(by Miles Shackley)
August 17th, 2013
The new season has begun. Liverpool Football Club are looking to build on a promising end to the previous season by coming out of the stalls at full pelt. But the off-season has seen the team facing up to the fact that their star player, the Uruguayan Luis Suarez, has made clear his intentions to leave.
In this, our first episode of Being: Liverpool 2013/14, we speak exclusively and in full to Manager Brendan Rodgers, who is unequivocal in his assessment of both the off-season and Liverpool’s triumphant opening to the campaign.
Y’know, we’ve always said here that no individual player is ever bigger than the club. OK? That goes for Luis, it goes for Stevie, it goes for Phillipe. What we’re trying to do here is get the club back on track and to do that, you have to keep your best players.
Luis owes us. He owes us a bit of loyalty. We stood by him when he didn’t dive, we stood by him when he wasn’t a racist, and we stood by him when the Chelsea lad made a meal – no pun intended – of running arm-first into his teeth. We’ve always said “Luis is our problem, we’ll deal with him our way, whilst giving him the love and support of an errant child”. Although there were one or two challenges in that match against Chelsea that I wasn’t happy with, so if you look at it that way, perhaps we’re the victims in that sense.
But that’s what we’re trying to do, in a way. Ultimately, no player is bigger than the club as I’ve said, and certainly if someone like Jay Spearing had done that, or Stewart Downing had done that, or Jonjo Shelvey had done that, we’d have reacted in exactly the same way, regardless of their financial value to the club. We’d have put our collective arm around those young lads – and I’d have been first in the queue, believe you me – and said “we’re in this together and there’s no way I’m going to ship you out over this”.
Y’know – I haven’t always been manager of Liverpool. I’ve managed other sides, and when you’re a young manager doing exceptionally well when compared to your peers, you’re going to attract attention. So I know what these lads are going through. But I’ve always said “you have to have integrity”. Y’know, ultimately, the first person you have to face in the mirror every morning is yourself, and if you can’t do that – say for example you promise commitment to one club and then two weeks later you’re managing another – then you’re the one who has to handle it, at the end of the day.
I’ve said from day one, Luis Suarez is not for sale and I stand by that, which is why I keep saying “not for less than what we sold Torres for”. That’s basically a dare. You get your Arsenals, your errm… you get your Arsenals coming in with their stupid bids. Insulting bids. And that’s an insult to this institution. Y’know, it’s one thing to bow down to the whims of a man who’s convicted of racist comment, biting opponents, a self-confessed diver and the like, whilst insisting that he’s not bigger than the club. But for Arsenal to come in and think they can trigger a release clause by offering £1 over the ‘discussion clause’? That’s an insult to this club. I think Arsenal need to have a long, hard look at themselves.
I understand why other clubs might be interested – Luis is one of the best players in the galaxy, hence all the interest – and I certainly understand why Arsene might be interested given his record with young talent, but that’s an insult. And we’ve gone back to them and we’ve said, ‘he’s not for sale, not for any price. Under £50m’, and that’s when you find out who’s serious about your boys and who’s just offering them kola cubes from the driver’s seat of a clapped-out Volvo.
So I’ve asked for three things. I’ve asked for a bit of common sense in the transfer market from our peers, I’ve asked for more access to the young lads in the youth team as an aside, and I’ve asked for Luis to say ‘sorry’ to the rest of us. And it’s the third one that’s most important. Even if he doesn’t mean it – and that’s critical. These fans who turned up here today against Villa – they’re not stupid. They were there at Stevie [Gerrard]’s testimonial, and they sang Luis’ name, because they know he’s one of us. They know he’s a part of the fabric of this club. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being: The Manager at Liverpool Football Club, it’s that the lads who turn up week in, week out to Anfield, with their funny accents and their fashion sense – they know the score. They know it better than I do. They live and breathe this club, they have done for their whole lives, and if they’re singing and chanting Luis’ name then you think to yourself “hey – maybe, just maybe, this kid is bigger than the club”.
Of course, there are dissenters. We saw that at Celtic a few days ago, when some of the ‘powers that be’ had to mix with some of the less savoury elements of the fanbase in economy class and got both barrels after Luis said he wanted to leave. You expect that. Liverpool is a massive club with a massive fanbase, and you can’t keep them all happy unless you’re winning every game, which is what we’re close to doing.
And in a way, we have been winning, to be fair, during the pre-season, and I put that dissent down to the fact that Liverpool fans – being the most knowledgeable fans in the game – knew we were going to lose at Celtic, our first and only pre-season defeat, and were ‘pre-actively’ voicing their upset about it and taking it out on Luis who was what I call ‘The Escape Goat’.
I guarantee that if we’d won at Celtic, they’d have known it was going to happen and would have been talking more glowingly about Luis. Fans are fickle by their very nature, and sometimes you have to put up with that – even I’ve had to put up with that, and I’m manager of the seventh best team in the country, which tells you something.
But moving away from Luis for a moment, we were pleased with today. I thought there was a lot of passion, a lot of movement, and the lads did exactly what was expected of them. I mean, you talk to people in the game about Stoke and you know what a good side they are – Stevie was saying himself halfway through last season how they were pushing Everton, who somehow finished above us again despite not being as good as us. So for a true professional like Stevie, who I’ve just rewarded with a new contract in a fantastic piece of business for the club, to say that, you know how hard it’s going to be when you face them.
But to be fair, we’ve gone out there and we’ve picked up a comfortable 1-0 victory against a side with a new manager – and you always worry about the ‘new manager effect’, and Mark Hughes’ recent record speaks for itself, to give him credit. We’ve perhaps ridden our luck at times – Stoke were possibly unlucky to miss that penalty, and to hit the bar, and to have one cleared off the line in the first half, despite not really threatening at all, which was testament to how well we played. And you have to ask yourself three things, ok?
First thing [points with thumb] who just brilliantly bought the keeper that saved the penalty? Second thing, whose idea was it to keep the same framework for the goals albeit to the scales dictated by the Football Association. Third thing, who picked the defender that cleared the effort off the line? OK? You see where I’m going with this?
And that’s my point. I see myself as the conductor, here. I’m like the man in the suit with the baton, I rehearse behind the scenes with my musicians, or players, during the week – and the media don’t see that, so they don’t see the incredible amount of work and effort that goes into getting Stevie to hold the brass section together. They don’t see how I get Daniel Agger to control the percussion, or how I instruct Paulo how to be a virtuoso violinist. They don’t see that. But the proof of the symphony is in the hearing, and I’m like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, in some ways, although the ‘dark’ bit implies I don’t know what I’m doing.
And if that’s the case, answer me this. If I don’t know what I’m doing, how is it that we were the first side to score this season, the first side to win this season, the first side to save a penalty this season, the first Liverpool side in two years to be ahead of Everton at this stage of the season, the first Liverpool side to top the league in I-don’t-know-how-long, the first side to play in red this season…y’know, I could go on. But I won’t. Because ultimately, I’m just the conductor of the orchestral manoeuvres. And what that means is that, sure, I take the credit when we win, but if we lose – well, how many conductors can lead the Dresden Staatskapelle without their star trumpeter for the first six symphonies of the concerto? And that’s what we’re trying to build here.