The first half of the season had produced a mixed bag. We were second in the standings, three points off Arsenal, and we’d had some amazing results – along side a disappointingly large number of defeats. We’d lost five of our 19 games, and won the other 14 – this Liverpool side didn’t know how to draw a game. If we’d managed to draw a couple of the lost games, I’d have been happier… but the reality is that we should have won at least three of the games we’d lost.
The second half of the season would begin on New Year’s Day 2032. Liverpool would host Newcastle, in a fixture that had historically produced some truly amazing games. The 4-3 Liverpool win over Newcastle at Anfield in the 95/96 season still stands out as a great example of two sides who were unable or unwilling to do anything other than attack – and a year later the two sides played out the same result at the same venue.
A 4-3 win would be nice; a 4-0 win would be better. In fact, any sort of win would be gratefully received. In the end two goals from Luke Forrester (a central defender!) and an own goal gave us a 3-0 win and the points.
The FA Cup offered a change of pace and some serious squad rotation. I needed to keep my big stars fit and also give fringe players a chance. We travelled to Chesterfield, who had originally turned me down for a manager’s role right at the start of my career. A 1-0 win didn’t show just how in control we were – a full-strength side would have utterly destroyed them.
I landed Welch, having previously been told I’d offered far too high a bid. I managed to snag the young central defender, formerly of Arsenal, for a lower fee anyway.
Slowly but surely I was moving on the dead wood too. I’d come to realise by the halfway point who was playing regularly for me and who wasn’t. As always, I wanted to bring in players from the youth team, and develop them. Some had bags of potential, and it was my duty to help them realise it.
After the trip to Millwall I had my head in my hands, almost literally. We drew 1-1, and guess what? We dominated the game. We were all over them, and even missed a penalty on our way to drawing. I swear the opposition ‘keepers only play well against me…
Would we fare any better away to Fulham? Could my strikers actually score?! Well, the strikers didn’t, but we won 3-0, which was better. However, next we hosted Spurs, an altogether more challenging fixture, and we’d lost the away match, playing poorly. At least Martinez scored, twice in fact, in a 2-0 win.
We then won 2-1 at bottom club Birmingham, though we should have won far more easily, and when Birmingham equalised I feared we’d once again been FMed. Thankfully Santos got his second goal of the game to give us a win that, based on the stats, we thoroughly deserved.
The Reds returned to FA Cup action, with a trip to Derby. Just prior to the game Liverpool signed young Brazilian superstar Luciano for £49 million, which was actually something of a steal considering the quality of the player. I didn’t rush him into action, preferring a different set of options for Derby.
Santos scored four goals and new signing Voznyuk scored twice, along with a sizzler from Forrester in a 7-3 win – though the level of concentration clearly dipped as the game wore on. Still, the attacking power of the team seemed to be switching back on, which I couldn’t complain about.
It turned out Luciano wouldn’t be playing for a bit longer – he was away on Brazil Under 23 duties. It was a shame, for I’d hoped to unleash him upon my next visitors to Anfield – Man City, in the Premier League. A 4-1 win included highlights from midfielder Saidi Kabwili – a powerful volleyed effort from 20 metres out that sailed into the back of the net – and a Santos freekick.
Having drifted to five points off the top, we were now top, but only via goal difference. The efforts in January also yielded the Manager of the Month Award, always gratefully received. The phantom goal rubbish wasn’t so well received, for it denied me a win away to Wolves.
Next was a moment of nostalgia. Liverpool went to Elland Road, home of my former club Leeds United. They’d slipped to 11th in the standings, which was sad to see. I’d hoped they’d be fairing better. Unfortunately they did fare better, against Liverpool, winning 2-1.
We’d dropped to third in the table and I didn’t hold out any more hope we could win the title. I was seriously doubting what to do to get back to the sort of consistency that would deliver trophies. We lost again, away to Leicester, and I began to seriously question whether or not I wanted to continue the game.
A 2-0 win over Everton at Anfield in the FA Cup brought a little solace. A 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth brought my resignation. This side just did not want to score goals and could not finish off weaker sides. It was a horribly frustrating nightmare and I lacked the patience to continue with it. I would remain at Liverpool until the end of the season (if they wanted me to), but frankly, I was greatly disappointed in the game itself for a string of ridiculous results and scenarios that defied reality.
Hibernian in the Europa League were my next opponents, in the first of my post-resignation fixtures. We won 1-0 but yet again we were not taking our chances.
I wasn’t bothering with media duties anymore. I felt like there was no point. I wanted only to focus on the matches. We won 2-1 at home to Brighton but the overall performance was poor and I made a point of slating the players. I was pissed off with the weak showings and inability to do the job, match after bloody match.
We ended up losing badly at home to Hibs in the Europa League too, dumping us out of that competition in unceremonious fashion. I decided to accelerate my plans and resigned immediately, utterly fed up with the crap I was dealing with.
I took a holiday, waiting to see what the state of play would look like come the 1st of June. At the end of my holiday, I applied for the manager role at four clubs – Chelsea, Spurs, Bristol Rovers and Scottish side Forfar. A mixed group of clubs in wildly different situations. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up.
In fact, I decided to retire. I’d briefly signed on with Spanish club Real San Sebastian, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt I’d made a mistake. I was tired, and lacked the hunger to carry on. The saga of this particular FM save would be remembered as promotions with Aldershot and Crystal Palace, and two Premier League titles and two FA Cups with Leeds, in a spell of just over ten years. I think that’s quite good. It could have been better, but it could have been worse. I’d learned a lot, and as and when I began a new career, we’d see if we could do things differently.