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Nightmare to replace dreams of fairytale?

YOU didn't have to be a world-class lip-reader to gain a shrewd idea of the content of Liverpool's new owner John W Henry's occasional asides in the Goodison Park directors' box.

While reviving the Boston Red Sox, he learned quickly enough that professional sport is unique in that you can have the most brilliant business plan ever conceived without a single guarantee of success.

The imperative is a degree of belief in the project by the people who make it work and in football or baseball this will always, most importantly, concern the coach and his players.

You could see on the face of Henry -- which at the most critical moments of a catastrophic performance by his new team began to resemble a little uncannily that of George Bush Snr in the middle of tricky negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev -- that the vote of confidence he gave embattled Roy Hodgson and his men could only have been more provisional if it had been whispered in the wind.

Bush Snr, after all, had only to defend the western world. John W Henry has to remake Liverpool Football Club in something like its old image.

It is a huge task that could scarcely have been more apparent if Hodgson, fingering his collar increasingly nervously as his players meandered ever further from the proposition that they have some divine right to extricate themselves from a relegation dogfight, had sued for surrender to Everton's David Moyes some time in the second half.

Hodgson is a good football man and it may be that he will be given the time to put some flesh on the bones of what used to be a proud football organisation.

Henry, though, must surely be reflecting that his cut-price purchase of Liverpool is in need of far more dramatic surgery -- and character as well as talent investment -- than suggested by an initial transfer market outlay of £25m.


Another discovery by Henry yesterday afternoon was that reading the club's accounts gave only a partial report on the scale of the crisis. What couldn't be spelled out was something that former Kop favourite Robbie Fowler, flying in from the Indian summer of his career in Australia, latched on to with hard, professional detachment.

No, he said, there was no possible reason to presume that Liverpool, as currently constituted, will inevitably be clear of their worst relegation fears by the time the first transfer window opens in January. Nor was Fowler prepared to go along with the fiction that Fernando Torres, until recently arguably the world's most deadly, and beautifully confident striker, is making anything more than a nominal reaction to the fact that he remains one of the best paid players on earth. Torres, said Fowler, had at least a duty to look "interested".

Though he was as ground down as any of his team-mates at the end, Steven Gerrard at least performed that basic duty.

His injections of bite and class were poignant examples of an old Liverpool team before, with distressing ease, he was deprived of possession as Everton regained a grip they had brilliantly exerted in the early going.

Moyes, on a fraction of the resources enjoyed by his former Liverpool rival Rafa Benitez, may have moved, at least in terms of points, only marginally from relegation fears of his own, but what couldn't be in dispute was the vastly superior ethos of the team he has made.

This showed in the wonderful relish with which young Donegal man Seamus Coleman attacked the especially porous left side of Liverpool's defence. The burst that laid on Tim Cahill's opener spoke of a confidence that was hauntingly absent in all that Liverpool did.

Where it leaves Liverpool is surely a matter for urgent debate by the new owners.

The euphoria that has greeted the ejection of the great carpetbaggers Hicks and Gillett is understandable enough but it will not mean so much if the slide of the team, the erosion of quality and morale which was so rampantly progressive last season, continues to be lumped exclusively at the feet of the men who thought they could borrow and skim their way to great personal profit at Anfield.

That assault on the Liverpool tradition has rightly been identified, scorned and dismissed. There are, however, other strands to the breakdown which was so grimly manifest yesterday. It concerns a basic breakdown in the leadership of the team, the recruitment of too many players of insufficient ability -- and yesterday, we had to believe, competitive character -- and a chronic failure to exploit one of the best-funded academies in English football.

Liverpool yesterday looked like a football team all played out and it was little wonder that John W Henry appeared at times rather as though he had bought not a sporting dream but a nightmare to be endured for some time to come.

Irish Independent