Why internationals mean little to Dalglish and LFC
WHEN Emlyn Hughes climbed the steps of Wembley in May 1978, his beaming, warm smile was the perfect contrast to the cold steel of the European Cup which stood at the summit.
It was the second time in as many years the two would embrace, and so too Clemence, Neal, Case, Callaghan, McDermott, Fairclough, Heighway and Ray Kennedy. After munching Gladbach in Rome, as the famous banner proclaimed, Club Brugge had been bruised beyond recognition.
The whole of Europe was watching, and nowhere more attentively than England itself. Liverpool had become the first English side to win two European Cups, and they’d done so back-to-back – the Merseyside club’s own twin towers at the home of English football.
But as the cup was passed down the line, reacquainting with old friends and meeting new, Hughes could be forgiven for turning his attention elsewhere for one solitary moment.
The two moments which defined Hughes’ career would come in Italy and England within 12 months of each other, but sandwiched in the middle was a match between the two nations at Wembley.
As captain of England, Hughes led his country to an impressive 2-0 win over an Italian side containing Dino Zoff, Marco Tardelli and Roberto Bettega – but it wasn’t impressive enough. The two goal victory left Italy needing a mere win against Luxembourg in their final game - an even bigger formality than it would be today - to seal qualification for the 1978 World Cup ahead of England.
Italy won 3-0. Qualification was confirmed. Bettega would spend the summer in Buenos Aires; Hughes would watch from Barrow-in-Furness.
A lot has been written about some Liverpool supporters’ Scouse Not English attitude; the apathy for the English national side is easily understandable. One thing that cannot be contested, though, is how much players care.
Hughes would have wanted to lead his country out in Argentina and with that lead Clemence, Neal, McDermott and Thompson there too. There would have been no better way for Hughes to end the most glorious 12 months of his career.
But his 12 months ended at Wembley. While Dalglish and Souness would enrol in Ally MacLeod’s Tartan Army, eleven Englishmen who helped Liverpool conquer Europe would stay at home.
Liverpool Football Club’s relationship with the England national squad has always been tumultuous. The combination of Ian Callaghan, Tommy Smith and Jamie Carragher were capped fewer times than Phil Neville; John Barnes, Robbie Fowler and Steven Gerrard failed to reproduce their club form at international level, much to the chagrin of the media.
Given the apparent lack of correlation between performances for club and country, supporters’ reticence for the club to invest in English talent is peculiar. To pigeon-hole any signing with nationality is peculiar enough.
The signing of Jordan Henderson from Sunderland is an exciting one. Young, determined, versatile and professional, Henderson appears the type of player that will thrive under the guidance of Kenny Dalglish. He can tackle, pass, move and shoot – all at the age of 21; all components of a successful Premier League midfielder.
Yet there’s a quiet voice of dissention amongst Liverpool supporters. Not because of the player himself, but rather his nationality. Henderson’s signing seems indicative of a more English-based policy from the football club, displeasing those who have become accustomed to a more continentally assembled squad.
It’s a waste of time signing English players, some claim, because it’s the worst England side since the 1950s. Others cite the U21 European Championship currently being held in Denmark as a deterrent towards English talent.
Not even the most jingoistic England fan would deny Spain, France and Germany possess more technique, flair and mental toughness.
But Liverpool are not managed by Fabio Capello or Stuart Pearce; nor do their supporters bemoan every misplaced pass or every shot dragged wide. Playing for Liverpool Football Club and England are two separate entities and require two separate mentalities.
Fifteen Englishmen, who possess 349 caps between them, started in Liverpool’s four European Cup finals, yet England only advanced beyond the first round of an international tournament once between 1976 and 1984 – failing to qualify three times. While Liverpool conquered Europe, England crumbled.
Traditionally, Liverpool’s worst signings have been those based on international outings. Babb and Diao were bought after an excellent World Cup, while Diouf and Dimoede wowed for Senegal and France.
If the club’s scouting network emphasised internationals in recent times, the profligacy of Fernando Torres or the devilry of Luis Suarez would have made neither a Liverpool player.
But such are the complexities of acquiring new talent for a football club. It’s not as simple as indentifying a player, purchasing him and slotting him into the side like a mechanic finding a cog to fix a car.
Take Jordan Henderson. Opinions on him have been based on 180 minutes of football, playing a style he won’t be playing, in a position he won’t be playing, with players he won’t be playing with. Liverpool, Dalglish, Clarke and Comolli know this, because they’ve watched him as many times as a Stadium of Light season ticket holder.
When signing Henderson, they’ll have thought of his potential with Gerrard playing central – not with Gerrard wide left like he was for England against France in November. They’ll have imagined him with Lucas, Meireles, Suarez and Kuyt, not Rose, Mancienne and Cleverley, as he was against Spain U21s.
For the first time in years, there’s structure and stability to both the club’s hierarchy and transfer dealings. No longer must the club sell their best players and buy poorer replacements to finance debt repayments; no longer will ineptitude at the highest level scupper plans for quality players.
The one policy of this Liverpool is simple: purchase players who will improve Liverpool Football Club. Their nationality is irrelevant – the signings of Suarez, with reported interest in Zapata proves that – as is their current club, league or fee. It is not for the supporters to decide if those factors are suitable – if they’re suitable to Dalglish, then they’re suitable for Liverpool Football Club.
It’s only when a player pulls on a red shirt that Liverpool supporters should be interested, because that’s all a player should be judged upon.
Everything else is irrelevant, and it’s safe to assume everything else will be irrelevant if Jordan Henderson lifting the European Cup at Wembley in 2013 is even a remote possibility, regardless of whether England are heading to Brazil or not.