Liverpool must take time to regain lost artistry
As a kid, I was encouraged to follow an artistic path. I was particularly good at drawing and my parents built up a collection of beautiful books for me to use as study guides. All the big names were there by the time I left home; there were coffee table books on Matisse, Picasso and Warhol and collectable works on the impressionists and Velazquez and Dali. I remember a book on Turner that was so beautiful that I had difficulty in bringing myself to open it.
Most people have a favourite artist or, at least, a favourite work and, while I don’t know a lot about art, I do know what I like. At one stage, I became very taken with the nightmarish paintings by Francis Bacon. He and I, apparently, shared a fascination of the tortured mouth.
But there was one book that I returned to again and again. It wasn’t the biggest book or the best looking and some of the works aren’t even the best quality, being as they were painted straight on to the walls inside the artist’s house before eventually being transferred to canvas (badly). But it certainly made the biggest impression on me.
That modest-looking book contained the images and descriptions of 14 works by Francesco Goya, now known as “The Black Paintings”. I return to one particular work time and again because, as a young man, I had convinced myself that the work was the ultimate depiction of old versus young. At the time, I had a lot of big ideas that nobody wanted to listen to and the picture became symbolic of my struggle to be heard by an ageing generation stuck in the past.
“Saturn Devouring His Son” is a horrific image and the meaning behind the painting does nothing to cheer it up.
It had been prophesied to Saturn that one of his sons would eventually dethrone him and so Saturn, desperate to cling to power, devours each of them as they are born. Saturn’s wife, Ops, hides the sixth son on the isle of Crete but Jupiter eventually returns to fulfil the prophecy. I return to many of my art books to help inspire me in almost anything that I do and, as I was looking at Saturn devouring his son, a thought came into my head.
I have been thinking a lot about Liverpool in the last couple of weeks. I confess that I have always had a soft spot for the club; the first football kit and scarf that I ever wore was head-to-toe Liverpool and I’ve followed them ever since.
The club has put up with a lot in the last few years, most notably the disastrous ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr as well as mismanagement and questionable signings. It can no longer guarantee Champions League football despite spending tens of millions of pounds assembling a team that, until managerial stability comes, will always appear fragmented.
A good friend of mine who also happens to be a good friend of Kenny Dalglish told me a few months ago that the Scot was naturally still unhappy with how his second term in charge of Liverpool had gone but, what I thought was particularly interesting, was that he was at pains to point out that the signing of Andy Carroll was nothing to do with him.
It is clear where Liverpool’s immediate problems are as far as their league form is concerned: they simply aren’t scoring enough goals. In fact, they have posted the worst shooting accuracy of any team in the Premier League, hitting the target with just 27 per cent of their attempts.
The five goals against Young Boys in the Europa League on Wednesday evening were extremely welcome for Brendan Rodgers’ side. But returning Liverpool to their heyday was never going to happen overnight. Rodgers isn’t just tweaking a couple of positions in the starting XI, he is setting out a brand new blueprint which, in my opinion, only stands to succeed if he is given at least three years to get it up and running.
And that could still include Carroll, a player whom I remain convinced could yet become a success for Liverpool. I certainly subscribe to Rodgers’ football template; what I don’t necessarily subscribe to is the idea that everyone north of the halfway line has to be below 6ft to ensure that it works. It is difficult to see how Carroll could not score goals in the future for a team that has so many talented attacking players, despite the tactics and strategies employed by Rodgers.
It was a big step by Liverpool’s owners to allow a £35 million striker to go out on loan, especially given the club’s shortage of front men and the fact that, only a few weeks before the window had shut, their manager was quoted as saying: “I would need to be a nutcase to even consider, at this moment, to let Carroll go out (on loan)”. Nobody at Liverpool, it seems, wants to stick their neck on the block and officially put an end to the No.9′s stay on Merseyside.
And yet Carroll, despite what some commentators may scribble, has enough attributes to his game to succeed and his departure to West Ham will not have given any reassurance to the players at Anfield that things are in shape behind the scenes. There are few things worse at a club than seeing some of your most effective players sent on loan, especially when numbers are thin on the ground.
Sometimes the club has an embarrassment of riches in one position or the player is simply frozen out for personal reasons. In the case of Carroll, he is seemingly a victim of tactics, but that doesn’t mean to say he can’t adapt his game to some degree.
It would be good to see him return to the North-West and fulfil his potential, not least because players in this situation have a nasty habit of scoring against clubs that have dispensed with their services, which would be a concern for Liverpool given that Carroll is still only 23. But if he is sold, as seems likely, it may not be the financial disaster that sports journalists are waiting to pen.
I am not sure of the deal that Liverpool struck with Newcastle to secure Carroll’s services but if the loss is ever crystalised, I’d be surprised if the final figure is £35 million. Some of my transfer fees have never been paid in full to this day, many years after I first joined the club.
Generally, a deal will involve half of the transfer fee up front, with the rest in instalments. But very often, the player is sold before the term of repayment is complete. The transfer fee agreed is then used to strike a deal (it will never be for the outstanding amount), well before the player is eventually transferred. Whatever Liverpool’s loss might be on Carroll, it certainly won’t be anywhere near the figure on the back of the newspapers.
Personally, I would love to see Rodgers succeed at Liverpool from the point of view of both football and a little bit of childhood nostalgia. Where my football education is concerned, it doesn’t seem right that a club that were so successful when I was growing up are now so far away from winning the league title again. Then again, nobody has a divine right to anything in football.
Nobody has the definitive answer as to the meaning behind Saturn devouring his son; some say the Black Paintings were Goya’s reflection of the cultural landscape of Spain as it struggled to recover from the Napoleonic Wars and the Trienio Liberal movement and subsequent revolution of 1820.
But now that I am a senior player, looking over my shoulder at some of the new kids who are beginning to break through, perhaps that’s why this masterpiece has only now clicked in my head despite my years of admiring it. The painting has little, if anything, to do with the fact that only the sixth of Goya’s children survived into adulthood and it is not, as I thought as a naïve young man trying to make my way in the world, a straight fight between the aged and the youth.
Saturn is the God of time and it is time that is the devourer of all things, good and bad. And it can be found in abundance at Liverpool. It is the three years that Rodgers will need if he is to position Liverpool as a major force in European football once more; it is the ten months of the season that will allow new additions, like Joe Allen, to impose his passing game on the club and knit together with the rest of the squad.
It might be the extra time that Fabio Borini is spending on his finishing in training in a bid to rediscover his scoring touch and it could even be the season-long loan that allows Carroll to repair his confidence. It is time that will offer Liverpool, more than any other Premier League club, the best chance of a successful future.
And, of course, it is the time that it has taken for the Liverpool faithful and the families of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy to get to the truth; it is the justice that must prevail that will finally allow them to look to the future with hope and optimism rather than a sense of injustice. In that respect, Liverpool Football Club and its fans are owed 23 years in lieu.
Here’s the preview to this column that ran on Football365.com on Thursday …
“The Secret Footballer: A Make Or Break Game For Rodgers?”
Each week, The Secret Footballer will offer a sneak preview of his weekend column on F365. In the first of this series, he wonders what Sunday holds for Brendan Rodgers …
I had decided a few weeks ago to write about the direction that Liverpool are headed under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers for this weekend’s column. The obvious reason was that it coincided with Rodgers’ biggest test since taking over, the grudge match that is Liverpool v Manchester United. But football, as always happens, has a habit of serving up even more reverence to matches that need little help. At long last the truth is beginning to emerge about the Hillsborough tragedy and Sunday’s game happens to be Liverpool’s first at home since the news broke.
The truth is, however, that this weekend there will be far more qualified people than me who will no doubt talk and write about the events of that terrible day in 1989 from a position of first-hand experience. I am not worthy of offering anything other than my hope that the families and all the people involved continue to get the truth and justice that they have campaigned so hard for. I can’t even begin to imagine how the last 23 years have felt for each of them.
What I am qualified to talk about is the way that football is played and the tactics and strategies on the pitch that are affecting a team’s performance. It just so happens that Liverpool is the team that I earmarked to write about all those weeks ago.
The reason was down to a phonecall that I took from a friend of mine who plays his football in America and who speaks to the same journalists who cover the Boston Red Sox baseball team. And if you believe what those journalists are saying (and Liverpool fans most certainly have no reason to believe anything that any journalist ever writes again), then for Rodgers, the United game could well be a deal-breaker, with October a month that he should be particularly wary of.
It is arguable that with the emotion hanging over Liverpool Football Club at present, only a win for them would feel fit and proper (although I’m sure the United fans will have a view on that). Historically, though, football, as we all know, struggles to do fit and proper.
But I already know that, regardless of what happens on the pitch this weekend, Anfield will again remind us of the humility, pride and decency that football fans can serve up in moments of collective grief. I am expecting the Liverpool supporters to humble us all once more on Sunday.