Football: Standards struck heavy blow by boardroom farce

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The Independent Online
THEIR standards have been exemplary for a generation or more, but Liverpool will never seem quite the same again after the ill-disguised U-turn which saw Graeme Souness retained as manager and the departure from the board of his foremost critic.

Souness had been the one expected to go, after presiding over two years of steep decline on the field. Instead, the can for a public relations disaster of humiliating proportions was carried by Tony Ensor, the director who had championed a change of management.

Ensor, an articulate and influential solicitor, resigned in protest at the board's volte- face. A week ago, he felt there had been broad agreement on paying off Souness, even at a cost of pounds 1m. Seven days later, Souness was the best man to run the team, not just for next season but for the three years his contract has to run.

After all the speculation about his successor, and the compensation he was to be paid, it was as you were, and an expression of boardroom confidence which was facile, even by footballing standards.

The result is a lame-duck manager, stripped of credibility and respect. The local paper had carried the headline 'It IS Over', and conducted a telephone poll which suggested that 67 per cent of supporters wanted Souness out. The man's stock in the dressing- room must be subterranean.

Despite the smokescreen billowing around Anfield yesterday - 'difficult days, three more years, Graeme never wanted to leave' - there is no doubt that a parting of the ways was deemed inevitable as late as last Friday, when both sides were nudging and winking to that effect.

What happened in the interim is unclear, although Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish declaring themselves non-runners, and the paucity of attractive alternatives, may have had something to do with yesterday's omelette-faced outcome.

The chairman, David Moores, apologised for keeping the most devoted supporters in English football in the dark. 'Clearing up the matter was far more important than avoiding a few days' bad publicity,' he said.

Whether the fans regard the issue as 'cleared up' remains to be seen. Any mention of Souness was booed at Anfield on Saturday, and the board should steel themselves for an uncomfortable night tomorrow, when Liverpool and their legions make the short journey to Wrexham for Joey Jones' testimonial.

Moores, part of the Littlewoods pools dynasty, has been chairman for less than two years. As every other scouser seemed to be saying last week, it would never have happened under the old regime.

Commentary, page 26

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