The Times They Are A-Changin’

“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Bob Dylan could be on to something there.

The heartache of FSG’s sacking of Liverpool legend and to quote John Henry himself, the “heart and soul” of the club Kenny Dalglish still sits fresh on the minds of many. But the radical restructuring of Liverpool football club could be an exciting and long overdue shake up, a new dawn for the club.

Many have long lamented Liverpools sluggishness in adapting to the modern world of football, the club were famously the last one in the premiership to have it’s own website.

While other clubs have grown their fanbases and changed with the times of this new, media driven, cash rich new era, Liverpool have often struggled to keep up off the pitch, leading to us having to play catch up to teams around us that got on the train earlier.

The much-lauded “Liverpool way” has for the past decade been eroded away, with new owners, boardroom bust ups and near financial ruin. But what has hurt us as much is that while our famous way of doing things has faded, nothing has been done to freshen it up and bring us in to the modern era.

New Owners, New Liverpool?

FSG, under the leadership of John Henry and Tom Werner, plan to do just that, memorably saying in a statement that Shanklys “holy Trinity” of players, manager and fans needs to become a square, to incorporate owners that are vital to the on pitch success.

This has never been more apparent than the past week, with oil baron backed Manchester City winning the premier league, and Russian billionaires Chelsea winning their first Champions League. Whether we like it or not, good owners with financial backing are essential to win in modern football.

What they are planning is different to just throwing money at it though, and at least we can hope to retain some class to it all, with Henry adamant we need to become self-sufficient, generating our own money through shrewd business deals and expanding our markets. It wont generate as much dough as a sugar daddy owner, but it guarantees we are stable and equipped to carry on even if the owners left. It’s a much better way of doing things.

On pitch matters are where we need to see those benefits though, and this is where things (in my opinion at least) become exciting.

Ian Ayre recently said that we are changing the way we are set up, from the top down. Before FSG we had a proud history of big managers carrying the hopes and dreams of the Kop, Messianic figureheads that stood tall and conquered Europe. That symbolically ended with the sacking of Kenny Dalglish, the living embodiment of all that stood for.

Ayre hinted that this is not what we are going to do from now on, we are going down a very different and (in England at least) unique path.

Prestige. Van Gaal adds much needed gravitas. And karate kicks.

It seems like we will have a director of football pairing, with a much different role to that which Damien Comolli had. We appear to want a big name “Sporting director” role, with a hard hitter like Louis Van Gaal, someone with clout and ability to scout top players and young talents, and line them up.

Alongside him, a “technical director”, probably Pep Segura, promoted from his fantastic work with the academy with a remit to oversee the clubs agreed philosophy across the different levels of the club.

Any new deals or contract renewals will then be negotiated by Ian Ayre and his new updated role.

This leaves the new manager (or head coach to use a more accurate term under this model). This will be the biggest and hardest change for many Liverpool fans.

Like I mentioned earlier, Liverpool are proud of having big, street-smart, Messianic managers who they adore. They chant the name of their manager from the Kop (not Hodgson, because…well…he was Hodgson), they want a manager to carry the club, be everything the club stands for.

This is why this change is hard to swallow, what do we stand for? Describe what Liverpool is about in 2012. Hard isn’t it, because of how much we have, and are changing.

Under this new system (Liverpool 2.0 if you will) the head coach is responsible for training, tactics for the match and the game itself. None of this spending every waking second scouting overseas, dealing with contracts, going after transfer targets or making changes to the academy like Rafa Benitez did, the head coach’s job is to solely focus on getting the most out of the first team.

Any transfer targets are scouted to fit the clubs vision, they are approached and then the manager has input on whether to proceed with the deal or not. He still gets final say on who comes in, but he doesn’t do the legwork.

Adored by fans, but doesn’t fit the new model.

This is why we aren’t approaching Rafa Benitez for the vacant manager position, he is too big for it, because a man like him wants to be involved in everything, or at least several key aspects. When he was manager at Liverpool, he basically ran the club. He tore up the academy and started again, he did everything in the first team squad, he scouted players and lined up deals, brought in new personnel (including Dalglish) and he also battled Hicks and Gillette in the boardroom. The issue was that he basically spread himself too thin, trying to keep all those plates spinning ended up with some wobbling quite badly, hence our poor form in 09/10.

It makes sense then to look at younger, less powerful managers like Martinez and Villas Boas, coaches who don’t demand ultimate power and who can slot into this new vision for the club.

It also allows us to lift out positions without disrupting the entire club. Rafa had a plan, and when he left we had another manager in Roy Hodgson *shudders* who was everything Rafa wasn’t, including his ideas on how the game should be played. Like telling Glen Johnson, one of the best attacking right backs in the world, to “Just f***ing launch it”.

No caption required.

Hodgson tried to change how we played, what we tried to do, bought awful players not naming names *cough* PAUL KONCHESKY *cough* and basically set us back quite badly. One managers plan went in the bin, the new managers plan came in and we were back to square one again. It’s resource consuming, time consuming and can be disastrous if a totally different style of manager comes in.

If you have this new set up, with a philosophy in place that is controlled by the directors of football, implemented throughout the club and everyone is on the same page, it makes getting a manager so much easier.

From the information at hand, we appear to want a flexible, attacking style built round a 4-3-3 possession game. Martinez plays that way, Villas Boas plays that way, Van Gaal shares that philosophy and our younger set ups under Borell and Segura play very similarly to this thanks to their Barcelona academy background.

If you have this set up, and we play this way all the way up, players get promoted easier, it’s easier to target players and ultimately, if a manager isn’t performing or they want out, it’s easy to narrow down a replacement. In this system, where everyone is on the same page, we don’t have to rip up any plan or have issues with new managers struggling to implement their playing style because the club will be there already, waiting for them to slot in.

I really like this philosophy, and it’s why after the initial sadness and then anger at Kenny’s departure, I am excited at what we are trying to achieve.

If we have a look at the problems we’ve had this season, it very much seems like we know where we went wrong and this system is there to solve them.

In my opinion the biggest issues we’ve faced this season have been a lack of direction or plan, poor tactics and players not seemingly sure of what their jobs are.

The Liverpool 2.0 system (TM) addresses all these problems. We will have a clear plan running through all levels of the club, from academy to first team. The two main candidates for the job, Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas-Boas are known for being very intelligent tactical managers with a great reading of the game. And finally players will know what their jobs are, both potential managers achieve this in different ways, but each one likes to drill players into doing specific things.

Could Villas Boas help guide Liverpool back to the big time? I trust a manager with a beard.

Villas Boas’ Porto side is a perfect example of this and a fantastic write up of Villas Boas and his methods and tactics by Roy Henderson can be found here.

Change is hard, and while we don’t have all the information at hand, we shouldn’t slam this new project before it’s been rolled out. It seems like a brilliant and exciting plan and while names like Martinez don’t carry the same clout that Mourinho or Capello do, you have to look at the picture as a whole.

Unfortunately, while we are still a big hitter, and the prestige and history of Liverpool is a big pull, we are not the biggest fish in the pond. We have been joined by several clubs in Spurs and Manchester City, as well as the other big 3, that can offer more than we can, more money, more chance of winning titles and the biggest pull of all, Champions League football (apart from Spurs, haha, bet that stung!).

If we want to get back to that bastion of invincibility we once were, if we want to dominate Europe like the times of Paisley, Fagan and Benitez, sadly we have to update our way of thinking.

While Ayre talks the talk of “We are Liverpool, we can get whatever manager we want”, the truth is the biggest managers are either at clubs already achieving great success, or are loyal to their respective clubs. We aren’t in a position right now to click our fingers and have the cream of the crop come running, but we can go for a radical new shake up where we can hopefully break back into the Champions League.

It’s a big risk, but fortune, as they say, favours the brave. A team of Van Gaal, Villas Boas and Segura is bold, it’s crazy (Van Gaal adds a lot of crazy) but it could be brilliant. On paper it’s a great system, only time will tell if it was the right system for us but I’m excited to see where it takes us, especially if it leads us back into those glorious European nights we so crave. We need to be patient and give it a shot.

Let’s not speak to soon, while the wheel’s still in spin.

For as Dylan wrote, “the losers now, will be later to win, for the times they are a-changin'”.

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