LIVERPOOL: Time for character as dream turns to nightmare


TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend’s top Premier League action

LIVERPOOL: Time for character as dream turns to nightmare

TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend’s top Premier League action

The world’s longest, most elaborate hoax is nearly at an end.

Liverpool at the top, from an impossible starting position, rivals dropping points to puny old Sunderland. It was all so plausible. Paul Newman and Robert Redford couldn’t have done it any better.

There’s a book to be written about the intricate nature of rivalry, but one simple fact will suffice for now; it’s not just about what you do but what the other lot don’t do.

If you have not giggled at Moyes’s United once all season, then you are a better person than I. And a liar.

The impractical joke began when a Steven Gerrard mistake was central to a 0-2 home defeat to Chelsea and scuppered someone’s title bid.

Four years ago. The cruel pranksters have certainly had innate patience to lie in wait all these years in order to repeat the format, only for it to wreck Liverpool’s own chances this time.

And then, with a twist of warped genius, they sat back and watched Liverpool fans begging Everton, of all people, to do them a favour the very next match. As if the sight and sound of us getting our knickers in a knot about Jose’s pragmatic football wasn’t funny enough (bonjour Gerard, hola Rafa) the world of football now got to hear Reds talking about the morality of the sport and a commitment to the spirit of it.

Priceless. Everton were Liverpool’s best bet? That sounds like something Paul Merson would lump on.

In the face of such insanity, it was compulsory to adopt a too cool for school sarcasm that was probably fooling no one. Everton? Beat City? Whatever, I’m sure that’ll happen etc. There was a concerted effort on social media to put Martinez and co on the wrong side of everything before a ball had been kicked, but this massive reversal of psychology was to no avail. They’d told us for years they didn’t care what the red ‘side’ said, maybe you’ll believe them now.

There was talk of fair play and all those pictures of banners about their two decades without a trophy were hidden away. None of it did any good. Most of Everton’s footballers set out to do their professional best, as did Liverpool’s against Chelsea in 2010, but like the aliens in War of the Worlds, the thin atmosphere killed both them and any chance of a victory.

City didn’t even have to get in third gear, and the only real noise generated within Goodison was for perceived referee incompetence, always the last old habit to die hard.

City were professional though, even resorting to frankly needless time-wasting at one stage. “I can’t walk off the pitch, my arm hurts.” Out came the Gerrard chants and Oasis played over the tannoy. There wasn’t even any pretence by this stage. I especially liked the increase in singing at 1-3 and the sudden, utterly coincidental decrease in singing at 2-3.

The lazy final 20 minute reenactment of Austria versus West Germany, that World Cup day of shame in 1982, must have been torture for those who genuinely believe in fairies and happy endings.

The same people who shout “belieeeeeeve” and “you never know” and other winsome bollix. Maybe they’re in the right, because cynicism never really protects the told-you-so crew. If the pessimistic and petulant were ever honest with themselves, we’re probably the ones hurting the most.

It was hard to understand Sky Sports’ bewilderment with Evertonians during their broadcast. Seriously, what did they expect? Propaganda kicked in later with how hard Everton tried, the sanctity of the game blah blah, but what had just happened wasn’t really in dispute.

What was questionable was Liverpool fans’ right to dish out lectures about it.

But we’re getting pretty good at that, what with Chelsea being so defensive and how it’s great the way we play the game or what we deserve, etc. I suppose that’s the last little zinger in the hoax; that final Tom and Jerry look in the mirror that reveals how you’ve been duped all along.

All that’s left is defiance, taking the season to the final day and hoping for a miracle like Istanbul. No zealot like a convert.

Belieeeeeeve, and such like.

At this moment in time, I’d take a point at Palace; if we’re asking for something unusual from the Etihad, we might as well ask for something completely unexpected.

Pulis will demand everything from his men, knowing that Liverpool get awful jittery if the game doesn’t go their way from the opening minutes onwards. That’s the blueprint Jose has created and even if a win didn’t ultimately give us what we want, it’d be nice to nip any idea of a foolproof method to beat the Reds becoming a fact rather than a one-off.

Tonight’s game will be a massive test of character.

It’s all suddenly gone pear-shaped for us, and these are the times you find out more about your players than the 11 wins in a row.

MANCHESTER UNITED: Reality bites as Giggsy’s honeymoon is quickly over

If there’s one thing everyone who deals with United main man Ed Woodward agrees about — apart from the fact that he needs a shave — it is that he would just love to be liked by fans.

In this, he is the polar opposite of his icy wannabe hardman, predecessor David Gill, whom one suspects actually enjoyed regularly being abused by anti-Glazer United supporters.

Many of us think this is one of the reasons why Ed’s so keen to bag himself a ‘superstar’ player, as he puts it in his private press briefings, so that he may offer it up to us plebs — a would-be Caesar granting us our bread and circuses. Unfortunately, this desire to curry favour hasn’t apparently extended as far as giving Jurgen Klopp a call for the manager’s job, even though Ed and his advisers can surely be in no doubt that this is what would have made Eddy our Hunk Of The Month.

So, barring miracles, it’ll be Louis van Gaal, as some of us have predicted from day one. It seems that the announcement could come as early as Wednesday morning, barely giving Giggsy’s tears time to dry after the Hull match ends and he says farewell to Old Trafford.

There’s been a week-long rearguard campaign by supporters of the Class of ‘92 to get Ryan on the shortlist for the job now, rather than in two years’ time, and you may have spotted the transparent comments of Gary Neville about United needing to appoint a British manager — ie, one of his mates. (Although what did he have to say on the principle of the subject in his autobiography, when discussing the England job? “English might be preferable but the best man for the job is the priority.” Oops.)

Even Fergie has appeared to weigh in, perhaps understanding that LVG’s Dutch invasion would reduce his ongoing influence to minimal levels. Edward Woodward is believed to have stood firm, though, and I am told he would not be too unhappy at the thought of Fergie being discontented with the new actualité.

After Saturday’s grotty display, it would have been so much harder for the Class of ‘92 to continue the fight in any event. As one colleague waggishly remarked at the whistle, with a nod to 1989, “I’m off to paint a new banner — ‘10 days of excuses and we’re still crap: Ta ra Giggsy.’”

Giggs looked a bit bewildered afterwards, and sounded a tad, well, Moyesian: “we’ll try our best... I can’t explain it...we just couldn’t break up their defence... we just didn’t show that quality that we showed last week. It was disappointing... (but) the quality is still in the dressing room.” My pal Jay growled: “In which dressing room would that be, Ryan? Because it isn’t in ours.”

Saturday certainly reminded us that one key anti-Moyes argument this season was a shaky one, namely the line that these are basically top players who just needed ‘topping up’ to become champions. Bryan Robson was repeating this line before kick-off: I doubt he’ll be repeating it for a while. Cleverley, Fletcher, Carrick, Rio, Evra, Young... all these, and more, have had their day. The sooner we face up to this and react, the better.

Some Reds would also add Rooney to that list, and stories have resurfaced this weekend linking him to PSG, not least because he is supposedly not so thrilled at the prospect of being slapped about by the brutal LVG. I was told by local sources last June that Wayne had been ready to go there last summer; he is also reputed to be the PSG president’s favourite player. Yes, the summer speculation season has already started, folks.

And at least hysterical rumour-mongering is one thing we’re still champions at,

ARSENAL: A stroll in the sunshine as Wembley on the horizon

On checking my programme prior to yesterday’s final home game of the season, I noted that the players would remain on the pitch following the final whistle for their customary lap of appreciation, rather than disappearing off to the dressing room before returning to fulfil this obligatory display of mutual appreciation.

I must admit that it did occur to me to question whether this decision had been taken for fear that there might have been none of us left in our seats, if there’d been a delay before the players returned onto the pitch.

I also read Le Prof’s comments in his programme notes about us looking more dangerous at set pieces and these seemed particularly prescient when, despite the opposition’s rugby style roughhousing at corners, Giroud bullied a defender to get his head onto Cazorla’s corner, deciding this result after a mere 14 minutes. It was to be about the only significant moment of a typically dour end of season affair.

In fact such was the festive mood that the beachballs were out on the terraces early doors, obviously entertaining fourth official Phil Dowd more than events on the pitch. And they might as well have been playing with one of these, considering most of the participants’ minds already appeared to be more focused on their beach entertainment this summer.

Nevertheless, despite this non-event of a contest and the reports of there being large numbers of seriously miffed Gooners, who’ve yet to be offered a Cup final ticket in the ballot, there was little, or no evidence of any of the vociferous dissension that’s been increasingly evident on the forums all season long.

Oh for the scrupulous days of yesteryear, when Arsenal supporters were guaranteed a seat at Wembley by a club that limited season ticket sales to the number of Cup final tickets.

We enjoyed more entertainment post match, from all the little darlings shepherded onto the pitch by their dads. Aided by a win, on a gloriously warm afternoon and the possibility of ending our silverware drought in a couple of weeks time (not to mention the remarkable feat of retaining our seat at Europe’s top table for a 17th successive season, for all the mockery of Arsène’s 4th place prize!), the staunch show of support as the players strolled around in the sunshine all seemed considerably more enthusiastic than many of the more perfunctory and less deserving end of season rituals in recent years of frustrating under-achievement.

Mind you, I’m none too keen on the prevailing mood of all those who seem to have decided the Gunners need only turn up at Wembley to secure our first trophy in nine long seasons and I pray our players are not infected by this air of complacency come May 17th.

In contrast to the Toon fans protesting about Pardew last Monday night, the “Arsène out” brigade were noticeable by their absence this weekend. Unlike Abou Diaby, who returned from the “missing list” for the first time in 14 long months. With his bad luck, I was waiting for the hapless Diaby to hurt himself merely warming up as a sub!

While Wenger’s critics might contend that our club’s cash cow will merely be papering over the cracks with the upturn in our end of season form, the consensus of more optimistic opinion on the other side of this coin seems to suggest that if we can manage the minor miracle of keeping the likes of Diaby fit for more than the odd game, along with other influential players such as Walcott, Wilshere, the Ox and Ramsey, we might only require a couple of shrewd signings and the increased influence of Mezut Özil, for us to be able to offer a more genuine title challenge.

My litmus test for our leader’s tenure has always been whether Tottenham fans would be glad to see the back of Wenger.

As this season’s finishing line hoves into view, I can’t help but think about quite how ecstatic our old enemy would be, to be enduring such woes at White Hart Lane.

CHELSEA: Fans now disappointed because we dared to dream

When the final whistle went last Wednesday, we couldn’t feel too bad as it was pretty evident we had been beaten by a much better team. No ghost goals, no dodgy Norwegian referees, no time added on goal against the run of play. Truth be told, we probably weren’t one of the top four sides left in the competition anyway and owed that overachievement to Mourinho.

You can’t begrudge Atletico their final place but you can’t help but smile at the irony of seeing Courtois with their badge on his chest instead of ours. I wonder what the outcome would have been had we had him to come on following Cech’s injury.

Yesterday just topped off a depressing week. A game which demonstrated that although the league was not gone mathematically, it was gone mentally in the minds of the players.

Many fan are disappointed with how the season has finished but I think this is unfair. It has gone beyond my expectations. I think we over-achieved and that’s why fans are disappointed because we got to the point of believing we could have won something.

That said, there are some issues that need to be urgently addressed. The most glaring is this inability to break down sides that put every player behind the ball. Two or three decent in-form strikers should solve part of this problem but the midfield will also need to get the ball to those up front.

In the traditional lap of appreciation after the game, we were all trying to garner clues as to who would be leaving the club in the summer. The elder statesmen of the club all seemed to be seeking Ashley Cole out to have their pictures taken with him on the pitch. Given the limited playing time he has seen and the fact Mourinho has been playing a right back in his position for the majority of the season, Cole will be moving on.

Who would have thought when he first came to us as part of the controversial Gallas deal that he would become such a key member of the squad? His quality has shone through season after season and although he had an illustrious career in North London, we have had the best of him. He has been immense and could have another season at the highest level as he could rely on his footballing brain when his physical attributes diminish. I’ll be very disappointed to see him in someone else’s colours.

The consensus is that JT and Frank have done enough to earn another year. JT especially has been a defensive rock and no team has conceded fewer goals at home. Lampard’s contribution is harder to demonstrate his worth but he has done a job when control and discipline has been needed.

The squad is certainly better with them in it. They need to not only pass on their football skills but also some of their ethics. Some of our newer players need to learn to play for the shirt.

The end of the season has probably come just in time for Mourinho too. The bruising time in Spain seems to have affected the way he deals with the press generally and with the footballing authorities. We have seen glimpses of the mischievous scoundrel who orchestrates everything around him. But equally we have seen him genuinely hurt, frustrated and angry by those same parties. Key purchases will hopefully balance the squad and allow him to play exactly the kind of football he wants. That will in turn return him to the bullish manipulator we know and love.

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