About ten years ago Nick Hancock co-wrote a book called What Didn’t Happen Next, which was an amusing look at the butterfly effect in football and those little changes which might have rewritten the annals of football.
What if Southgate had scored his penalty at Euro 1996? What if Gordon Banks hadn’t had food poisoning in 1970? What if George Best had been born ugly? As a sport full of folklore, imagination and eternal hope, it’s always tempting to ponder the road not travelled — and it is for that reason that every now and then this column will cover one of those ‘what if?’; moments, and indulge in a little escapism or breathe a hearty sigh of relief, depending on your perspective…
Today, the time machine takes us back to the start of 2007, and the DIC group have just completed a successful and straightforward takeover of Liverpool Football Club…
January 2007 — Liverpool, bolstered by Sheikh Maktoum’s bottomless well of fivers, have cash to spend and Rafa Benitez wastes no time in the transfer window. Fernando Torres arrives immediately for an inflated sum of £30m.
There’s also enough money for Gareth Barry, much to the ire of Martin O’Neill. Benitez smiles at a press conference, saying how wonderful it is to have the unquestioning support of his board on transfer matters.
March 2007 — Tom Hicks and George Gillett, thwarted in their efforts to acquire the Reds, turn their attention to Manchester City. Eager to sell, the board obliges. Their first act is to back Stuart Pearce unequivocally. Liverpool meanwhile are on a great run of form and find themselves in the thick of the title race. Torres is an instant hit, scoring freely.
May 2007 – Liverpool’s domestic form tails off and they come second to Manchester United, but after a confident run in Europe they reach the Champions League Final, where they meet AC Milan for a second time in three years. On the day, despite Milan scoring twice, a Torres double overhauls the Rossoneri.
Stuart Pearce, unaided by any transfers, leads Manchester City to midtable. At half-time in the final game of the season the American owners conduct an interview with Jurgen Klinsmann, who signs for a two year deal.
August 2007 — The season starts with reinforcements all around. Liverpool’s big signing is David Villa, who declares that he is very happy to join the European Champions. At the press conference he professes to be relieved that there are now enough Spanish players at the club that it makes more sense for Gerrard and Carragher to learn Spanish than for him to pick up the local tongue.
Jurgen Klinsmann buys Lukas Podolski. “We have a bit of cash, but it’s not as if Manchester City can throw £100m around and buy the best player in the world,” he says.
November 2007 — Thaksin Shinawatra flies back to Thailand to face the charges against him. With no football club to run, and nobody interested in his investment, there seems little reason for him to stay. He hires still unemployed Sven Goran Eriksson to come with him and defend him during his trial.
Liverpool sit top of the league, with Torres and Villa scoring freely. Peter Crouch angles for a transfer. “I’d have played a lot more games,” he says, “If there weren’t yet another striker here who deserves to play more than I do”.
One beneficiary of Liverpool’s form is Steve McClaren, who has enough confidence in the Gerrard — Barry partnership that he leaves Lampard out of his squads throughout the year. “It’s great,” he opines, “My only regret is that Gareth doesn’t have a great nickname like Stevie G, but I’m toying with the G-Bomb, and I think that Becks really likes it.”
Newspapers are quick to attribute McClaren’s success to his relaxed and friendly relationship with his players.
January 2008 — The money is there for Liverpool, but Benitez feels that everything is right with his squad. “Why tinker with a winning formula?” he questions, “I’m not one for chopping and changing when everything is going well.”
At Manchester City the money dries up, much to Podolski’s chagrin, who was under the impression that Klinsmann would be signing other German stars for the team. He fails to show up for training, causing Klinsmann to promise to get tough with his charges.
March 2008 — Manchester United are holding on to their hopes in the league, and Ronaldo’s form is keeping the Red Devils in the race. At a press conference Benitez reads out a charge sheet of Ferguson’s poor behaviour on the touchline. The press herald it as a masterstroke of mind games, and Manchester United draw their next game. Crowds chant Meester Fer-goo-sun, what’s the score? throughout the game, while goals from Barry and Gerrard are enough to win at Old Trafford.
April 2008 — Thaksin’s case is progressing badly, and it worsens when it comes to light in court that he did a lot of bad things. When Sven Goran Eriksson defends him, he suggests that since Shinawatra is considered a fit owner for a Premiership club that the trial ought be aborted. He buckles, however, when the prosecution asks why the former prime minister is therefore not the owner of a team. Shinawatra fires him, and Eriksson claims £15m as a severance on his contract.
May 2008 — Liverpool win the Premiership. Enough is enough for Cristiano Ronaldo, who leaves for Real Madrid saying, “If we’d won the double or something then I’d have thought about staying probably”. Ferguson says the £70m from the Ronaldo transfer will not be enough to rebuild, and it soon transpires that a group from Abu Dhabi are in talks to take over Old Trafford.
“Originally we were thinking of buying Manchester City, but this is much better”, a spokesman says. The Blues have gone down, and the club is put up for sale for twice the original purchase price. Klinsmann leaves, upset to hear that his American owners had a quiet meeting with Steve McClaren about taking over in the summer.
June 2008 — Euro 2008 is a feast of football, and for once England play to their best in the tournament. The final is between England and Spain. A G-Bomb strike is cancelled out by a solo effort from David Villa, and the game is decided on penalties.
Nerves finally get the better of England, and John Terry, still fresh from missing a penalty in Moscow in the Champions League Final, misses the crucial spot kick here as the ball hits the crossbar. He remains as captain of England and Chelsea, but spends the entire 2008/9 season crying strong, silent man-tears.
Mark is one of the founders of Sport without Spin which pokes fun at the contradictions, illogicalities and chat that sporting coverage in the media creates.