Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Conform, or ye shall be cast out...

As Nietzsche, the great philosopher of ‘herd instinct,’ knew only too well, the truly free thinker often speaks up when ‘his’ culture is at its cocksure, self-congratulatory zenith/nadir. Just as the England Test cricket team’s recent ascent to world number one status saw me adopt the apparently heretical view that the domestic county game still needed a radical overhaul (many saw causality not correlation in the latter’s apparent rude health), so Liverpool’s Week of Beating Manchester and romp past some lambs in Wolves’ clothing has left me feeling little different than I did ten days ago in the wake of that abject defeat at Bolton. At the time, I was bemoaning the team having the cutting edge of a space hopper, a position to which I’m still beholden, despite many – the dutiful, obedient herd – believing the grounds for argument have now been swept away.

Tempting as it is to paraphrase the old Club 18-30 slogan – two swallows don’t make a summer – I shall not be so churlish as to deny the importance of these major scalps. Nevertheless, a sense of proportion – a scarce quality in the excitable world of Premier League football – is one I’m trying to cling on to as the roiling rivers of righteousness rise and pick up speed. Thus, it seems to me that these victories do nothing to vitiate the feeling that had settled in me after seeing Liverpool fleeced by the Trotters as easily as was Trigger in The Nag’s Head, the sense that King Kenny’s Revolution [tempted to pun that as ‘Kevolution’, in the manner of Rafalution, but felt there were acronym-based drawbacks], if not running aground, was increasingly losing momentum. 


Yet before the naysayers parp indignant, what is undeniably more pressing than the arguments themselves – and of more urgency for the overheated psychological ghettoes of the fanatics of all stripes, all clubs – is whether such dissenting opinions can be voiced without risk of being wheeled off to the wrack, the asylum, or to some solemn auto-da-fé. (All this in theory, of course; I’m fully aware that nary a hair on the head of reality will be flustered by any of this.) Are our intimate, personal feelings merely reflex actions designed to keep us from ostracism? Is blind faith the only possible attitude one can adopt in order to be a true supporter? Credo, ergo sum. Nietzsche, again: “Everything unconditional belongs in pathology”. 

Let me be absolutely unambiguous: my wish to defend the right to be critical does not mean I covertly want(ed) Dalglish to be sacked. If there’s jerking to do here, it’ll be my cock, not my knee, ta.

What I’m saying is this: while ‘his’ ‘charisma’ was evidently crucial in steadying the ship last season, a task that may have proven beyond pretty much anyone else, and while his man management appears – insofar as this can be perceived from outside – to have been astute, there remain large question marks over his dealings in the transfer market (those Trotters, again) and thus valid doubts as to his ability to build a team: i.e. to select parts and make them best fit together as a whole. 


Yes, yes, I am aware of the mitigation. Either the recent results – which, pre-Wolves, was a run of 6 points from 18 in the league, including games against the other three of the bottom four – are due to Suárez’s prolonged absence (the answer to which is surely: “Like, hello!?! Er, contingency planning!?! Not having too many eggs in a particular basket ought to be a lesson learnt from the Rafa years…”). Or, the ideologues and apologists will say, the squad is the dastardly work of a combination of highly-paid list-writer Damien Comolli and badly applied Moneyball theories – the point of which was that Billy Beane paid under the odds for the quietly achieving and unheralded players that he picked up.

In fact, the shopping under Dalglish has recalled that Mark Williams’ character from The Fast Show, the one that’s asked to pop out for a loaf of bread and pint of milk (or any items belonging to the same phylum of consumer goods) but instead – “even better than that” – returns with castanets, a pestle-and-mortar, and some WD40. Or Downing, Henderson, and Carroll, as they’re better known… 

Andy runs from the petrol-wielders

Despite the goal against Wolves, Carroll of course remains the biggest blot on Dalglish’s copy book. He is to intelligent movement what Shanghai is to carbon neutrality. Notwithstanding his role in Saturday’s winner, he has generally cut a forlorn figure at Anfield: if not galumphing hither and thither, then harrumphing equally aimlessly. And he cost £35m, a purchase akin to a 16-day cocaine bender, when all you’ve got to show for it at the end is the business card of a cosmetic surgeon who promised vaguely to rebuild your septum.

Of course, I’m more than aware that the Liverpool faithful catechize thus: Suárez + Carroll = Torres + Babel, give or take a mill’ (I’m unsure whether that phrase in the equation has an appropriate Greek symbol). However, and even though economics has long since seen off psychoanalysis as the intellectual discipline housing the most blaggers and pseuds, the problem is clearly that the transaction sent a message to the market, much in the same way that Chelsea Regan, by allowing herself to get fingered on the stairs at Jordan Morgan’s party, might as well thereafter have gone everywhere in a SLAG T-shirt (a non-ironic one, I mean, the sort that would be worn by a Western woman who’d been naïve enough to flaunt kneecap while walking around central Tehran as she was bundled on State TV for a peremptory and unconvincing confession en route to her live stoning). Subsequent behaviour is affected by past actions: “precedents”, I believe they’re called. Hence the fees for Jordan and Downing.

Anyway, with his loping stride and uprightness and ponderousness and lack of mobility or speed of thought (or sense of where he might need to be in order to bring the degree of difficulty of his next headed chance to within the narrow latitude afforded by his form/talent), Carroll resembles nothing so much as a giant Penny Farthing. And is equally archaic. Now that the only club rich and/or gullible enough to take him has rejected the chance to swap him for their astronomically deluded, universally reviled and cosmically greedy ex-skipper, there seems only one possibility left for Liverpool. I thus await the day Mike Wedderburn announces that the Big Geordie has been destroyed in a blaze, a grubbily ill-conceived white-collar insurance job…only for there to emerge sightings of Carroll on Dartmoor, like an expensive, exotic pet – a lynx, say, or puma – that grew too large for owners who hadn’t properly thought through the purchase and were forced to let the beast to go feral, since when it has roamed the mossy uplands, hungry and able to think of nothing save killing (at which point he’d probably make a more than useful target man, I imagine…). 

Craig's list...

All of which has recently left Liverpool bereft of forward options. Granted, Craig Bellamy, while clearly one vertebra short of a spinal column, offers a distinct threat (no, not like that; I said distinct). But Dirk Kuyt, without the garnish of goals, has increasingly resembled a tired old lettuce – are those brown-fringed and mulchy leaves still usable? On Saturday, even Tuesday, yes, we bulked out an insipid fish finger sandwich. But for how much longer?

So, what can be said of both Liverpool’s football and the manager’s vision?

One would hardly expect Dalglish to own up to his mistakes; after all, his statements are bound by pragmatic concerns, not truth-telling. Even so, and despite the commendation of his man management above, the censure levelled at his players in the aftermath of the Bolton game was pragmatically illuminating. Accusing them of lacking the fundamental values of the club – respect for the opposition – invited a couple of immediate thoughts: first, surely he has ample opportunity to remind them of these values in the dressing room; second, is this a smokescreen for their lack of cutting edge? Blaming their absence of ‘values’ allows him to justify manoeuvring players toward the exit (whence the Carroll swap story), while simultaneously protecting his footballing judgment. 

What price piety?

 So, again: what can be said? What is permissible?

The eminently sane and invariably perceptive Iain MacIntosh, mobilizing something of a ‘don’t-be-lunatics’ argument amidst a delegitimation of dissensus, recently wrote, slightly browbeatingly: “When Dalglish took over from Roy Hodgson he inherited a club that was headed for a relegation battle. […] Dalglish saved the club, he lifted it up the table. He brought passing football and patient, intelligent play. He forged a defence that has conceded just 21 goals all season, a record bettered only by Manchester City”.

Yes, he did both of those things. But here’s the thing: not at the same time. First he created good football, then he ripped it up (not deliberately) for defensive solidity. Toward the end of last season, Liverpool hit a devastating patch of form, with Kuyt, the flaky-in-the-wrong-system Maxi, and the jettisoned (for a vastly inferior replacement) Meireles all feeding off, and rotating about, Suárez’s cunning and darting movement: a team characterized by electric final-third interplay, and all the better for Gerrard’s absence. This season has been largely lumpen, prosaic fare. Conclusion? When Kenny had to improvise, he was able to throw together a nice recipe for good football; since being given the keys to the piggy bank, he has so far been unable to construct coherent, progressive football.

Is the parade of ordinariness – and boy, when was the last time such a pedestrian, average Fergie team visited Anfield? – genuine cause for concern? If so, should we simply shrug like dutiful acolytes? How does it reflect on Dalglish? Spending £35m is hardly a minor decision for all but a couple of clubs in Europe. And it directly affects the speed of the team’s recovery.

Whether or not we think the divine body of Dalglish is the right man for this job – and I do, albeit with caveats – it would be wise to acknowledge the piety that might, a priori, lead to all manner of argumentative contortions and self-deceit, to what Nietzsche described in The Genealogy of Morals as an instinct “in which every lie is sanctified”. After all, let’s not forget the etymological link between credentials (often thought of as an entirely objective and measurable quality) and credulousness. Sometimes, we see what we want to believe, the ‘properties’ or ‘attributes’ that you wish to see (including ‘charisma’), especially when the fervour is strongest.

Perhaps every club has its prophets, its potential messiahs, yet the vehemence with which one must endorse their every last action and not venture any dissenting theories is not a healthy state of affairs. Football is still too pious. And frankly, it all seems too trivial.

It is not an easy thing to do, and should not be rushed, but it is possible to support your team at the same time as abandoning the reflex chirruping of the party line, to depart the now timorous, now tumescent herd, to live life as becoming, not belonging (no wonder that, in the Romance languages, ‘to experience’ is generally the same verb as ‘to experiment’). Tribalism is so un-becoming, with its top-down emotional prescriptions, its pantomime hatred, the utter subjection of thought and belief to a miserable sense of identity, the fetid interiority of it all. One only need look at recent events in Port Said to apprehend the cancerous ‘microfascism’ lurking within the herd and apt to appear when its us/them borders are rigid and the molecules within become overheated, unable to dissipate the identity-system’s energy… Desire is physics. So, try and turn down those passion taps, folks: pride is not a universal positive. Attain immanence, like Viv Anderson. No fixed attachments. Fuck it: let’s play as the UK. Who cares? Nations are artifices, a pious costume for the mute biological process that we are.

They say it’s a terrible thing, to lose one’s beliefs. It’s not. Not if the thing you believe in is a morass of lies, wish-fulfilling fantasies and subjugation mechanisms. Escape, escape! And allow football to escape with you. For, as football shows us every week, in grounds the length and breadth of the country, the last thing we need is the false togetherness of the herd. What we need are tools for conviviality.

Quite urgently.

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