Gerrard’s smokescreen an excuse for underperformance

As much as I respect Steven Gerrard as a footballer, I have to admit to being shocked at his attempts to divert attention away from his team-mates’ recent dire performances on the football park.

To blame the failure of Liverpool’s multi-million pound squad to be challenging for league honours on board-room uncertainty is a smokescreen of the highest order.

There can be no doubt the management and ownership of Liverpool FC will be a subject of much debate in the dressing room, as it is in pubs, homes and workplaces all across the city. But to say that it is the reason behind the team’s poor performances and results is nothing but an insult to the people that pay money every week to go and watch the team.

The Liverpool fans love and feel for the club more than any of the players (Gerrard and Jamie Carragher aside). Can you imagine if, on being hauled in to their own boss’ office to explain a poor month of sales figures, the reason why a particular construction site has fallen behind schedule or why certain papers hadn’t been filed away correctly, they replied that uncertainty in the Liverpool boardroom was causing them to underperform. Would that be accepted? Of course it wouldn’t, which is why Gerrard’s statement is so incredible.

Yes, there does seem to be problems at a board room level.  Yes, there does seem to be an issue over financing both the new stadium and new players. And yes, manager Rafa Benitez is under pressure by not being publicly backed by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

But these things should not affect the performance of 11 highly paid and talented individuals to perform for the 40,000 fans who have paid good money to come along to games they should be winning.

It is perhaps unfair to criticise Gerrard’s performances as there is no-one who tries harder in a Liverpool shirt and there is no doubt that it would be preferable for all involved to have the future of the club decided soon. However, in truth, it is the Liverpool players – along with Benitez, who was backed with considerable funds in the summer – who need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask why they are not mounting a greater challenge.

Football matches are won and lost on the pitch and not in the board room.

Scotland shortlist fails to inspire

So Billy Davies has ruled himself out of the running for the Scotland manager’s job. Please excuse me for not reaching for the Night Nurse to catch up on any lost sleep.

Davies has proved himself to be astute at taking flagging Championship sides and challenging for promotion but no more than that. I have no doubt he is a great coach but an effective man-manager or statesmanlike figure he certainly is not. At least not yet. My good friend Alan Pattullo of the Scotsman has said it here much better than I can. Some have called this a character assassination but in my view this is a frank assessment of Davies’ career to date. Well done for telling it like it is Alan.

So, according to reports it is now down to Tommy Burns, Graeme Souness, Mark McGhee or George Burley. I have to say that none of them inspire a great deal of confidence in carrying on Walter Smith and Alex McLeish’s good work. To perform against teams like France, Italy and Holland, a coach should really have some experience of taking his side into battle against some top teams – and for me that means having managed a team in European competition or in the English Premiership.

Burley performed miracles with Hearts before he was ousted by ‘hand’s on’ owner Vladimir Romanov and he is currently doing well under difficult circumstances at Southampton. However, he has no European experience and limited time managing in the top-flight.

I also very much like the work McGhee is doing at Motherwell as he has not only got them winning but playing some great attacking football in the process. However, again he has no European experience in management and prior to Motherwell can count Bristol City, Leicester and Wolves as previous clubs.

Souness is a recipe for dressing room disharmony and, although hugely experienced at a number of top-flight clubs, it is almost inevitable that his arrogance and man-management style would disrupt the atmosphere within the squad.

I can’t help but think that Burns’ name is only in the frame because of a lack of other viable candidates and by way of apology for being overlooked when McLeish was appointed. His recent ‘managerial experience’ amounts to being No2 during Berti Vogts’ disastrous reign as Scotland boss and coaching the youth teams at Celtic Park.

I struggle to remember much about his reign as Celtic manager in the 1990’s and although I believe his teams’ were lauded for playing some decent football I think I am right in saying that it was not Celtic’s most successful period in their history.

The SFA seem determined to go down the Scottish route for their next boss and to that end I am surprised that no-one has mentioned the two most successful Scots in coaching positions in the Premiership (excluding, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson).

Steve Clarke at Chelsea and Alex Miller at Liverpool have been involved with their respective clubs through a number of highly successful campaigns. Miller has worked alongside Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez during UEFA Cup and Champions League triumphs while Clarke has gleaned considerable continental knowledge from Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri.

I particularly like the thought of Clarke as boss as there have been some extremely positive noises coming from Stamford Bridge about his involvement in Chelsea’s success. I heard a story from someone (I believe it was Andy Townsend on TalkSport although I could be mistaken) talking about a recent abject first-half showing from Chelsea.

The team apparently performed much better after half-time following a rousing team talk. The man who delivered this team talk: manager Avram Grant? No. Former Ajax manager and Grant’s esteemed assistant Henk Ten Caat? No. It was Steve Clarke.

Having so much respect in a dressing room full of multi-millionaires can surely only stand him in good stead for a top position elsewhere and I see no reason why it couldn’t be Scotland.

Of course, the SFA have had their fingers burnt after their last two managers were poached and they will be in no hurry to lose another one should they prove successful. In that sense, Clarke’s growing reputation and age would probably count against him should the blazers at the SFA decide he was worth a look.

Miller, then, would seem a reasonable name to throw into the hat. He is at an age when the ‘part-time’ nature of international management may be appealing and he may be keen to be his own man again after years of being in the shadow of successful managers. He is also less likely to be poached should he continue the upturn in fortunes for the national team.

People may point to his time at Hibs and Aberdeen where he was not considered to be an exponent of the beautiful game and was happy to win ugly. But at Hibs he duly delivered and won the League Cup in 1991, reached the final in 1993 and guided the Edinburgh-side to third place in the league in 1995.

It is important the SFA exhaust all the possibilities for appointing a Scottish manager but nobody should be appointed simply because they are Scottish and will take the job. Should none of the above candidates prove suitable then we cannot let our experience with Berti put us off the foreign route again.