Managing Expectations

Posted: January 13, 2011 in Assorted Match Reports, Liverpool FC

Blackpool   2       Liverpool   1             Bloomfield Road, 12th January 2011

I didn’t get many entries from readers of this blog’s Christmas Crossword. I’m a bit disappointed in you, dear readers, and the solution was so much simpler than you thought.  That solution is called Kenny Dalglish.

Woy’s wecord shows that his wigid tactics will impwove  stwuggling sides but they won’t win twophies, not outside Scandinavia anyway. It’s all about expectations – if you’ve got low ones, Woy will pwobably exceed them.

Of course now that Woy’s gone, the expectations of the faithful have reached messianic proportions. Tonight the flimsy temporary structure of the away supporters’ stand at Bloomfield road trembles to our frenzied chants of the temporary manager’s name before kick-off.  It reverberates to the rhythm of “The Fields of Anfield Road” as the match begins, and it soon shakes alarmingly as we do the Torres bounce when the Spanish striker smashes home the opening goal after just four minutes. It shakes so much that we notice the TV monitor screens of the press corps who share this stand with us all flickering and going out for a few seconds. But luckily for the press people, the stand only shakes until the 12th minute, when that pesky tangerine Scouser Gary Taylor-Fletcher equalises. The expectations in our ‘end’, or should I say side of the ground, are suddenly confounded; it is as if it does not compute that Kenny is manager now, but we’re still struggling. Our support from this moment on is, quite frankly, crap; the raucous home fans take over for the next hour and a half. Their “You only sing when you’re winning” is not their most original chant, but it has never been more apt.

I’ve never actually been to Bloomfield Road before tonight. In fact the only time I’ve ever even looked at this ground closely on the telly was when Claire showed me a video of her playing (and winning) in the national schools cup final here, about 13 years ago. It seemed like a bit of a building site at that time. Claire used to come to the match here with her granddad most weeks until she left home, but hasn’t been back to Bloomfield Road in a few years now. Yes, this away fans’ stand is alarmingly rickety. As it shakes, Claire tells me it was built to replace a similar one that partially collapsed under similar bouncing by Sheffield Wednesday fans last season. Not very reassuring.  But we both said that we were pretty impressed by the obvious improvements to the other three sides of this 16,750 capacity stadium, whilst a pocket of the Liverpool fans busily sang “shitty ground, shitty ground, shitty ground”.  It’s all about your relative expectations.

I suppose that owning a football club can be about expectations too. Blackpool fans didn’t expect Premier League football, so don’t seem to be up in arms that their patrician owners for the last 3 decades, the colourful (often a euphemism for distinctly dodgy) Oyston family, have so far apparently just pocketed most of the proceeds from promotion. The Oystons have rarely promised anything much, and would not be trusted if they did. They seem to manage expectations by not promising their manager any money to spend and somehow making sure he can’t ‘do a Rafa’ and complain about it. All kinds of gagging clauses in his contract, allegedly, the locals reckon. But then half of the locals seem to have a secret admiration for the Oystons’ self-made millions, and anyway they are the kind of supporters who don’t like to see good cash wasted on overpaying a pack of mercenaries.

Liverpool fans, by contrast, have only ever tolerated patrician owners like the Moores dynasty as long as they took nothing out of the club, and began to rebel, noisily and effectively, against the first American owners as soon as the first of their big promises were broken. The demonstrations that marked Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat by Blackpool last September marked the beginning of the end for that regime. The current American investors have tried hard to promise less, but it seems that Dalglish will have money to spend before the month is out, in addition to the long-rumoured arrival of Luis Suarez from Ajax.

It’s as if Dalglish’s surprising team selection tonight – the first time he’s picked a Liverpool team for almost 20 years – is designed primarily to show the owners how much he’ll need to spend. I mean, that last team-sheet he picked in early 1991 featured a couple of weak links (Barry Venison and David Burrows spring to mind), but surely even Kenny can’t work miracles with players like Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic? We’ve just  passed statues outside Bloomfield Road that have more athleticism than Poulsen and better awareness than Jovanovic. That’s what we were thinking before kick-off, and sure enough at times tonight our midfield verges on the incompetent, making Blackpool’s Charlie Adam and David Vaughan look world class.  If it’s an attempt to put those unwanted players in the January shop window, it fails spectacularly, surely removing the last few quid from any transfer fee those two frauds might have commanded.

Blackpool, the more incisive team in the second half, deservedly overtook us in the table again with DJ Campbell’s diving headed winner in the 69th minute tonight. But with Suarez on the way, expectations are that we’ll finish well above them. Just a couple of weeks ago, the hapless Hodgson was muttering about a relegation battle, but that will remain Blackpoool’s preoccupation for a while yet. My other expectations are that the gleeful home fans were spot-on when they sang “How shit must you be? We’ve beaten you twice”, but hopefully not when they sang to Dalglish that “you’re getting sacked in the morning”; that Steve Clark’s appointment two days ago as his new right-hand man will be Kenny’s shrewdest signing of this transfer window, but certainly not his only one; that Hodgson will soon get another job at a struggling club more suited to his abilities; that the likes of Poulsen and Jovanovic won’t play many more games for Liverpool; that if the Torres/Suarez partnership does come together as expected, it will be dynamite. I also expect a decent run in this Europa league, maybe even to be back in it next season (not that it really matters), and to finish a lot higher up the league in 2011-2012.

Seriously Kenny – no pressure.  You won’t have to manage my expectations.

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