Sunday, February 17, 2008

Da World Of Sport With Da Man CD

Dear Liverpool – Please Relieve Rafa of his Responsibilities

That’s just about it. Liverpool dumped out of the Cup at home by a team with the worst away record in the Championship. Once upon a time a result like that would cost a manager his job eventually. It’s not as though it’s his first season and he doesn’t know the game. It’s not as though he doesn’t have the players. It’s not as though he doesn’t have the team. I really think some of the supporters who are having a go at the owners are missing the point big time. Pitch performances have nothing to do with the owners, it’s down to the players and the management. It has been evident for a number of months as well as over his tenure that Mr. Benitez has not quite grasped what it takes to make a successful football team in the English Premiership. He cannot complain about lack of funds or support. He is being churlish to expect support after the boardroom issues this season.

It has been rather similar to Chelsea’s traumas last season which helped Jose Mourinho on his way out. The difference here is at least Chelsea stayed in contention and remained competitive. This Liverpool side have looked pathetic for quite some time and the Barnsley result is not surprising. I’m not bothered about the Champions League, I hope we’re beat there as well so that the best thing for the club can take place and to ensure some level of stability we sack Benitez perhaps in the summer (although his position is untenable if we’re knocked out now). The issue isn’t the owners, I don’t care if it’s DIC, Hicks/Gillett, Mothercare or the
Gang From Why Don’t You – the issue is management.

A bit like the Houllier syndrome we like to give the brother a go and see what he can achieve. Four seasons, a Champions League, an FA Cup, some other irrelevant trinkets, league places – 5th, 3rd and 3rd and this season is a struggle to finish in the top four. Not once in his time at the club has there been a serious challenge for the Premiership and even Arsenal have afforded the odd season out of contention to come back in again the following one. There’s just been no excuse for what at the end of the day has been a lack of progress in the club. I don’t buy the concept that the brother needs more time having bought new players in to see them grow, cos you need to see them grow in a team capable of challenging for the trophies. That he has not created such a scenario in the four seasons of his time there is an indictment on his time at the club which must be appropriately dealt with.

Who to succeed him? Dunno. It’s not patently obvious, but whoever does succeed will need to be given the three seasons to establish his mark on the team. At the end of the day on paper we have a squad of players that should be doing a lot better than it is, if we get the right guy and he knows the Premiership score (i.e. not another ‘he did well in the French/Spanish/Italian/Iranian league surely he can do a job here!’) there’s no reason why we cannot put in a good effort next season and build on some of the positive stuff Rafa has done. Of course that’s what we should do. What we will do is probably give Mr. Benitez more rope with which to hang himself and the club and if he does quit rather than get sacked we’ll be more attracted by the lustre of another top continental coach or worse an unproven former national coach and perpetuate the folly of false horizons we’ve endured over the last eight seasons or so.

Dear Athletics Community – Get A Grip And Learn To Forgive

From a wrong that needs to be righted to another situation of patently wrong treatment. In my mini-God-chat segment at the latest awesome comedy workshop we have here on Thursday afternoons I mentioned the Dwain Chambers scenario. The media coverage of it and the sentiments that have been coming from the athletics community has been rather sanctimonious. Don’t get me wrong, Chambers evidently is not portraying himself in the best light either, but he doesn’t have much choice as he has been condemned already. If I have this right a guy is caught bang to rights using banned substances to gain an unfair advantage in a sport. A punishment is handed down for a sentence he must serve. He completes the sentence and returns to the sport but is treated like a pariah based on comments made in May 2007 about the place drugs has in the sport and an apparent flippant attitude to the issue. Not only that but because of the disrepute it puts on the sport it is seen almost as if it’s the unforgivable sin – to err is human to cheat is blasphemy.

Reading this article also gave an interesting perspective on the attitude that others take on the issue. What was really insightful was the guy who basically said he used to think that people deserved a second chance but has since changed his mind. It’s a similar stigma that’s attached to convicts looking for a job it is as if they are forever tagged and labelled for the crime. You were a thief, there’s no way I could ever trust you to be reformed and able to be a faithful banker. You were locked up for violence, there’s no way I could ever trust you to be reformed and able to work in security. Now from a worldly perspective this is the idea of being just, after all a leopard never changes its spots – once a criminal always a criminal. To an extent from a theological perspective it can be an attitude we have to non-believers – once a sinner, always a sinner. Thus they can never be trusted to do anything of any merit and should be shunned.

The problem with this attitude if taken to its natural conclusion is that we’ll never trust anyone. Tell me Dame Kelly Holmes, to pick a critic from the pack, has not made a serious mistake. Well why hasn’t she been black-listed from participating in any relational event as a result? What makes ‘the sport’ so sacred, hallowed and different to the rest of life? It’s more or less a professional industry now isn’t it? The reality is that it’s prone to people looking to do what it takes to cash in on what’s available by whatever means necessary and if you can get away with it …

I think it’s exactly this kind of sanctimonious, holier than thou attitude that Jesus addresses in
Matthew 7:1. A key aspect of Christian ethos, for me, is to believe the best in a person (rejoicing in God’s image) and address any faults with the desire to build someone by bringing them to Christ, not knock them by banging on about how their faults disqualifies them. That means rather than condemning and writing off someone as a no-hoper, by the grace of God we discern the best course of action to restore someone to the fullness of what they’re called to be. We are not quick to shun someone from community on the basis of a fault but do what we can for the integrity of the community to find routes to restoration of the individual and the collective. If one part hurts we all hurt and look to address the hurt rather than alienate and ostracise someone. Of course there are times where for the health of the community and integrity of the mission someone will have to be excommunicated – but that comes after a thorough-going process of appealing to the party in question to repent and be restored. In other words the attitude truly has to be one of arrogance and rebellion for it to merit that final step of separation.

That blatantly is not the case with this scenario concerning Chambers which only highlights how different a Christian response to the incident should be than the self-righteous stance of the athletics community. Not to say that this Christian response is the reality, but it’s what I read in my Bible and I get the impression it’s at the heart of what a loving Christ-like community is all about – correcting, rebuking, disciplining for the sake of restoration, reconciliation and wholeness.

Now if you think there’s a disparity between my take on the Chambers issue and the Benitez catastrophe I hope it’s clear where the difference is. We’re called to make judgements every day and those have to be based on principles of what’s the best in every situation. I think it’s been right to give Rafa four seasons to see if he can bring the club closer to the Premiership. I think it’s evident that he’s unable to do so and there are no signs of promise that ‘given more time’ he’ll crack it and allow the captain from Anfield to parade the trophy before the long-suffering faithful. So it’s in the best interests of the Liverpool Football Club community to relieve the brother of the responsibility and give someone else a go. With Chambers, you’ve given the brother a punishment for a crime, he’s done his time and the brother is not even given a chance to prove himself which is patently wrong.

Oh by the way, for the sake of my mate, Ray Feeney, I congratulate the Potters on their current good run of form that sees them at the top of the Championship. I live in Stoke City (actually in Stoke itself, so there) and can see some benefits in the team doing well. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the hyper-materialist approach of financial and economic prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing, but I rejoice nonetheless with my mate in the side’s current success.

Anyhow, it’s not often I get to blog at this length so I’ll savour the moment and wish you well.

For His Name’s Sake
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