Liverpool Can't Afford Any Mistake!

It is hard to imagine a more significant managerial appointment for Liverpool than the next one; not even the arrival of Bill Shankly in 1959. If Liverpool get this wrong, they are heading for footballing oblivion... it's bigger than finding Bill Shankly

We know of Shankly’s importance now. He took a Second Division club, one that had recently lost an FA Cup tie to Worcester City, and turned them into the best team in England. He changed the ethos of Liverpool, right down to its all-red strip. He paved the way for unimagined European glory.

Yet had Shankly not been a success, Liverpool had nothing to lose. The club had been outside the top division since finishing bottom in 1953-54; it had won a single trophy in 36 years (the 1946-47 League title).

This could not be more different. This time there is so much more at stake. The next Liverpool manager has to get it right or, in language his employers will understand, give away the farm. The elite status, the glorious diversion of Europe, Liverpool could
surrender it all.

The colours will remain, and the Kop, but in every other aspect, the club risks a return to the wilderness. With the huge changes being made to the financial structure of the European game, this is not the time to be on the outside.

The new regulations being introduced by Michel Platini, the UEFA president, were considered to be of great benefit to a club the size of Liverpool. If debt was no longer allowed, meaning spending would be tagged to legitimate turnover then Liverpool, as Champion League regulars, would always have more money than the majority of rivals.

Except, this season, that bubble burst: mistakes by departing manager Rafael Benitez painfully compounded the inadequacy of owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and Liverpool slumped to seventh place.

With Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in the ascendancy, and the future of key players increasingly uncertain, the new Liverpool manager faces an enormous challenge to restore the club to the top four in his first season; and the longer Liverpool are excluded from the Champions League the greater chance there is of being regulated into a life of mediocrity.

Without Champions League football all revenue streams suffer: prize money, sponsorship, television revenues, gate receipts. Less money coming in means less investment in the team. Before, it did not matter, because Liverpool’s name sustained the possibility of increased funding once the dead weights of Hicks and Gillett were out of the way. Soon, though, the wealth of an owner will cease to matter.

In the next two seasons, Manchester City will spend heavily to ensure success before UEFA’s controls are in place. In the scramble to be on the right side when the bridge goes up, Liverpool are losing ground. Hence the magnitude of this appointment.

Liverpool do not have time to recover from further failure. The new man must work quickly or risk conceding Liverpool’s position of prominence in the modern game. It can happen.

Borussia Moenchengladbach were Liverpool’s opponents in their first European Cup final, in 1977, and remain the sixth largest club in Germany; but they last won a trophy 15 years ago and in 1999 were relegated to the second tier of the Bundesliga, and have since existed as a yo-yo club, down one season up the next.

Liverpool put four past Benfica in the Europa League this season, and the Portuguese looked barely adequate, yet this was a relatively grand campaign for them. European Cup finalists four times in five years from 1961 to 1965, they are now celebrating only their third domestic league title since 1991.

Ajax, once so dominant, have not won the Eredivisie in six years. Nottingham Forest, twice European champions, fell as far as the third tier in England.

It is not unthinkable that Liverpool could become detached, not on Forest’s level, but certainly from the familiar European elite, if this decline is not arrested.

The short-term concerns are obvious considering that the three players regarded as most important to Liverpool’s continued success, are also being touted for departure this summer.

Steven Gerrard is linked to Real Madrid, Fernando Torres remains vague about his
future after the World Cup, while Javier Mascherano may be wanted by Rafael Benitez if he goes to Inter Milan.

None of this is surprising. Mascherano made noises about signing a new contract but never got round to it, while Torres and Gerard would have had just as many issues had Benitez remained.

The days when keeping Benitez was considered essential to keeping Torres happy are long gone; and nothing distances a manager from his best players faster than seventh place. Benitez’s famous coldness only worked while he brought results; without them only the unsmiling visage remained.

Even if the trio stayed it is estimated that Liverpool need roughly five top quality players to mount a revival; without them, they as good as need a new team.

Benitez might have won the European Cup in 2005, but he couldn’t win the trophy that
mattered most to the fans, the Premier League. Here is how his record compared to the greats...

Paisley - 20 (6 League titles, 3 League Cups, 3 European Cups, European Super Cup, UEFA Cup, 6 Charity Shields)
Shankly - 9 (3 League titles, 2 FA Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 3 Charity Shields)
Dalglish - 9 (3 League titles, 2 FA Cups, 4 Charity Shields (2 shared)
Houllier - 6 (2 League Cups, FA Cup, UEFA Cup, European Super Cup, Charity Shield)
Benitez - 3 (European Cup, FA Cup, European Super Cup)
Fagan - 3 (League titles, European Cup, League Cup)
Souness - 1 (FA Cup)
Evans - 1 (League Cup)

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