Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Liverpool's Downfall

In a world that bombards us with constant media updates, blogs, streaming news, and a litany of memes, it’s hard to remember things that occurred a week ago, let alone a year. So it’s easy for forget the glory days of Liverpool, only about a decade ago, when they were the kings of English soccer.
It was in 2001 that Liverpool won the League Cup, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Cup, completing the elusive “Treble.” In 2004/05, Liverpool won the Champions League, and during that wonderful span of five years—maybe the only point in history—and even up until 2007, the city of Liverpool was perhaps more famous for its football club than the “Fab Five,” and instead of some Beatles hit, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was the only song locals cared about.
The Reds were known for their distinctively English style of play: rough, technical, and stingy. They tackled hard, were scrappy, and always left opponents with more than a few black and blue bruises to remember them by.
So what happened? Liverpool’s top four status was virtually assured until the team suddenly took a nose dive during the 2009/10 season. There are two theories to the club’s downfall.
The first theory is that poor ownership and financial mismanagement ruined the club. The American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks took over the club in 2007, and foreign ownership was the first sign that the club was already losing some of its signature English identity. To this day, many supporters blame American stewardship as the main reason for Liverpool’s demise.
But in 08/09, Liverpool actually had its highest point total in the Premier League (86), and just barely got edged out for the title by Manchester United (90). Much of the success was due to the stellar play of newcomer Fernando Torres, and suddenly, Liverpool looked like a team heading in the right direction.
But Liverpool’s tactics were slowly changing, and Torres exemplified the new fast-paced, aggressive, and progressive new look that strayed away from Liverpool’s traditional defensive, stingy, and tough English style of football. This new attacking mindset is the second theory of why the team has struggled.
Things quickly started to collapse The ownership changed, and Fenway Sports Group—a distinctly American Investment group, the same group that owns the Boston Red Sox—took over. Suddenly, the Reds were turning into the Red-White-and-Blues. To make matters even worse, Lebron James, who at the time was known as a cocky, arrogant, NBA loser, made a high-profile investment in the club.
Even before the Fenway group takeover, Liverpool looked like a team struggling to find its persona. Torres’ production slipped, he got injured, and Liverpool were dropping points and falling down the table.
In the 2009/10 season, the Reds ended up in 7th place (63 points), and after the 10/11 campaign they finished 6th but with 5 fewer points (58). Instead of shifting strategies, the new American owners continued to reinforce their offensive firepower, signing Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez.
This current season started out great, with Suarez seeming to score at will. Unfortunately, Suarez had a penchant for diving, and his “soft” style of playing seemed to infect the entire squad. Liverpool had come full circle. Once a tough English club that prided itself for being unbreakable, the club was suddenly flopping all over the field.
Then Suarez racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, and Liverpool’s reputation went from bad to worse. Not only did the club refuse to aggressively investigate the allegations, but they outwardly continued to support Suarez, even after the FA disciplinary committee issued a stern eight game ban.
The racism row turned into a media frenzy, and Liverpool’s front office blundered through the ordeal, refusing to publicly discipline Suarez, denied Evra’s claims, and even allowed fellow teammates to wear t-shirts supporting Suarez despite strong evidence that Suarez did use racist slogans. Somehow, Liverpool failed to comprehend the seriousness of the situation and continued to deny any wrongdoing. Instead of doing damage control, the team’s image took a major hit, and Suarez’s ban hurts their chances of making this year’s top four.
As it stands right now, Liverpool can no longer be considered a powerhouse team in the Premier League. In many ways, Manchester City’s ascension has reworked the top of the table and essentially kicked out Liverpool from being considered elite. The two Manchester sides, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal are now the “Big Clubs” of the Premier League, and it’s looking as if Liverpool’s current 7th spot might be their new long term spot within the league table not only for this season, but for years to come.

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