Tuesday 24 October 2017

Comolli Reds' only hope of bridging gulf

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

WITH the bombardment of US shows on television screens, it's no surprise that American phraseology has started to seep into the vocabulary in this part of the world. But, when it comes to taking up their ideas on sport, everyone seems to be literally, like, oh my God, soooo reluctant.

It's easy to mock a country's traditions when their leading sports either stop the game so that TV companies can show adverts (American Football), have four quarters of 12 minutes yet last over two hours (basketball), or sing a song just as the game is reaching a climax ('Take Me Out to the Ballgame' is traditionally sung about three-quarters into a baseball game).

Yet unlike most European football leagues, there is genuine competition in America every year, with smaller teams given first choice on the best young talent rather than it being pillaged by the big boys. Off the field, few teams are spending themselves towards bankruptcy.

Not that any of these ideas have any place in the Premier League, judging by the reaction in certain quarters to the appointment of Damien Comolli at Liverpool. As is its insular wont, those associated with the greatest league in the world reverted to type by questioning how much those pesky foreign owners understand about the game's traditions while citing fears about undermining manager Roy Hodgson.

Comolli's time as director of football with Tottenham was seen as undermining Martin Jol, yet the players that arrived at the club during his time remain the bedrock on which Tottenham's current success has been built.

"If it works in the US, if it works in other parts of Europe, I see no reason why it can't work here," said owner John W Henry in an interview at the weekend in which he also mentioned "football" -- as opposed to soccer -- three times in the space of 15 seconds.

Something else that worked in America was the book 'Moneyball', which changed the sporting landscape when it went behind the scenes of the Oakland A's baseball team and discovered their system of maximising the talents of players who had been discarded by other clubs as well as picking up those whose early career was solid rather than spectacular.

The A's managed to compete with the wealthier teams yet, with apologies for ruining the ending, never won a World Series.

With Liverpool, the concept of punching above their weight won't be enough for most supporters whose heads are still stuck somewhere in a time when the Reds were a force, competing for the best players and for winning leagues, as opposed to a club that hasn't enjoyed title success since around the time the back-pass was abolished.

Comolli's role, it seems, will be to identify the sort of young talent which hasn't emerged from Anfield since Steven Gerrard, yet his arrival should have little bearing on Liverpool's ability to attract the big-name players because, like almost every other club in the world, they can't.

Only Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and, if Roman Abramovich loosens the purse-strings, Chelsea can fight together in a bidding war should a world star become available. The rest, as Manchester United did with Bebe and Javier Hernandez, must try to notice a player's talent before anyone else does.

Nobody

Fernando Torres wasn't exactly a nobody when he arrived at Anfield, yet had some of the big hitters decided that they wanted to prise him from Atletico Madrid after over 200 games, Liverpool might have had to go a lot higher than £20m to get their man.

After that, there seemed to be no discernible policy to Liverpool's transfer dealings, with a raft of full-backs arriving in the Rafael Benitez era, which was followed by Roy Hodgson's combination of never-were's and never-likely-to-be's. Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic cost nothing, although Bosman signings tend to be Bosmans for a reason. Another £20m was spent on Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky, none of whom will command much of a fee if Liverpool want to get rid of them before the end of their contracts.

It will take years before Henry's policy may bear fruit but at least it brings some sort of coherence to a club that was only going one way before his arrival. If they can manage to implement the idea before anybody else does, somebody might even write a book about it.

Irish Independent

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