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 Not only did he accept Pascal Struijk’s apology, but he campaigned online for the red card to be rescinded, and sent Struijk a message of support when the appeal failed.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.
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.