x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Liverpool are a spent force

With managerial changes and lack of spending power the Anfield club may never break back into the top four.

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Martin Skrtel after the 2-0 loss to Arsenal, they have only won one point in the first three games.
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Martin Skrtel after the 2-0 loss to Arsenal, they have only won one point in the first three games.

Liverpool were the top dogs of English football when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. They were still the best when I started playing professionally in the early 1990s; to play for Liverpool was to reach the very top. They won the most trophies and they paid the best wages. When my friend Michael Thomas - the man who won the league for Arsenal at Anfield in such dramatic circumstances in 1989 - was having contract negotiations at Arsenal, Liverpool offered to pay him £5,000 (Dh29,700) a week. That blew every other English club out of the water and he moved north.

Even when I played for a Manchester United side who won everything, the dressing room talk was of Liverpool and trying to surpass what they'd achieved. Liverpool had set the records that needed to be broken.

Liverpool stayed a top four side until 2009. Since, they have finished seventh, sixth and eighth. They did very well in Europe under Rafa Benitez and won the Champions League in 2005. They also had a great chance to win the Premier League in 2009 and beat eventual champions United 4-1 at Old Trafford, before Benitez suddenly made his side more defensive.

He was gone a year later, replaced by the current England manager Roy Hodgson who lasted months and was ridiculed. He was replaced by Kenny Dalglish after a clamour from fans desperate for success. The fans were wrong. They associated Dalglish with past triumphs, but football had changed and Dalglish was exposed tactically.

Liverpool didn't cover themselves with glory for the way they handled the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra race affair, and Dalglish was dismissed after just over a year, another change, another sign of the instability and turmoil at Anfield.

With continued changes off the pitch from the owners to all the key personnel behind the scenes, Liverpool lost all the stability they had been famed for. Managers need time; none of them got it.

The messages coming from the club in the last few years were mixed too - a classic sign that nobody is in charge and people are falling out behind the scenes. Such a situation would have been unimaginable at Anfield years ago.

Liverpool are currently 18th in the table without a win from their first three matches. They have scored just two goals and conceded seven, though they have played some very good football and the results have been less than fair.

They have a new manager, Brendan Rodgers, someone I like for what he did at Swansea, but will he get the time he needs? He appeared to have been messed around in the transfer window when Andy Carroll was allowed to leave and targets like Clint Dempsey were not brought in. That's worrying for Liverpool if it's a sign of things to come.

Liverpool should rise up the table, but they will do well to finish in the top six. Their rivals are now Everton, not the Manchester clubs.

Slipping out of the Champions League makes it very difficult for Liverpool to attract the top-class players they have been used to. The likes of Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso would not come to Liverpool now. Reina is still at the club, but the stars around him are fading.

Steven Gerard, the captain, remains a fantastic player, the best midfielder in the England national side by a distance. He's a far superior player to Frank Lampard. He's carried Liverpool for years and still has the talent to do so, but he's 32 and will fade soon. Jamie Carragher, one of the best centre halves in football and always honest when he speaks about Liverpool, is 34 and now more peripheral.

Luis Suarez aside, I don't see the quality there. With others clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City able to outspend Liverpool, they're slipping further and I'm not confident that they will be able to become Champions League regulars again. Manchester United and Arsenal attract average crowds of 76,000 and 60,000, giving them far bigger revenues than Liverpool, who, for all the talk of a move, are still in an Anfield with 44,000 seats. City and Chelsea have owners who can outspend Liverpool's new American bosses, so it's now almost impossible for Liverpool to break into that top four and play in a European competition they've won five times - more than any other British club.

Frequent managerial changes means frequent player changes and Liverpool have simply not spent well. Carroll, a good player, was not worth £35m, and the fee added to the pressure he was under. I know; I've been there.

The costly Jordan Henderson, Joe Cole and Charlie Adam didn't work out either. Liverpool fans may think differently, but I'm not optimistic about the future of their club.

Andrew Cole's column us written with the assistance of the European football correspondent Andy Mitten.


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