Picture the scene…
Liverpool dismisses an iconic club legend from the post as manager. The outrage is at full tilt, and the fractions amongst the support get wider and wider.
The new manager is relatively young, he’s fresh faced and full of idea’s and he’s just walked into one of the biggest clubs in the world.
He walks into Anfield and his first official job is to meet the press; the event itself is not in the usual media room. No, instead it’s in the iconic trophy room where first division titles and champions league mementos are scattered with precision to catch the eye.
There’s a trophy for almost everything the game has to offer on display and the memories of a club once great catches the eye anywhere you look.
He deals with the strobe lights of the camera lens and the probing questions from the worldwide press, and he then takes a trip to the museum for more of the same. More memories, more glorious moments, games which lay on ‘the fault lines’ of history, it’s his job to recreate more of the same.
He meets some of the staff and then walks around the iconic ground where those moments are ingrained into the memory, he smells the dampness of the freshly watered grass as he reflects on the responsibility on his shoulders. This is Anfield, this is where dreams can come true and many a man more experienced has left with the club etched in his soul, but the reality is not what he’d hoped.
The stories have been told by many before him that many a good man walks out of Anfield a shadow of their former self, dreams are made and broken in equal measure with the Redmen.
The drive to his office at the training ground is brief enough but the thoughts are running wild in his head. ‘Christ, I’m the manager of Liverpool Football Club, what on earth have I let myself in for’. He almost doesn’t notice as the car draws up to the gates of Melwood.
He sees the Liverbird on the wall and the high fences which protects the view of the training pitches, the shine from the silver tunnel makes him shield his eyes. It’s like walking into heaven… Or it could be a mirage designed to hide the darkness within.
The walk through the revolving doors is done with anxiety but outward confidence. He must be strong and show them all he means business. He smiles towards the pretty receptionists who look excited to see the new boss, but their beauty is but a temporary break from the fear in his heart. He looks over and see’s the famous European cup reclaimed for its permanent home after Istanbul. Another goal he must aim for, another dream which seems at that moment so far away.
As he climbs the staircase he can’t help but see the pictures on the wall; Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, Evans, Houllier and Benitez all curiously looking down at him; all eyeing up the man who will take their prized possession of the manager’s office; that sacred space where they once tried to conquer the world. This is the place where dreams where crafted in those famous notebooks, where swords were fallen upon when it all went wrong.
‘Don’t let us down son’ is the look of Bill Shankly, whilst Bobs smile is one that warms even the hardest of hearts.
Finally, after what seems an age he sits in his office and looks out on the fields where he will try to conjure up the magic once again; but in his mind there are no drills, no rondas, no formulas in his mind, instead he stands with head in hands at the task before him, and the recovery required.
‘What have I done’ he asks himself, the thought that’ll haunt him as the ghosts eyes bore down on him. Everywhere he looks all he sees are memories, more famous pictures, more ghosts of the past eagerly observing this man, this pretender to the throne.
He can’t see the light from the darkness as it’s masked in former glory, and that’s why he’s here. He’s not here to do what the last lot did, the thing which ultimately didn’t work out in the end. He’s there because they need him, what’s required is a different way of winning.
As the season passes he slowly begins to get his project to function, there’s no records being broken but the idea’s have landed. Consistency is now the key, to do this week in and week out, that’s the major task ahead.
So he does what any man with reason would do, he speaks to the ghosts rather than fearing them. He asks them for counsel and he shares his fears that nobody else understands; he even brings one back from the outskirts of purgatory to advise, be his counsel, and to help be his shield when the pressure steps up. These are ghosts no longer, no; they are confidants, maybe even friends.
But the crowd still groan and every win which truly savages the opposition cannot quell the anxiety, 4-0, 5-0,6-0… It’s not enough they say, he must do this all the time… It’s next season or he’s gone. He knows he’s under pressure.
So he builds again, slowly like an architect designing the building which is there to last; a nod to the past for inspiration, but a look to the future where his vision truly lies.
Slowly his confidence builds and step by step his team improve, they get stronger and start to believe that this man knows what he’s doing. They too have been affected by the ghosts of an illustrious history, they hear the grumbles in the crowd, who pounce on each mistake that surely Souness, Barnes, Fowler, Hansen, McDermott and Dalgish never made.
That’s the thing about glory, it often masks the truth. These memories of old often hide the truth that even the greats did struggle, Ian Rush couldn’t score, Molby couldn’t pass in his first season. The players know this of course, but they can either improve or walk. Some walk, most improve…
And so eighteen months later, he observes his team from the plush chairs of the Ethiad dugout. He watches them press, pass, move and interchange like the top sides do. Like the ghosts have told him time and time again.
Alas they lose the match, but his head can be held high. His team did well, yet mistakes which should have been prevented cost them, goals should have been scored but they’re not quite ruthless enough.
He takes in the ground and see’s the Poznan in full force knowing they could have done more. Knowing they’ve given away the game.
On the coach back to Melwood, the voices return again. Those Ghosts come back, but this time not with the condemnation he expects; no, instead they pat him on the shoulder and say:
‘Brendan, you must take heart from that son…’
‘Of course’ he replies ‘But we could have won that game’
‘And that’s the thing son, you know you should have won, that’s the measure of how good this team is right now. You’re on the right path’
On the team bus, driving into the darkness, with wind and rain howling all around them; he knows they’re right; he’s created a force to be reckoned with, yet defeat is still a bitter taste.
Having welcomed the ghosts and not fighting against them, he’s taken this team to a new level and who knows just what they’re capable of achieving, he knows this defeat will drive him on. The ghosts know it too. Day by day, they’ll get there.