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Thursday 18 September 2014

Vincent Hogan: Stevie G's Reds will go again while United window-shop

Liverpool dealing in reality now but United are waiting for King Louis to wave magic wand

Published 16/08/2014 | 00:00

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Steven Gerrard scores against Manchester City before issuing his famous rallying call
Steven Gerrard scores against Manchester City before issuing his famous rallying call
Shane Long with his new boss Ronald Koeman
Shane Long with his new boss Ronald Koeman

I have a friend who, with every ounce of obsession in him, would quite like to see Steven Gerrard crushed by a comet. He's not a man energised by what we consider normal Premier League prejudices. If Liverpool or Manchester United were on the TV, he'd as likely go channel-hopping for some low-watt GAA game unspooling in semi-darkness against a stark, breeze-block backdrop.

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His drug is Dublin football, a topic upon which he can be epically one-eyed and combustible. On just about everything else, he finds the generosity to listen. Except when it comes to Stevie G.

So, some time ago, we declared an armistice in that regard. You see, his antipathy towards Gerrard runs in parallel lines to my admiration. In other words, he is hopelessly wrong, I am right and, in the interests of civility, it's best not to keep re-iterating that reality.

Where he regarded Gerrard's "we go again!" on-pitch call to arms last April as little more than a Sky-motivated conceit, I considered it an illustration of real leadership in a climate of mounting giddiness.

That Gerrard's subsequent slip against Chelsea was, effectively, the moment Liverpool's title bid curdled thus brought the season to a perfect end for this, em, friend of mine. He saw it as some kind of perverse karma, the gods humiliating a fake.

I still regard it as wretched injustice.

My own affection for Liverpool dates back to a Tipperary childhood in which the hurling 'famine', formally declared over by Richie Stakelum in '87, had the county in a stranglehold. Tipp's woes happened to coincide with the most glorious period in Liverpool's history.

Oddly, the point of intersection was the summer of '71. Within months of Liverpool losing the FA Cup final, Tipp had been crowned All-Ireland champions for the 22nd time. That victory had them topping the roll of honour from Cork (21) and Kilkenny (17). Hurling's glamour boys.

Then a black hole opened up and swallowed them whole.

By the time Stakelum was making that famous speech in Killarney, Tipp had gone 16 years without adding even another Munster title. Liverpool? They just stockpiled and, for a young son of Tipp, the glory was irresistible. This would be the Liverpool of men like Emlyn Hughes, Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Ronnie Whelan.

Success was habitual to Liverpool then but, of course, it dried up and they have never been champions in the Premier League era.

For all the heroics of Istanbul in '05, that is the statistic that now defines Gerrard's career most stridently in the eyes of his critics. When that golden opportunity arose last spring, Gerrard's Liverpool came up short.

And now? Like cartoonists with eraser pens, the pundits have been busy dismissing Liverpool's title credentials since Luis Suarez left for Barcelona. The popular pundit assumption seems to be that Louis van Gaal will re-position Manchester United back in the championship race, with Liverpool drifting to the margins again.

Louis smiles regally in response, his bulldog face thick and gnarled as a bricklayer's palm. In terms of hype, he is already a champion.

But United were seventh last season and, already, there are rumblings from Old Trafford of the new manager being frustrated by their lack of success in the transfer market.

Key in Skybet's transfer specials right now and United are odds-on to sign Arturo Vidal (1/10), James McCarthy (1/3), Bastian Schweinsteiger (8/11), Juan Cuadrado (1/2), Angel di Maria (4/5) and Daley Blind (1/5). But this has been the tenor of their summer. Business imminent.

You have to suspect the English media's reflex genuflection at the court of King Louis has obscured the new reality of United's existence, a reality bereft of Champions League football.

It has also neglected one of the more uplifting awakenings of last season. For all of Suarez's goals with Liverpool, their stunning acceleration into title contention was franked above all by the merits of Brendan Rodgers' ability to coach young players to be better.

By season's end, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho were all unrecognisable from what they looked nine months earlier.

And Liverpool have since done rather a lot of business in the market, bringing in exciting young talents like Emre Can and Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo who could, literally, become anything in the game, while also recruiting three of Southampton's best players from last season.

The Suarez money means they can even invest further if they choose albeit, on the evidence of last weekend's demolition of Borussia Dortmund, Rodgers may not have to.

Liverpool have the air then of a club building something real and long-term. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City will, undeniably, be big challengers again too. But United? They window-shop while awaiting some odd brand of magic from King Louis.

Unless that comet finds him, Stevie G will go again.

Long's saints switch captures mad side of premier League

What a strange place it must be inside Shane Long's head just now.

Just as Hull begins to feel like some strange equivalence of home, cold commerce compels your employers to sell you. So the Tipperary man moves to the south coast and a new future with one of the Premier League's basket-case clubs, Southampton.

"I can't wait," Long smiled at Thursday's unveiling, mindful his debut would be against Liverpool at Anfield around the time Tipp people descend in great multiples upon Croke Park tomorrow for a game in which, had his career followed a different path, he might well have been a participant.

Professional football is making him wealthy and he regularly looks to the manner born in that odd bubble-world of the Premier League.

But you have to sense a part of him recognises the artificiality of that world too. And wonders.

Irish Independent

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