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Thursday, January 24, 2008
Reds' reputation on the line

Andrew Hush

Liverpool legend Steve Nicol has called on the club to revert to its traditional methods in order to solve the crisis which currently threatens to tear the Anfield club asunder.

Nicol, who made 468 appearances for Liverpool between 1981 and 1995, has been head coach of MLS club New England Revolution since 2002 and, though he may be detached geographically from goings-on at his old club, emotionally he remains connected to all that happens at Anfield.

A week before New England commence pre-season training ahead of the 2008 MLS season, Nicol admits it is difficult to watch what is unfolding in the red half of Merseyside and that he is particularly troubled that many of the dissenting voices are being heard publicly. It is not, says Nicol, the Liverpool he remembers.

'The one thing about Liverpool was that any business was conducted the way it should be, he says. 'It was between the parties concerned and not plastered all over newspapers. That's the biggest disappointment. The club's reputation is taking a bit of a bashing as far as that's concerned, which is something that shouldn't happen.'

After joining Liverpool as a 20-year-old from Ayr United, Nicol became an integral part of one of the most trophy-laden periods of any club in English history, an unprecedented run of success that came to be symbolised by the notion of 'The Liverpool Way'.

Calm leadership in the boardroom from chairman, Sir John Smith, and chief executive, Peter Robinson, meant that club affairs were dealt with internally, no simple task given that the period in question featured a number of high-profile events that affected Liverpool directly, most notably the Heysel and Hillsborough stadium disasters.

The efficiency of the boardroom was mirrored in playing matters, as continuity among the coaching staff enabled the club to barely miss a step on the filed, despite transitioning managers during the period, from Bob Paisley, through Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish, to Graeme Souness.

Nicol's collection of honours from his time at Anfield includes four league titles, one European Cup and three FA Cups, reflecting Liverpool's consistency of the time. On a personal level, Nicol was named Footballer of the Year in 1989, quite an achievement for a player who spent most of his career in the full-back position.

Back then, the famous 'boot room' was the only site in which any dirty laundry would be aired. However, over a dozen years since Nicol left Anfield, Liverpool is beset by turmoil.

Fans at the match against Aston Villa voiced their disapproval at the way the club is being run. That may not be uncommon among the paying public at any club. What is, however, is what is taking place behind the scenes.

In stark contrast to Nicol's time at the club, it seems that everyone from Liverpool's owners to its manager to its players has an opinion to publicly broadcast.

'It never happened at the club before and hopefully it will brush over quickly so they can get back to conducting things in a proper manner,' said Nicol.

In recent weeks, Liverpool's new ownership group of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have been quoted regularly in the British media regarding goings-on at the club they bought in February 2007.

As a veteran of the English game, Nicol is wary of believing everything he reads, claiming: 'newspapers are renowned for fabrication' - but he does believe the club has serious issues that need to be dealt with. Privately.

'I'm only going by paper talk,' he says. 'But, if they are correct, then the owners have maybe spoken to them when they shouldn't. People are saying things when they should probably know a bit better.'

Hicks, in particular, has publicly questioned Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, questioning team selections and accusing him of 'pouting' over issues the Spaniard had regarding the January transfer window. Benitez's position was made increasingly precarious by the revelation that Jurgen Kilnsmann had been sounded out as a potential replacement.

The pervading feeling among Liverpool supporters is that Hicks and Gillett have little expert knowledge regarding how to run their football club. Indeed, given the long-running failure of the new men in charge to successfully refinance the club debts, without which a proposed new stadium is far from a foregone conclusion, doubts about their (lack of) business acumen have also increased.

As Nicol continues to observe from his distant view and pick his way through each day's Anfield updates, he is sure of one thing: recent results have not made for pleasant viewing. An upturn in form on the field would certainly help to replace what is happening off it, on the back pages.

'Because they have been dropping points,' he says. 'It just helps anybody who wants to have a go at them. Winning tends to solve most things, that's for sure.'

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