Wednesday, 23 August 2017

What is the Correct Way to Leave a Club?

May 1981, Paris, and Ray Clemence sat in the dressing room at Parc des Princes and contemplated his third European Cup success.  Most players never even play in a European Cup Final, let alone three and here was Clem with his third winners medal.  This would go nicely with his two UEFA Cup medals, five league championships and an FA Cup win.  As he sat there watching his teammates celebrate victory over Real Madrid, Clemence had an uneasy feeling inside.  This was yet another success with Liverpool but for some reason it just didn’t feel the same.  He’d kept another clean sheet but it just wasn’t enough anymore.  He wanted a change.

When Ray Clemence told the club he wanted to move everyone was shocked.  He’d not given any inkling of being unsettled and perhaps he hadn’t quite realised it himself, but he felt he needed a new challenge.  So after almost thirteen years and six hundred and sixty-five appearances he moved to Tottenham.

The following May saw Clemence return to Anfield for the first time in his new colours.  Defending the Anfield Road end the crowd kept chanting “England’s number one”, but it was the reception he received when he came out for the second half which took his, and many watching, breath away.  As he ran towards The Kop the whole stadium was on their feet.   

Clemence still says this was the most emotional he’d ever been at a football ground.

But why should Clem receive such a warm reception from supporters he’d walked away from?  He’d given the club his finest years.  He made three hundred and thirty six consecutive appearances between September 1972 and March 1978.  The club was successful and had a worthwhile, if yet unproven, replacement waiting in the wings in Bruce Grobbelaar.  The general feeling was that he’d given us his best and he left with our blessing.  He also announced he was leaving during the summer, which didn’t affect any momentum we might have built up during a season.

The 1981-82 season was a pivotal one for the club as players such as Clemence, Jimmy Case, Ray Kennedy and Avi Cohen all left, with also David Johnson and Phil Thompson moving on during the season.  Liverpool usually only replaced one or two players at a time so to replace five was quite a risk.  They needn’t have worried as the club’s thirteenth League title was secured with that win over Tottenham.  The replacements Grobbelaar, Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and Ian Rush soon became legends in their own right, so the succession was seamless.

Maybe there lies the key to whether a player who leaves a club on his own volition, is given the blessing of the fans.

This article, if you hadn’t guess already, has been inspired by the latest goings on surrounding Philipe Coutinho.  It now appears the club has been successful in keeping him, as he is now blaming his ‘advisers’ for the reason he’s made himself unavailable so far this season.

Coutinho’s career was floundering at Inter Milan when he signed in the January 2013 transfer window for a bargain price of £8.5m.  During his three and a half seasons he has become an important member of the team with last season arguably his best.  Barcelona has come calling and for a Brazilian who was spotted by Inter as a sixteen year-old at Vasco da Gama, he may find the lure too irresistible.

The club didn’t want him to leave, the supporters didn’t either but if he had have gone why should it hurt so much?

He signed a new five year contract in January giving us every indication he was going to be an integral part of the brave new world Jurgen Klopp is attempting to build at Anfield.  In pre-season we got a glimpse of what we might be able to look forward to when he combined well with new signing Mo Salah on numerous occasions. The prospect of Coutinho unleashing the pace of Salah and Mane was beginning to water mouths.

Yet on the eve of the new season he puts in a transfer request.  The suggestion was that FSG did not want to be seen to be keen to sell him and so engineered the player into this position to save face.  It would suit the owners if the fans had turned against Phil, as they had begun to and so Coutinho could move into the box marked ‘snake’.

But how can a player avoid this? Is there a right way to leave a club?  Can you blame players for wanting to challenge themselves? Can you blame players for wanting to play in front of over 100,000 people at the Nou Camp?

This hurts us supporters each time.  I was gutted when Luis Suarez left.  I felt proud the club refused to sanction his efforts to leave the previous season, yet you can’t knock the player who did his utmost to try and get us the league title twelve months later.  Some fans still harbour a grudge, but for me Suarez is such a magnificent player he was always likely to want to move to somewhere like Spain.

Coutinho is no Suarez though.  You always knew what you’d get with Suarez. You knew he’d influence each and every game.  But Coutinho goes missing in matches.  In amongst some magic moments there has been some average performances.

But what right do we Liverpool fans have to expect players to stay at the club?  After all, they invariably have come from somewhere else.  Did we consider how PSV fans felt when Suarez left in January 2011?  What about Roma fans having just witnessed twenty nine goals in two seasons from Salah only to see him return to England?

Of course we can’t ignore Southampton who have endured a raft of players moving from the South Coast to Liverpool.  In fact as I write this the ongoing saga of whether Virgil van Dijk will leave St. Mary’s for Anfield continues to rumble on.  I’m sure Southampton fans would’ve loved to have seen more of Lallana, Lambert, Lovren, Clyne and Mane, but they’re Liverpool players now and we want them to do well for us.

It’s not easy being a football supporter but your club is bigger than any player and will exist long after those players have retired.  We’ve lost players before, some of whom I struggled to get over such as Keegan, Souness, McDermott, Beardsley, Alonso and Suarez.  There have been numerous I’ve said good riddance to, Owen and Sterling for example. 

There are also plenty the club has decided to move on and it’s this point where you can see the players’ side of things.  They could give their all for a club but if the club decides in a change of direction then they could be sold anyway.  Coutinho may well have signed a contract but the club could still decide to sell him whilst he’s under that contract. 

Van Dijk is under contract at Southampton and appears to have decided he’s leaving. This saga has been dragging on since virtually the end of last season with the player effectively downing tools. What us fans never really consider is that we’re happy to have a player who has cheated his previous club, preferring to ignore the fact he may very well cheat us.

Do we really think Salah will stay longer than a couple of years?  What about Firmino? He’s twenty six.  Will he still be here in three years time?  These are not Liverpool-born players, it’s not particularly clear whether they’ve been lifelong Liverpool fans so should we expect them to stay here no matter what?

It’s pretty clear these days that players hold most of the cards, although maybe that should be corrected to agents hold most of the cards.  What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Coutinho’s agent is none other than Kia Joorabchian, a name which still strikes fear into many football supporters hearts and who has been effecting transfers worldwide for years since the Tevez affair in 2008.

After all this there are only a few examples of clubs successfully holding onto players when they’re being courted by other clubs, with Suarez and Gareth Bale being recent examples.  Although in both cases it seems they were persuaded to give one more season before their moves were sanctioned twelve months later.

So perhaps we’re to endure this charade again next summer so let’s hope the story follows a similar path to Suarez and Coutinho gives us his very best for this season and we’re challenging for the league title again.  What does seem to be clear, though is that the club were not planning to re-invest any transfer fee (which may have been as much as £130m) back into the playing squad.  The squad needs improving and £130m would’ve gone a long way to helping with that.  But the club was quite happy to pass up the offer as if they don’t really need the money.  Although it could be argued the team would’ve been poorer for the absence of Coutinho and would £130m have replaced him without disruption?  Another question is that Barcelona were offering as much as they were because their coffers had been filled by the Neymar transfer.  Will they still have that much money next summer?  Will any team?  If Coutinho is unsettled again next summer will the club have to accept a lower offer than they would’ve been able to obtain this summer?  It’s a risky strategy in a game where players and agents are holding many of the best cards.

As supporters we’ll go on falling hopelessly in love with our heroes even if they do eventually leave for other admirers.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Why Must I Be a Teenager in Goal?

Nothing stirs the emotions of mothers up and down the country than seeing a young lad get thrown into the action against older men.  Before twenty-two year old Paul Gascoigne melted their hearts with his tears in Turin in 1990, and before seventeen year old Paul Allen was cruelly scythed down by Willie Young when through on goal in the 1980 FA Cup Final, there was an eighteen year old who had the task of keeping out the might of Tottenham in a Second Division match.

The date was Saturday 22nd October 1977 and Tottenham were taking on Bristol Rovers in the old Second Division.  Spurs had been relegated from Division One the previous season and looked determined to bounce straight back.  They’d already beaten Sheffield United 4-2 and Oldham 5-1 at home and had won all five matches.  Rovers were yet to win away and had picked up just one point from their five games.

Rovers had begun the season with their first choice keeper, Martin Thomas, but after nine matches he was injured.  So the trip to Turf Moor against Burnley saw manager Bobby Campbell throw in Glyn Jones for his debut.  Born in Newport, South Wales in March 1959, the eighteen year old also had to do without the experienced centre-back Stuart Taylor in front of him.  His replacement? Tony Pulis.  Burnley won 3-1 yet Jones did enough to convince his manager he should be in the team for the following week’s home game against Blackburn Rovers, where they won 4-1.  And so it was off to White Hart Lane to meet Tottenham.

Spurs had been getting attendances of around 28,000-30,000 but for this match just over 26,000 turned up.  When you consider there were fewer than 6,500 at Eastville for the Blackburn match it was easily the biggest crowd young Jones had ever played in front of.
In the Spurs side that day were long-serving skipper, Steve Perryman, future England managers, Glenn Hoddle and Peter Taylor and also a young twenty year old making his debut for the club.  Earlier in the week Tottenham manager, Keith Burkinshaw had paid Torquay United £60,000 for Colin Lee and with Chris Jones and Martin Robinson injured, Lee was given his first outing.

Jones had made a couple of good saves early on in the match as the home side dominated, but then on 21 minutes Hoddle’s right-wing cross was headed down by Ian Moores and Lee pounced to knock the ball past Jones for the opening goal


Four minutes later, Neil McNab picked the ball up on the right-wing just inside the Rovers half then cut inside firing a left foot shot from about thirty yards out and Jones tipped it brilliantly over the bar to receive warm applause from the home crowd.  The resulting corner on the left was swung in right-footed by John Pratt and Colin Lee got up and powered his header into the net.  What a start.

Lee 2

Rovers had a great chance to get back in the game when Bobby Gould put the ball wide when unmarked in the area, and then just before the break Hoddle crossed from deep down the right and Peter Taylor headed in at the near post for 3-0

Lee 2, Taylor

In the second half Spurs continued to pile on the pressure and Jones was called upon to make further saves from Moores and Taylor.  Then ten minutes into the second period and Taylor did well down the right and his ball into the area was missed by Lee at the near post, Pratt in the six-yard area and finally Moores arrived at the far post to turn the ball in.

Lee 2, Taylor, Moores

With fifteen minutes to go Peter Taylor took a corner on the right, left-footed and Pratt nodded it on at the near post for Lee to again get up above the defender and head the ball past Jones for his hat-trick. 

Lee 3, Taylor, Moores

Jones then pulled off another good save when Taylor was able to shoot from outside the area to the keepers left and Jones parried it away.  Within minutes, though, Spurs inevitably added to their tally.  Hoddle flicked the ball forward to Taylor on the edge of the area and he turned it on for Moores to run ahead of Bater.  He then clipped the ball past Jones as the keeper came out.  Jones really wasn’t helped by his defence as Tottenham turned on the style

Lee 3, Moores 2, Taylor

Soon after Moores also completed his hat-trick.  Nick Holmes played a long ball down the left where Lee was free and his ball into the box found Moores unmarked.  Moores stretched his leg out and let the ball hit his foot to wrong-foot Jones.

Lee 3, Moores 3, Taylor

Two minutes from time and Spurs surged forward again as Hoddle found Pratt just inside his own half on the left.  He booted the ball down the wing and ran onto it but his cross was wayward and curled away from the area where Taylor latched onto it from outside the ‘d’.  His shot hit Bater and bounced to Lee who stabbed it home for his fourth goal of an astonishing day.

Lee 4, Moores 3, Taylor

Then just before the final whistle Spurs had another corner on the right which Taylor took.  He curled it to the edge of the area where Rovers substitute, Paul Hendrie, inadvertently headed the ball to Moores on the left.  Moores looked up then floated a ball back to the far post where Hoddle, who looked a mile offside, slipped in and made it 9-0.

Lee 4, Moores 3
Taylor, Hoddle

Tottenham: Daines, Naylor, Holmes, Hoddle, McAllister, Perryman, Pratt, McNab, Moores, Lee, Taylor
Bristol Rovers: Jones, Bater, Taylor A, Day, Taylor S, Prince (Hendrie), Williams, Aitken, Gould, Staniforth, Evans  
Attendance: 26,311

For seventeen years this remained the highest number of goals scored by one team shown on Match of the Day.  Tottenham looked odds-on for the title and an immediate return to the First Division, but they lost three in four towards the end of the season and had to battle out a 0-0 draw at Southampton just to go up on goal difference.  Ironically their goal difference was nine goals better than Brighton and their performance on this day clearly made all the difference.
Bristol Rovers ended the season in 18th, one point above the relegation zone.  Unbelievably they were one of seven clubs to finish just one point above the relegation places.
Colin Lee managed to secure a regular starting place and ended up with 11 goals for the season.  Ian Moores struggled to find a place ahead of John Duncan or Gerry Armstrong and only scored once more.

As for Glyn Jones, he received plaudits for his performance as many observed he’d been let down by his defence.  Jones didn’t make the starting line-up again until the beginning of January when he played against Cardiff at home (3-2) and Fulham away (1-1).  He was back in the reserves a week later and guess where his next match was?  Yes that’s right, at White Hart Lane albeit in front of a much smaller crowd than he’d witnessed that day.
The following season he only made four appearances before moving to Shrewsbury Town the following year.  In 1981 he moved to Shrewsbury but still struggled to find a regular starting place.  By the following season he was out of league football when he moved to Gloucester City.  He had further spells at Yeovil, Bath City and Newport County before finishing his career at Newport County.

It seems a shame when he clearly had some talent but for some reason managers just didn’t want to trust him with a prolonged spell in the first team.
He then moved into coaching and in 1997 he was appointed Director of the youth academy at Newport County and continued there until May 2014.  In October 2014 he was appointed goalkeeper coach at Forest Green Rovers.

In these days of footballers living in a goldfish bowl then the following days would've been full of footage of the teenager who had to pick the ball out of the net nine times in one match.  They'd interview his mum, his mates, his former school teacher and probably the newsagent who sold him panini stickers.  But Jones, despite appearing on Match of the Day, escaped without a great deal of fuss and was able to go through a coaching career where perhaps only a few knew of his 'fame'.