Mason: Are you sure you’re ready for this? [walks up staircase]
Goodspeed: I’ll do my best.
Mason: [stops and motions back to Goodspeed] Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f*ck the prom queen!
When the squabble happened over who would take the penalty at Anfield I like many watching it unfold had a range of conflicting thoughts and feelings. I didn’t like seeing Balotelli take the penalty from the Captain, Jordan Henderson, but at the same time I was glad that he had done so. Judging from the reactions of those who were sat around me this seemed to be the general consensus too. Why was this?
The simple answer is we all wanted us to have the greatest possible chance of winning the game and Balotelli with his track record clearly provided this. Did I like seeing Henderson and Sturridge (two players who I really like both as players and from what I have seen of them off the pitch) angry and possibly feeling disrespected? No but for me it was a price worth paying to give us the best chance to win the game. That brings me to the unpalatable truth that generally teams that win things tend to have some players that are arrogant and/or extremely strong-willed and that this can lead to them at times doing things that some may consider disrespectful and that will at times upset their teammates. The adage “nice guys finish last” is not true as evidenced by Bob Paisley and many others but whilst I don’t know enough about Paisley to say for sure I would be extremely surprised if he didn’t have a bit of devil about him when needed. In my experience most people who reach the very top in any fiercely competitive field normally do. There is a reason beyond just jealousy why most great teams have a number of players that fans of other teams love to hate.
The irony in amongst the furore over the penalty incident is that for several years now many fans have complained that there are not enough characters or leaders in the team. Well guess what, now we have them and to some extent this will at times result in friction and controversies because winners/leaders/characters whatever you want to call them tend to care more about winning than they do about being seen to be nice or respectful.
Another incident that caused controversy was when Sakho left Anfield after not being included in the match day squad. Parts of the media and many fans were enraged and couldn’t understand how he could do this. Well the reason he could do this and did do it is because he is a winner and winners don’t react too well to not being allowed to have a chance to get on the field and help the team win. Would Graeme Souness or Tommy Smith at their peaks have politely accepted this treatment? It’s difficult to say but I doubt it. It makes me laugh when people say things like Shankly would never have stood for anything like that. Now they may be right but from what I can tell Shankly like most great managers was a pragmatist by nature and this meant that his desire for winning overrode any desire for complete respect between the players and staff at his club. I remember hearing an account of how Shankly had done something to annoy Tommy Smith – I think he subbed him off but can’t be sure of that now as it was years ago I heard it – and Tommy Smith’s response was to get his massive holdall and place it across the entrance to the dressing room – meaning that every player or staff member had to step over it to get in or out. Now Shankly and the rest of the players recognised that this act of disrespect would result in an almighty row if anyone actually moved the holdall. Needless to say nobody moved the holdall. Now Shankly could have shown Tommy Smith the door for acts like that but I for one am glad that he took the pragmatic approach, as I like us winning games and trophies more than I like the idea of the Liverpool squad being some kind of ideal world with everyone having complete respect for each other at all times.
Successful football teams are often full of friction with for example Melwood being the scene of numerous fights between players in the 70s/80s. Whilst Roy Keane by his own admission would often go into training at Manchester United not knowing who he was/wasn’t talking to. I can also remember a regular occurrence at United when Ronaldo was there, was the sight of Ryan Giggs getting frustrated with Ronaldo wanting to take every free kick he could get his hands on and occasionally disrespecting Giggs’ standing in the squad in the process. The problem Giggs was facing is that when someone has the single minded determination to hone an aspect of their game to be amongst the best in the world that same obsessional nature is going to make them obsessive about wanting to then utilize it. This reminds me of Balotelli on Thursday as he more than anyone knows how good he is at penalties and that he has proven it repeatedly in numerous pressure situations so is it any surprise that he feels for the good of the team he is the right man for the job and is going to take that shot? As fans I think sometimes we want it both ways – we want these big characters and these players with arrogance and then complain when they act like the big characters they actually are.
One last thought though just ask yourself a simple question and please answer honestly. If Liverpool had to take a penalty to save your life would you want the guy who is world class at that skill to fight to take the shot or would you rather he showed total respect to his teammates? If I’m ever in that situation and Stevie isn’t available then I want Mario doing everything he can to get his hands on the ball!