THOSE of you who were around in the eighties and early nineties will remember a Liverpool player called Ronnie Whelan.
Ronnie was an Irish midfielder who joined us from Home Farm in 1979, and made a scoring debut in 1981 against Stoke City shortly after we’d won the League Cup against West Ham.
Over the next 10 years or so Ronnie picked up a shed load of medals including six championships and a European Cup and he captained the side for a few seasons at the back end of the eighties.
No-one who saw it will ever forget his magnificent ‘cut shot’ that sailed over United’s Gary Bailey to give us the League Cup in 1983.
He played nearly 500 games for the Reds, scoring 73 goals.
Now the thing about Whelan was that, despite all this, he was never a particular fans’ favourite. Though not short of skill, Ronnie was essentially a ‘fetcher and carrier’, someone who was expert at reading play and breaking up attacks, then giving the ball to the more creative players like Souness, Beardsley and Barnes.
Whether on the left or centre of midfield, he played a vital role in keeping the team moving, the oil on the cogs if you like, setting the tempo and doing the ‘dirty work’ for the team.
Not a role to have the Kop chanting your name perhaps, but every successful team needs one.
One of our problems now is that we seem to have a dozen of them.
Lucas Leiva can probably lay the greatest claim to Whelan’s heritage, though without the goals of course. The industry he showed on his return last Saturday was great credit to a man who has struggled through two major injuries in the last year, and his intelligent interceptions and use of the ball clearly demonstrated why this former target for the ‘boo-boys’ is now likely to become a fixture in the side once again.
Then there’s Joe Allen. Brought from Swansea for his immaculate pass completion rate and ability to press opponents into mistakes, he too can keep the team ticking over, change the direction of the attack and feed the forward players. He may play further forward now that Lucas is back, but for me he’s firmly in the ‘water carrier’ class, though there’s nothing wrong with that in itself.
I think I’ve had enough of Jordan Henderson now. He might also fit into this category, but you do need to make the occasional forward pass even as a link player, and it also helps if you’re not paralysed with fear every time you find yourself in the opposition penalty area. He’s young, I know, but I can’t see what progress he’s made since he’s been here. A good engine’s one thing, but it helps to have more than two gears.
To put Nuri Sahin into this class of player may seem a little harsh, but he comes closest to being able to match Whelan’s goal threat, while still being the sort of player who will add most to the team by helping others to play.
While Rodgers’ style obviously places a high premium on players of this nature, playing too many of them just begs the question of who they are ‘fetching and carrying’ for.
Perhaps the reintroduction of Suso at the expense of one of these players might just provide the creative spark that ensures all our heavy possession occasionally translates into genuine goalscoring opportunities.