A Love Letter To Roberto & James

In many was, the result against Aston Villa was the perfect summation of Liverpool’s season. The Reds never really got out of the blocks, whilst the Birmingham side gave us plenty of warnings that went unheeded. The refereeing was legitimately appalling, but the manager wasn’t able to get that point across because he was sitting in the stands as a result of a ban issued for celebrating in the face of the man tasked with taking charge of the match. We’re not going to miss out on a Champions League place because of dreadful refereeing. It will be because of losses to the likes of Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. There is no one for us to blame but ourselves for what looks to be fifth place finish at the end of the season. Even so, it would be nice to go through a campaign and see Liverpool being refereed to the same standards that other teams are held to. We don’t want special treatment, just for the officials to give us free-kicks and penalties for the same things that they give opposition players free-kicks and penalties for.

That, of course, is a pipe dream and judging by the way the referees have treated our appeals over the last few matches, we are paying the price for Jürgen Klopp quite rightly highlighting the truly abysmal nature of Paul Tierney’s performances when in charge of us. Instead of asking whether the German has a point, the PGMOL has appointed the Mancunian to referee the FA Cup final. Failure rewarded; dissent punished. Referees in this country act like the Mafia, promising protection if you’re compliant but happy to smash your shop front in if you don’t do what you’re told. Howard Webb’s PR exercise in Sky Sports last week, in which he explained how the Video Assistant Referee system worked over a number of incidents that the officials very clearly got right, will happily be pointed to as an example of more transparency, all whilst the men in the middle continue to make mistakes on a weekly basis without any comeuppance heading their way. We only have ourselves to blame for dropped points, but the ref certainly didn’t help.

James Milner: Mr Dependable

There have been times in which I’ve been critical of James Milner. I’ve long been amused at the idea that the fact he wins the lactate tests in pre-season means that he should be starting games in our midfield, as though the fact that 97-year-olds take part in marathons mean that they should be selected for the Olympics. The truth is, I think it’s the right time for him to move on and if, as has been suggested, it is the club that has forced the situation against the manager’s wishes then I’m glad that there are some people at Liverpool not operating on sentimentality alone. That being said, he will be a tough act to follow and a difficult name to replace. Whilst he’s never been a flare player, what he has consistently brought to the table is the sense that there is a grown-up in the room whenever he’s been on the pitch. He might not have made me feel as though he was going to score a goal or produce a bit of magic, but was he has consistently brought is a sense of calm.

I can very much envision a world in which the former Leeds, Aston Villa and Manchester City man returns to Anfield as a coach or even a manager in years to come. Perhaps that will even happen when he decides that the time is right to hang up his boots for good. A model professional that can teach the kids a thing or two, James Milner has been our Mr Dependable time and time again during Jürgen Klopp’s reign. The fact that the ‘Milner role’ is something that people often refer to now speaks volumes about what it is that he’s brought as a player. He has played virtually every role in this Liverpool side apart from goalkeeper, but I don’t doubt that he’d be excellent between the sticks if the circumstances called for it. He rarely gave less than a six or seven out of ten performance, which is a much maligned thing from footballers. The fact that it is the right time for him to leave the club doesn’t mean that I’m not sad to see him go. I hope our paths cross again in the future, Milly.

Bobby Dazzler

To some, it will be cruel that I’m not writing about Naby Keïta or Alex Olxlade-Chamberlain. The pair will long be remembered for being part of the first Liverpool team to win the Premier League title, but it would be untrue to suggest that they’ve been anything other than under-whelming. Whilst Oxlade-Chamerlain looked like he had the world at his feet prior to his injury against Roma, the fact that he never properly recovered from it meant that he never quite fulfilled his potential in a Liverpool shirt. A Lovely lad, by all accounts, he’ll be missed from the dressing room. As for Keïta, I struggle to think of a worse signing, pound for pound, during the Klopp era. Perhaps he’d have been a world-beater, but the fact he could never stay fit means we didn’t get to see it. He came, he underwhelmed, he left. A title winner, but not a winner of anyone’s heart and he can take his toxic fans that care more about the man than the club with him. The same cannot be said of Roberto Firmino, who will have left more than a few hearts broken.

The Brazilian didn’t exactly arrive with a fanfare, famously causing one journalist to say that the transfer committee ‘never explained’ why the paid what they did for him. I think the transfer committee’s decision has been well and truly borne out in the performances that we’ve been from ‘Bobby’ over the years. He was not, as one of the lads on an Anfield Wrap show said recently, a ‘stat-padder’. His goals almost always meant something, such was his ability to be killer when it came to it. Yet it’s the manner in which he played so selflessly that made him such a crucial part of Jürgen Klopp’s most devastating Liverpool teams. I will always think of what Peter Crouch said when it comes to Firmino: if you watch the game you won’t really see him. If you watch him, you’ll see the whole game. He was a ray of sunshine in a team that was deadly serious in what it was doing, consistently bringing the party whilst also getting the goals when it mattered. Of all of the players it will be hard to say goodbye to, I think him not being around will hit me the hardest.

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