Liverpool – Enjoy It While You Can

Despite their victory in the Champions League Final, Liverpool will struggle to topple Chelsea next season.

While Liverpool fans have every reason to feel delighted with themselves this week, the ones thinking that they’re going to be up there challenging for the Premiership next season with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are living in Cloudcuckooland.

Even if they replace the three or four very mediocre players they managed to win the Champions League with, their squad is nowhere near good enough to bridge the gap between the 58 points they ended last season with and Chelsea’s tally of 95.

I was at the Liverpool versus Birmingham and Southampton games, and on both occasions they were worse than I’d ever previously seen them. Peter Crouch and Emile Heskey, not the cream of Premiership strikers by a long shot, both absolutely dominated Sammy Hypia and one admittedly great penalty save does not suddenly make Jerzy Dudek a world-class keeper.

Everything went for Liverpool in the second-half, right down to Shevchenko’s extraordinary point-blank miss. As soon as Gerrard went to right-back, there was no way they were going to win the game in open play. How they managed to hang on when they were out on their legs is something that will haunt the AC Milan players for the rest of their lives.

A realistic aim for Liverpool next season is to get within 15 points of Chelsea and grab that fourth Champions League spot.

Somebody who had an excellent game in Istanbul was Stephen Finnan who, to my mind, has overtaken Stephen Carr in that he offers a little bit more on the ball and going forward gets into good positions.

Having said that he wants Ireland to be more-attack minded against Israel, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Kerr goes 4-4-2 and encourages Finnan, if he’s fit, and Andy Reid to push up whenever they can.

Some people are saying it could be a tricky 90 minutes for us on Saturday, but Israel are not a good international team. I’ve seen them three times over the past year, and if Ireland can’t stick a couple past them we don’t deserve to go to the World Cup.

Yes, they drew against France in Tel Aviv, but only because David Trezugeut stupidly got himself sent off. Up to that point they were being crucified and I expect us, even with suspensions and injuries, to do the same.

A few eyebrows have been raised over the possible return of Ian Harte whose team Levante were relegated from La Liga on Sunday. He’s an experienced player, great at free kicks and nowhere near as poor a defender as he’s made out to be by his critics. Given that he was our top scorer in the 2002 qualifying campaign and Brian wants to be more attack-minded, he may well get a recall, albeit a short-lived one. I don’t think he’s pacey enough to play against a team like France who, before you know it, are ten yards in front of you.

How big a loss through suspension is Roy Keane? Not a huge one to be honest. I’d be a lot more worried if we didn’t have people in the side like Kenny Cunningham and Matt Holland who, were we to go a goal down, will be barking out instructions to the others and getting everybody geed up. If we’re not three points to the good by teatime on Saturday, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

It’ll be interesting to see if Gordon Strachan’s there to have a look at Robbie Keane. Maybe it was the emotion of being at Parkhead for the Jackie McNamara testimonial that made him say it, but Celtic wouldn’t be a bad move for him. With the World Cup hopefully coming up for Ireland, he doesn’t want to be spending too many matches warming the bench and Strachan knows and likes him from their time together at Coventry. Celtic have been seriously lacking up front since Henrik Larsson departed for Barca, and I’ve a suspicion that Rangers will invest heavily in players over the summer to try and get themselves into the group stage of the Champions League.

It’s sad to see Martin O’Neill leaving, but he did a fantastic job at Celtic and will do a similarly fantastic job at the next club he manages when his wife is hopefully recovered from her illness. I’m not sure that technically he’s a great coach, but when it comes to motivation and getting the best out of very ordinary players there are few better than him. Whether he’ll get the Man U job I don’t know, but he’d be a great asset to a club like Newcastle or Aston Villa.

Finally, I was saddened to see an old opponent of mine, Everton and West Ham’s Mark Ward, being arrested last week by the drugs squad on Merseyside. He’s been charged with possessing £2.5 million worth of cocaine, which, if he’s guilty, means he’s going to spend a long time behind bars.

I don’t know Mark’s history since he retired, but a lot of players find it very hard to adapt to a normal job and normal wages after the thousands of pounds a week they get playing football. Clubs do offer you financial advice but it’s not always as fruitful as it might be – I paid £250,000 into a pension fund while I was at Chelsea and what I get out of it now is peanuts.

There was another time at Chelsea when these two suits came to see us about this scheme where, according to them, if we invested £50,000 we’d double our money in five years. Kerry Dixon asked these guys to leave so we could have a players’ meeting and said: “Give the fifty grand to me and I’ll guarantee you’ll have a hundred thousand by tomorrow”

“How does that work then?” we asked.

“Desert Orchid’s running at Cheltenham, it’s even money and he can’t loose.”

Next day he comes in with a big cigar and says, “Told you so!”

Click here to read Ed Power's report from Istanbul, where he was particularly intrigued at the international contingency of Liverpool supporters...

 

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