The Beatification of Harvey Elliot


By Max Gallagher (@Maxgallwrites ) 

Once, when Gandhi was running to catch a train, a sandal fell off onto the platform. As the train pulled away, Gandhi took off his remaining sandal and threw it out of the train door. ‘Bapu, why did you throw away your good sandal?’ asked one of his followers. ‘One sandal would be of no use to whoever finds it,’ replied Gandhi.  

This story came to my mind in the aftermath of seeing Harvey Elliott’s ankle wrenched out of his left leg, and seeing how gracefully the young playmaker dealt with it. In the hours after the incident, Elliott showed a level of maturity and benevolence that suggests he doesn’t simply have the potential to become a great number ten, but he may also one day become a global spiritual leader. Not only did he accept Pascal Struijk’s apology, but he campaigned online for the red card to be rescinded, and sent Struijk a message of support when the appeal failed. Harvey Elliott may as well have appeared beside Struijk’s bed dressed in a long white robe, anointed his head with oil, and offered him his right ankle to smash. 
There was a lot of discussion after the match as to whether the tackle merited a yellow card or a red card. The consensus seemed to be that the sending off was harsh. I have to say I disagree. It was a tackle from behind, and tackling from behind was outlawed in the 1990s. In the 1990s you could still drive without a seatbelt, and smoke in hospital waiting rooms. There was no malice or intent, and Struijk’s studs were not raised, but it was still a dangerous tackle. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, when you tackle someone from behind no one will get hurt. You will simply end up in a tangle of limbs, as per lovers in a smutty romance novel. Afterwards, both players stand up and blush, try to avoid eye contact and get on with the game. This time however, someone’s ankle fell out of their arsehole. And that’s bad. Which is why tackling from behind was made illegal twenty-five years ago, along with CFCs and dogfighting. If barbarians from the twentieth century can figure it out then we should be able to as well. For me it was a straight red. 

But the most interesting voice in the discussion was surely that of Elliott himself. ‘Wasn’t his fault whatsoever!’ he said on Instagram, ‘neither was it a red card, just a freak accident, but these things just happen in football!’ The following day Elliott issued a heartfelt message thanking the medical staff at Leeds General Hospital and the crowd at Elland Road, as well as the entire football world at large for their support and love. He even sent another message to Struijk to commiserate with him for failing in his appeal to have his red card rescinded, telling him to ‘stay strong’ during his three-match ban. All this before having his ankle sewn back onto his body. It’s a little bit early to suggest canonising Harvey Elliott, but from such a young man this is remarkably saint-like behaviour.  

As every young kid with a good coach knows, talent will only take you so far in the game. If you want to be a success, you have to have the right attitude. It certainly seems that Elliott has got his head screwed on, and that has to bode well for his prospects. In the hours after the match, pictures circulated on social media of a young Liverpool fan in a Leeds Hospital holding up the number sixty-seven shirt, and Elliott’s right boot. Fair enough, Harvey won’t be needing his shirt or his boots for a while, but some people may have been too distracted by the thought that their season was over, and their career was in jeopardy, or just the agonising pain to indulge in charity work. I just hope Elliott gave him the other boot as well, for Gandhi’s sake. 

Isn’t he lovely?

To say I am enamoured with Harvey Elliott would be an understatement. I’ve loved everything that he’s done since coming to the club, from his first pre-season, to his first League Cup appearances, to ‘that’ FA Cup win against Everton, when a Liverpool youth team vanquished Carlo Ancelotti’s full strength blues on a cold night at Anfield. It was Curtis Jones who took the plaudits that night for his thumping winner, but for me it was Elliott who stood out, all presence, poise and confidence. There was humility on show also, however. At one point the ball had gone out for a corner on the right-hand side, and the young midfielder had the ball in his hands ready to take what should really have been an in-swinger. But Neco Williams had also trotted up from right back, and on seeing his team mate, Elliott deferentially pointed towards him, then respectfully passed the ball to the Welshman, only two years his senior.  

When talented young players first burst onto the scene, they are usually a little raw or inconsistent. Even Ronaldo, for all his dazzling brilliance and indisputable end-product, was sometimes guilty of avarice and poor decision-making. Some players however simply appear fully formed, as if they have been playing top level football for twenty years. Think Messi, Rooney, or Fabregas. It’s as if you could unpack a self-assembly footballer with the brain of Gary McAllister and the body of a 27-year-old, then subtract ten years from his passport and inflate them with a foot pump. Elliott Appears to be in this mould, showing awareness and an all round game intelligence that belies his tender years. In fact he reminds me a little of Rooney, although he lacks the blistering pace and physicality. The other obvious difference being that at roughly the same age that our young prodigy was performing Father Christmas duties in a Yorkshire hospital, Rooney was signing an autograph for the geriatric prostitute he had just nailed. It’s okay to be a bit of a scumbag when you’re eighteen. There is no judgement here. But Elliott is showing signs that he is as classy off the pitch as he is on. If this really is the case, then he has a great chance of living up to his extraordinary potential. 

During his loan spell at Blackburn, it was more difficult to follow his progress, but from internet clips, his developing maturity was there for all to see. He never wants too much of the ball, and plays with his head up. Despite his wonderful quick feet and dribbling skills, he likes to operate from deep, threading through balls and playing glorious cross field passes.  It’s possible that Elliott may even turn out to be the much prophesised, much fabled ‘Coutinho replacement’ that we have read about in the ancient scriptures and holy books. Old men will chew hallucinogenic leaves, hobble off into the desert, and then return describing how they have seen such a player in their visions. I have a sneaky feeling that Klopp feels the same way. I think Elliott featured heavily in his plans for this season. For the record, Coutinho in my eyes was the complete number ten, but Klopp often deployed him on the left-hand side, with Adam Lallana operating through the middle. To me this always made about as much sense as resting your genitals in your girlfriend’s armpit, and then making love to her with your earlobe. There appears to be less confusion with Elliot’s role this season, all three of his premier league starts being in central midfield. Could Elliott be even more Pipco than Pipco himself? 

I was devastated when he got injured. I would rather see almost anybody have their left ankle brutally yanked out of their corpus. Virtually anybody, with the possible exception of Mo Salah, my two children, and Michelle Obama. But, ‘these things just happen in football’, as Mahatma Elliott once said. It’s been four weeks now since his injury, and by all reports, his surgery and rehabilitation have all given us glimpses of hope that he may return this season. Imagine that – his glorious left foot getting the headlines again for the right reasons. What a boost that would be, an injured prodigy who almost lost it all returned from the brink at the end of the season, especially if Liverpool are in contention for major honours. In the meantime, whilst he recuperates, I hope Harvey Elliott records a podcast of guided meditations. He definitely has the Dharma for it, and I will be first in the queue to download. Harveylujah. 


The shaky – and getting shakier – case for FSG. 

By Max Gallagher (@maxgallwrites) 

Recently, I posted a tweet expressing my support for Fenway Sports Group. They are by no means perfect, but I feel they’ve been getting a bit of a hard time lately. The tweet did not go down well. In fairness, I probably deserved more stick. FSG are testing the patience of most Liverpool fans at the moment. And, as we all know, Twitter is the kind of place where if you express your preference for marmite, somewhere a militia will form and threaten to come to your house to cut out your tongue and staple it to your forehead. Nevertheless, I am going to attempt to put an argument together here that John Henry and friends deserve more respect than they’ve been getting lately. 
I’ve always had a soft spot for FSG. I still remember vividly how they saved our club. Within the first three months, they sacked Roy Hodgson and brought in Luis Suarez. That sentence still makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Alright, so I’m omitting some tall, ponytailed details from the north-east of England, but perhaps I am a little biased. In my opinion, Liverpool are currently enjoying the most sustained period of greatness they have had in the modern era. ‘Great’, by the way, is one of those words that is hard to define, and when deployed in the context of a sports discussion usually leads to ferocious debate. If you’re watching a game in a fancy Gastro pub and you try to suggest that someone either is, or is not, a ‘great player’, you will be very lucky if you don’t end up with a handful of hot chips shoved down the back of your collar, or a fork in your eye. Certain expressions are safer used in the privacy of your own home. 
There have been great Premiership teams before. A great team under Benitez, and a great team under Rodgers. But they were all too easily picked apart by so-called bigger clubs who nicked our finer assets with as much ease as one might pick your favourite quality streets from the tin, leaving behind only the dregs of the toffee ones and some empty rappers. FSG have managed not just to create a world-class team – but to keep them together. Suggestions that FSG have not delivered on their promises to me don’t stand up to scrutiny. They delivered the first Premier League title in thirty years just eighteen months ago; they delivered the European Cup; and they extended the stadium. These were their major promises from the outset. They have also improved our corporate strategy, increased our global profile, aggressively extended our commercial reach at home and abroad, and, with the help of Michael Edwards, improved acquisitions and sales. All of these things were poorly – or very poorly – managed before Fenway came along. According to a recent analysis by data experts Nielsen, Liverpool are currently the most watched football team in the world. 

Fenway are also often accused of not listening to the fans, but I also find this idea baseless. They appointed Kenny Daglish as manager – not because it was a wise footballing decision, but because he was the fan’s choice. When deciding on how to expand our home ground, most owners would have simply bulldozed the stadium, and we would now be playing in the Coco Pops arena, probably in the shadow of Sellafield. FSG on the other hand chose to re-develop Anfield – not because it was a wise economic decision, but because it was the will of the fans. 
Some people accuse the owners of lacking ambition, and caring only about their business model, but to me this not make the slightest bit of sense. Their business model can only work if there is success on the pitch. Even the most hard-hearted and greedy Capitalist wants to win, and to win all the time. Their strategies so far have at times seemed unorthodox, or even a bit stingy, but have been largely successful. After we won the Champions League in 2019, Liverpool could possibly have signed anybody in the world, but a disappointing transfer window followed in which we signed no one. Recently a blogger suggested this was evidence of the owner’s lack of ambition. It’s a reasonable argument, and I remember feeling the same way at the time. But it is worth pointing out that the following season not only did we win the league, but we won the league by eighteen points, almost beating Man City’s points record in the process. It is very hard to argue with the decision-making that led to such an astonishing achievement. Only winners can achieve something like that. 
At forty-one years old, I am the median age of a Liverpool fan. I don’t have a good grasp of statistics, but I think that ‘median’ means that most Liverpool fans are older than me, and most Liverpool fans are younger than me. I am not old enough to remember the halcyon days of the 1970’s and 1980’s when Liverpool swept all aside. Commentators still purr about the football that those teams played, and football purists – not just reds, but of all colours and creeds – still wax lyrical about the moral character of those fine long-haired men who never ever farted or dropped litter. I believe this is a nostalgic view taken by a certain grumpy type of older football fan who gets upset at any sniff of modernity, from the way referees hold their yellow cards up these days, to the fact that the new car park is too flat, and the old sloping one with the gravel was much better. I am old enough however, to remember the sinking feeling when Graeme Souness took over. There were some great players throughout the 90’s but Liverpool ended up mostly potless. I can remember the feeling of wanting to lock myself in the bathroom where no one could hear me, turn on both taps and flush the toilet just so I could say out loud that I loved watching Roy Keane and Paul Scholes play world-class opposition in the Champions League, because the team that I followed were so utterly shite. The Houllier era brought trophies, but it also brought Bruno Cheyrou and Salif Diao. After that, came Hicks and Gillette, and a brush with oblivion. FSG brought in Brendan Rodgers in a bold and farsighted act; then brutally sacked him in a bolder and even more farsighted act to bring in Jurgen Klopp. The last six years have been a story of growth and success, mostly thanks to that tall magnificent German. His magnificence seems to grow with every passing year, seeing, as he does, things that other people just can’t see, despite having recently lost his glasses. Basically, whilst I am not old enough to have seen it all, I am old enough to know a good team when I see one. I am old enough to recognise an era of greatness. 

The conspiracy theories that are currently circulating on the internet about FSG are as hilarious as they are unsubstantiated. The idea that the owners leaked stories about Gini Wijnaldum and Mo Salah to poison the fans against them break down if you do the slightest bit of research. Yes, the Daily Mirror published an erroneous story about Salah’s wage demands, but this is because the Mirror have some difficulty controlling their exceptional facility for fibbing. Some fans are currently spreading stories about Fenway Sports Group at such a feverish rate that I am half expecting to hear on the news about a Liverpool influencer bursting into a Pizza Hut armed with an assault rifle and demanding to see the basement where FSG are bioengineering new variant of Covid. The long and short of it is this: FSG are broke. Whilst the lack of investment is a huge concern for fans, it is not a crime to be skint. In fact, most people who I know are skint as well.  

The pandemic has hit Fenway Sports Group hard. They have sold 15% of their company to Redbird for $500 million, just to cover the losses they have made since the pandemic began. With this new investment they are just about breaking even, and still plan to extend the Anfield Road end. However, there is not much money left for transfers. In January 2021 Liverpool suffered a defensive crisis that felt like our own mini plague. God had smote us with earthquakes, floods, locusts, and Jordon Pickford. There was a gaping hole in front of Allison Becker where our centre-halves used to be. Although this made it easier to share and rejoice in his handsomeness, it also made it easier for the opposition to shoot. Our defence, once as splendid as a chariot of the Gods being pulled by four winged horses, now looked like a string of heavily laden mules trying to make their way across a slippery Bolivian mountain pass. FSG had the chance to buy a new defender in this window and they did not. This I feel was a huge mistake. However, they are simply determined that the club remains self-sufficient and do not get in to any debt. Klopp truly respects and understand this. Any fans who are too young to know why, should google the name ‘Peter Ridsdale’, then read about Peter Ridsdale, and then go to sleep having nightmares about Peter Ridsdale. In order to get to sleep ever again you will have to think of cheerier things, like climate change, or Northern Irish politics. Not knowing how long the pandemic was going to last meant FSG were terrified of spending money. 

We are still in debt from the purchase of Jota, and although I was disappointed with this summer’s transfer window, I was well informed in advance that there would be no new signings without departures. Minamino, Origi, Phillips and Keita were all for sale, but not a single offer came in except for a derisory bid for Phillips from Burnley. Such is the state of the market at present. Our squad is huge and the wage bill is massive. The owners just could not afford to pay top class wages for a new player who would probably end up sitting on the bench. Our priority was to tie down senior players, especially Salah, on massive contracts, then wait for the turnstiles to start clicking and clacking again.  

Despite the panic, the squad is in good shape. Although it is ageing, this is the same team that won the league just over a year ago. Wijnaldum is the only significant  departure, but Thiago, Jota and Konate have been added. An outside observer might even make the argument we are stronger now than ever before, the worrying dip in form of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino notwithstanding. Today’s performance against Leeds was Liverpool at their scintillating best. The fans who are most desperate to be rid of FSG don’t seem to remember what life was like before they came along, and don’t seem to have a plan for who would replace them. They remind me of the section of Arsenal fans screaming at Arsene Wenger as he passed serenely out of the Emirates. This group of fans had become so used to success that they started to feel they had a divine right to win the league, but had forgotten that they owed all of that success to Wenger himself. Finishing in the top four every season and three FA cups in a row wasn’t enough – they wanted Wenger’s head on a plate. They got what they wanted, and Arsenal, at the time of writing, are in 16th place. Across North London, Spurs fans were equally unhappy with their owner for their lack of signings. Daniel Levy commented in an interview in 2017 that he felt there was a ‘post Neymar’ transfer bubble, and that one day it would burst leaving many clubs in dire straits. Instead of falling into this trap, he focused instead on building one of, if not the greatest club stadium in world football. Spurs signed no one truly impactful for four years and Levy suffered the abuse of many unhappy fans. Meanwhile, Barcelona spent over £100m on their three most expensive signings of all time: Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann. Of the three only Griezmann was a success, but has now been loaned out as Barcelona sink under the weight of their debt. Spurs have taken a cannier route, solidifying their infrastructure. In contrast to Arsenal, one of the summer’s highest spenders, Spurs are currently sixth, one point from the top of the league, having already beaten Man City. 

It may be that FSG have taken Liverpool as far as they can. If we are to get to the next level, we may need a mega-rich owner. But FSG know this and have been speaking to investors about a potential sale. They have pulled out of more than one deal due to ethical concerns. John Henry and Tom Werner want success for Liverpool – now and in the future. But as fans, we should be careful what we wish for. Billionaire football club owners are morally repugnant. They have mostly made their money from fossil fuels, and buy a club as a plaything while half the world starves. Often they want too much control of club affairs, interfering in signings, team selection, and in the case of Cardiff City, the colour of the team shirt. Once you sell your club it stays sold, and a part of your identity and independence is gone forever. 
I was as disappointed as anybody to see Lukaku, Grealish, Sancho and Ronaldo arrive this summer, compared to our meagre outlay. Of last season’s top four, Liverpool are the only team to not have made a statement in this transfer window. A new signing gives everyone a lift, and makes the opposition sit up and take notice. But I don’t feel that blaming FSG is entirely justified in the context of the pandemic. The hashtag FSGOUT just feels premature to me. We owe them more respect for what they have achieved. Whilst it may soon be time for their reign to end, I’d like to see them put out to pasture with some grace and dignity, rather than hounded out in a way that is not in keeping with Liverpool traditions. Perhaps with a gold watch and a nice sponge cake. 

I am willing to give them at least one more summer transfer window to see what their ambitions and intentions truly are. Feel free to abuse me about this in the comments below, or on twitter. It’s only fair. Internet abuse is a part and parcel of modern life, after all. They should probably start teaching it in schools to give kids an edge in the job market. But I won’t sink to that level in this debate. That’s not who I am. For this season at least, Fenway Sports Group retain the placid support of this insignificant median-aged fan. I just hope they appreciate it, the ungrateful sons of bitches.