When Steve Nicol says he is "trying not to be too gloomy", it has nothing to do with the threatened player strike casting a cloud over the new MLS season in the United States. Instead the New England Revolution coach is reflecting on the fortunes of his former club, Liverpool.
The ex-Scotland defender was a member of the team that won the last of their 18 League titles in 1990. Two decades on, he is the longest-serving coach in the MLS, entering his ninth season with the Revolution, whom he has led to four runners-up spots.
Yet Anfield retains a special place in his heart and Nicol pulled no punches. Something "drastic" was required to restore the pre-eminence of a club described by Albert Riera ss a "sinking ship".
"I am a coach so I wouldn't call for someone to be sacked," says Nicol. "But something drastic has to change because the team is going nowhere and ultimately someone is responsible for that. They need players and they need investment."
Liverpool fans direct their ire at the club's American owners but Nicol believes manager Rafael Benitez should not be above blame. "They've spent over £200m so you can't say they've not had money to buy players. If you don't get the right players, you're not going to win games, and you have to say they haven't got the right players as a unit."
The result is a Liverpool side in which two individuals, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, bear too great a burden. "You watch Torres and Gerrard, they look as though they're carrying the whole stadium on their back. Every time they touch the ball they are under so much pressure to do something. You have big European nights where Gerrard and Torres are winning the games but it is not possible to carry that burden every single time you step on that field."
Nicol, who spent 14 years at Anfield, is also dismayed by Benitez's cautious tactics. "When teams used to come to Anfield they were scared before they started because they knew we were coming after them but now they play against one up front."
A lack of mental strength is a failing too. "If you have mental toughness then on days when you go to Hull, the pitch is bobbly, the wind howling, you end up with something. It's as much about that as silky soccer."
Still, the 1989 Footballer of the Year wouldn't be surprised if Liverpool won today. From 1983-84 to 1987-88, they won just one of 14 meetings, yet picked up three League titles and a European Cup. Today Liverpool can record a fourth straight victory over United but it's United who are chasing the domestic and European crowns. "Liverpool can go to United and win but the roles are reversed now. When we were winning the League, United always raised their game when they played us. Now it's the other way round."Reuse content