by : Stephen Orford
After his Tottenham tomfoolery, Jens Lehmann's time at Arsenal could be up. Arsene Wenger does not have the air of a man who will tolerate random acts of madness from his custodian, particularly after having been so fortunate to have the ever dependable Seaman as the last line of defence for so long. Not known for giving youth a chance, Wenger may again turn to Europe to find a replacement rather than relying on either Stuart Taylor or Graham Stack. Both have done reasonably well when called upon, but still lack the experience that Wenger likes in a goalkeeper. That they have little experience is of course down to the long term presence of Seaman and also to Wenger's reluctance to throw them in. However, since the rest of the team appears not to need much adjustment, it could just be that a large portion of Arsenal's summer transfer budget will be spent on a new shot-stopper.
Just what this team could achieve if they had a goalkeeper is quite frightening.
28/04/2004With only three games to go all the talk among fans of Liverpool Football Club concerns whether or not their team will secure fourth place in the league, and the much sought after Champions' League qualification that goes with it. They may just pull it off, and much will depend on their final day showdown with their main rivals for the position, Newcastle United. Frankly though, who cares?
Somebody once said that you cannot show fourth place and a huge wad of cash to your grandchildren. They were spot on with that particular assessment. Liverpool's exits at the last 16 stage of both the FA and UEFA Cups have all but ruined their season in the eyes of those right-thinking observers. Yet again the Anfield trophy cabinet will be bare, a prospect that would have been unthinkable under previous regimes. And therein seems to lie the problem.
In my oh so humble opinion this is the worst Liverpool team since Bill Shankly strolled into Anfield in 1959 and revolutionised the club. Despite this fact staring every Liverpool fan directly in the face, many continue to get hugely excited at the prospect of playing among Europe's elite next season. Expectations at Anfield seem to have changed markedly since the tenure of Shankly, with fourth place now deemed to be something of an achievement. While this 'achievement' will indeed bring in much needed revenue for the club which could be vital to its future, it will also have deeply negative connotations should it happen.
Not least of these is the fact that it will almost certainly mean another year at least at the helm for the hapless, clueless Gerard Houllier. Comments about what a nice bloke Houllier is are becoming increasingly tiresome as he sets about destroying the traditions and aspirations of one of the most famous footballing names on planet Earth. It is an undeniable fact that Liverpool have gone backwards under Houllier's stewardship, and after more than five years in charge it is surely time to let somebody else have a go.
The argument about who should replace Houllier were he to go will run and run. There is a school of thought that suggests that whoever comes in will need another three or four years to take Liverpool anywhere near a return to the summit of English and European football. The flaw in this argument of course is that it fails to take into account the fact that Liverpool will never return to such dizzy heights under Houllier. So, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Either wait another three years for the team to truly develop under a dynamic, forward thinking manager who understands that his job description is to win the title and challenge for the Champions' League, or wait forever for a miracle under Houllier.
If another year of Houllier doesn't have Liverpool fans hiding behind their couches, how about the prospect of utter humiliation that could ensue were they to participate in next year's Champions' League? The team, with its El Hadji Diouffs and its Salif Diaos, are not in the same class as the European powers in modern football such as Real Madrid, AC Milan and company. Even those leading lights couldn't make it into the semi finals of this year's competition, so what chance a club led by a man who thinks that Emile Heskey is a better player than either Robbie Fowler or Nicolas Anelka?
By qualifying for the Champions' League, Liverpool will merely be entering a competition that they have no realistic prospect of winning. The situation is reminiscent of that which Blackburn Rovers found themselves in earlier this season. They spent much of the 2002/03 campaign telling everbody how important UEFA Cup qualification was to the club, only to then view the competition as an unwelcome distraction once the whips started cracking. Fans of Liverpool can expect their team to endure an equally lame exit should they reached the so-called promised land of Champions' League football. Yet still they strive and strive to reach this perceived holy grail, as if somehow it is the answer to all of their recent ills. This kind of perverse logic is becoming more and more prevalent in football as finance takes an ever tighter grip on the game.
So whatever happened to glory? It is ironic that Liverpool might just pip Newcastle to the post for the dubious honour of Champions' League football because of the Geordies' pursuiit of that once cherished commodity. They lie on the brink of a UEFA Cup final place as they go into their second leg with Marseille with the aggregate score still at 0-0. Should they get there, and even lift the famous old trophy, they may just take their eye off the ball long enough for Liverpool to sneak into the premier European competition.
One day, the likes of Shearer, Speed, Given and Robert may be able to tell stories to their grandchildren about the night they won a glittering European prize. For the likes of Owen, Gerrard, Kewell and Hamann the stories they tell may only be of how they earned their club enough money to keep an under-achieving hierarchy in place.