twice in the opening four minutes of the second half with a glancing header and then a low free kick which went through Liverpool’s wall.
    Westerveld: “The free kick was lucky but we were back to square one. We lost concentration. We made the final more difficult than it should have been.”
    Thompson: “It was like being on a rollercoaster. You just had to hold tight. You couldn’t get off. There were highs and lows, and you just hoped you’d be happy come the end. It was a phenomenal game. Oh my god, how it ebbed and flowed.”
    Houllier made two changes in a bid to wrestle back control. Smicer came on for Henchoz with Babbel shifting to centre-back and Gerrard to right-back. Then Fowler got the nod to replace the tiring Heskey.
    Fowler: “Michael and Emile had started the FA Cup final together so it wasn’t a big surprise that I was on the bench again but I was still massively disappointed. Being left out always hurt and even more so when it came to major finals. It wasn’t always easy but I more than played my part that season.
    “I scored in the League Cup final and got the man of the match award. In the FA Cup semi against Wycombe, I got what turned out to be the winner and then I came on in the final against Arsenal when we were 1-0 down. I believed I should be starting but you have to accept that managers go with what they believe is best suited to getting the job done.
    “Sat there watching the opening 20 minutes, it looked like we were going to blow them away. Our fans had taken over more than three-quarters of the stadium and it was so loud. It was almost too easy for us and the lads took their foot off the gas a little bit. Next thing our lead had gone and we were in a proper game. I couldn’t wait to get out there.”
    Thompson: “Michael was the best player in the country at the time and the leading goalscorer. He was always the number one choice up front that season. We knew that Robbie wanted to play every game but it just wasn’t possible. He would get more upset at not playing than Emile did. But it never influenced our selection. It was a case of picking the right players for the right game.”
    Fowler needed just nine minutes to light up the contest. Latching on to McAllister’s pass, he weaved his way into space and produced an emphatic finish into the far corner. With Patrik Berger on for Owen, Liverpool were on the brink of glory. However, in the 89th minute, a corner was swung towards the near post. Westerveld failed to claim and Cruyff’s header made it 4-4.
    Fowler: “It was typical of my football career in general. I was so close to scoring the winner that night. The same thing happened to me in the League Cup final too when we conceded late on. I was down to take the fifth penalty in the Champions League semi against Chelsea in 2007 but it didn’t go that far. I was down to take the fifth penalty for England v Spain in Euro 96 at Wembley. Nearly moments. I always felt a bit aggrieved in all honesty. It annoyed me. Maybe that’s just the egotistical side of being a striker. You want to be the hero full stop. But I’d be remembered a lot more if those goals in the finals of the League Cup and the UEFA Cup had proved to be the winners.”
  12. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Part 4

    Westerveld: “I know Robbie wrote in his book that he wasn’t happy with me because without my mistake he would have been the hero of the final. I destroyed that but I didn’t make that mistake on purpose. It was a difficult year for Robbie. Thankfully, we managed to still win the final, otherwise I would have got blamed for that moment.
    “I had Cruyff in front of me and it was an inswinger to the near post. As a keeper, if you’re behind a player and he jumps you’re always going to be a bit too late. It was impossible to get in front of him. I couldn’t do anything else. The only thing I could have done differently was stand in front of him but then if they had hit the ball to the second post I would have been too late.
    “It’s a difficult one. I did exactly the same at Euro 2000 when Christophe Dugarry got in front of me at the near post. You have to be lucky as a keeper. I felt the full backing of Houllier. Every week he’d speak to me and say I was going to be one of the three best keepers in the world.
    “In my first year at Liverpool we had the best defence, we only conceded 30 league goals. In my second year, we won big trophies prizes and I was important in those cup runs. That summer Houllier signed Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland. Everyone was surprised.
    “Houllier said I was making too many mistakes. When I pressed him on it, he could only name three or four. I’d played a hundred games so I thought it was harsh. I did an interview after we won the treble saying if I didn’t win anything else in my career I would still have had a successful career. It went downhill from there. I wish I hadn’t said that. I still think he should only have bought one keeper that summer and given me the chance to fight back.”
    Cruyff: “That goal was a favour to Manchester United supporters! I would have liked to have won the cup for them too. I had no intention of joining Alaves in 2000. I had a difficult time at Manchester United where I had struggled to settle and didn’t play a lot. When my contract expired I pinned a note up in the dressing room to say goodbye as no other players were there. Mane, the Alaves coach, came to see me at the family home in Barcelona. I didn’t seriously think that I would be joining Alaves. Mane said to me: ‘Jordi, I need a No 9’. I listened to him and told him that I wasn’t a ‘No 9’. His face dropped, but I explained I was a striker best used playing off the front man. Mane looked at me and said, ‘Then I need one of those as well’. He was laughing and I was smiling.
    “I played every week. Alaves gave me freedom. I’d been the tail of an elephant at United, at Alaves I was the head. Each Thursday, we’d go out in Vitoria. We’d get really drunk with the basketball players, most of whom had played in the NBA.
    “The next day, we’d go to training from the disco at eight in the morning. There was always a queue for the physio, who would put drops in our eyes to whiten them up a bit. Mane would see us and say, ‘I can get pissed off with you or I can look the other way, as we are having a good season and give you light training to get the poison out of your bodies’. He always left the tactics until Saturday.”
    Eight minutes into extra time, Alaves were reduced to 10 men when Magno was shown a second yellow card for an awful challenge on Babbel. The Brazilian had earlier been booked for diving. Fowler thought he had won it at the end of the first period when he tucked away Berger’s pass but he was flagged offside.
    Fowler: “It was tight. I thought I was level. Extra time was nervy because with the Golden Goal you knew that one mistake and there wouldn’t be the chance to make amends.”
    Thompson: “It was so nerve-wracking and quite traumatic. Every time they attacked, it was in your mind that one slip, one bit of magic, and this dream of a fantastic treble would be taken away from us.”
    Carragher: “Their first red card was important because it meant we were able to play extra time with a bit more confidence. We were dead on our feet.”
    Parry: “I can’t imagine that Gerard was in favour of the golden goal rule. He was very pro-UEFA but this was a coach’s nightmare. Gerard always liked to think there was a way out of anything — that he could prepare for any eventuality. But with this rule, it was one mistake and you’ve lost. No chance to rebuild. It made extra time more defensive because the managers and teams feared mistakes.”
    Hamann: “There were some tired legs and if it had gone to a shootout I think the momentum would have been with them. The greater pressure would have been on us considering the leads we had thrown away.”
    Four minutes from the end of extra time Alaves had a second player dismissed as captain Antonio Karmona got a second booking for hauling down Smicer wide on the left. McAllister stepped up and his free kick brushed the head of Geli and flew into the far corner. Cue pandemonium. Fowler and Hyypia lifted the trophy together on the podium. McAllister, who had scored one goal and been instrumental in three of the other four, went up to collect the man of the match award wearing the shirt of unused substitute Nick Barmby having already swapped his own shirt with Cruyff.
    Fowler: “When the ball hit the net it was just an incredibly surreal moment. It took a few seconds to realise the final was over. With it being an own goal, I don’t think anyone really knew where to run.”
    Geli: “We were thinking that if we can survive the final few minutes, the game can go to penalties. There was no question of us scoring with nine men. We were so tired and frustrated at the two red cards but we did score. I headed a free kick into my own goal. At this moment I just wanted to disappear, to vanish.

    Geli heads in the golden goal own goal (Getty Images)
    “I lay on the pitch. It was difficult. It was the goal which lost us the game and I felt culpable. It was a golden goal but it didn’t feel golden to me. I went to the ground and so did my team-mates. We had given everything. I had a few difficult days and I played that free kick over and over in my mind, what could I have done differently? We had come so close but when we lost, the illusion was broken. Things pass quickly in football, you have to move on. There was soon another season and more cups to fight for, but I am remembered for this final more than anything else.”
    Hamann: “Suddenly, it was all over. After the crazy night we’d had, there was just a huge sense of relief. It has to be regarded as one of the all-time classics in terms of European finals. It was a thriller. The atmosphere was sensational. All the players and the staff stood in front of the fans to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone. It was a special moment. People in Germany knew about Liverpool from the ’70s and ’80s but the younger generation didn’t know much. Of course, it’s grown massively as a result of Jurgen Klopp but a lot of love for Liverpool in Germany stemmed from that final in Dortmund. They realised that night what this club is all about.”
    Westerveld: “I was preparing myself for penalties. It was the same with the FA Cup final at 1-1. I had never lost a penalty shootout. I wasn’t fearing the prospect of another one. I had belief in the boys to put them away and confidence in myself to keep some out. I felt a duty to step up and deliver for the team after my mistake at the end of normal time. I was thinking, ‘Maybe I can turn it around and be the hero like in Cardiff’. I’d forgotten all about the golden goal rule.
    “I must have got 50 tickets for family and friends as my hometown in Twente was only a short drive away. When we scored, I turned around looking for my family and friends in the stands to celebrate with them. I was thinking, ‘OK, this time we need to ensure it’s the winner, we need to keep it tight for the final few minutes’. When I turned back around, I saw all the boys in the corner. The staff were on the pitch too. That’s when I realised it was a golden goal.”
    Thompson: “That final meant everything to Gerard. He absolutely loved it. To a European coach, winning a European trophy was massive. I remember going to the Super Cup in Monaco in August and Gerard saying to me, ‘Phil, did you know we don’t get a bonus if we win the Super Cup?’ In England, we’d never placed much importance on the Super Cup. It was a bit of an inconvenience but on the continent, they placed much greater value on it. Gerard had a word with Rick and came back to say he had secured a bonus for everyone. We beat Bayern 3-2. You think winning a European final 5-4 can’t be surpassed but then what happened in Istanbul four years later was incredible. I think because the Miracle of Istanbul came soon after, 2001 maybe doesn’t fully get the respect it deserves.”
    Alaves fan Inigo Exposito Saez de Ibarra: “It’s true that we were raging when there was the own goal, but those feelings were replaced with pride. Pride in our city and team. The world got to know about us. Twenty years later, we have a mural of Mane outside our stadium. We always say when we look for a new manager that we want him to be like Mane. We were proud of that team then and we’re proud of them now. There hasn’t been a moment like it for us since.”
    A historic treble had been completed with Liverpool’s first European trophy for 17 years but there was no wild party.
    Thompson: “Gerard was very clear that the celebrations had to wait. After we beat Arsenal the previous Saturday, one of the players came up to me and said, ‘Can you ask the boss if we can have a drink on the bus going back?’ I asked Gerard on the bus and he said, ‘Phil, no!’ He stood up, turned around in the middle of the bus and explained to the lads that we needed all the energy we could muster.
    “He said whether we won or lost against Alaves, there would be no drinking because the game against Charlton the following weekend was so important. He said to them, ‘Believe me, you’ll thank me in the end. After Charlton, you can do whatever you want’.
    “The celebrations on the pitch in Dortmund lasted so long. It must have been 2am by the time we got back to the hotel and our flight home was about 10am the following day. I didn’t think anyone had a drink that night apart from a glass of Champagne with the food. As a coach, your mind was already thinking about Charlton. Who’s fit? How are we going to use the time before then?”
  13. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Part 5


    Thompson and Houllier celebrate on the pitch but the manager was insistent on the players resting after the game (Getty Images)
    Carragher: “In the dressing room, there was a big bath but it was more like a swimming pool. Everyone was sitting there, exhausted. There were no celebrations, really. That said, I always think you do your celebrations out on the pitch after finals. By the time you return to the dressing room, the adrenaline wears off because you’re not around fans. In the back of our minds, we also knew we still had to beat Charlton to qualify for the Champions League for the first time. Maybe we’d have celebrated differently if we’d beaten Chelsea at Anfield a few weeks earlier rather than drawing.”
    Hamann: “Usually a big European final would be your last game of the season but we had a crucial game at Charlton three days later. Winning Liverpool’s first European trophy since 1984 and doing it in my home country, I couldn’t just go to bed. I made the most of it. I hid myself away in a corner of the team hotel with some friends and had a few shandies. I felt that the occasion had to be marked. Maybe Gerard heard that I’d had a few drinks because I wasn’t even named on the bench against Charlton. If only I’d known that in advance I would have had a proper go that night!”
    Westerveld: “I was sat in the same corner as Didi! The Dutch and the Germans came together. I could never sleep after games. We’d take a six-pack of beers or a bottle of wine to someone’s hotel room and sit and talk together. Houllier had said we could have a toast with the meal and then off to bed. Maybe it was the right decision but it was hard not being able to savour those moments at the time.
    “Imagine your dream coming true and then just going to bed. It was a strange feeling. The same thing happened in Cardiff and Dortmund. A few of us had a little celebration among ourselves after beating Alaves. The Germans in our team had won cups and titles at Bayern. Their attitude was we really need to celebrate every title because you never know if it will be your last one. Thankfully, we won at Charlton and then we could have a proper party. It would have taken the shine off the cup final wins if we had messed up at Charlton.”
    Liverpool produced the final flourish Houllier demanded as they ran out 4-0 winners at The Valley to seal Champions League qualification. The UEFA Cup winners did not receive automatic entry to the following season’s Champions League back then. The following day half a million people descended on the streets of the city as the squad paraded their spoils on an open-top bus.
    Parry: “Though we won 4-0, the first half was a real struggle. Westerveld kept us in it and that gets forgotten. To end up winning three trophies while qualifying for the Champions League was a major achievement — arguably bigger than winning the Champions League four years later. In Istanbul, we took a lot of people by surprise. We didn’t qualify for the competition (for the 2005-06 season) by our league placing and there had been an ignominious exit from the FA Cup to Burnley. In 2001, there were more highs over an extended period. It was a more satisfying season. If I could bottle up the last month and keep it forever, I would.”
    Thompson: “At the end, the staff had a huddle in front of the dugout. We danced for joy. It was emotional. It was so important for the club to play Champions League. Charlton actually brought some Champagne into the dressing room for us, which was a nice touch.
    “We’d promised the lads they could have all the drink they wanted. They had a whip-round and we stopped at a Sainsbury’s not far from The Valley. The coach driver came back with a trolley full of beer, wine and Champagne. It was one big party all the way home. Everyone was on such a high. The only rule was that no one was allowed to get in their car when we got back to Melwood. They all went out to celebrate together. They deserved every drop that got drunk that night. Gerard liked to enjoy himself and he liked the boys to enjoy themselves at the right time.”
    Fowler: “I started and scored two at Charlton on the final day. It capped off an astonishing season. It was close to perfection. That was a good trip back to Merseyside after winning at Charlton and then we headed straight out into town. Ironically, we ended up in Blue Bar at the Albert Dock. The parade on the Sunday was amazing. We were blessed as Liverpool players to have that support. The streets were packed. They had helped us so much to achieve it. Going around my home city with those trophies, it doesn’t get much better than that. I remember just wanting to take it all in. I didn’t want it to end. That’s what football is all about.”
    Babbel: “That drive home from London to Liverpool after beating Charlton was something special. Finally, we could celebrate properly. My first season at Liverpool was amazing. It was just such a shame I got ill soon after (he was diagnosed with the debilitating Guillain-Barre syndrome and was sidelined for a year). If I could have had a few more years of football in my legs at such a beautiful club as Liverpool it would have been easier for me to accept.
    “No one could say how long I’d be out as the illness is not the same for everyone. I would have given all my trophies and money away to be healthy again. I was lucky to come back but I couldn’t perform to the same level as before. I had some problems with the manager because my lifestyle wasn’t right. I was going out too much. It wasn’t his fault, it was my fault.”
    Hamann: “Two years earlier I’d arrived from Newcastle and there I was on an open-top bus with three trophies and Liverpool having qualified for the Champions League for the first time. Sami, Stephane, Sander and Vladi all signed in 1999 too. Markus and Emile came the year after. We didn’t know what to expect. We knew all about Michael from the World Cup. We’d heard how good Stevie and Carra were but you never really know for sure until you’re working alongside them every day. That treble put Liverpool back on the map and made it more attractive to players Gerard wanted to sign.”
    Westerveld: “I had a camera with me on the bus around the city and recently I watched the video again. Half a million people were on the streets of Liverpool and you could see what it meant. The club hadn’t won so much over the previous decade. Suddenly, all this success had come at once. See the smiles and old people crying with happiness, that was the best moment of my Liverpool career. I can’t believe it’s 20 years ago. Life goes way too quick. What was extra special about 2001 was that we did something that no Liverpool team has done either before or since. We wrote our names in the big history of Liverpool FC and that makes me feel very proud.”
    Murphy: “That week with the two finals and the game at Charlton, when you experience moments like that with the club you love, you think it’s never going to end. You don’t think, ‘This might not happen again so I really need to enjoy it’. You don’t ever think it’s going to be your last one.”

    Murphy says he owes a lot of debt to Houllier, who delivered one of Liverpool’s great seasons (Photo: Jon Buckle/EMPICS via Getty Images)
    Carragher: “I think it was the best squad I’ve ever been involved in and it was my favourite time as a Liverpool player. It was Houllier’s dream to have two players in every position. You look at the options in attack: Michael, Robbie, Emile and Jari (Litmanen). If I could go back to any period in my career and relive it again, it would be the months of April and May 2001. Pressure games every three days. Trophies on the line. Winning.”
    Vignal: “I miss Gerard a lot. He changed my life. I went to his funeral last December with an LFC scarf, because nobody from the club was able to travel (due to pandemic restrictions). I called Phil, Rick Parry, Stevie and Gary Mac to check this was OK. I thought it was right to take their authority. Gerard fell in love with Liverpool. Even after he left the club, we spoke all of the time — at least once a week. I am trying to become a coach and his guidance has been very important. He was always there for his players. He made sure a relationship doesn’t just end because you don’t work together any more. He was a really strong manager. I would like to go to Paris one day and bring his wife Isabelle to Anfield again.”
    Thompson: “This city hadn’t seen anything like that parade for quite a while. The fans came out in their droves. The effort that went into winning those trophies and getting the Champions League spot was immense. It was superhuman. What a great summer that was to be a Liverpool fan. I was fed up going on holiday and seeing how many United shirts there were, from Spain to bloody Florida. That summer Liverpool fans could wear their shirts with great pride. You had fans of other clubs claiming it was a poor man’s treble. Not only was that unfair, it was also totally wrong. What we achieved was incredible.
    “Nine of the starting line-up in Istanbul were from the squad we had left behind. It will be 20 years this October since Gerard had his heart problems. We were all going to get together around that time. It’s so sad that he’s not here. I still can’t believe Gerard is gone. Twenty years since the treble… it’s flown by. God bless Gerard Houllier.”
  14. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Sven Botman exclusive: Europe’s rising defensive star on his Premier League ‘dream’, toppling PSG and a body like Van Dijk
    David Ornstein May 16, 2021[​IMG] 48 [​IMG]
    In recent times, the only consolation for Paris Saint-Germain following their annual Champions League disappointment has been the addition of another French title to the club’s trophy cabinet.
    Aside from Monaco’s 2017 triumph, PSG have reigned supreme in seven of the past eight seasons to establish a stranglehold on Ligue 1 — but their dominance is on the verge of being interrupted.
    Despite spending exorbitantly to build a squad including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are three points behind Lille prior to the penultimate round of fixtures tonight.
    The situation is in the hands of Christophe Galtier’s men and that is the consequence of a fine campaign built not merely on the best defence in France but the best across Europe’s top five divisions.
    Lille have conceded only 22 league goals so far in 2020-21 and such resilience owes much to a rearguard that features one of the game’s most talked-about young centre-backs, Sven Botman.
    The 21-year-old Dutchman has experienced a swift rise to prominence since joining from Ajax for €8 million last July, so much so that his omission by head coach Frank de Boer from Holland’s provisional squad for the upcoming European Championship finals — announced on Friday — came as a shock.
    Botman has appeared in 45 of Lille’s 47 matches in all competitions and is already the subject of persistent speculation around whether he could move on again in the upcoming transfer window.
    It is all the more remarkable given that he left Ajax without having made his senior debut for the Amsterdam giants; Lille’s then-sporting director Luis Campos signed him on the basis of a loan spell at another Eredivisie side, Heerenveen.
    “You have these talents who are noticed at a very young age,” Botman tells The Athletic on video call from his city-centre apartment. “I’m a player who gets noticed at the age of like 18. Last season at Heerenveen was a little bit like the start of me, and then it went really quickly.
    “I didn’t even play for the Ajax first team but I’m grateful to Lille and to Luis Campos, that he had the trust in me and gave me this opportunity. When I came here, it was natural. I did my thing and it was positive. I could help the team with clean sheets — that was the most important thing at the start. After that, it all fell into one piece. I’m happy with the season so far and I hope we can be crowned champions. I’m not really complaining about my situation at the moment.”
    That last comment, a witty understatement, is delivered with a knowing smile. Botman could never have realistically envisaged the scenario he finds himself in so soon after leaving the Netherlands.
    Even the French lessons he started taking early on have been parked as the sporting intensity has ratcheted up and the rewards at stake emerge into sight. The language of football will do for now.
    Lille host 11th-place Saint-Etienne ahead of a final-day trip to Angers (currently 12th). With a points deficit but far superior goal difference, PSG welcome Reims (13th) and end their schedule away to Brest (14th).
    “You can feel in the whole city, squad and club that everybody is enjoying the moment,” Botman explains. “But it is not finished yet. Two more games left. We are so close to something incredible. The last title for Lille was 10 years ago and also what’s important is to break the good feeling of PSG. It is a big club in Europe and dominating Ligue 1. It would be an incredible achievement.
    “Of course, the pressure for Paris is a little bit higher than Lille. The money spent is a lot different between them and the other teams. In the beginning, people were asking what our goal was for the season and we were told not to say too much but if you are a player you want to win titles. You know it’s going to be difficult but the pressure is not really on us. Now we are first everybody is watching us but I think Paris is feeling the pressure, yes, of course.”
    Lille’s ascent has been overseen by Galtier, who replaced Marcelo Bielsa in late 2017 with the northern club inside the relegation zone. After ensuring their survival, he has finished second and fourth.
    Alongside good coaching has been a recruitment operation well regarded throughout the game. Lille may lack the star names of PSG but appear to have found something greater.
    “This team has a really good mix of experience, a lot of quality, young players and spirit,” says Botman. “In the beginning, we were struggling a little bit but by the winter break we are top (below Lyon only on goal difference). You felt in the team and club we were believing in something special.
    “There are guys like Jose Fonte and Burak Yilmaz who are really important in their experience — the positive way they speak to us, if we have a difficult time, to keep going like we did all season.”
    On reports that Galtier could be on his way out of Stade Pierre-Mauroy this summer, Botman adds: “If you can achieve with a club like Lille, I think it’s normal that his name is being mentioned.
    “He brings us a lot of good. We started this season with the main goal that if we get clean sheets the whole time, we have a good chance of winning matches. It’s easy to say but it really works for us and we started working hard on this. After getting these clean sheets or conceding as few goals as possible, it’s difficult to lose or drop points. The coach had a huge impact on this.
    “The style of play, the mentality that the coach brings, is really important, too. I think after this season, also for the coach, there will be a lot of interest. I do not know but I can imagine, yes.”
    Most speculation will, however, surround members of Galtier’s squad and the man on many people’s lips at present is the 22-year-old France Under-21 midfielder Boubakary Soumare.
    “If I’m honest, I think Soumare is one of the most talented players I have ever played with,” Botman states of a player who is contracted until 2022 and has admirers such as Leicester City.
    “He is similar to Ryan Gravenberch at Ajax but Soumare is more physical and has a lot of quality. I’m sure he is going to be a really top player. I can imagine some clubs, like Leicester or others in the Premier League, are interested. All credit to him, because he is having an amazing season.”
    The attention on Soumare is something withwhich Botman has become familiar. He was heavily linked with Liverpool in January and is thought to be under consideration at an array of top clubs.
    “It is a good compliment when you hear these clubs are interested,” he admits. “I’m lying if I say it’s not interesting me — it’s the first time such big clubs are linked to me — but it was early days, because in January I was only at Lille for half a season. It was nice to hear but I was focusing on Lille and I’m still doing this. After the season, I will enjoy a vacation and see what happens next.
    “If I’m honest, the Premier League is one of the leagues I dreamed about… but also Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga. The Premier League is something special. It’s the football I really like and that fits me. The style of play, the emotion; I really like to see the fans with such big emotions in the stands. It is a beautiful competition I really like to watch, and did for pretty much all my life.
    “I’m not the kind of guy who is already planning for the future. How it’s going with me now, I hope to some day make a good step to a top competition or a big club; that’s my goal. But I’m good at the moment with Lille. I’m really enjoying this year, I’m enjoying playing a lot. I learn a lot and I still have to improve a lot. I’m not complaining about my situation right now, I’m happy at the moment.
    “For my ambitions, yes, of course I want to achieve as much as possible. I hope to make a big, beautiful step for me. We’ll have to see in the future if that is possible or not.”

    Botman, here denying PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, says his style is suited to the Premier League (Photo: Xinhua/Aurelien Morissard via Getty Images)
    Botman is contracted to Lille until 2025, which puts them in a powerful position, and while his sale would offer a chance to generate substantial income and ease their financial concerns, the towering defender does not sound in a rush to take that next career step as his attributes continue to be honed.
    “I was not born brilliant,” he concedes. “It starts with a good mentality. I was not a big talent but mentality got me here. My strength now is the mentality to get clean sheets. Doing everything not to concede is important to me. That takes good communication with your defence and midfield.
    “Then, individually, you have to win your duels, which is something that I learned from Winston Bogarde in the Ajax youth system. I love to be in duels with strikers and win them. Besides that, I played 10-12 years at Ajax so I think it’s normal for me to play the ball to the right colour shirt.
    “I have to improve my speed on the ball, my movement with the ball, the dribble, the passing, knowing what I’m going to do before I get the ball, thinking two steps in front. My positioning is sometimes good, but it can be better. I also need to improve my first 10 metres. I am tall but if you want to perform at a level like this, you need to be fast. Especially in big competitions, where there are a lot of good attackers who are really quick in the first 10 to 20 metres. I can improve this.
    “When I was around 17-18, I did training with top athletes to improve my speed over the first 20 metres, because at this age I was not feeling very comfortable. Aside from my work with Lille, in the summer I have a personal trainer and we work on specific things, like physical explosion.
    “I’m tall, I’m big, I like to clash with my striker. But against small guys, I have to be more aware of their ability. I’m improving but I need to get better if I want to achieve a top level. That’s my goal.”
    A centre-back in his own right, Chelsea old boy Bogarde was noted for spells with Ajax, Barcelona and Holland before later turning his hand to player development as assistant manager of Ajax’s reserve team. He is among those from whom Botman takes inspiration as he plots a path towards success.
    “I look a lot at Sergio Ramos, I like his attitude,” says Botman. “On the field, it’s like, ‘I’m the boss, everybody has to listen to me’. I think some attackers hold back a bit because of that confidence. Bogarde had the killing attitude, ‘Nobody will dribble past me’. I learned a lot from this mentality.
    “I am very amazed by Virgil van Dijk, because of his body. It’s like the same as me and he is really fast. I like to see how he works with his body and how he plays against small strikers, like Sergio Aguero. I remember last season he had a record for how long an opponent didn’t pass him. For his size, it’s amazing — top performance. I have a mix of these three things those players have.”
    Recent confirmation that Van Dijk would miss the delayed Euro 2020 because of the injury that has kept him out for most of Liverpool’s season raised the possibility of Botman receiving a call-up for the tournament. However, there was no spot for him in De Boer’s initial 34-strong party and he will instead be expected to figure in the under-21 finals.
    “With the national team, I hope to one day be part of the squad for the Euros or World Cup,” Botman concludes with a look of steely determination. “That would be amazing, I’m going for this.
    “For now it is hard, because I’m young and I’m new. A lot of good defenders have been playing there for a long time. It’s my goal and I’ve got time but I want to get there as fast as possible.
    “We have a really good squad with a lot of quality and, I think, a good chance to win the Euros.”
    Not as good as Botman’s chance to win the first trophy of what could prove an illustrious career.
  15. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Alisson’s goal that rescued Liverpool – ‘I thought he could be a nuisance but wasn’t expecting that!’
    By James Pearce May 17, 2021[​IMG] 56 [​IMG]
    It was Liverpool’s long-serving goalkeeping coach John Achterberg who urged Alisson to venture forward.
    The Brazil international had looked towards the bench for guidance as Trent Alexander-Arnold prepared to take a 95th-minute corner at The Hawthorns.
    “I just felt we had nothing to lose,” Achterberg tells The Athletic. “The four minutes of stoppage time were up. It was all or nothing. It was a game we had to win. You never know what might happen. I thought maybe Ali could be a nuisance in their box. Maybe his presence there would make them switch off a bit. But I wasn’t expecting that….”
    No-one was. It still seems scarcely believable. But sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction. Liverpool were seconds away from a demoralising draw with relegated West Bromwich Albion which would have effectively consigned them to Europa League football next season. Gloom was about to descend.
    Alisson had other ideas. His late intervention was dramatic and sublime in equal measure. The technique was masterly as he climbed highest six yards out and powered an unstoppable header beyond Sam Johnstone.
    Cue pandemonium as Alisson, the first goalkeeper to score a competitive goal in the club’s 129-year history, was mobbed by his delirious team-mates. The wild scenes on the touchline with Jurgen Klopp and his staff laid bare the significance of a last-gasp victory which keeps Liverpool on course for Champions League qualification. Klopp described it as “an unbelievable worldie” from “our player, our boy, our brother”.

    Alisson is congratulated by his team-mates (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
    “It was just a huge release,” says Achterberg, who ended up celebrating the goal on the pitch with his clipboard in hand. “One minute you think top four has gone, the next you’re still in there battling. There was a lot of passion on the bench because we were so desperate for that win. It was just an amazing moment. You could see the togetherness. The technique was exceptional. All the credit goes to Ali.
    “We don’t practise heading with the keepers but sometimes there’s a bit of head tennis when we’re playing keepy-uppies. Ali can do everything — he’s the full package. He’s got the natural talent, the work ethic and the mentality. He’s a special keeper and a special guy.”
    Liverpool’s unlikely hero is also an incredibly popular one. He received a rapturous ovation from his team-mates when he returned to the away dressing room at The Hawthorns after completing his media duties. They had watched his winner over and over again on the big screen, shaking their heads in disbelief and smiling as they gazed in wonder at what he had pulled off.
    During an emotion-fuelled TV interview, he dedicated the goal to his father Jose who tragically drowned at the age of 57 in Brazil in February. “I hope he was here to see it. I’m sure he is celebrating with God at his side,” he said.
    Alisson knelt on the turf and pointed to the heavens after scoring. Following the final whistle, he couldn’t hold back the tears as players and staff embraced him. The global pandemic has so far prevented him from flying home to be with his close-knit family. His strong Christian faith and the love and support of his wife Natalia and everyone at Liverpool has helped with the grieving process.
    The 28-year-old revealed how his spirits had also been lifted by letters of condolence received from a host of Premier League rivals, including Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea. “If it wasn’t for you, I could never get through this because I’m just away from my family since the thing happened,” he said.
    Wife Natalia, who gave birth to their third child Rafael a week ago, put Sunday’s starring role down to divine intervention. She posted on Instagram: “Your faith, your usual humility, your commitment, your righteousness, your responsibility and conduct in the midst of pain, your heart was being seen, your tears collected by a God who is faithful and takes pleasure in rewarding his beloved children! The reward of the righteous comes and goes much better than you can imagine! I can only cry and be thankful to God! What a joy! Love you! Love you! Love you! Your life inspires! You are the best in the world, on and off the field!”
    Alisson became the sixth goalkeeper to score a goal in the Premier League era but the first to do so with a header. Remarkably, it was the first league goal Liverpool have scored direct from a corner since December’s 7-0 rout of Crystal Palace when Salah netted from Joel Matip’s nod down. They had taken 151 corners in the top-flight without success.
    “Everyone knows it’s not been an easy time for Ali with what’s happened to him this season but we’ve tried to be there for him,” Achterberg adds. “He found a way to keep going. He’s got a remarkable strength of character. It felt like his dad was looking down on him against West Brom. That his dad made it happen.
    “It wasn’t just the goal, he showed what he’s all about with his all-round performance. There was the big save he made at 1-1, all the crosses he claimed, the positional play that enabled Trent (Alexander-Arnold) to get across and made that crucial block. He kept us in the game by making the right decisions and then he won us the game.

    Alisson and Klopp embrace at the final whistle (Photo: RUI VIEIRA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    “I never scored a goal in my own playing career. The closest I came was hitting the post from a goal kick which bounced over the other keeper when I was playing in Holland. Ali has done something no Liverpool keeper has ever done. He has written history.”
    Victory moved Klopp’s men to within a point of fourth-placed Chelsea and three behind Leicester City with two games to go. Brendan Rodgers’ FA Cup winners go to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
    The late drama spared Liverpool’s blushes after a patchy performance. They failed to kick on after Mohamed Salah had cancelled out Hal Robson-Kanu’s opener and were guilty of some glaring misses. Thiago and Trent Alexander-Arnold both excelled but they were surrounded by too much mediocrity.
    Alisson has long since repaid the £65 million Liverpool shelled out to secure his services from Roma nearly three years ago. Achterberg had tracked his progress since he broke through at Internacional in his homeland in 2013. He’s vying with Virgil van Dijk when it comes to the discussion over the most transformative signing in the club’s modern history, the best No 1 Liverpool have had since Ray Clemence.
    Arguably his most crucial contribution was the stunning save he made to deny Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik in the final Champions League group game at Anfield in December 2018 when he ensured Liverpool advanced to the last-16. Without that, there would have no magical sixth European Cup in Madrid, no Super Cup, no Club World Cup.
    Klopp used to go around Melwood singing “All you need is Alisson Becker” to the tune of Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga”. It might get another airing at Kirkby this week.
    Sunday’s thumping header could potentially rival that save against Napoli in terms of importance. The true value of it will be clearer in a week’s time. If Liverpool win at Burnley on Wednesday and then beat Crystal Palace at Anfield on Sunday to secure fourth place, then Alisson’s goal will be worth a fortune given the riches at stake.

    Alisson and Achterberg work in training (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Klopp would regard qualifying for the Champions League as among his greatest achievements as a manager given the obstacles thrown in Liverpool’s path. It would ensure that a turbulent season which had lurched out of control with six straight home defeats ends on a remarkable high.
    By the time the players boarded the coach for the drive back to Merseyside from the Midlands, a sense of calm had descended after the chaos of that crazy finale. Thoughts had already turned to the trip to Turf Moor. There is still work to be done. And it will need to be achieved without the injured Diogo Jota and Ozan Kabak.
    “Ali’s goal will count for nothing if we don’t go on and win our final two matches,” says Achterberg. “We haven’t achieved anything yet. We have to make sure that goal turns out to be vital. Sunday was a reminder that you have to fight so hard for everything in this league. The focus is all on Burnley.
    “I hope Ali isn’t needed for corners in the final two games. Hopefully, come the final seconds we’ll be in a better place.”
  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Breaking down Alisson’s goal with Robbie Fowler: the run, the jump, the finish
    Caoimhe O'Neill May 17, 2021[​IMG] 61 [​IMG]
    Robbie‌ ‌Fowler‌ ‌knows quite a lot about scoring goals. The legendary striker scored 183 times for Liverpool. So who better to bring you a full breakdown of Alisson Becker’s brilliant winner against West Bromwich Albion?
    Fowler was‌ ‌watching‌ ‌Liverpool’s 2-1 win on Sunday at ‌his home‌ ‌and‌ ‌admits‌ ‌to‌ ‌letting‌ ‌out‌ ‌“the‌ ‌biggest‌ ‌scream‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌ever‌ ‌done‌ ‌in‌ ‌my‌ ‌life”‌ ‌when‌ ‌Alisson‌ ‌glanced‌ ‌his‌ ‌header‌ ‌beyond‌ ‌Sam‌ Johnstone‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌95th‌ ‌minute‌.‌ ‌
    “You‌ ‌just‌ ‌never,‌ ‌ever‌ ‌think‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌goalkeeper‌ ‌running‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌scoring.‌ ‌You‌ ‌see‌ ‌keepers‌ ‌going‌ ‌up‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌they‌ ‌just‌ ‌get‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌way,”‌ ‌Fowler‌ ‌tells The Athletic.‌ ‌”He‌ ‌has‌ ‌gone‌ ‌up‌ ‌there‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌belief‌ ‌he‌ ‌could‌ ‌cause‌ ‌a‌ ‌problem‌ ‌for‌ ‌West‌ ‌Brom‌ ‌and‌ ‌hoping ‌someone‌ ‌else‌ ‌could‌ ‌score‌ ‌because‌ ‌I‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌think‌ ‌he‌ ‌would‌ ‌ever‌ ‌have‌ had ‌the ‌idea‌ ‌he‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ the‌ ‌one‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌it.‌ ‌He‌ ‌has‌ ‌gone‌ ‌up‌ ‌there‌ ‌wanting‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌an‌ ‌absolute‌ ‌nuisance‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌turned‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌biggest‌ ‌nuisance‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposition.‌”
    Here’s how he did it.

    The‌ ‌relaxed‌ ‌run-up‌
    When‌ ‌goalkeepers‌ ‌get‌ ‌the‌ ‌green‌ ‌light‌ ‌to‌ ‌go‌ ‌forward‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌moments ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌match‌, like Fowler points out, nobody really expects them to score. One thing you do expect them to do though is to dart into the box at pace. Alisson ‌on the other hand jogged gently into the area.
    “When‌ ‌Trent‌ ‌(Alexander-Arnold)‌ ‌was‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌the‌ ‌corner‌ ‌I‌ ‌actually‌ ‌saw‌ ‌Alisson‌ ‌running‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌, ‌in all fairness, I‌ ‌thought‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌late‌.‌ ‌You‌ ‌see‌ ‌Alisson‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ ‌Trent‌ ‌getting‌ ready‌ ‌to‌ ‌take‌ ‌it‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌goalkeeper‌ ‌is‌ ‌only‌ ‌just‌ ‌coming‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌picture,”‌ ‌Fowler‌ ‌says.‌ ‌“(How‌ ‌slow he‌ ‌was‌ ‌running)‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌thing‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌really‌ ‌noticeable.‌ ‌Whether‌ ‌he‌ ‌knew‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌bit‌ ‌of‌ ‌action‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌could‌ ‌just‌ ‌slowly‌ ‌go‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌referee‌ ‌is‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌wait‌ ‌to‌ ‌blow‌ ‌it‌ ‌(after‌ ‌the‌ ‌corner‌ ‌is‌ ‌taken).‌ ‌Even‌ ‌still‌, ‌when‌ ‌he‌ ‌does‌ ‌bulldoze‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌box‌ ‌he‌ ‌still‌ ‌has‌ ‌a‌ ‌lot‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ and defenders‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌him.”‌
    Attacking spaces‌
    Alisson‌ ‌aligned‌ ‌himself‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌post‌, on‌ ‌the‌ ‌edge‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌six-yard ‌box.‌ ‌His‌ ‌position‌ ‌was‌ ‌put‌ ‌under‌ ‌no‌ ‌real scrutiny‌ from‌ ‌the‌ ‌West‌ ‌Brom‌ ‌defence‌, ‌which‌ ‌meant‌ ‌when ‌Alexander-Arnold’s‌ ‌corner‌ ‌was‌ ‌whipped‌ ‌in‌, ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌perfectly‌ ‌placed‌ ‌to‌ ‌meet‌ ‌it.‌
    “It‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌great‌ ‌ball‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌box‌ ‌but‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌if‌ ‌you‌ ‌sit‌ ‌and‌ ‌analyse‌ ‌corners‌, ‌that‌ ‌space‌ ‌where‌ ‌Trent‌ ‌smashed‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌perfect‌ ‌for‌ ‌someone‌ ‌to‌ ‌run‌ ‌and‌ ‌attack‌ ‌a‌ ‌ball. With‌ ‌it‌ ‌being‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner‌ ‌you‌ ‌want‌ ‌players‌ ‌to‌ ‌attack‌ ‌spaces,” Fowler explains. ‌”So‌, ‌near‌-post‌ ‌space‌ ‌where‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌comes‌ ‌in‌ ‌—‌ ‌that’s‌ ‌a‌n area to ‌capitalise‌ ‌from ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌forward‌ ‌and‌ ‌he’s‌ ‌done‌ ‌that‌ so‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌give‌ ‌him‌ ‌full‌ ‌credit.‌ ‌Regardless‌ ‌of‌ ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌run‌ ‌from‌ ‌or‌ ‌where‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌else‌ ‌has‌ ‌run‌ ‌—‌ ‌he’s‌ ‌run‌ ‌into‌ ‌that‌ ‌position‌ ‌because‌ ‌he’s‌ ‌thinking‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌try‌ ‌and‌ ‌get‌ ‌some‌ defenders‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌way.‌ ‌And‌ ‌he‌ ‌knows‌, ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌goalkeeper‌, ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌position‌ ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌can‌ ‌hurt‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposition.‌”
    Lack‌ ‌of‌ ‌pressure‌
    As mentioned, Alisson was under no real pressure from West Brom — which is rare as usually opposition players will look to get close to an on-rushing goalkeeper.
    “I‌ ‌think‌ ‌what‌ ‌normally‌ ‌happens‌ ‌is‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌an‌ ‌extra‌ ‌man‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌box‌ ‌so‌ ‌defenders‌ ‌try‌ ‌to ‌put‌ ‌an‌ ‌arm‌ ‌on‌ ‌him‌ ‌to‌ ‌put‌ ‌him‌ ‌off‌ ‌but‌ ‌nobody‌ ‌really‌ ‌did‌ ‌anything,” Fowler notes. ‌”I’m‌ ‌not‌ ‌even‌ ‌sure,‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ desire‌ ‌he‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball,‌ ‌that‌ ‌a‌ ‌defender‌ ‌would‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌stop‌ ‌him‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ good,‌ ‌little‌ ‌leap.‌ ‌You‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌he‌ ‌directed‌ ‌the‌ ‌header‌ ‌—‌ ‌that‌ ‌shows‌ ‌you‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌something‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌done‌ ‌in‌ ‌training‌ ‌before.‌ ‌You‌ ‌see‌ ‌keepers‌ ‌coming‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌just‌ ‌hits‌ ‌their‌ ‌head‌ ‌but‌ ‌you‌ ‌see‌ Alisson‌ ‌actually‌ ‌shapes‌ ‌himself‌ ‌and‌ ‌move‌s ‌his‌ ‌body‌ ‌into‌ ‌an‌ ‌area‌ ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌can‌ ‌then‌ ‌shape‌ ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌wants‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌to‌ ‌go.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌some‌ ‌finish‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌was ‌a‌ ‌goalkeeper‌ ‌only‌ ‌makes‌ it‌ ‌sweeter.‌”
    Standing‌ ‌start‌ ‌and positioning
    Alisson’s‌ ‌”good,‌ ‌little‌ ‌leap”, as‌ ‌Fowler‌ ‌describes‌ ‌it‌, was‌ ‌timed‌ ‌to‌ ‌perfection.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ a jump produced from a standing start rather than with a run-up.
    “It’s‌ ‌a‌ ‌good‌ ‌thing‌ ‌no one‌ ‌was‌ ‌on‌ ‌him‌ ‌because‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌impossible‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌a ‌standing‌ ‌jump‌ ‌and‌ ‌get‌ ‌it ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌want‌ ‌it,” he says. ‌”The‌ ‌fact‌ ‌that‌ ‌no one‌ ‌is‌ ‌on‌ ‌him‌ ‌and‌ ‌he’s‌ ‌in‌ ‌that‌ ‌position ‌to‌ ‌go‌ ‌and‌ ‌do‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌full‌ ‌credit‌ ‌to‌ ‌him.‌ ‌He’s‌ ‌scored‌ ‌and‌ ‌we‌ ‌all‌ ‌know‌ ‌that‌ ‌but‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌recognise‌ ‌the‌ ‌movement‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌into‌ ‌an‌ ‌area‌ ‌where‌ ‌he‌ ‌can‌ ‌maybe‌ ‌get‌ ‌an‌ ‌opportunity‌ ‌as‌ ‌he‌ ‌was‌ ‌guided‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌delivery‌ ‌—‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌striker‌ ‌you‌ ‌are‌ ‌always‌ ‌guided‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌delivery.‌‌ ‌
    “At that‌ ‌particular time he‌ ‌is‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌right‌ ‌place.‌ ‌I‌ ‌am‌ ‌not‌ ‌sure‌ ‌I‌ ‌would‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌there,‌ ‌I‌ ‌would‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌goalkeeper‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌knockdown‌ ‌from‌ ‌someone‌ ‌heading‌ ‌it‌ ‌or‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌coming‌ ‌across‌ ‌and‌ ‌people‌ ‌missing‌ ‌it.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌not‌ ‌a‌ ‌position‌ ‌where‌ ‌I‌ ‌would‌ ‌have‌ ‌ran‌ ‌in‌ ‌and‌ ‌attacked‌ ‌as‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌not‌ ‌my‌ ‌height‌ ‌or‌ ‌my‌ ‌game but‌ ‌Alisson‌ ‌has‌ ‌recognised‌ ‌that‌ ‌space‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌clever‌ ‌enough‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌there.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌if‌ ‌someone‌ ‌else‌ ‌scores‌, ‌then‌ ‌you‌ ‌maybe‌ ‌say‌ ‌he’s‌ ‌done‌ ‌alright, ‌as‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌maybe‌ ‌taken‌ ‌defenders ‌to‌ ‌that‌ ‌position‌ ‌as‌ ‌well.‌ ‌Thankfully‌, ‌nobody‌ ‌has‌ ‌thought‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌of‌ ‌him‌ ‌and‌ ‌he’s‌ ‌gone‌ ‌into‌ ‌that‌ ‌area‌ ‌relatively‌ ‌unexposed‌.”
    Nat‌ ‌Phillips‌’ challenge
    West Brom got nowhere near the Brazil international — but how distracting to Alisson was Liverpool defender Nat Phillips’ late run and jump?
    “One‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌things‌ ‌you‌ ‌do‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌striker‌ ‌is‌ ‌you‌ ‌tend‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌your‌ ‌eye‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌at‌ ‌all‌ ‌times‌ ‌but‌ ‌when‌ ‌someone‌ ‌runs‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌you‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌really‌ ‌off-putting,” Fowler says. ‌”So‌ ‌it‌ ‌really is ‌an‌ ‌incredible‌ ‌finish‌ ‌—‌ ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌got‌ ‌Nat‌ ‌Phillips‌ ‌right‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌him.‌ ‌Forget‌ ‌about‌ ‌it‌ being‌ ‌a‌ ‌keeper‌, ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌else‌, ‌then‌ ‌wow.‌ ‌To‌ ‌have‌ ‌his‌ ‌eye‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌all‌ ‌that‌ ‌time‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ comes‌ ‌in‌ ‌—‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌amazing.‌
    “We‌ ‌have‌ ‌seen‌ ‌it‌ ‌a‌ ‌load‌ ‌of‌ ‌times‌ ‌when‌ ‌someone‌ ‌flashes‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌you‌ ‌and‌ ‌at‌ ‌that‌ ‌split‌ ‌moment‌ ‌you‌ ‌shut‌ ‌your‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌and‌ ‌your‌ ‌body shape‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ bit‌ ‌off‌ ‌as‌ ‌your‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌are‌ ‌closed‌ ‌for‌ ‌that‌ ‌split‌ ‌second.‌ ‌That’s‌ ‌what makes it ‌even‌ ‌better‌ — ‌you‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌big,‌ ‌tall‌ ‌centre-half‌ ‌running‌ ‌and‌ ‌jumping‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌you‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌still‌ ‌knows‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌doing.‌ ‌He‌ ‌still‌ ‌gets‌ ‌a‌ ‌head‌ ‌to‌ ‌it.‌ ‌He‌ ‌has‌ ‌just‌ ‌kept‌ ‌his‌ ‌eye‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌belief‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌it.‌”
    Knowing how to perfectly guide the ball into the corner as Alisson did at the Hawthorns — is that something which comes naturally?
    “It‌ ‌is‌ ‌definitely‌ ‌a‌ ‌natural‌ ‌thing,” Fowler admits. ‌”When‌ ‌I‌ ‌say‌ ‌natural‌ ‌I‌ ‌mean‌ ‌you‌ ‌are‌ ‌clever‌ ‌enough‌ ‌to‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ pace‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌—‌ ‌that‌ ‌dictates‌ ‌how‌ ‌you‌ ‌head it.‌ ‌But‌ ‌all‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌got‌ ‌to‌ ‌do‌ ‌then‌ ‌is‌ ‌sort‌ ‌of‌ ‌guide‌ ‌his‌ ‌body‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌right‌ ‌position.‌ ‌With‌ ‌him‌ ‌being‌ a‌ ‌goalkeeper‌ ‌himself‌ ‌he‌ ‌probably‌ ‌knows‌ ‌where‌ ‌the‌ ‌keeper‌ ‌is‌ ‌standing‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌guiding‌ ‌it‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌there.‌ ‌I‌ ‌think‌ ‌he‌ ‌knows‌ ‌exactly‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌doing‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌frightening‌ ‌thought‌.‌ ‌
    “Heading‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball,‌ ‌manoeuvering‌ ‌your‌ ‌body,‌ ‌using‌ ‌the‌ ‌pace‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌actual‌ ‌delivery‌ ‌to‌ ‌put‌ ‌it‌ ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌want‌ ‌it.‌ ‌I‌ ‌am‌ ‌not‌ ‌being‌ ‌so‌ ‌unkind‌ ‌to‌ ‌him‌ ‌to‌ ‌say‌ ‌it was not‌ ‌an‌ ‌unbelievably‌ ‌powerful‌ ‌header‌ ‌but‌ ‌the‌ ‌pace‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌ball‌ ‌just‌ ‌dictates‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌can‌ ‌and‌ ‌can’t‌ ‌do.‌ ‌The‌ ‌movement ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌whole‌ ‌body‌ ‌and‌ ‌getting‌ ‌his‌ ‌neck‌ ‌muscles‌ ‌around‌ ‌it‌ ‌to‌ ‌fire‌ ‌it‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposite‌ ‌corner‌ ‌—‌ ‌everything‌ ‌about‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌textbook‌ ‌header.”
    Celebration and emotion
    After toppling to the ground in the aftermath of his header, Alisson was quickly swarmed by his team-mates.
    It is not the celebration Fowler would have opted for necessarily but one which he enjoyed all the same as he watched on from home.
    “If‌ ‌I‌ ‌am‌ ‌scoring‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌minute,‌ ‌no‌ one‌ ‌is‌ ‌catching‌ ‌me,” he laughs. ‌”I‌ ‌think‌ ‌Alisson‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌dumbstruck, ‌he‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.‌ ‌You‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌joy‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌face‌ ‌and‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌else’s.‌ ‌The‌ ‌joy‌ ‌etched‌ ‌on‌ ‌everybody’s‌ ‌faces‌ ‌was‌ ‌incredible‌ ‌and‌ ‌we‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌seeing‌ ‌those‌ ‌pictures‌ ‌again‌ ‌for‌ ‌a‌ ‌long,‌ ‌long‌ time.”
    Fowler, like most, recognises what a difficult year it has been for Alisson who lost his father Jose Becker in February.
    “He’s‌ ‌had‌ ‌a ‌horrendous‌ ‌time.‌ ‌He‌ ‌lost‌ ‌his‌ ‌father‌ ‌in‌ ‌tragic‌ ‌circumstances‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌he‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌get‌ home‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌funeral‌ ‌or‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌family.‌ ‌At‌ ‌the‌ ‌end‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌game‌ ‌you‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌his‌ ‌emotions‌.‌ Everyone‌ ‌loves‌ ‌him‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌just when you thought you couldn’t love him anymore, you‌ ‌see‌ ‌his‌ ‌interview‌ (after the game). What‌ ‌he‌ ‌has‌ ‌gone‌ ‌through‌ ‌is‌ ‌frightening‌ ‌and‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌out‌ ‌and‌ ‌do‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌is‌ ‌doing‌… ‌forget‌ ‌the‌ goal‌, ‌let’s‌ ‌talk‌ ‌about‌ ‌his‌ ‌performances‌ ‌as‌ ‌well.‌ ‌The‌ ‌goal‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌the‌ ‌unbelievable‌ ‌icing.‌”
  17. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    The European Super League: One month on, has the football landscape changed?
    Philip Buckingham May 18, 2021[​IMG] 43 [​IMG]
    As Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer ambitiously outlined in a statement for the ages, a pen was seized to write “a new chapter for European football” a month ago today.
    Twelve clubs would go it alone as the founding fathers of the Super League, a competition reserved for the elite and dismissive of all others.
    Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham all signed up from the Premier League, to be joined by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from Spain and Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy. Space was kept back for more to join a competition that would “commence as soon as practicable”.
    Within 48 hours of the plans being unveiled on the evening of April 18, though, it had all come crashing down.
    One by one the clubs withdrew, bowing to the weight of pressure from supporters, governing bodies and governments. Those tumultuous days have left a stain on those involved but a month on from the Super League’s launch, how has the football landscape changed?

    Fan empowerment and constitutional change
    Out of adversity comes opportunity and, as the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) outlined earlier this month, this is now considered to be a “once in a generation” chance for meaningful reform.
    Not only has the Super League galvanised supporters bound by common disgust, but it has also served to empower them. Protests and unrest helped bring down the plans and now supporters hope they have a role to play in overdue change.
    The UK government helped set the tone in the week of the Super League launch when announcing an independent review, chaired by former sports minister Tracey Crouch MP, would “explore ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in English football, building on the strengths of the football pyramid”.
    That came after prime minister Boris Johnson had previously said he was willing to drop a “legislative bomb” to prevent English football’s Big Six from breaking away.

    A protest against the Super League outside Anfield on April 20 (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
    Current sports minister Nigel Huddleston has outlined his ambitions for this to be “a watershed moment in our national game” and such weighty political intervention, triggered solely by the Super League, has served to provide supporters with a timely voice.
    Chelsea have already revealed that they will have fan representation at board meetings from July 1, a move repeated by Tottenham last week. Neither club, unsurprisingly, will hand over voting rights but Spurs claim it “will ensure fans are at the heart of club decision-making”.
    Liverpool have also engaged in lengthy dialogue in an attempt to build bridges. Billy Hogan, the club’s chief executive, has outlined his desire to deliver “positive, meaningful change”.
    “This is a critical time and for supporters to be at the forefront of it is absolutely welcomed,” said Joe Blott of independent Liverpool fans group Spirit of Shankly.
    “It’s something we’ve been asking for over a great number of years. Hopefully, we’re on the cusp of something that changes football forever in a positive way. It’s a chance, and a really big chance, to make a huge difference. Football fans can be a power for good and here we are demonstrating that.”
    Fans, all of a sudden, are being listened to in the corridors of power, including at UEFA’s headquarters in the Swiss city of Nyon.
    Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA’s president, hosted a meeting with Football Supporters Europe (FSE) over Microsoft Teams last Wednesday, with fans from eight of the 12 scorned clubs in attendance as well as the FSA and Spanish National Supporters’ Association (FASFE). The dialogue, with Ceferin welcoming contributions, spanned almost two hours. Stakeholders often left on the outside looking in — fans and UEFA — have found common ground to help an occasionally strained relationship.
    “They (fans) have much to contribute and we should give them a voice on important relevant matters,” said Ceferin afterwards.
    Two figures in attendance at the UEFA meeting have told The Athletic they were encouraged by events but there was also a “healthy scepticism” about a body that has not always taken too much attention of supporters’ views. “There were a lot of promises but we will have to see,” said one source.
    There is a view from some that the pledges made to fans are just lip service and will eventually amount to little. Those concerns have, in part, given birth to the concept of an independent regulator. Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville remains on guard to the threat of another breakaway and launched a petition on Monday calling for a regulatory body that “would have a duty to represent the interests of supporters, protect against bad practices… rather than allow clubs to act solely in their own self-interest”.
    International stars turned pundits Jamie Carragher, Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand joined Neville and are among the 100,000 names to have signed the petition by Monday night. It must now be considered for a parliamentary debate. Neville hopes this will also be included in the government’s review but it is likely to meet opposition within the game.
    The Football Association has traditionally acted as the game’s regulator and Richard Masters, CEO of the Premier League, has outlined his doubts. “I don’t think that the independent regulator is the answer to the question,” he said last week. “I would defend the Premier League’s role as the regulator of its clubs over the past 30 years. Clearly, we’ve had some problems over the last 18 months, but so has every industry.”

    Protests, apologies and promises
    The backlash to the Super League was as sudden as its plans were misguided. They came at Elland Road inside 24 hours, as Liverpool travelled to Leeds United, and again the night after outside of Stamford Bridge, on the countdown to Chelsea hosting Brighton.

    Chelsea fans make their feelings clear outside Stamford Bridge (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
    The images of Petr Cech pleading with fans to stand aside would have made every front page had it not been for the raucous celebrations that followed once Chelsea’s withdrawal became public on the streets.
    A victory against the Super League came quicker than most might have envisaged but it has picked at a scab for the supporters of clubs already at odds with their owners.
    Most notable and most vociferous were the unprecedented protests of Manchester United fans.
    An uncompromising stance taken against the Glazer family resulted in thousands congregating outside of Old Trafford and two separate break-ins from fans eventually resulted in the Premier League match against Liverpool being postponed on May 2.
    They were back again for the rearranged fixture last week to be greeted by heightened security, with attempts to ambush a Liverpool team bus foiled on a day Manchester United’s players reported six hours before kick-off and were given beds in executive boxes for an afternoon of rest.
    Events of the last month have also lit a fire under the mistrust of Stan Kroenke among Arsenal fans. The number of protesters again ran into the thousands ahead of their Premier League game at home to Everton last month. Tottenham’s board, too, were asked to stand down by their fans at the weekend by hundreds of fans congregating outside of the stadium’s club shop.
    Matches played behind closed doors have helped to curb the unrest but the coming days will see the anger invited back in through turnstiles. All six of the English clubs involved in the Super League plotting have a home game with 10,000 fans in attendance either tonight, tomorrow or on Sunday, the final day of the Premier League season.
    Apologies made by owners have done little to quell the mood. The contrition, whether through a rare letter from Glazer or a video from Liverpool owner John W Henry, has been welcomed only with caveats.
    “The response could in theory — and we emphasise in theory only — be a change in direction and approach by the owners versus their silence and disregard for communication over the last 16 years,” said Manchester United’s Supporters’ Trust.
    “We will, however, determine our position based on the resulting actions rather than these words alone. We have seen empty words too many times previously.”

    Premier League rule changes and recriminations
    The Premier League has never known a threat to its power quite like the Super League, which made last year’s Project Big Picture look like a mere inconvenience.
    Those formidable dangers proved to be short-lived when plans for a shiny, new competitor soon unravelled at pace but the Premier League has been determined to ensure there will be no repeats.
    All clubs will be required to sign a new owners’ charter to stop future attempts to join a breakaway Super League to “protect our game, our clubs and their fans from further disruption and uncertainty”. Those brave — or foolish — enough to transgress will be assured of punishments. “Breaches of these rules and the Charter will be subject to significant sanctions,” said the Premier League on May 4.
    How the Big Six are punished this time around is still unclear. Masters said last week the issue was “ongoing” but accepted there was a need for it to be dealt with “efficiently, justly and appropriately”.
    The other 14, however, will not forget in a hurry. The Big Six were omitted from a Premier League meeting in the immediate aftermath of the Super League’s launch and influential roles were surrendered on a host of committees from those representing the shamed clubs.
    The most recent shareholders’ meeting, staged last Wednesday, saw all 20 clubs come back together to digest the news of an extended domestic TV deal spanning a further three years. Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham was among those present but one source suggested the contrite six kept their heads down during the meeting.
    “Some good can come out of this in the sense that the collective will end up being stronger and the Premier League organisation will end up being stronger because of it that goes for a lot of things that have happened this year,” said Masters, who accepts internal relations are “strained”. “We need to put the European Super League behind us which means talking to the clubs involved and finding out what happened before we can move forward and that process is obviously ongoing.”
    The Football Association is aligned with the Premier League in its attempts to ensure there is no repeat and English football’s governing body has begun its own official inquiry. The FA has written to all six English clubs involved asking for all relevant evidence.
    “Once we have the required information, we will consider what appropriate steps to take,” said the FA. “Clearly what happened was unacceptable and could have caused great harm to clubs at every level of English football.”
    Elsewhere in Europe, the focus has been more on legislative reform than punishment.
    La Liga president Javier Tebas said last month that Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had suffered enough through tarnished reputations, while the Italian FA (FIGC) has amended article 16 of its licensing and registration regulations. Signing up to any breakaway leagues once more, as Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan did last month, would end with them forfeiting membership of Serie A.

    UEFA investigations and Champions League reform
    UEFA and its flagship competition, the Champions League, were directly challenged by the Super League and, as such, has dealt with the 12 clubs sternly.
    The nine to step back from the wreckage have been pardoned in “a spirit of reconciliation”. They all submitted a “club commitment declaration” that spelled out their loyalties would remain, from now on, with UEFA.
    Financial penalties were modest. “A donation totalling an aggregate of €15 million would be made” along with the withholding of five per cent of revenues from UEFA over one season. A fine of €100 million would also drop through their letterbox if they agreed to play in any “unauthorised competition” again.
    “These clubs recognised their mistakes quickly and have taken action to demonstrate their contrition and future commitment to European football,” said Ceferin. “The same cannot be said for the clubs that remain involved in the so-called ‘Super League’ and UEFA will deal with those clubs subsequently.”
    And so to the terrible trio of Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are all now subject to a disciplinary investigation to discover if they were guilty of violating UEFA’s legal framework.
    The range of punishments is broad, spanning fines to bans from the Champions League. None of the three clubs are taking it lying down, either. A rambling joint statement, issued on May 8, bemoaned that they “continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures, threats, and offences to abandon the project”. There was also a swipe at the “inconsistencies” of the nine clubs repenting their sins.
    Ceferin has called Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona “flat-earthers” owing to their refusal to surrender but there have still been vows to pursue the project.
    It is their isolation that fatally — at least for now — undermines them. Albeit with trust at rock bottom, the other nine have been invited back to join the European Club Association (ECA), now chaired by Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

    Nasser Al-Khelaifi, here with Neymar in August 2017, has been one of the big winners of the Super League saga (Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
    The Paris Saint-Germain chief executive has filled the void left by Juventus owner Andrea Agnelli, who stepped down from his position at the time of the Super League’s launch. “The leadership, integrity and togetherness of our organisation has never been more required than at this pivotal moment in European football,” said Al-Khelaifi.
    The subplot in all of this, of course, are the proposed reforms to the Champions League. Those were deemed to be a concession to the elite clubs, with qualification given to two wildcards each season based on historical coefficient performances in the competition.
    The changes, including a new Swiss-style model with an increased number of games, were voted through by UEFA’s executive committee a day after the Super League’s launch and are due to be introduced for the 2024-25 season.
    That is not to say they are set in stone just yet, though. Much will depend on how much UEFA is willing to bend as the unlikely and self-styled good guys. Would they approve a subsequent reduction in games? Highly unlikely. And do they let go of a format that, in theory, increases the number of big clubs allowed entry to make their own competition more appealing? The jury is out. UEFA, for all its recent posturing, still wants the big-hitters at every party it hosts.
    A new ECA board, including greater representation of Europe’s smaller leagues, is expected to push UEFA into revisiting the controversial changes. Supporters, too, made their opposition clear when meeting Ceferin virtually last week.
    “Any format that allows clubs to compete based on prestige or historic performance is a capitulation to the same greedy owners who tried to form their breakaway European Super League,” said Kevin Miles of the FSA. “We won’t accept a bad option just because there was a worse one.”
  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Is Kane battling Salah for the Golden Boot enough for the Tottenham striker?
    By Daniel Taylor May 19, 2021[​IMG] 47 [​IMG]
    Peter Crouch, one of Harry Kane’s predecessors at Tottenham Hotspur, tells a story about his playing days that reveals a lot about the art of being a Premier League striker. As Crouch says from first-hand experience, the profession includes a requirement to qualify among the “most selfish human beings of all time”.

    Crouch was in the same team as Jermain Defoe and can remember various occasions when he was left with the suspicion that his friend and strike partner was even more obsessed than him when it came to taking the glory.

    If there was a chance for Defoe to play him in, Crouch noted that his team-mate had a tendency to push the ball marginally wide. That way, the shooting angle was not so straightforward and Crouch would be expected to turn the ball back to Defoe rather than try to score himself.

    “The first time it would happen in a match you’d give him a mouthful — ‘J! For fuck’s sake!’ — and you’d get an apologetic raised hand and a shout back, ‘Sorry, next time, yeah?’,” Crouch writes in his book I, Robot. “Then it would happen again. And then again. In the end, I realised I couldn’t say any more. He was always going to do it, and he scored enough to justify it. We were mates. We were partners. But we were also in competition.”

    Don’t be too surprised, therefore, if we see Kane trying his luck from all sorts of spectacular distances and angles, and not being as receptive as usual to the idea of picking out a team-mate, when Spurs wrap up their season with what could be — if the English captain gets his wish — his last two games in the club’s colours.

    Kane has never had a more productive season in terms of laying on goals for his team-mates (can you believe he has more assists than Kevin De Bruyne?). Just don’t bank on him being so obliging, perhaps, now he and Mohamed Salah are locked neck-and-neck in the race to become the Premier League’s top scorer. Don’t expect either player to look for a pass if a shot is on, realistically or not, now the Golden Boot is up for grabs.
    [​IMG]A Flourish chart
    For Kane, it is the chance to emulate Alan Shearer by winning this prize for the third time. Salah is also trying to win his third Golden Boot, following up his awards from 2018 and 2019. Kane and Salah are on 22 goals. Both have a ratio of 0.68 goals every 90 minutes. Both have scored a league goal, on average, every 132 minutes. And we should know enough about Kane to understand his first priority before everything else — his future, the standoff with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and leading England into the European Championship — will be to outdo, and out-score, his rival from Liverpool.
    The difference, of course, between Kane and Salah is that one has been a world, European and Premier League champion in club football over the last few years, with all the medals and open-top bus parades to prove it, whereas the other has been left to chase individual awards on the basis that his team always tends to come up short.
    One has been part of an exhilarating modern era for Liverpool and represents a club where the supporters hold banners for “European football royalty”. The other plays for a team that has plenty going for it, including a slick new stadium, but has not won the league since 1961 and is looking for another manager after the experiment with Jose Mourinho blew up in everyone’s faces, just as everyone sensible predicted it would.
    Kane has a home game against Aston Villa, followed by a trip to Leicester City, to try to finish above Salah. Liverpool, meanwhile, have a game at Burnley before finishing the season at home to Crystal Palace. Salah, it seems, has the more obliging fixtures. Or maybe the prize will be shared, as it was in 2019 when Salah finished level with his team-mate Sadio Mane and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
    All that can really be said for certain is that the two players at the top, four goals ahead of Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes, deserve acclaim for being so prolific at a time when their teams have played badly on more occasions than they would probably wish to remember.
    Somehow, a perception has grown that Salah is having an undistinguished season. Yet maybe that is more a reflection of the fact he scored 32 times to win this award the first time. In reality, Salah is level with Kane despite having had markedly fewer shots, 83 to 105, and has a better conversion rate of 27 per cent to 21 per cent, as well as a more impressive shooting accuracy of 60 per cent to 49 per cent.
    Kane, on the other hand, might legitimately argue his own record is the best, on the basis that he has played two fewer games than Salah.
    There is, after all, plenty of evidence to show how much these awards mean to Kane. Exhibit A: the telling-off he got from his wife-to-be, Kate, in 2017 after posting a Christmas photograph on Instagram of his Golden Boot, as well as his collection of hat-trick balls, to announce what a marvellous year it had been. As Kate pointed out — “First child? Engagement?” — he had overlooked a couple of other important details. “They were great as well babe,” Kane replied, with a kiss-blowing emoji.
    Ryan Mason, Tottenham’s caretaker manager, made a valid point recently when he said that a player who was leading the way for both goals and assists should ordinarily have a decent shout of winning the player-of-the-season awards.
    Unfortunately for Kane, the players from teams that finish sixth or seventh are not usually honoured that way. The best he can realistically attain is the Golden Boot and, in those circumstances, who can really blame him for wondering whether there are greater adventures to be had elsewhere? Who could be surprised if he concludes he has outgrown a club that finished 40 points off the top last season and are 27 adrift this time around?
    He has, after all, seen what can happen when a player takes the leap. When Kyle Walker left Spurs for Manchester City in 2017, the defender said it was because he wanted to win the first major trophies of his career. Since then, Walker has won three league titles, one FA Cup, four League Cups and two Community Shields, with a Champions League final booked in against Chelsea, another of Kane’s admirers, for the weekend after next
    Kieran Trippier, another player from Mauricio Pochettino’s so-near-yet-so-far Spurs team, is on the cusp of winning La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Christian Eriksen has just won the Serie A title with Inter Milan. Michael Carrick, Gareth Bale, Dimitar Berbatov… the list goes on. The bottom line — and the difficult truth for Spurs — is that this forms part of a pattern that goes back years. Nobody should be too surprised if Kane is contemplating what it might be like to pull on Manchester United’s shirt or the glories that might be attainable with Pep Guardiola’s City.
    The most remarkable detail of the Golden Boot race is that the newly crowned champions do not have a single player in the leading pack. City’s highest scorer, Ilkay Gundogan, is not even a forward. Gundogan’s 13 goals put him just ahead of Chris Wood of Burnley, Southampton’s Danny Ings and Callum Wilson of Newcastle United. Raheem Sterling, City’s next most prolific player, has 10 goals.
    “We don’t have players who can win the game by themselves,” Guardiola said recently. “We don’t have a Lionel Messi, Cristiano Cristiano, Kylian Mbappe or Neymar. We have to do it as a team. I’ll be honest, I would love to have a player who scores four goals every game. But I wouldn’t change any player that we have right now.”
    Further analysis reveals that no team that has finished as champions has included the league’s top scorer since Robin van Persie won the Golden Boot in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at Old Trafford in 2013.
    Van Persie also won it the previous year, with Arsenal, and Kane has studied the list of previous winners to see what it would mean to finish ahead of Salah. Michael Owen, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Didier Drogba are the other two-time winners. There is only Thierry Henry who has won it four times and Kane, being Kane, will have that record in his sights, too, along with the growing belief that it would be a terrible shame if he did not add some team medals to his portfolio of personal achievement.
  19. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Dejan Lovren: Leaving Liverpool, being betrayed by Super League plans and why Alexander-Arnold must go to Euro 2020
    By James Pearce May 19, 2021[​IMG] 19 [​IMG]
    Dejan Lovren was sat watching at home in Saint Petersburg as Liverpool’s centre-backs dropped like flies.
    October brought Virgil van Dijk’s ruptured ACL and a month later, Joe Gomez collapsed in agony after his knee buckled during an England training session at St George’s Park.
    When Joel Matip damaged ankle ligaments in January, all three of Jurgen Klopp’s senior centre-backs had suffered season-ending injuries.
    Liverpool sought emergency reinforcements at the end of the winter transfer window. They signed Ozan Kabak on loan from Schalke and Ben Davies permanently from Preston North End for an initial fee of £500,000. Both have subsequently picked up muscle problems — Davies without even making his debut — leaving Jurgen Klopp to rely on the inexperienced defensive axis of Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams during the run-in.
    Lovren ended his six-year stay at Anfield last July after becoming frustrated with life as Klopp’s fourth-choice centre-back. He completed a £10.9 million move to Zenit Saint Petersburg and recently celebrated helping them clinch a third successive Russian title.
    The irony is that the Croatia international would have got the regular game time he craved had he stayed on Merseyside for another season.
    “I don’t regret anything,” he tells The Athletic.
    “When I took my decision, it was the right thing to do at that moment with that state of mind. I cannot say, ‘Ah…’.
    “It’s like saying after the draw has already taken place, ‘Why didn’t you circle the correct lotto numbers?’, as if you knew that was going to happen. It doesn’t work like that.”
    Leaving Liverpool was a wrench emotionally. His family were settled and he had developed a close bond with his team-mates and especially his best friend, Mohamed Salah. They had shared the glory of Champions League and Premier League title triumphs in back-to-back seasons.
    But having stayed put in the summer of 2019 when Roma were keen to secure his services and then only made 10 league appearance under Klopp in 2019-20, Lovren felt that he had to pursue a new challenge.
    “It was difficult because I had a life there with the kids going to school,” he explains.
    “My wife and I had our daily habits. And when you have friends like with me and Salah, of course, you’re disappointed you are leaving. But you understand that it’s part of football. In a football career, you are bound to change clubs at times. I accepted it. I moved on quite quickly because I was straightaway focused on my next challenge with Zenit.
    “As soon as I knew Zenit were interested and that the talks were going well, I was in a really good mood. I am happy about my decision, I don’t have regrets, I’m still here.
    “I still watch the Liverpool games when I have the time and also the Spanish, German and French leagues too. In every league I have international team-mates or players I have played with. Of course, I still love Liverpool and want to see them do well. I’ve been talking with (Xherdan) Shaqiri a bit. The captain Jordan Henderson, we message, and with Gini (Wijnaldum) too. But Salah is in first place!
    “I’d say I miss the fans more than anything. It’s been a sad moment for them with the COVID situation and not being able to support their team inside the stadium. That’s what I really miss seeing when I see Anfield on TV.”
    At Zenit, Lovren has added to his impressive haul of silverware. He made 28 appearances for Sergei Semak’s men, who finished eight points clear of Spartak Moscow. The 31-year-old has worn the armband at times and is an influential figure in the dressing room.
    “I try to be really important for the younger generation — for the players who come from the academy,” he says.
    “I think they can learn something from me. Of course, I’m not the perfect leader. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. But I try to be an example on and off the field as much as I can. They need to appreciate their team-mates, the club, the manager, the staff, all around. Your career is quite short so you have to enjoy it and you also have to make the most of it by giving your maximum.
    “My first year here has been very positive. The first week there was a big final for us. Luckily enough we won the Super Cup (against Lokomotiv Moscow) and we pushed on from there. The main point of focus this season was to win the championship again to make history and we did it. It means for me another trophy for my personal collection. That’s why I came here — to win as many trophies as I can and to help this club to keep moving forward.”
    Club captain Artem Dzyuba, Zenit’s top scorer with 22 goals in all competitions this season, received the league trophy wearing a Deadpool costume from the superhero film following the recent 6-1 thrashing of Lokomotiv.
    “I didn’t expect to see ‘Dzuba’ wearing that costume. I was shocked. But that’s his style!” laughs Lovren.
    “I loved the atmosphere that day. The atmosphere was really brilliant with more than 75 per cent of the people back in the stadium. It was a great feeling for everyone. That atmosphere helped us to kill Locomotiv. I was able to share the celebrations on the pitch with my kids, which was nice. It was so enjoyable. That’s how we’re supposed to play.

    Zenit’s Artem Dzyuba in a Deadpool costume (Photo: Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images)
    “Every time you get to lift a trophy, you appreciate it more, you appreciate your football career, your team-mates, your club and especially the fans. It’s a dream come true for every football player to win something. There aren’t many who get the chance to do it. I am glad I’m in this position.”
    Lovren has two more years to run on his contract, and one big ambition for next season is to ensure Zenit make more of an impact in the Champions League. This season they finished bottom of a group including Borussia Dortmund, Lazio and Club Brugge.
    If Liverpool principal owner John W Henry had got his way, Zenit would have been among those clubs damaged by the creation of a closed-shop European Super League. Lovren was delighted to see the plans defeated.
    “There’s a group of people who think they have the power to do things by themselves. To go away and make decisions without asking anyone,” he says.
    “As players, we play for the supporters and with the history of our clubs on our backs. For owners to go away and just look solely at the financial side, I cannot understand that.
    “The Champions League has an amazing history. When I was a kid with dreams in my head, I’d always look at Zinedine Zidane’s volley in the final against Leverkusen. This is what every player wants to do.
    “When there’s a possibility that you might not play against the biggest teams in the Champions League, you feel that you’ve been betrayed. Betrayal should not be part of football.”
    Lovren has also used his profile to crank up the pressure on social media companies to take more responsibility when it comes to online abuse. He backed the recent boycott by elite players and clubs.
    “I support 100 per cent this movement,” he says. “If you say something racist to someone (in football), you rightly get banned. It should also be the same thing on social media platforms.
    “These giants like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, they should take action to ban these people. Personally, I know how it feels. When I played bad, I received death threats to my family (after a Liverpool defeat to Tottenham in October 2017). It was shocking at that time. It was unacceptable.
    “Now more players and more clubs have stood up and are talking about it. I am happy about that. The only way to stop this is to punish these people and to restrict who has social media accounts. You should need to give ID. Then if people want to post something, they would think twice about what they’re posting. It also would be easier to find the people who do this and punish them.”
    With the Russian season complete, Lovren has returned to Croatia to begin his preparations for the Euros. He will be reunited with some familiar faces since England, Scotland and the Czech Republic are also in Group D.
    The former Southampton defender is baffled by the fact that there’s uncertainty over whether Trent Alexander-Arnold will make Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad.
    Alexander-Arnold was dropped for the March internationals, with Reece James, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker all picked ahead of him. He has since been in outstanding form for Liverpool.
    “Every player has ups and downs. Maybe only Messi and Ronaldo can say that they have spent 15 years at the absolute top of the level,” Lovren says.
    “For all the rest of us, it’s up and down. They are something different from the rest of us.
    “Trent didn’t have a bad season. In the end, he deserves the call, especially with the background of what he’s done with Liverpool in the past three years, playing twice in the Champions League final and helping them to win the Premier League. He was also playing at the last World Cup and has more experience now. For me, there is no question with Trent. Of course he deserves a spot in that 23-man squad.”
    Croatia famously ended England’s World Cup hopes at the semi-final stage in Moscow in 2018 before losing to France in the final.
    “Three years have passed; it’s different players, a different stage, a different atmosphere,” he adds.
    “It’s a totally new game so let’s see what will happen against England. It’s an interesting group and to come up against some of my ex-team-mates will be funny. For those 90 minutes, there will be no friends.”
  20. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Klopp loves Nat Phillips — and the Kop will too
    By James Pearce May 20, 2021[​IMG] 147 [​IMG]
    Jurgen Klopp’s face lit up but then he stopped himself. The Liverpool manager didn’t want to tempt fate.
    His full assessment of Nat Phillips’ immense contribution in helping to salvage something precious from a season that looked beyond repair will have to wait until after Sunday’s final act at Anfield.
    “I love the boy — he knows that,” beamed Klopp. “If we really make it (into next season’s Champions League by finishing in the top four) or not, whatever. Let’s talk after the Crystal Palace game (the weekend’s Premier League finale). Just let’s finish this season and then, if you want, I’ll write a book about both boys — about Nat and about Rhys (Williams). It’s no problem.
    “But let’s please play this game and let the boys stay focused. Let them recover. Then we can talk about that. I promise you. If you want, I’ll answer for an hour your question.”
    There have been many unwanted surprises for Klopp this season — from an unprecedented injury crisis to principal owner John W Henry signing the club up for the European Super League without consulting him first.
    But the shock rise of Phillips has been a revelation to cherish.
    From not even being registered to play in the Champions League group stage to becoming an inspirational force in Liverpool’s battle to retain their status among Europe’s elite. From the club’s sixth-choice centre-back to their defensive rock, it’s been some journey for the 24-year-old from Bolton.
    Klopp has had to deal with plenty of misfortune but there’s no doubt he got lucky when Swansea City of the Championship had second thoughts and pulled the plug on signing Phillips on loan at the 11th hour last October. He had no idea then how useful Phillips sticking around would prove.
    Over the past seven months, the humble, likeable defender has grown in stature. He has earned his manager’s trust and the respect of his team-mates. His 19th appearance of the campaign at Turf Moor last night was his best of the lot.
    He celebrated the first senior goal of his career after powering home a header from Sadio Mane’s cross early in the second half to provide some breathing space for Liverpool following Roberto Firmino’s opener just before the interval.
    However, it was typical of Phillips’ mindset that he took much greater pleasure from the goalline clearance at the other end to prevent Ben Mee handing Burnley a lifeline on 68 minutes before substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended his 10-month goal drought with an emphatic third late on.
    “It’s my job to stop the ball from going in the net. If I can get on the scoresheet, happy days — a bit of a bonus — but I’d much rather have a clean sheet,” Phillips explained.
    No other Liverpool player made more clearances (nine), tackles (three) or blocks (two) on the night. Phillips won 68 per cent of his 19 duels in total and 69 per cent of his 13 aerial duels. Burnley’s aerial bombardment was repelled, with their lone front man Chris Wood expertly shackled.
    Phillips, who has two years remaining on his contract, is a throwback; a defender who genuinely loves defending. He’s not afraid to put his body on the line and he challenges for every header like his life depends on the outcome.
    Klopp and his staff have been increasingly impressed by his reading of the game, his positional play and his distribution. His capacity to take on board information has helped take him to the next level.
    He’s always been a good learner, securing two As and a B in maths, geography and economics A-Levels at Bolton School before accepting a scholarship to play at the University of North Carolina. He never did board that flight to the US though, after Liverpool offered him a two-year contract following a successful trial in 2016.
    Klopp loves his backstory and he loves his attitude. The manager sees himself in Phillips — someone with a football brain who is fully committed to draining every last drop out of their natural talent.
    A season-saving run of seven wins and two draws in their last nine league matches has propelled Liverpool to the brink of Champions League qualification. They are back inside the top four for the first time since mid-February, having leapfrogged Leicester City on goal difference with a game to go.
    It’s been some turnaround since the middle of March, when Brendan Rodgers’ side were 10 points ahead of Liverpool. Back then, Leicester’s goal difference was also superior to Liverpool’s by nine. Now, they are four worse off.
    It means that any kind of victory should be enough for Liverpool when 13th-placed Palace visit on Sunday while Leicester host Tottenham Hotspur, who sit seventh and are still fighting for European qualification themselves. Klopp’s men, who will be roared on by the presence of 10,000 fans at Anfield, could still clinch third and an extra £2 million in prize money for climbing a place higher if they take care of their own business and Chelsea fail to collect maximum points at Aston Villa in their last game before the following Saturday’s Champions League final.
    Liverpool are on their best winning streak in the top flight for 15 months and it’s been achieved with Phillips and Williams at the heart of the back line, and five centre-backs currently out injured. Those two top-flight rookies are guaranteed some reception on Sunday.
    Burnley targeted Williams but after a nervy start, the 20-year-old settled. He made two tackles, eight clearances and two blocks. He also won 78 per cent of his nine duels and 83 per cent of his six aerial duels.
    This time, there was no late drama and no need to send Alisson up for corners.
    Andy Robertson contributed two assists in a Premier League game for the first time since April 2019 and Thiago oozed class once again at the heart of the midfield.
    But the night belonged to Phillips. He has proved he’s a Premier League-level defender and he has proved he should be part of Klopp’s plans for next season.
    Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip will all return from injury this summer and Liverpool are expected to pursue a deal for RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate, who tops their shortlist of defensive targets.
    Ben Davies has been told he still has a future at Anfield despite not playing once since his arrival from Championship side Preston North End at the end of the winter window.
    But with Liverpool unlikely to trigger their £18 million option to buy Ozan Kabak from Schalke following the end of his loan spell, there’s definitely still room for Phillips, especially given the uncertainty over what kind of shape and form those long-term absentees will return in. Williams would arguably benefit from a loan in the EFL to gain more match experience.
    A late bloomer, Phillips has been busy making up for lost time this season. He’s come a long way in such a short period.
    Opportunity knocked and he grasped it.
    One more big push on Sunday and then Klopp can wax lyrical about an unlikely hero who stood tall when Liverpool really needed him.

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