Following months of denial and rebuttal from everyone associated with Liverpool, one of the club's most senior players has finally come out and admitted what everyone else knew all along - Gérard Houllier's men lost the plot from last November until the end of the season.
Stéphane Henchoz, who is expected to resume his all-important partnership with Sami Hyypia at the centre of Liverpool's defence for today's visit of the new-look Chelsea, also reveals that a psychologist was brought in to restore the players' confidence. "It's clear that we had a tricky season," says the 29-year-old, who missed much of the campaign through injury, and could only sit and watch as his team-mates let a seven-point lead disappear into the winter air before eventually finishing a disappointing fifth.
"We lost our way in November and never really managed to get back in the race. Sure, we were able to get the odd win here and there, but we simply couldn't put a run together. We would win one or two matches and then lose again. From November until the last game of the season, against Chelsea, we were destabilised."
One wonders whether the players and management team have worked out what went wrong. "No, not yet, to be honest," Henchoz explains. "I still can't believe it all happened. Up until November, everything was great: we were seven points clear and looking really solid. Then, suddenly we lose one game, two games, three... and it ends up being 11 games without a win. That's unbelievable for a club like Liverpool. It's never happened to me in my entire career. Even when I played for small clubs - who can always have bad runs - I never had this sort of terrible sequence."
Henchoz, who says the team cannot wait to avenge last season's final-day defeat by Chelsea, attempts to explain how the players reacted during those nervy times. "It's the opposite to how you feel when you're confident," the Swiss international says. "In those positive situations, you step out on to the field knowing that you are going to be OK. Something inside tells you that you will not concede a goal, or that even if you do you'll score one more anyway.
"Last season was completely the reverse for us. We always felt vulnerable. Even when you are leading 1-0, you sense that something is going to happen to you. We were constantly scared."
In order to help his troops, Houllier brought in a psychologist, who dealt with players in groups and on a one-to-one basis. "The idea was to talk through the difficulties we were having and then try to understand why those difficulties were arising," Henchoz says. "We had to sit through the group sessions, but the individual ones were a matter of choice."
Henchoz is a fairly laid-back individual, but even he has to admit that the sessions helped. "There are certain aspects of psychology that might help one person but not another," he says, "so it was sort of a case of picking and choosing the bits that suited you.
"Overall, though, I must say that it can be beneficial. You sometimes sit there a little sceptical, but then you go away and often realise that actually the ideas might be quite good."
Does this mean that the psychologist will be at the club again this season, to ensure a smoother ride? "I don't know, to be honest," Henchoz says, "but I hope not. I hope that we won't need any help this year."Reuse content