Liverpool trading on history to make it big in Malaysia
Malaysia All-Stars 3 Liverpool 6
Sunday 17 July 2011
They played "You'll Never Walk Alone" so frequently before kick-off that you wondered what royalties the estate of Rodgers and Hammerstein might make from this friendly. There must, as Julie Walters remarked in the bittersweet Merseyside drama, Educating Rita, be other songs to sing but Liverpool's past exerts a strange hold even here, two continents away from Anfield.
The identikit picture of a Premier League season-ticket holder is white, middle-aged and male, sometimes overweight and usually convinced that what is said on 606 or any other football phone-in, is of overwhelming interest.
The average fan in Malaysia is young, middle-class with money to spend and a high premium on brands. They should be attracted by the kind of instant success that, one night in Istanbul apart, Liverpool have not produced since before many of them were born.
And yet nearly 120,000 came beneath the sweeping canopy of the Bukit Jalil Stadium to see them engage in a little light training on Friday night and then beat a Malaysian side that is ranked one place above Guinea-Bissau in the Fifa rankings 6-3. It is more than Arsenal attracted on Wednesday night and more than will watch Chelsea here next week.
The tour, which has included only one of Kenny Dalglish's four summer signings, has been followed in the United States and not just because of the advertising value it has for Liverpool's chief sponsors, Standard Chartered. Using his Twitter account, the Liverpool owner, John W Henry, suggested that David Ngog and Alberto Aquilani, two players who had been expected to leave Anfield, should remain on Merseyside.
Discussing Aquilani, who has never threatened to justify the £20m Rafael Benitez invested in him and who spent last season on loan at Juventus, Henry tweeted: "Aquilani was our missing link last year. Put the ball near Ngog and the goal and it's going in. There has been too much talk of them going somewhere else." Ngog's three goals on tour might prove very timely, however modest the opposition.
The enthusiasm for Liverpool that was sometimes as suffocating as the humidity bore out the statement from the club's managing director, Ian Ayre, who spent years working in the Far East, that Liverpool and Manchester United are still the Premier League's only truly global brand.
Liverpool's history will be a long time eroding. Although horribly late exploiting the corporate market in England, they were quick to appreciate the importance of playing beyond Europe's borders. Phil Thompson, who acted as a kind of master of ceremonies on this tour, remembers coming to Hong Kong in 1984, the year Liverpool became English and European champions.
That past was on display in Bukit Jalil, from whose stands hung the kind of banners that Anfield would recognise. There was one that had the legend: "Success Has Many Fathers" below pictures of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Dalglish and Benitez. There was no sign of the accompanying banner: "Defeat is an Orphan" which should have been illustrated with a photograph of Roy Hodgson. This time last year Hodgson prepared for the Premier League in the far more sensible surrounds of Switzerland and Germany. Much good it did him.
Here, Liverpool have fulfilled Standard Chartered's brief relentlessly. On Friday, Dirk Kuyt and Charlie Adam, who scored his first goal for Liverpool with a softly given and twice-taken penalty, were promoting a debit card.
Money aside, there seems no point in touring Asia or the US. Kuala Lumpur offers no kind of preparation for an English winter in terms of the style and quality of football, or climate. However, not unless they make it to Wembley for an FA or Carling Cup final will Liverpool play in front of a larger audience and nowhere would it be this easy or eager to please.
It is in places like Kuala Lumpur where playing a 39th Premier League game starts to make sense. There is no reason why the Community Shield should not be played here, Yokohama or Johannesburg.
It is easy to mock these tours, where yesterday journalists sat in press conferences wearing Liverpool scarves (one wearing a jester's hat), but there was a poignant banner: "Malaysian by birth, Kop by choice." They had chosen Liverpool and for those 6,000 miles from the Mersey there is no other song.
Liverpool (4-4-2): First half: Jones; Robinson, Agger, Carragher, Flanagan; Adam, Coady, Spearing, Meireles; Cole, Carroll. Second half Gulacsi; Kelly, Wilson, Kyrgiakos, Insua; Rodriguez, Poulsen, Aquilani, Shelvey; Kuyt, Ngog.
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