Liverpool As England
by Brian Phillips · August 4, 2010
The mighty rhythm of the ocean’s breath is sensitively felt in Liverpool. —Lovell Thompson
From the perspective of someone who’s barely been paying attention, one of the more intriguing stories of the offseason has been the weird swerving of the Liverpool crisis-drama, which is still producing twists well into its 24th act. Just when you think the action is about to go stale (with trembling hand, Martin Broughton places a phone call to the Royal Bank of Scotland), they go and follow up the not-one-hundred-percent-intuitive Roy Hodgson hiring by signing Joe Cole, thereby forcing you to realize that, waltzing Elizabeth, the dominant cultural influence in the Anfield locker room next season is going to be…English.
English! And just when it felt like 1983 was gone forever. I’m trying to remember the last time a top English football club was actually, you know, an English football club. Arsenal’s a philosophical cosmopolis, Chelsea’s a pirate hub. Manchester United is bigger than the concept of the nation-state. You can’t be an English club any more, not if you want to win anything; modern economics, or something, makes it impossible. From their tendency to break into (admittedly equivocal) chants like “We’re not English, we are scouse; / You can stick the royal family up your arse,” you could even question whether Liverpool fans really, in the deep, secret reaches of their hearts, want their club to be English.
And yet, here’s Liverpool, with their English manager, their iconic English captain, their stolid English vice-captain, their glammy new English midfielder, their whatever Glen Johnson is, and for God’s sake, Jonjo Shelvey. Tea is being served and a walrus would like to route redcoats into Guernsey. It’s even possible to make fine individual distinctions about relative degrees of Englishness and appreciate the way the new formation exploits those degrees to maximize its Englishness as a whole. Against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Joe Cole—England’s little Spaniard—played in a withdrawn position behind the striker, moving the hyper-English Steven Gerrard back to a more traditionally English, less insidiously Argentine role in the center of midfield. Yes, a straight 4-4-2 would have been more English still, but this is the world your Roberto Baggio posters have made. …although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would conclusively observe, ‘Not English!’ when, PRESTO! with a flourish of the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away. —Dickens On the whole, Mr. Podsnap is content.
What’s interesting about this state of things is that, as Liverpool is obviously a club in a neurotic state of decline, and as England as a football nation is not exactly calmly ascending new heights, it’s possible to sketch out a tentative dual equation in which Liverpool’s fall can be measured by its resort to English talents, and England’s fall can be measured by the fact that its players are forced to play for Liverpool. That is, Liverpool can’t possibly be an elite club, because an elite club wouldn’t pair Joe Cole with Roy Hodgson and pretend that they were superstars. By the same token, Hodgson and Cole can’t be superstars, because if they were, they’d work for a better club than Liverpool. The two precepts, impossibly, prove each other, like division and multiplication, or the twinned halves of Gervinho’s haircut.
Now, as you know, I’ve been on vacation, so I could be completely misreading this. But at a highly abstract and emotional level at which I can’t possibly be called on to prove anything or display any concrete knowledge, doesn’t it seem like the major dramas at Liverpool at the moment are 1) whether Fernando Torres will manage to free himself (looks like he won’t), and 2) whether Kenny Huang or someone else will buy the club and reinvigorate it with prestigious foreign millions? I mean, yes, everyone complains about foreign millions, but we’re talking about steely possibilities and actual success or failure. What shows the England team in a better light at the moment, Gerrard/Cole/Johnson being tolerated by a debt-squatting British bank, or the same players being actively coveted by a predatory Chinese wealth fund? Can 1983 live in 2010 if it isn’t endorsed by a sheik?
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