September 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Extracting What We Need

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One of my favourite film quotes of all time is from White Men Can’t Jump when Gloria tells Billy; “Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.”

Never has Gloria’s wisdom been more true than when applied to today’s game. For 45 minutes – and for seven of those only with ten men – Liverpool reduced United to mere spectators. They weren’t second best, outplayed or off the pace. They weren’t even in the game. The only time I can recall United being so thoroughly taught a football lesson was in their Champions League semi final with Barcelona, and I hear they aren’t bad.

But, in the end, we lost, unless we think Gloria really does have a point which goes further than moral platitude.

The symbiotic relationship of rivalry sometimes bordering on hate between United and Liverpool is accentuated by histories that intertwine and mimic each-other. As Liverpool’s star fell, United were embarking on an empire of their own. An empire that has ruled the premiership and tormented Liverpool for two decades.

But all empires crumble, and with United’s financial foundations showing cracks, Fergie edging towards retirement and Man City and Chelsea buying their way to success, United’s long-term future looks more uncertain than at any other time during Ferguson’s reign. Despite taking the three points today, the way Liverpool’s young team bossed United for the majority of the match will have taken the shine off the win for a manager who knows all about building for the future.

One rash challenge from Jonjo Shelvey derailed the game from being a footballing lesson which might have signalled the birth of a new era at Anfield, into the familiar feeling of what might have been. It was the kind of tackle that gave the ref the chance to show a red card, and for giving him that opportunity Shelvey, who has been very good overall this season, was at fault. But as Gary Neville (a very good pundit and as such, something of a rarity) noted, Jonny Evans had both studs up as he went in and was perhaps even more at fault than Shelvey.

Up until that point Liverpool’s forward line of Suarez, Borini and Sterling looked energetic, mobile and tricky, with Gerrard having his best game of the season so far and Allen bossing United in the way we have so quickly come to expect from the young Welshman. Some of the Red’s build up play was sublime, with Liverpool insisting on playing the ball out of defence in the tightest situations. Glen Johnson was once again superb playing as a full-back-come-winger.

Refereeing decisions and individual mistakes have been a recurring theme of the season so far, and the dodgy pass-backs, penalties and sending offs have detracted from the footballing revolution taking place on the pitch for Liverpool. The Arsenal game aside, Liverpool’s football has been good this season, and Rodgers can feel unlucky to be on only two points and without a league win.

Or perhaps not if we listen to Gloria: “…Winning or losing is all one organic mechanism, from which one extracts what one needs.”

At some point, of course, Liverpool need points, which means winning games. But there is even more at stake for a club who haven’t won the title in over 20 years.

Faced with huge financial disadvantages and a United team at the opposite end of the spectrum in their development, Liverpool and Rodgers were faced with two options: either put everything into keeping the gap as small as possible, perhaps going for short-term fixes which might not pay-off long-term, or go back to square one, accept a season or two of rebuilding and transition when success will be judged on more than just results, and lay solid foundations on which to build a new empire capable of competing for years.

The nature of football means results must always be part of any assessment of a manager’s performance, but for Rodgers this year, how well the players adapt to his philosophy, and his ability to transition young potential into realised assets are almost as important. If the first 45 minutes against United was anything to go by, the new boss is doing well at everything bar the results.

Following on from Sterling’s (17) incredible introduction to the Premiership (I’m increasingly impressed by his defensive qualities, as well as his obvious attacking skills) and Andre Wisdom’s (18)  goalscoring debut against Young Boy’s where Shelvey (20) scored an excellent brace and Suso (18) made his first-team debut, the young Spaniard was again involved and didn’t look overwhelmed by the occasion.

When Ferguson threw the Nevilles, Scholes, Butt and Beckham into the first team they were coming into a side already competing at the top. For Liverpool’s youngsters the situation couldn’t be more different. Liverpool will end the day in the relegation places, but with games against Man City, Arsenal and United out of the way the fixture list is starting to look more kind, and having already taken on the best in the league without being embarrassed, Liverpool’s young team can now go into games against lesser opponents with confidence.

Perhaps most important, and testament to Rodgers’ man-management skills, is the team spirit which appears to be good despite disappointing results. Liverpool have endured a rotten spell of luck in which they have won only five league games in the calendar year.

But sometimes when you lose, you really win. In so thoroughly outplaying United with a team whose average age was only 24 and a half, and in a style on which the greatest club football side of all-time was weaned, Rodgers can tell his players they were the real winners today.

Returning to Manchester with all three points but also the knowledge that while it was a fair contest it wasn’t a contest at all, Alex Ferguson will know only too well the wisdom of Gloria’s words.

The day belongs to United, but the future is Brendan Rodgers’ and Liverpool’s.

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