It’s been a frustrating season for Liverpool fans so far, the right man is in charge but he’s working with another man’s tools and the results have been inconsistent. With the Reds sitting ninth in the league and the lack of transfers in the January window fans are already pinpointing deficiencies within the current squad and where they’d like Jürgen Klopp to strengthen come summer. “We need a quality goalie, a competent right sided centre-back, a solid defensive midfielder and a striker” whilst I agree with most of those shouts and given time I’m sure Klopp will address those issues in the summer. However, the one thing Liverpool are lacking more than anything is a true leader on the pitch.
A true leader with the winning mentality, someone that the younger players can look up to and respect is what is missing from this current squad. Granted the Reds have a few senior players that have experience but what good is that attribute if they become anonymous on the pitch when they’re needed the most? I’ve been a Liverpool fan for 19 years and this is the first time I’ve looked at our squad and thought we don’t have a single leader wearing a red shirt, and the only place where I look to for such qualities is on the touchline but unfortunately Klopp’s playing days are long behind him although I’m certain he could still do a job for the us.
The warning signs were set off when Steven Gerrard left for LA Galaxy. I didn’t want to believe it but the writing was on the wall from the get-go and listening to the 99th episode of the AnfieldIndex Podcast where panelists Gags Tandon and Simon Brundish compared the current squad to the one from 2001 (as the Reds are still challenging on all fronts). The most alarming factor from Houllier’s treble winning side was the vast amount of experienced players that he had at his disposal. The likes of Babbel, Ziege, Hamann, McAllister and later Litmanen were so instrumental in that season, they were natural leaders who helped the younger players such as Carragher, Owen and Gerrard come into their own. They were respected figures not only for their teammates but the opposition too. These said leaders were mentors to the likes of Gerrard and Carragher who then went on to become the leaders in 2005; that winning mentality, that never say die attitude, and the best comeback ever probably wouldn’t have been possible against that mighty Milan side if it wasn’t for playing alongside those quality players in 2001. Success breeds success.
Of course not all players who’ve worn the red shirt can boast about that night in Istanbul but some probably won far less than deserved, such as players like Reina; the commanding presence between the sticks and we all miss the days of having a genuine quality keeper and a true leader. Daniel Agger, possibly the last leader the Reds have had in defence who was indispensable when he was fit. The list of underachieving leaders continues with Mascherano, I was genuinely heartbroken when he moved to Barcelona. In hindsight I wouldn’t want to be coached by Hodgson either, those were dark times. Five years on and the Reds have failed to replace him, we miss his passion, his leadership skills and his ability to read the game and protect the back four. Having Mascherano gave the likes of Gerrard and Alonso the license to roam. Last but by no means least on the leaders’ list is Luis Suarez, a player who almost took losing as a personal insult and had the ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck. The feisty Uruguayan rarely had a bad game, was always committed and was a nightmare for defenders. His leadership qualities made his teammates raise their game. Even the likes of Enrique looked half decent playing alongside Luis. These players may not have won the honors they deserved, but they added depth and quality to the side.
Looking at this current Liverpool squad that is predominantly filled with youngsters, one must ask where does the leadership come from? When the chips are down and backs are up against the wall who is going to mentor these players with their experience? Who do the likes of Jordon Ibe look up to? Where are the older wiser heads to help Henderson to settle into his captaincy? When Gerrard gained captains armband he had the likes of Hyppiä, Hamann and Carragher for guidance who does Hendo have? Milner? Forget about it! He couldn’t say boo to a goose. My biggest concern for this young squad is we’ve become too soft and timid, we don’t get into the opposition’s faces, we don’t have the leadership qualities to hold onto a lead and whilst its evident that Klopp needs to upgrade on certain positions I genuinely hope he has a leader a fighter and a world-class bastard on his summer transfer shopping list.