Niranjan Kuppan & Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Andy S Grove, Intel’s former CEO, writes in his award winning book Only the Paranoid Survive that “The Person who is the star of the previous era is often the last one to adopt to change, the last one to yield to logic of a strategic inflection point, and tends to fall harder than most”.

A strategic inflection point, he goes on to describe, is “a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end”.

It is fair to say that football clubs, these days, can be looked up on as businesses – ones that thrive on investment, by virtue of which trophies and fans are won. Most football clubs have built their successes based on their past, historical times during which the breath of a club was stronger than its bank balance.

The bank balance of a club, today, plays as much a role in its success as it has always done in a sport like Formula One. Catheram and Marusia, for instance, struggle because they aren’t financially as sound as some of their other competitors, and the entire cycle is influenced as a result of that. If money can buy success these days, it is important to have the right people who put the money in to good use.

Football isn’t very dis-similar. With a plethora of investors throwing their currencies on clubs across Europe, clubs are increasingly becoming aware of the need to spend big, and more importantly, spend wise. Gone are those days where one could point fingers at the likes of Manchester City, or Chelsea, or PSG. Their argument would be simple – they’ve invested the money a lot more wisely than some of the other ‘big’ clubs.

This brings me back to what Andy S Grove stresses, repeatedly, in his book. When a business achieves success, the investment comes in. The leader of the organization is expected to put the money in to good use assessing the business circumstances – market needs, competition, future trends and so on and so forth.

There’s an interesting analogy that leaders use – that a great leader would have a microscope in one eye, and a telescope in the other. Try it and I’ll be surprised if you don’t get a headache. What this means is: a leader is aware of the short term goals that the business needs to achieve, yet aware of the long term vision for the organization.

Out of ideas? A common sight these days with Brendan Rodgers

Out of ideas? A common sight these days with Brendan Rodgers © Daily Mail

In footballing terms, a long term vision could be to improve the standards of a club’s academy thereby nurturing players who would become first team regulars in the long run. Or investing in young talent, through the help of a scouting system, from outside the club before their market value exponentially rises. This would save a lot of costs in the long run because the primary needs are being served by the organization from within.

A short term vision, on the other hand, would be taking the necessary measures to ensure that for the following season, the resources are intact to match the club’s success over the previous year, if not out-perform. These could be players who fill in to address a void due to the loss of a key resource, or coaches that provide valuable back-room addition to improve on aspects where there were noticeable deficiencies.

Let me get to the point. Liverpool FC find themselves at the helm of an inflexion point. The success that the 2013-14 season had bought the club, instead of leap-frogging a desire to reach higher standards, has sent the club on a roller coaster ride, in reverse gear.

I am not seeking an opportunity to blamestorm here, I am a fan, and I will always ride through the highs and lows of the Liverpool family. What bemuses me, though, is a set of aberrant errors made by, understandably, a manager at the start of his career – very young by footballing standards.

So let us begin with the long term vision. Liverpool’s academy has historically been a renowned one that has seen its graduates, to quote a few from the contemporary era, like Owen, Fowler, Gerrard, Carragher and Sterling, albeit through different circumstances, rise to great heights in the footballing circles. There is sufficient evidence to support the fact that the yesteryear managers of Liverpool FC, even until the likes of Houllier and Benitez had a strong team marshalling the academy to churn our first team material graduates.

Although the academy can’t be faulted for its deficiencies, it is clear that Rodger’s inclination towards not using them points our fingers towards two possible explanations: one, that the support system that once existed through the likes of ex-Liverpool players, Steve Heighway and Phil Thompson for instance, has robbed the academy of the passion that otherwise would’ve been driven through men who knew the club best.

The other explanation could be his own reluctance, for reasons he knows best. We aren’t qualified to comment on this, nevertheless, this will rob Rodgers off one of a characteristic that could have otherwise backed him during these turbulent times. Every football fan derives great pleasure from seeing their academy graduates being tested on the biggest arena – regardless of whether they succeed or fail.

There’s still hope on players like Flanagan, Ibe, Wisdom and Rossiter who will be expected by the fans to feature in greater prominence in the seasons ahead. This does not deter fans from questioning some of Rodger’s decisions to invest in the transfer market, heavily, on players who are similar to those graduating from the academy with promise. Joao Carlos Tiexiera and Suso are examples of creative, attacking talent who could have been nurtured, instead of investing for similar roles heavily in the transfer market.

This brings us to the short term vision. Given the ascent to Champions league football, and fuelled ambitions that called for the Premier League title after over two decades worth of wait, there were two concerns that the club had to address: lack of squad depth, and replacing arguably the best player of the Premier League over the course of the 2013-14 season.

Defeat to Crystal Palace left most fans hoping that this would be rock bottom

Defeat to Crystal Palace left most fans hoping that this would be rock bottom © LiverpoolEcho

Metaphorically, Steven Gerrard may be the engine of the team, but the team wouldn’t have run had it not been for Suarez and his extraordinary feats. It would be unfair to question Rodgers tactics of investing heavily around other positions – yes, the squad did need the depth but not without replacing the engine. It hardly matters if an aeroplane has a new landing gear – the engine needs to be new, if not newly overhauled.

Blame it on Liverpool’s recent branding as a second tier footballing city, Rodgers’ experience, rather the lack of it, as a manager of a top football club or the reluctance to spend big on a particular player, the summer transfer window of Liverpool FC resembled that of Spurs last season. Failure to learn from Tottenham’s debacle of trying to replace Bale with an extra team bus had fuelled comparisons sooner than say, at the end of the season.

Rodgers would wish he could eat his words from last year when he’d, arrogantly so, stated that any team that had spent over a 100 million should be competing for the title. He finds himself sailing the same boat, raising more questions than answers to the ever-demanding audience of the Premier League.

Arsene Wenger, despite his record of signing young talents, invested in experienced players who could deliver from day one – over the last few years, names like Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud resonate with this theme.

Balotelli and Lallana came in with proven Premier League Experience. Their starts couldn't have been more contrasting. ©  LiverpoolEcho

Balotelli and Lallana came in with proven Premier League Experience. Their starts couldn’t have been more contrasting. © LiverpoolEcho

Rodgers, on the other hand, barring an unwanted Balotelli, and Lallana, cannot claim to have signed  ‘first team material’. This would beg the question as to why Liverpool were unable to sign a ‘marquee player’ this summer to take over Suarez’s mantle. Whether you blame it on Rodgers ambition, rather the lack of it, or the brand value Liverpool carries today, the manager is answerable.

To sum it up, Rodgers’ failings over the last few months is indicative of a ship that is about to hit an iceberg. What is clear now is that the iceberg is visible, the question is: who is going to steer the ship away from an impending disaster?

Onwards and upwards.


After Liverpool’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Sunday, TCE team catches up with The Chennai Kop – Liverpool FC’s Chennai Supporters Club to get a feel on their perceptions after this very important victory. TCE also picks their brains on the Champions League draw.

Liverpool’s high pressing and quick tempo proved to be the difference between the two sides at the end of the day, a game during which controversial striker Mario Balotelli made his debut for the Red Merseyside club. After missing two glorious chances in the first half, Balotelli, yet, managed to impress through his determination and work-rate, one that City fans would’ve hardly witnessed during his previous spell in the Premier League. Brilliant individual performances from Sterling, Henderson, Sturridge and Lovren ensured that the result went Liverpool’s way.

This comes in as a much needed victory for last season’s title challengers after the weekend saw Arsenal draw 1-1 at Leicester, and rivals Manchester City lose 1-0 to Stoke City at home.

TCE will continue to cover the Premier League, Champions League, and the soon commencing Indian Super League through audio and video podcasts. Watch out for this space!

 


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Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

I couldn’t miss out on a chance to visit an arena whose prodigal sons include the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Estadio Jose Alvalade - Sporting CP, Lisbon

Estadio Jose Alvalade – Sporting CP, Lisbon

Sporting Club de Portugal (Sporting CP), known outside of Portugal as Sporting Lisbon, is one of the Tres Grandes, meaning ‘Big Three’, clubs of Portugal – the other two being neighbor SL Benfica and FC Porto. I was in Lisbon on business when I decided to sneak in for a 45 minute tour of Estadio Jose Alvalade with four other Irish guys.

The stadium can host around 50000 spectators

The stadium can host around 50000 spectators

Founded in the year 1906 as a club that broke away from Campo Grande SC, Sporting CP’s new stadium, unveiled in 2003, is one of the three in Portugal which is certified ‘5 star’ by UEFA. This implies that the stadium is eligible to host finals of UEFA events – the semifinal of UEFA 2004, between Netherlands and Portugal, was played here at the Estadio Jose Alvalade. Portugal marched on to the finals, only to be halted by a resolute Greek team which registered a shocking win under the shrewd, but ultra-defensive, tactics of Otto Rehhagal.

View from Presidential Box Seats

View from Presidential Box Seats

Strangely, the first game played at the new stadium was a friendly between Sporting CP and Manchester United, a game in which the home team won 3-1, but lost a young star in Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United. Signed for a sum of 12 million pounds with add-ons, it is believed that Ronaldo’s magnificent performance against Manchester United tempted Ferguson to lay an attractive offer on the table immediately after the game. John O’ Shea, whose role was to mark Cristiano Ronaldo in that game, in Ferguson’s own words “could get nowhere close to him.”

Cristiano Ronaldo played 25 games for Sporting CP, and wore the Number 28 Jersey

Cristiano Ronaldo played 25 games for Sporting CP, and wore the Number 28 Jersey

The stadium also hosted the UEFA Cup final in 2005, when the home team Sporting CP, as hosts, lost 1-3 to CSKA Moscow. Sporting CP currently stand second in the table behind derby rivals Benfica SL. To their credit, Sporting CP currently have a squad capable to compete with the very best in European football.

The Press Room at Estadio Jose Alvalade can seat up to 125 people

The Press Room at Estadio Jose Alvalade can seat up to 125 people

But given that they aren’t among the Europe’s most elite, the financial muscle of ‘bigger’ clubs have often prized away their talented youngsters. Apart from Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, players such as Simao, Ricardo Quaresma, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, Nani, and even legendary Danish goal-keeper Peter Schmeichel plied their trades here before moving to other elite clubs in Europe.

The Museum houses trophies won across multiple sports - Football, Futsal, Athletics, Handball

The Museum houses trophies won by Sporting CP across multiple sports – Football, Futsal, Athletics, Handball

One of the most sought after youngsters is William Carvalho, an Angolan born Portuguese international with three caps to his name. At 21 years of age, and an imposing frame at 6 foot and 3 inches, he’s a defensive midfielder who has been likened to Ivory Coast international and Manchester City super-star Yaya Toure. Carvalho has a release clause of 35 million Euros, and is being sought out by Premiership side Manchester United.

The stadium houses a museum right next to which is the table where players sign their contracts with the management

The stadium houses a museum right next to which is the table where players sign their contracts with the management

Rumors are afloat at Lisbon that Manchester United may break their bank to land the youngster whose wages will rise by an incredible 30 times! He’s currently at an appalling salary bracket of 5000 Euros per month, a sum that Wayne Rooney earns for a few hours of football. But given their struggles in midfield, it is said that David Moyes is seeking a towering presence in midfield, owing to the below-average performances of Belgian midfielder Marouanne Fellaini this season.

Image  —  Posted: March 11, 2014 by thecognitivenomad in Arenas, Football
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