Football: Riedle's sign of times

Liverpool search for a shift of emphasis as a dramatic week leaves fresh questions over Anfield; Ian Ridley says Roy Evans needs to work out how best to use his new import
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Though the sun beat down and the sprinklers sprayed lazily, liltingly, across already verdant grass, Melwood was mournful on this morning after. Neither was it because just another Anfield defeat had served to erode the legend further; Liverpool seem to be getting used to those these days.

News was about to break at the training ground of Barcelona's pounds 12 million offer for Steve McManaman, which had been accepted by the club, even if the home boy himself was finding it hard to. John Barnes was also arriving to bid farewell. Going? Gone.

The fall-out of the McManaman shenanigan and the opening of the Barnes door will surely rumble on. Why would Liverpool want to sell one of their cornerstones? Why have they let another go to a close rival on a free transfer? Change had to come after the last two so-close seasons, but last week they seemed willing to embrace it with an abandon that evoked a parent at the end of their tether, a baby and some bath water.

A few yards from the gossip and goodbyes at Melwood sat one of the changes that seems certain to be for the better. When Liverpool signed Karlheinz Riedle from Borussia Dortmund a fortnight ago as Stan Collymore's replacement, and for the exceptional value of pounds 1.8m, their thinking seemed clear enough.

Riedle comes with none of the baggage of disappointment of the past two years, rather he brings a Bundesliga title and European Cup winners' medal. Throughout a career which has also taken in Werder Bremen, Lazio and 42 international appearances, he has been a model professional. That is something Liverpool are more than ever concerned with, given their recent reputation and their desire for wholesome figures for a new generation of young players coming into their prospective academy.

All the while Riedle has been an unselfish front runner, performing the flick-on and lay-off tasks for a partner, at the same time easing the goal-scoring burden at a rate of one every three club matches. The national team have also had 16 from him. In addition, he is a player for the big match. In seven seasons of European competition, he has scored 28 goals.

They should be a bonus, however. After all, Liverpool still have Robbie Fowler to return after injury. As his foil, Riedle should be a less egocentric provider than Collymore and if the injury record in recent seasons of a man 32 next month suggests that he is unlikely to play more than half Liverpool's matches, it should not matter unduly. The outrageously talented 17-year-old Michael Owen will undoubtedly become a more rounded player alongside.

Riedle is nursing a sore lower back after a welcome-to-the-Premiership challenge by Leicester City's Matt Elliott in the midweek 2-1 defeat at Anfield, which carried painful reminders of 21 dropped home points last season. It has been a rude introduction, what with Wimbledon as his other early-season opponents.

"It is normal also in Germany when you play teams who are not considered the top six," he said. "They are very well organised and difficult to play against. Football is very quick here, much quicker than in Germany, but the ball is still round and the goals are in the same place."

Riedle had no hesitation in agreeing to a move to Liverpool. "They were always a big name in Europe as a great club who won a lot of titles," he said. "I also wanted another experience in another country."

Most overseas players want it in London, though, you say. "Why?" he asks. "Oh, restaurants and theatres," you reply. "But I have not come here for restaurants or theatres. I want to play good football. I always want to play at a high level and Liverpool play to a high level."

Although dubious, he has not entirely given up hope of a return to the German team: "I have a chance for the World Cup finals if I have a good championship but there are a lot of good, young strikers in Germany." Has not Berti Vogts been unhappy with the squad of late? "Yes, that is true but the German team is always like this. For the big games, they are always ready." He will be watching Wednesday's match in Northern Ireland closely.

At Liverpool, Riedle should be able to handle any Scouse scalliness, which the beleaguered manager Roy Evans will not wish to suppress altogether if it improves the present low morale. Riedle, it should be remembered, played with Paul Gascoigne in Rome.

"OK he made some jokes. He is very funny. But on the field he didn't joke. I think he is a great player and a great human being." Was he himself ever the victim of a prank? "No, never. He wouldn't dare." Robbie Fowler be warned. Teutonically untemperamental, Riedle has only positive superstitions about wearing the No 13 shirt. "I wanted this number. It brought me all my success with Dortmund."

Riedle does not anticipate difficulty in adapting to a different brand of the game or his new environment. For example, aware of English crowds' distaste for prone figures he was soon on his feet after that early challenge by Elliott, where in Germany he might have stayed down for longer.

He conceded, however, that a restructuring Liverpool are having teething troubles. Indeed, as the second half was about to begin on Wednesday, he could be seen in deep conversation with Paul Ince, arms waving at what he clearly saw as a tactical deficiency.

"We are having a little bit of a problem," he said. "We were not so compact, the team was a little bit long. It was being stretched. This was not an error of the forwards but the team in general. We have to work together better." Riedle, though not a cause of the problem, was central to it as Liverpool were caught between two stools of style against Leicester. Stung by last season's criticism of them as Mastermind losers - too many passes - there was a new directness, with much going through Ince. Elements of the qualities they had no need to shed appeared to have been mislaid, however.

Initially the flaws did not leap out at Wimbledon last week but against Leicester there was a glaring lack of width and quality of cross that might have found a way round a canny deep defence. Despite Riedle's diplomatic insistence that he liked quick passing through the centre of the field, he clearly thrives more on the ball whipped in from a flank. The addition of a better crosser, as well as a goalkeeper, if David James's aberrations persist, seem priorities.

Where there was the ordinary Michael Thomas, there was also the thought that a composed and accurate Barnes still had a contribution to offer, something which could return to haunt Liverpool. The aim was once to get the ball to McManaman in areas where he could do most damage - in space between opponents' midfield and defence and running at them - but so far he has looked grumblingly uncertain and ineffective.

That, his imprecise finishing and the way alert opponents are now man- marking him may have led Liverpool to accept Barcelona's offer. Then there is the fact that he has been unwilling to extend a contract that has two years to run. He himself appeared loath to leave his home city, hence a reported demand for a wage that he was unlikely to receive of pounds 40,000 a week.

How he and Liverpool now respond to the apparently abortive move, starting at a resurgent Blackburn on Saturday, will be significant. It is ridiculously early, of course, for talk of crisis, with such as Fowler, Oyvind Leonhardsen and Jamie Redknapp still to appear, but there are clearly problems to address. Not least, making best use of Riedle.

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