I went on my annual pilgrimage to see the local Premier side in action yesterday at the kind invitation of a constituent. As a circketer who likes most sports, I went with some trepidation and heavy heart, expecting to see a Liverpool masterclass in ball control, passing, and the occasional goal to give them victory over the home side. How wrong I was!
Instead I saw the multi millionaire multinational Liverpool side outplayed by Reading. They were not just outplayed, they were made to look ordinary. At times Liverpool looked like a school team with everyone chasing the ball, failing to stay in position, run into space and to play an open passing game. I saw tall talented Crouch lose balls in the air because the shorter Reading players jumped higher with more purpose. I saw great Liverpool players lose heart, or fail to show the energy and the skill you expect of such highly paid and highly rated players. I saw Reading players give time and again of their best, culminating in a magical free kick drifting into the Liverpool goal via a Reading head, and a breathtaking run by Harper to craft a goal out of very little by running round the goalkeeper. Hunt gave his best for 90 minutes, and was everywhere harrying the Liverpool team.
The extraordinary decision to call Gerrard off at 70 minutes when he was the main hope of Liverpool, playing with power, determination and skill made it look to us as if the manager had surrendered the tie with 24 minutes still to go. Liverpool lacked punch and the will to win once Gerrard had gone, and not had enough of it with him trying to rally them when he was on.
If I was a shareholder in Liverpool I would want to know why such a team performed so badly for so much money. As someone who believes in free markets I do not begrudge talented people the large sums the global market and global brands can bring. But if top players expect millionaire pay we should expect millionaire performance, and should expect a big element of the pay to be performance oriented. The Reading stars earned their bonus, more modest though it doubtless was.
It was a great day for Reading fans. I enjoyed it enormously, and thought it most amusing to see how little at times great football club owners buy for all their money! We English like the underdog. Yesterday the underdog was Cruft’s finest.