In the first of a new regular column Wayne Farry looks at the latest challenge for Mr Smug and dwells in acronym heaven with Stevie G.
January is commonly a month for rest and reflection for most of us. A time to make resolutions we’ll never keep and to look forward to the rest of the year with optimism. Most of all, it’s a time to bed in and wait until January is over.
That’s all well and good for us, but football never sleeps. While the general population takes its socks out of the microwave and faces the impending return to work like the cold, January-chilled hand of death, the cogs and gears of the football continue to turn relentlessly.
This first sleepy week of the year was no different. Undoubtedly the major news was the announcement that Steven Gerrard is to leave Liverpool at the end of the season. That’s right – Stevie G is leaving LFC to join the MLS with LA looking the most likely destination but also possibly NYCFC. It’s acronym heaven! The news caused an exceptionally boring shockwave throughout the football community and prompted tributes and nostalgia pieces left, right and centre.
Gerrard has been a good servant to Liverpool, but one can’t help but get the feeling that this move is coming about eight years too late. At this stage in his career, if Gerrard truly was the “Liverpool through and through” chap that he’s so often heralded as, surely the opportunity to spend the remaining years of his career at the club he loves and to become one of the few “one club men” would be too hard to pass up?
Of course he wants to play football but there’s little doubt he’d find no shortage of suitors were he to decide to stay this side of the Atlantic. He’s a diminished and weakened force undeniably, but he’s Steven Gerrard and any number of clubs would love to take him. In this light it’s hard to look past the hypothesis that last season simply broke Gerrard. Here we had a man playing for his boyhood club who had the chance, finally, to do what he’d always dreamed of and lead them back to glory. Then he slipped, and Demba Ba scored and it was all over in an instant. Two decades worth of dreams and aspirations vanquished in one hilarious fell swoop.
Gerrard has spoken quite candidly in the past about how he’s his own harshest critic and how he’s always struggled to overcome disappointment and pressure. Eventually, it would seem, that pressure and disappointment has dealt a fatal blow to his ability to fight on, to risk another Merseyside heartbreak. For a man who led his club to every major honour except the one he truly, truly coveted, that’s pretty easy to empathise with. Besides, it’s not all bad, he’ll probably win it on loan at City next season anyway.
Standing unappreciated, cold and attention starved under the shadow of Stevie G (TM) this week was the news of the managerial appointments at West Brom and Crystal Palace. At the Hawthorns, Tony Pulis took over from the shaved cairn terrier that is Alan Irvine, while at Selhurst Park Alan Pardew replaced Neil Warnock, a man who approached his return to the Eagles with about as much exuberance and optimism as a man asked to coach his ex-wife’s new stepson’s team. Pulis, who at this stage is seen as a modern day miracle worker, will inherit a Baggies side low on confidence but high on mediocrity. Such has been the facelift to his reputation since he left Stoke, anything other than comfortable survival will come as both a surprise and disappointment.
Pardew, returning to the club for whom he scored one mightily important goal but did little else, will see pressure build quickly if a revival isn’t forthcoming. Not the most likeable man at the best of times, Pardew’s brashness and “smug for no apparent reason” demeanour didn’t go down too well on Tyneside. Many suggested it’s because he was a southerner up the north, but this isn’t the case. The reason he wasn’t warmed to is because he’s an asshole. Back in London, he’s still one, so results must come. He’s welcomed by a squad who flourished under Pulis last term, combining pace and directness with defensive solidity. Those qualities appear to have deserted them this season (but how else can a team perform under someone like Warnock?) and Pardew will require all his managerial nous and motivational skills – as well as perhaps Paul Carr – if Palace are going to come anywhere close to last season’s finish.
The only question after these appointments is who will replace Pardew at Newcastle? There has been talk that Mike Ashley will try to tempt Thomas Tuchel from a year’s sabbatical, apparently keen on his hands-on approach and fast-paced, pressing tactics. That, however, seems far too sensible a decision from the Londoner and let’s face it, whoever takes over will be arriving at a club so inherently damaged that it barely matters who’s in charge. In that case, few would be better than my old buddy Neil Warnock. If he’s not available, maybe Joe Kinnear’s still about.