Football’s three priorities: goals, goals, goals

Having a player who knows how to stick chances away can be a panacea for even the most hopeless team. Ask Arsenal.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

Tenuous sports column / religious feast segue coming up. If you don’t want to read a bad joke pinched from Twitter, look away now. ‘As Good Friday approaches, my thoughts turn to a bloke with long hair who will be remembered for dying on the end of a cross. Happy Easter, Andy Carroll.’ More about Andy and chums shortly.

It’s been a funny old season. Manchester City looked like they might just convert sheer financial might into some proper silverware, while their neighbours United were so past it that they fetched Paul Scholes from the old folk’s home on the grounds that someone in the team should be able to pass to his teammates. Chelsea had a young, up-and-coming Portugese manager again – echoes of the Special One – who might shake things up. Arsenal briefly looked like relegation fodder, even losing 8-2 to United. Crikey, Spurs even flirted with being title contenders. I mean, come on. Spurs?

But that was then. Chelsea dumped their manager when he couldn’t reconcile bringing on new blood with getting rid of the old guard. City, too, look out of sorts, having decided – quite understandably – that nobody really likes boss Roberto Mancini. United’s season turned round thanks, in part at least, to their geriatric ‘new’ signing. Even Arsenal have clambered back up the table.

One thing this confusing season has demonstrated, however, is the value of having someone who can score goals. That’s clearest in the case of the Gunners who are, let’s be honest, not a good team at the moment. They do, fortunately for them, possess everyone’s choice of player of the season, Robin Van Persie. His 26 Premier League goals have been the saviour of Arsenal’s season when it wasn’t so long ago that loud voices were calling for veteran manager Arsene Wenger to be put out to pasture.

Oh, what Chelsea would have given for Van Persie. ‘About 50 million quid’ is the answer. Instead, they spunked that much cash on Fernando Torres just over a year ago, who has repaid this enormous faith with precisely eight goals in just over a season at the club. Yes, that’s about six million quid per goal. At least he has actually scored a couple of goals lately. But 2011 is a year he’ll want to forget: he scored more goals in his six games for Liverpool (four) in January 2011 then he did in the whole of the rest of the year (three) playing for Chelsea.

Equally, United’s good run has – unsurprisingly – coincided with Wayne Rooney finding his shooting boots, which until recently must have been buried in the bottom of Coleen’s wardrobe. Having been through his own period of being unable to strike the proverbial bovine backside with a country-and-western stringed instrument, the cheeky little Shrek-a-like has helped turn his team’s fortunes around. United were five points behind City in early March; now they are five points in front. Newcastle’s unexpectedly high league placing has been greatly helped by getting the best out of cheap-as-chips summer signing Demba Ba, who has 16 league goals this season.

Which brings me to the travails of my own team, the musty Liverpool. Despite winning the Carling Cup and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup, there has been serious muttering about the future of messiah-turned-miserabilist Kenny Dalglish. Six defeats in seven league games means that Liverpool are now rubbing shoulders with the likes of newly promoted Swansea and Norwich rather than being in the mix for Champions League qualification. It’s got me that upset, I can barely manage another spoonful of scouse. Sniff.

It all started so well. After the close shave with financial collapse a few months earlier, the new management were full of big ambitions, forking out handsome sums for the youthful Jordan Henderson (£16million) and the solid if unexciting Stewart Downing (£20million), to add to the big-money strikeforce of Andy Carroll (£35million) and Luis Suarez (£22million) bought in the middle of last season. There was a reasonable expectation of flowing football and plenty of goals.

But Carroll has seemed overwhelmed by his price tag, delivering just three goals in 27 appearances. (In fairness, it’s not his fault if his new club paid an obscenely inflated price for him.) When he plays, the team too often resorts to hoofing the ball at his head rather than trying to break teams down more inventively. Even the far more talented Suarez has been a relative underachiever. Okay, it didn’t help that he got banned for eight matches over his little altercation with United’s Patrice Evra. But seven goals in the Premier League is not enough, particularly when Craig Bellamy (cost: zero) has almost matched that performance. It’s only Carroll’s even bigger failings that are distracting attention from Suarez’s poor form.

Even the failings of the strikers could be forgiven if this was the kind of team where there were goals raining in from everywhere. But Downing (zero league goals), Henderson (one) and Adam (two) have not been pulling their collective weight, either. ‘OG’ has scored more for Liverpool in the league this season (four) than these three summer signings. Even before their recent slump, Liverpool simply hadn’t been able to beat relatively weaker teams and have rarely looked capable of challenging for fourth place.

Dalglish has blown an awful lot of money on some signings that always looked overpriced and/or questionable. But he hasn’t been helped by the inability of those players to even play to at least their previous form. Now he’s desperately reliant on winning another trophy to deflect criticisms of his leadership. To do that, however, he’s going to need someone who can actually stick the ball in the net.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked. His new book, Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder, is published by Societas. (Buy this book from Amazon (UK).) Read his blog here.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

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Topics Politics


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