Rick Parry arrived back from Japan full of hope for the Reds future. Champions League holders, runners up in the Club World Cup, recently breaking a club record for clean sheets – it all looks rosy right now for the club. "I’ve been optimistic about our future before, but not more optimistic than now," said the Reds’ chief executive today.
The last time he was optimistic he says was after Liverpool won the treble, and then on to win two more piece of silverware at the start of the following season, making it five trophies in all for 2001. So, like most Reds fans at the time, Parry had high hopes for the Reds as the year ticked over to 2002: "In 2002 it was also looking good. Just like then, the foundations are there for us and now it’s about kicking on and taking the next step. We’ve just got to keep on doing what we’re doing, keep on improving and make sure the players we acquire are of the right quality. That’s the key. Not to buy the wrong players and make rushed decisions."
What Parry said echoed what the Reds’ manager had said the day before. Rafa Benitez had a better way of putting it though: "I always say it’s like having a table with three legs and you need to get the other one to fit properly. You want a certain size and people may be saying, ‘Have this one, it’s cheaper and it’s better,’ but you have to make sure you get the right one. It’s the same in football. If you want to build a team, you have to get the one that fits in."
Parry is cautious that Liverpool and their supporters don’t get carried away with the good run, just like they didn’t need to get too worked up about a couple of poor results earlier in the season: "A lot of doubts about the team which were expressed around September and October were misplaced, although just as we said you don’t hand out trophies in October, you don’t hand them out in January either."
Parry also echoed the views expressed by Liverpool’s Norwegian international John Arne Riise. Riise pointed out that the dejection in Cardiff after losing in one final resulted ultimately in the glory in the much bigger prize of the European Cup. Parry agreed: "The disappointment of defeat to Chelsea in the Carling Cup final was the motivation for us to kick on last season. That’s the way to look at it. We’re already thinking of doing what we can to return to Japan next year. You have to take a lot of pride out of the performance of the boys. Sometimes it makes it harder to bear when you’re the better team."
Parry fancies the idea of making it six European Cups too – after all that’s the only way to qualify for the Japanese tournament: "We’ll just have to go back and win next year. We were very professional in our preparation and that was vindicated in the way we performed. Sometimes you have games like the final when you’re just not going to score."
Benitez says Liverpool’s improvement so far is something that will help them further improve by attracting the right players: "Always the quality of signings is important, but now we are in a good position it is even more important. It’s difficult to sign in January because the best players are playing in good teams, which makes it harder. But we want to grow and we want to improve."
Rafa also pointed out how important it is to help new players to bond with existing players: "What is important is that you must give the players confidence in their new team-mates. They must trust the new signings. It makes it much easier to build things."
Under Gerard Houllier a lot of money was spent on players who turned out to be worth much less than the money spent on them. The stories of rifts between different groups of players at Melwood are well-known, so it’s reassuring that Rafa is prepared to keep team spirit at the top-end of his priorities: "I don’t know what happened before I came, but always new signings are important, and now we are in a good position it is even more important to get it right. The key is to get players who will fit in. You have to be very careful to get the right ones."
Rafa has also made big changes with the club scouts as well since he arrived – another detail he feels is vital: "It depends on the scouting department as well. You can have information about players but might need to talk to the scouts to find out that little bit more. You may know someone is a good player, but need to find out about them as a person and a professional as well."
Of course the presence of scouts at various clubs around Europe will help fuel the rumours that will be dominating the sports pages for the next five or six weeks.