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Des Kelly: Relive the Liverpool glory years!
Published : 06 Nov 2010 00:38:02
We forget sometimes. Amid all the talk of money and greed, of owners and debts and transfers and cheating, we forget why we really watch football. We forget what drew us to the game in the first place. It is about heroes and escapism and, even now, in a world of insane hype, we can still recognise a bona-fide, 100 per cent comicbook hero when we see one. This is why we fell in love with the game as children and why we remain fascinated by the sport today, even if it is against our better instincts. Essentially we are all waiting for that Roy of the Rovers moment; the instant when a football phenomenon delivers a dramatic twist of the plot so implausible it could be lifted from the cartoon strips of our youth. And, thankfully, there are a rare few who can deliver script lines worthy of Roy Race. Some believe two compelling performances are enough to anoint Gareth Bale as a hero. It was even suggested he was the 'Second Best Player In The World' this week by a newspaper, ignoring the fact his brilliance was enhanced by a tactically dim Inter Milan under Rafa Benitez. By the time you read this Bale may have shone against Bolton Wanderers and been elevatedin the pantheon of greats alongside Pele. Who knows? Nothing wrong withcelebrating good news and sublime talent, of course, but a little perspective comes in handy. There is, however, one player who carries his club squarely on his back week in and week out. He has made such a habit out of heroics it has almost become routine for him. When he is absent, the team is diminished. When he emerges from the bench, it usually signals the start of some thrilling and unlikely rescue act. That is why Steven Gerrard just has to be the closest thing modern football has to a genuine Roy of the Rovers character. Cool customer: Steven Gerrard scores from the penalty spot against Napoli Take the events of this week. With Liverpool meandering haplessly to defeat against Napoli, and with their new American owner shaking his head ruefully at the inadequacy of the players he had inherited, as if he actually knew something about the game, Gerrard stepped forward. The crowd suddenly crackled with anticipation. They instinctively believed everything would be all right because 'Stevie G' would save the day. That kind of pressure might sink some players, but Gerrard just feeds on the responsibility. Lo and behold, in the final 15 minutes he scored an irresistible hat-trick and all was well with the world at Anfield. Or at least it would be if Liverpool could discover a way to clone Gerrard and replace the rest of the team with versions of the man. Of course, if you saw this scenario played out in a comic book you would chuckle. HAVE YOUR SAY... Is Stevie G Liverpool's greatest ever player? England's most decorated football club have had some spectacular players, but Jamie Carragher believes none is better than Steven Gerrard. The captain rescued the Reds against Napoli, but is he greater than the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan and the other Merseyside messiahs? TELL US WHAT YOU THINK But Gerrard has produced more moments like this than any other player I can think of. When Liverpool needed a late goal against Olympiakos to progress in the Champions League, the scorching strike three minutes from time came courtesy of you-know-who. He started the amazing European Cup final fightback against AC Milan in 2005. When the FA Cup was snatched from West Ham's grasp a year later, Gerrard scored twice in normal time, including a thunderous 91st minute equaliser, and again from the penaltyspot in the shoot-out. Is he the best Liverpool player ever? Jamie Carragher thinks so and he has an argument. Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan and Graeme Souness had a fine team around them. Gerrard has Fernando Torres, when he's feeling up to it, and not a great deal else. Of course, we know so much more about our 'heroes' now than they did in the days of Scorcher, Tiger and The Hotspur that none can be considered perfect role models like the fictional Roy. And Gerrard has flaws. We remember a scrape in a bar and a tendency to trip over imaginary legs now and then. But everyone is entitled to a lapse and his general demeanour and attitude earns him nothing but credit. So although Britain doesn't produce football comics any more and the likes of 'Hotshot Hamish' and his ilk have had their day, we can still echo the adventure and exhilaration that captures the spirit of Roy Of The Rovers. Gerrard proves it every week. Bubbly: Sebastian Coe 2012 is now a dream come true I am excited. This is normally a sentiment I only share with my internet service provider, but I'm prepared to make an exception in this case because I have seen the future. I have been inside London's Olympic Park and it is gob-smackingly good. You can forget everything you might have heard about this country's habit of bungling big projects and mismanaging resources. You can dismiss concerns that 2012 could be another Wembley or Dome fiasco. I had a private tour of the complex this week with Sebastian Coe (Lord, to you). It started inauspiciously. A Jubilee Line signal failure between London Bridge and Canary Wharf meant I had to jump out and catch a taxi. I arrived in Docklands on time, but £32 lighter, only to find Coe was stuck on a train behind me between stations and couldn't budge. Thankfully, it was the only timetable glitch of the entire day. London 2012 is not only ready it's already limbering up on the side of the track and preparing to start. The building plan is way ahead of schedule. The stadiums are essentially finished and the arena interiors are now being fitted out 18 months ahead of the opening ceremony. What's more, it is all under budget, even after £600million was taken out of the coffers. Coe bubbles with statistics and anecdotes about the problems his team have had to overcome. Somehow, they have managed to reconcile the demands of five London boroughs, various architects, planners, sports bodies, athletes, residents and politicians to produce something wonderful. The venues are just beautiful. The velodrome, the aquatic centre, the main stadium all look fabulous and lie within walking distance of one another in a giant riverside park. Already this Olympic site feels more coherent than anything I found in Beijing. As for our transport issues, a super-fast rail link will run from central London to the park in six minutes, 12 times every hour. That should solve it. The complex has all appeared on the landscape, practically overnight, like a new Canary Wharf. It is extraordinary and will undoubtedly change London. But it is something the entire nation can be proud of, too. You wait and see. Audley's Almighty cheek Audley Harrison grandly declared that God was in his corner and then added without a hint of irony: 'My ego was once out of control, but now' I had to pause there because I hadn't laughed quite so much at the vain presumption of it all since Margaret Thatcher announced: 'As God said - and I think quite rightly' I'll be upfront about this. I have a problem with people who claim God is on their side. They are usually delusional, as you need to be to assume that an almighty being, with the entire cosmos to roam, would be busy choosing sides in some over-hyped punch-up in Manchester. Harrison says he called upon God three times - praying for a re-match with Danny Williams, a chance to avenge a defeat by Michael Sprott and to meet David Haye - and was granted every wish. That could happen, I suppose, if God doubles up as Aladdin and pops out of lanterns during the pantomime season. 'The universe gives you what you want,' declared Harrison. Actually, I think you'll find the universe is a vast, cold and disinterested place that couldn't give a flying. The universe might tune in for Ali v Frazier. But not Harrison. Besides, if the universe is handing Audley special treatment, wouldn't it have been quicker for him to pray 'make me world champion' all those years ago? Or is that too obvious? Under pressure: Roberto Mancini Call him Moan-ciniRoberto Mancini is obviously losing it. He has decided he is being unfairly scrutinized because he is a foreigner. 'It is because City are headed by an Italian,' he whined. 'I am sorry to say this, but the English are nationalists when it comes to football'. Oh, Roberto! This is about as valid as Ali G's 'Is it 'cos I is black?' complaint. I suppose we could ask Carlo Ancelotti or Roberto Di Matteo or any of the other foreign Premier League managers about Mancini's excuse. Or we could point out the England coach appears to be an Italian chap. We could even remind Mancini that, of the 20 clubs in Italy's Serie A, just two of their coaches are from outside that country, which suggests English football is unlikely to gain a great deal from an Italian lesson in multi-culturalism. But we will confine ourselves to telling Mancini that he is under pressure because he is at the richest club in the world, has spent around £300million on new players and has lost three games on the spin. The only relevance his nationality has at this juncture is that he will be back in his homeland in time for Christmas if that sequence continues. First Dubai, now the United States: Was there a clause in Wayne Rooney's new contract saying he could take a sabbatical this season? Explore more:People: Graeme Souness, Jamie Carragher, Kevin Keegan, David Haye, Roberto Di Matteo, Kenny Dalglish, Fernando Torres, Sebastian Coe, Margaret Thatcher, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, Steven Gerrard, Danny Williams, Carlo Ancelotti Places: Dubai, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Italy, United Kingdom