Reds must win every game. Including mind games.

When Alex Ferguson was interviewed after seeing his side battered 4-1 by Liverpool, he claimed the best side lost. The best side lost 4-1? The manager of the winning side, Rafael Benítez, had listened to taunts from opposing fans for weeks: “Rafa’s cracking up.” Now here was Ferguson, trying to make out that somehow Liverpool’s demolition job was all down to luck.

But that wasn’t his only excuse.

The interview just mentioned had been to his club’s own TV channel

It was the only interview he gave. Reports on Monday suggested he had refused to speak to Sky because he was annoyed with the kick-off time. United had played a day later than Liverpool in the Champions League, but on top of that Sky’s coverage of this match saw it kick off in the earliest possible slot of the weekend.

The suggestion was that, on top of their luck, Liverpool had an even bigger advantage because of the fatigue that United’s players would be feeling.

But on this occasion Sky had no choice. Sky would always prefer a later kick-off, preferably 4pm on Sunday, but the police just don’t like the idea of all that extra pre-match drinking time. It had to be a lunchtime kick-off. And it couldn’t be a Sunday lunchtime kick-off because that slot was taken by Setanta’s coverage of Manchester City, who’d been playing in Europe on Thursday.

It had to be a Saturday lunchtime kick-off if it was to be televised live.

Of course the kick-off time applied to both teams. Even if it had kicked off at 4pm on Sunday, Liverpool would still have had 24 more hours to recover and prepare than their opponents. Maybe United would have been less tired – but Liverpool would have been even hungrier.

So if Ferguson wanted to blame the humiliating scoreline on the fact his players were tired that’s all well and good – but it really wasn’t Sky’s fault.  So why avoid their interviewer’s questions?

Away from the comfort of his club’s own reporters, would Ferguson have been spared a reminder of Rafa’s January comments? Would he still be able to suggest he’d need to use Freud to help him decipher them? Would he be able to use the word “disturbed”?

He could try. But he’d look rather silly.

Mention the injustice of that early kick off and he might just have had Rafa’s words read back to him. Rafa had said: “Two years ago we had a lot of early kick-offs away on Saturdays when United were playing on Sundays. Now he is complaining about everything, that everybody is against United. But the second half of the season will see them playing at home against all the teams at the top of the table, it is a fantastic advantage.”

Maybe he’d have a reply ready for that. But just as he opened his mouth to air his reply, the next part would be read back to him: “If he wants to talk about fixtures, and have a level playing field, there are two options. One is the same as in Spain; the draw for the first part of the league is known, in the second half everyone plays the opposite. Sky and Setanta have the right to choose their games and it will be the same for everyone. So, Mr Ferguson will not be complaining about fixtures and a campaign against United.”

Assuming Ferguson was still in the room at this stage, he’d probably be trying to stop the next bit being read out as well. Too late: “Or there is another option. That Mr Ferguson organises the fixtures in his office and sends it to us and everyone will know and cannot complain. That is simple.”

Ferguson seems to be finding fault with someone else, someone outside of his club, every time he’s interviewed. If he’s lost, he’ll find someone to blame. Before big games he’s renowned for his mind games – if not against his opposite number it’s against the referee. Publicly at least, it’s never his fault. “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise,” that Freud guy said once.

Whatever Ferguson’s reasons were for hiding from the press – and to be fair to him most people would want to hide after losing like that to their (not necessarily our) bitterest rivals – he certainly wasn’t complaining about two of Liverpool’s past visits to Old Trafford being rescheduled by Sky.

Going back to the 1995-96 season Liverpool were due to visit Old Trafford on Saturday September 30th. Sky wanted to televise it, as expected, so it couldn’t be a 3pm kick-off.

So was it played at lunchtime that day instead?

Well no, as it turned out. United’s big star of the time Eric Cantona started that season banned for that crazy lunge into the crowd. He was given community service as well as a lengthy ban from football.

The ban ran literally up to and including the last day of September. This meant September 30th was the last day he was ineligible to play. Had the game been played when originally planned, he’d have had to sit it out.

But Sky moved the game to the Sunday. Sunday was October 1st. He was now eligible.

Of course the FA, or the Premier League, should really have ensured the ban couldn’t finish a match earlier on the decision of a TV company. A quick look at any calendar when actually deciding on the ban would have told them this scenario was possible.

There is little doubt that billing the game as the return of the trawler-chaser would bring in more viewers than building it up as United’s last game without him.

The game ended 2-2, and Robbie Fowler made much more of an impact than Cantona. But Cantona got the headlines, and the equaliser. He set up United’s first too.

Why nobody seriously questioned it at the time is very similar to the kind of puzzle Rafa has been trying to unravel recently.

Surely the FA learned their lesson for any future long-term bans after that? Most bans in football are for a set number of games, and so delaying a game 24 or 48 hours will make no difference to a ban with one game left on it. Long term bans are rare, but usually run until a set date rather than for a set number of matches.

Of course the FA didn’t learn. And a few years later, a TV company was once again able to reduce the number of matches a player would miss. Once again that TV company was Sky. Once again the club with a banned player was Manchester United. And once again their opponents were Liverpool.

Lengthy bans might be rare, but Manchester United had seen two of their players given them.

It was defender Rio Ferdinand this time, in 2004, banned for his failure to provide the necessary fluids at a random drug screening test. He claimed it was all innocent. He was banned for 8 months.

The ban started on January 20th 2004, meaning he would miss the rest of that season and just over a month of the next.

The fixtures for that following season were first announced in June. Liverpool were scheduled to visit Old Trafford on Saturday September 18th. It was to be Rafa’s first visit to Old Trafford as Liverpool boss of course.

Sky would want to show the game live of course, so it wouldn’t be kicking off at 3pm that Saturday. Would it be moved to Saturday lunchtime, or would it be moved to Sunday lunchtime? Fans waited for the updated fixture list to come out.

As it turned out, it was neither.

No satisfactory reason was ever given, but for the one and only time since the Premier League began, that fixture was shifted to the Monday. It had never happened before, it has never happened since.

Why Monday? Just for this one occasion? The police even agreed; which is a mystery of its own.

Both sides had played their previous fixtures, in the Champions League, on the Wednesday, so it wasn’t moved to Monday because of concerns for tired legs.

Perhaps the reason becomes obvious when looking at the date again. Ferdinand’s ban ran for eight months from January 20th.

So the last day he was banned from playing was September 19th.

And Monday was September 20th – the first day Ferdinand was eligible to play.

Once again Sky were able to add a touch more interest to a fixture that always draws them massive viewing figures. Once again it wasn’t the banned player’s last match on the sidelines; it was his return to the fray.

Liverpool lost the game 2-1. Maybe they’d have lost it anyway – they lost Steven Gerrard with a broken metatarsal.

But Ferguson wasn’t complaining about Sky that night.

And he couldn’t complain about Sky tonight. They weren’t the reason his side went down to Fulham. They weren’t the reason he’ll be seeing ex-Red Danny Murphy’s face in his nightmares tonight.

So he complained about the referee instead.

Remind us again – who was it cracking up?

How the top managers deal with the pressure of the remaining games, including the mind games as well as the league games, will have a massive influence on how the season ends.

It’s still a tall order for Liverpool, but the pressure is on Manchester United now. Pressure for Chelsea too; Hiddink’s honeymoon ending today with defeat at Spurs. Doubts in the player’s minds that were there under Scolari will be flooding back, and staying there, as the players wait a fortnight to play together again.

Liverpool face Villa tomorrow, themselves under huge pressure as fourth place seems to slip slowly away from their grasp.

For Liverpool it really is time to put the internal squabbles to bed. Forget the boardroom – except to pause and think about the sad loss of Bryce Morrison. Forget Robbie Keane. Forget Stoke City and Wigan Athletic. Forget all the gripes that made us weak.

It’s time to get that belief back. That Istanbul spirit. That attitude. That unity. That strength. That twelfth man.

Cracking up? We’ll have no cracks here now thank you. Save for the wisecracks we’re famous for.

But we’re even more famous for our passion, our support and our success.

And we’re going to remind everyone why.

16 thoughts on “Reds must win every game. Including mind games.”

  1. cracking article.

    the rescheduling issue is an absolute joke and just proves what everyone already knows.

  2. LOL… well said. – It’s obvious.. Fergie’s cracking up!!
    They’ll continue to drop points against villa & arsenal.

  3. 2 verdicts from Ferguson on his team loosing 2games and both are rather odd to say the least. MU the best team in each case? players did not deserve to be sent off? It would appear that Ferguson is as least suffering from senility or perhaps even a mental breakdown, heaven forbid, what would we do without his valuable input.

    I hope I am not too far ahead of myself but if LFC can win against AV then things will get more interesting.





  5. No need to shout Ken!

    I’ve not even got started on your boss’s outbursts of late yet! He’s given us a lot to laugh about. And I don’t think I even mentioned the old stopwatch either, if we’re thinking of older stuff. It’s all a bit of fun – and I think you’d see that better if you weren’t in the middle of this bad spell. And maybe we’d not be laughing as much if we hadn’t just had such a good spell, on and off the field. (Notwithstanding yesterday’s sad news).

    But bringing up the way United got those favours from Sky was only in response to Ferguson’s gripes about fixtures. As I say, those fixture changes have given far more help to United over the years. And we didn’t bring the subject up!

    We aren’t so arrogant as to think that we’ll be able to just turn up at Anfield and pummel Villa. We could win 7-0, the way we’ve played lately, but we could lose 3-0, the way this game works. Our chance of winning the league is remote to say the least. And if we don’t win today then that chance evaporates.

    But if we win – well then we’ll be one point behind. Then there’s a two week break. Then this weekend’s fixtures are played in reverse, we get Fulham you get Villa.

    We’ll all anxiously await our players’ returns from international duty. But you’ll have three players missing through suspension because of this little total of three reds cards in those two successive defeats.

    People were talking about how invincible United were. But how many matches have you won 1-0 this season? 1-0 still gives you three points, and one goal is enough when your keeper and defence keep a clean sheet. But six goals in two games gives teams a few ideas on how to breach the defence that was doing so well for so long this season. How long is it now since your last clean sheet in the league?

    We’ve gone from no chance of the league to slim chance of the league. It’s still yours to throw away.

    In terms of that bit about “major honours”, I’ve not checked your counts so I’ll have to take your word for it. But I thought you lot had stopped excluding the League Cup from all your stats in 2006. Remember? It was the “Mickey Mouse Cup” until then, but it was your only trophy that year and you all expected recognition for winning it! So, come on, make your minds up!

    Whatever happens this season, we’ve not done too badly at all considering the troubles we’ve had off the field, which I won’t go into now. There are some real, solid, signs that those troubles are either over, or on their way to being over.

    We’ve let you race away in recent years, we’ve been fighting for top four while you’ve been winning the league. Now we’ve started breathing down your necks again. We were miles behind – now we’re right on your tails. Right on the verge of overtaking.

    And that’s before we get all our off-field troubles resolved.

    We’ve a lot of reasons to be confident. You’ve a lot of reasons to be worried.

    And I think you are.

    (Thanks for your comment by the way, I hope you take mine in the good spirit it was intended!)

  6. Good reply Jim! I do take your comments in good spirit!

    I have had the discussion about trophies with two of my best mates who are both avid Liverpool Supporters and they acknowledge that we have more “Major” trophies now, but also make the point that Liverpool have so many more other titles than United such as Uefa Cups, League Cups and so on!

    Undeniably, you are the most successful club side in English Football (I wouldn’t be a true footy fan if I couldn’t admit that!!!). You, currently at least, have 1 more league title and 2 more Champions League trophies than us! We are the kings of the FA Cup with 11 trophies to your 7 but you are the record carling cup winners!!!

    But you’ll notice that although I didn’t mention the Carling Cup (which we have won twice in the last few years…..but which I still believe is unimportant!!!), I also didn’t mention the World Club Championship either!

    There has to be a line drawn as to what is a major trophy and what is just a “bonus”! We pick the League (obviously), The Champions League (Not the Uefa Cup as I feel this just demonstrates inferiority) and The FA Cup (which is the premier cup competition in this country!!!) . These are the three competitions that should matter to any major club in this country! And the simple fact is we currently have 17 league, 11 FA Cups and 3 Champions League Title (i.e. 31 Honours) to your 18 League, 7 FA cup and 5 Champions League (i.e 30)!!!

    There has to come a time when the “Mighty” Liverpool are displaced from their throne as “All time Kings” of English Football….all that needs to be settled is when do people start to acknowledge that?

    As for Fergie given you “A lot to laugh about”! I’m glad that our superiority and dominance of English Football for the majority of the nineties and noughties is funny to you! Although I’m sure Fergie has a lot more to laugh and smile about……even after being “drubbed” 4-1 on home soil to “OUR” bitterist rivals!!!

  7. 32 (Significant) + 30 (Insignificant)
    = Unfathomable Mancunian logic

    Seems to me they’re getting rattled.


    When A leading total is surpassed, that total becomes relatively insignificant!!!

    Otherwise 2nd, 3rd or even 4th place becomes significant!

    The point I was trying to make is that, we are now ahead of you on Major trophy hauls…..stop trying to beat about the bush!!!

  9. Well Ken H, i think you are missing the point totally. your first comment does not really make a point as to the way Fergie has entered the media this week and as usual the Man Utd fans quickly move into a defense mode and state the number of trophies they have. Give it a break and admit that Fergie’s comments this week have just been rediculous. I mean Rafa spending more than him, come on!!!

  10. I am one of Ken H’s best mates and I dispute his comment referring to “I have had the discussion about trophies with two of my best mates who are both avid Liverpool Supporters and they acknowledge that we have more “Major” trophies now”.

    I believe the Uefa Cup is a major trophy. Back in the Nineties and beforehand this trophy was taken as a serious trophy. Many great and prestigious european clubs played in this competition. Admittedly, since the Cup Winners Cup was abolised, the Uefa Cup has become somewhat shambolic, but it is a major honour.

    I also don’t think you can simply add trophy totals up and say United have more than Liverpool. Its clear to say that a League Title or Champions League Title is way more significant than an F.A. Cup. I am not disrespecting the F.A Cup in anyway, but I am pretty sure all fans can agree on this. Saying that, the F.A Cup no doubt is a major trophy, but far easier to win than the Champions League or League Title.

    Moving on, I have just witnessed the 5 nil demolition job of Aston Villa. Unfortunately, United fans will be happy to know that Brad Friedel will not be available for the next game as Vilal happen to play United next.

    Jim’s comments are superb and make for a real Liverpool fan and the article is brilliant. Certainly opened my eyes to some facts I didn’t know and I’m sure Ken H didn’t know either.

    I would like to ask Ken H how is it that when United get handed so many favours that Fergie never seems to raise questions such as the facts of the article. Its time someone told the ‘fachts’ so fair play to Rafa Benitez.

    Fergie was asked to list the managers in the Premiership he rated and most notably he did not include Benitez. Surely that is a glaring miss from SAF as Rafa has gone onto make Liverpool into officially Europe’s number 1 club over the last 5 years. The stats are on for everyone to witness.

    Rafa has seriously rattled Fergie and the problem Fergie has is, unlike Fergie’s previous enemies; Rafa has the skill and most importantly the bottle to hang on!

  11. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Now wasn’t that fun today? I think we’d have had more if we’d not got so desperate to give Nando a goal! Good that when a team finds a way of keeping Nando quiet it just opens up more opportunities for the rest of the side.

    Ken, I think your argument about trophies is the kind of argument that will rage on for years, at least until there is some real daylight between the records of the two sides. We aren’t comparing like-for-like at all when we compare the two sides, especially over the number of years in question.

    As has been mentioned, the UEFA Cup used to feature teams that would be in the “Champions” League these days. The League Cup was certainly taken seriously back when Bob Paisley was making it his own – but “Sir” Bob never won the FA Cup. Liverpool never won the Cup-Winners’ Cup. Competitions like the Super Cup and the World Club competitions are much like the Charity Shield (as we used to know it) in that it’s a bonus to something you won elsewhere – but you’ve still done well to be there of course.

    I don’t think fans of either side would swap their honours list for the others’. I know I wouldn’t.

    But I think fans of any team below us both in the league right now would gladly take either honours list.

    As for what happens next, well as full of hope I am it’s the beginning of a big new era for us, it’s a bit soon to get carried away! 13-1 in three games or not. And even if it is the start of a big new era, we might still have started it just to late for this season.

    But I really do think that – somewhere near Manchester – there is a very worried, very angry, very miserable Scot, drinking Scotch, wondering if he ever will, finally, fully, knock us off that perch he famously mentioned.

    Time will tell. But time will drag for some more than others this next two weeks!

  12. Hi Jim, respect to a good man Bryce Morrison. I know in spirit, he’ll soon see the reds regaining top honours once more.
    Your article was excellent, and must have been exhaustingly draughted.
    It says in BIG Black Print what i have muttering about Fergi for a whle now. I even agreed so much with “Rafa’s Outburst!”, but had become disheartened as the boys faltered and Rafa got slated. You hit the nail on the head, for me.

    I hope that Manc, Ken is reading this, cos its important.
    As i read your article , about his growing embitterment these days, i really began to feel sad for the old fella. As much as he has put in, his and the team’s down-fall will become that much harder to take.
    So he’s hanging on in there with a weakening grip. Gone is chirpy youthfull smirk, reddening further in the face and in my opinion a lack of swagger.
    He is facing the end-game, and the very real slap of a challenge from none other his old mates on Merseyside.
    I just watched MoTD, and saw some very pleasing team-play. Resilliant, tough and inventive. It doesnt look like LFC’s going to go away, and any slips like that shower yesterday, and there’ll many more situations where Fergi will be doing a vanishing act.

    I hate his tricks, and sometimes you have to give it to him. In the end though, he knows that Liverpool are no fair-weather challenge.
    Since Rafa came, they have moved slowly forward, like a movement driven by the fans. And Ferigi knows that its only time before either they get embarassed more frequently or he leaves. The end result is certain, goodbye number 1 slot, Fergi, forget league titles MUFC
    4-0, 1-4 and 5-0 = 13-1 :DDDDDD my kinda maths!
    Ilya, London

  13. fergies cracking up hes cracking up, hes cracking up hes cracking, hes cracking fergies cracking up hahaha

  14. I think Ken H has been silenced, and as his other best mate i have to say that he is one of those Man Utd fans that you just love to hate i.e. typical United goggles, but to be honest it all gives us something to laugh about and that my fellow Kopites is something that i quite enjoy!!

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