Let's Relegate Liverpool!

Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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So, it's 2033, and as ever some pretty crazy stuff has happened over the past 20 years in FM-land. Genoa reaching the Champions League final, England winning 2 World Cups in 3, Ireland winning the Euros. And that was just stuff I wasn't involved in. Myself, I was busy with my ten glorious years at Norwich, three record-breaking if utterly predictable years at PSG, followed by a fairy-tale four seasons at Joinville, Brazil. From Serie C to the Copa Libertadores in just four incredible years.

But I didn't see how I was going to top that (and I couldn't face one more of those ****** state championships), so I decided the time was ripe for a glorious return to Premier League football. And there was the perfect club crying out for a saviour – Liverpool. Bottom. Ten games without a win. The Patrick Bamford reign at a disastrous end. The parallels are too perfect - Norwich were bottom as well when I joined them, and I took them to three FA Cups, three Europas and three League Cups (though the two big prizes eluded me). Sorry Joinville, I'm packing my bags.

Three games in, we're still searching for that win. I'm not too fussed. The squad is a good one, I'll have £30m to spend when the transfer window opens in a month, I know how to get a tune out of FM's morale system, there's no way we're going down.

Until the thought struck me today. Why not? Why not relegate Liverpool?

I don't hate Liverpool, I'm not tribal enough. I even wanted them to win the title in 2014. But the sanctimony and the moaning and the paranoia and that annoying nasal song do get on my wick. If there's any team I would enjoy relegating, it would be them.

I know that Misère Football Manager isn't a new concept. (I remember one guy on here who was going to relegate Man City by underachieving a bit, but not enough to get sacked, year in year out until he managed it.) And unlikely relegations happen all the time in the Funny / Random thread. But for me, this is a unique opportunity. It'll never be more achievable, given that I've come in mid-season with the reputation of a legend and it'll take a lot of bottle for the Liverpool board to fire another manager. So let's do this.

The rules. No blatantly suicidal decisions. No putting midget wingers in goal, no fielding nothing but U18s, no formations consisting of the entire team strung out on each touchline. But everything I can justify narratively or tactically I will do. I will keep faith with my goalie, whom I brought through all those years ago at Norwich, even though he is ****. I will continue to field the hard-working 22-year-old from the academy up front, even though he can't score. I will ostracise the veteran striker, 'cos he's the past, even if he is the only one capable of physically chastising livestock with a bluegrass instrument. No save-scumming, obviously.

So let's do it. They think Liverpool's finally found its Messiah. They've forgotten that according to the Book of Revelations, when the Messiah first appears, he shall actually be the Antichrist. Let's relegate Liverpool.
 

Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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1st December
Liverpool: Played 14, Won 1, Drawn 5, Lost 8, 8pts.
Position: 19[SUP]th[/SUP], 4 points from safety.
Job position: Stable.


"Walk on, w-a-alk on, with ho-ope, in your heart..."

"I hate that ****** song," I mutter to myself. "I wonder if you'll sing it that loudly in the Championship."

"Gaffer?"

"Maybe if we get relegated I can convince the board it's bad luck and they'll replace it with something else. Like My Way. Everyone loves a good singalong to My Way. What is it, Berrers?"

"Don't you think you put a bit too much pressure on the team back there?" Christophe says, cautiously. "You were pretty insistent about the boys getting a win today."

"It's Burnley, Chris. Don't you think these people" I wave imperiously at the thronged Scousers "expect us to beat Burnley?"

"Well, they are 4[SUP]th[/SUP], gaffer, and we're... in a bit of a bad patch."

"Form is temporary" I inform him "and history is permanent. Especially at a club like this." A history I don't say out loud, that will soon include its first relegation since the Beatles were ruining rock 'n' roll, if I get my way.

Burnley take the lead in the 27[SUP]th[/SUP] minute, graciously accepting the invitation I offered them down the left flank in the form of inexperienced fullback Robbie Skyers. Two minutes into injury time, however, the fans are given something to celebrate in the form of a goal from 20-year-old prospect Andy Prescott. My mood does not improve when I learn that thanks to a clause from when we poached him from, of all places, Burnley, that goal cost us £150,000. "Think of all the Frank Sinatra CDs I could have bought for the tannoy man", I mutter.

* * * *

All the papers are full of the renewal of my rivalry with Pep Guardiola, back for his second spell at Man United. The famous 5-4 in my first year at Norwich. The Battle of Chorzow when we won our first Europa League. The 6-2 in the Capital One Cup. All I care about is making sure absolutely nothing exciting happens whatsoever, and I set up as boringly as possible. Adama Traore breaks the deadlock for United after 78 minutes, but Andy Prescott scores his second equaliser in two games to secure a point. Remind me to leave him on the bench next time.

* * * *

"Right, lads." I tap the whiteboard. "I've been reading the scout reports, and Wolves have two noticeable advantages over us. One, they're bigger than us. Two, they've got good touch for big men. So who wants to tell me how we're going to win?"

"Keep the ball on the ground and restrict the space they have to play?" guesses Nicolai, the promisingly bright Dane.

"No!" I announce triumphantly. "That's what they'll be expecting us to do. We're going to press them hard, nick the ball, and then get it up to Maccer as quickly as possible."

An awed silence falls as the squad consider just how privileged they are to be managed by a genius. "On je otišao jebeno ludi" I hear the Croatian winger Mirko Butina mutter to himself. I graciously acknowledge what I assume to be his praise with a nod.

We draw 1-1. I've broken the Ligue 1 and Europa League goalscoring records, taken Joinville to their highest ever finish of 4[SUP]th[/SUP], and now I have a new record (partially) to my credit: Liverpool's longest ever run without a win, of 15 games.

* * * *

Half-time, and Goodison Park is jumping. We took the lead in the derby after just three minutes with a lovely passing move ending in Dramé Koné sliding the ball into the net. But Everton have been exploiting the space in behind since the first minute, and my instructions to counter this -- by pushing even higher, thus ensuring the Everton players have more time to think as they counter and thereby **** it up -- have somehow failed to improve matters. Local-born forward Nicky Barry finally equalised on 30 minutes. The Boxing Day crowd smells blood.

This is where a manager earns his corn.

"Ok lads" I begin. "Barry is on fire there up front. He's got one already, he's had other chances, and frankly, the way he's going I wouldn't put a derby hat-trick past him. We've got to do something about that."

There are nods all around. This is why the guys on the pitch need some guy in a suit, to see the big picture and make the changes.

"So," I continue, "we're going three at the back." Silence.

"Gaffer..." The Romanian ball-playing centre half, Laurentiu Filip, breaks the quiet. "They've only got one up top. And we've never played three-at-the-back before. Or trained with it."

"Anyone can play three at the back" I insist. "It's extremely simple." And I launch into a five-minute lecture on the 3-5-2 gegenpressen system that won back-to-back promotions from the Brazilian third division. "Full coverage of the first third... overloads in every area..." I scribble Xs and Os on the whiteboard as I get into my stride. "...elimination of space in front of the 18 yard box, followed by immediate conversion into a 3-4-3..." and with a flourish of my marker, I indicate where spaces will open up both at the far post and for onrushing midfielders. "And even an average cross becomes undefendable!"

I turn back from the whiteboard. Everyone is silent. "Well?"

"Um... gaffer..." Filip stutters... "You've just spent the entire half time speaking in Portugese. None of us..." he looks around at this teammates for confirmation. "None of us speak Portugese." I glare at him. The universal language of Gaffery. "Well... I guess Dimba speaks it... um, maybe Dimbers can explain it in the tunnel." The referee chooses that moment to knock on the door for the second half.

* * * *

Nicky Barry fulfilled the dream of every Everton fan with a super hat-trick against Liverpool at Goodison Park to secure a 3-2 victory. Although he could scarcely could have dreamed it would be made so easy for him. Sascha Spleen's decision to switch to a bizarre 3-4-3 formation at half time, with only one recognised striker up front and the two wide centre backs left floundering as Everton overran his team, would surely invite the harshest scrutiny for any other manager in the world. For Spleen, who continues to search for his first win as Liverpool manager, we must assume that he knows what he is doing. He will have to do it quickly.

* * * *

Regrets... I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention... I did what I had to do, and saw it through, without exemption... I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more - much more than this - I did it - my way
......

31st December
Liverpool: Played 18, Won 1, Drawn 8, Lost 9, 11pts.
Position: 20[SUP]th[/SUP], 6 points from safety.
Job position: Stable.
 

Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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January

Anfield is jumping. Scousers are hugging. Grown men are weeping in sheer relief. For the first time since August, Liverpool have won a football match.

Fine with me. It's the FA Cup. No points on offer here.

Switching from a turgid 4-5-1 with all the penetration of a jelly to a 4-2-3-1, recalling exiled veteran striker Alonso Martini to perform an imperious Totti-esque role in the hole, paid off in full. A beautiful touch, turn and sidefoot finish from the 33-year-old was followed by a superb run-from-halfway-and-chip by Ruben Vloet. Playing with two strikers works. Remind me not to do that again.

As luck would have it, Martini spares me any dilemma by getting injured in the next match, as a dismal collapse against Hull from 2 goals up sees us draw 2-2.

* * * *

"Spleen, Spleen, any chance of a few words?"

I wind the car window down. As I cycle to work, carrying the thing over my shoulder was a severe pain in the ****. But apparently it's obligatory. "What can I do for you, gents?" I ask the throng of hacks.

"So what's going to happen in the January window?"

"Oh, you know." I say cheerily. "Irons in fires. Wheels in motion. Fingers in pies. Tears in rain. Blaz-in' Squad."

"Right. But are you actually looking at signing anyone?"

"I'm happy with my squad." I say firmly.

"Really?"

"Yes."

"You're happy with your squad, which is in 18[SUP]th[/SUP]?"

"We're in a false position." I say confidently. We should still be 20[SUP]th[/SUP]. How we managed to beat Arsenal is a question football historians will ponder for aeons. I wind the car window back up and pedal off.

* * * *

Carlos "Can't Catch" Cudicini. Jed Steer. Rafael, the 5'11" wonder. I have managed some ***** goalkeepers in my time, I muse, but Joel "JoJo" Jones surely tops them all. I've watched him put in some heroic, 7.5 – 8.0 performances, but he has a mistake in him every game, and all of them frigging hilarious. Even the draw with Chelsea in the FA Cup wasn't complete without JoJo juggling the ball with his neck or dropping a simple backheader at the edge of his area.

At Norwich, in front of 57,000 at the Doria Arena, he comes for the ball at a corner, falls over and watches the ball roll into the net. He doesn't come a yard off his line to catch a ball duly converted at the far post. And he caps it by reaching for a 20 yard pea-roller with his stupid lettuce hand and shovelling it into the net. He's got the lot. He's a walking blooper reel. He is goalkeeping kryptonite. I love him.

My old club thrash us 6-1.

* * * *

In the end, I do sign a few players. Frankie Towers, who could potentially be England's goalie for years to come. Darren Thom, a promising 18-year-old playmaker from Rangers. And Randy Scott Iniguez, a steal of a winger at £5.75m from Chivas. He cannily asks for a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for the same price if we get relegated. I add a 2 before the 5 while his back is turned, and sign him up. All are very exciting talents, and perhaps they'll even fire us to a Championship title next year.

The window shuts on a mixed bag of a month, with unwelcome wins against West Ham, Arsenal and a woeful Newcastle spoiling losses to Derby and Norwich. But the good news is that Grant McParland, the white Heskey, will soon be back from injury. Things are looking down.

31[SUP]st[/SUP] January
Liverpool: Played 24, Won 4, Drawn 9, Lost 11, 21pts.
Position: 17
[SUP]th [/SUP] on goal difference.
Job position: Stable.
 

Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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February

When a team in the mire sees a shot hit the post or a penalty decision go the wrong way or an own goal go in off someone's shin, commentators and pundits have a tendency to say things like "Well, when you're down at the bottom of the table, that's the sort of thing that happens." "In that situation, sometimes you can't even buy a goal." And so on.

It is bollocks. A pure cognitive bias. Good teams hit the woodwork and get bad decisions and all other kinds of bad luck as well, but no-one remembers them when you've won the game. Only rubbish teams remember them because there's nothing else to talk about.

Or so I thought. The FA Cup replay against Chelsea may force me to rethink my unshakeable rationalistic beliefs. In both matches we play beautiful football, freed of the suffocating pressure of the relegation fight (and my subtle tactical sabotage). In 180 minutes we have 39 shots, 14 on target, and hit the woodwork 3 times. Chelsea have 9 shots, 2 on target.

Every football fan knows where this story is going. And who scored the solitary goal of the tie. Operation Have An FA Cup Run To Keep The Board Off My Back is off the table.

* * * *

West Brom are tiki-taka-ing right in front of our penalty area, the midfield outnumbered and chasing shadows. Finally comes the killer stroke, a beautiful reverse pass from Choong-jin as Preece makes a run to the penalty spot.

Time slows to a crawl.

JoJo hurls himself at the shot and saves brilliantly. And spills it, typically. Choong-jin, following up, arrows it to the corner – and JoJo flings out his left boot, parrying it. Choong-jin hits it again, straight into JoJo's face, who has launched himself back up. It's an outstanding triple save. But it's not enough. Alexandre Muto finally tucks it in. Things just don't go for you when you're down there at the bottom, eh?

* * * *

"What am I doing here, gaffer?"

I lean back in my chair. "That's a fascinating question, Frankie. In a very real sense, what are any of us doing here? In the end all we are is a sack of chemical reactions held to this earth by forces we don't understand, and if we stripped away all the processes that determine what atoms we consist of and why they occupy the physical space they occupy at this moment, would anything that could be described as a "purpose" remain..."

"No, Mr Spleen." Frankie interrupts, "I mean what am I doing here, at this club?"

Frankie Towers, my big winter signing, the great white hope of English goalkeeping, star of Swansea's Championship promotion campaign, 2 senior caps for England at only 21, looks perplexed and hurt. Like a gun dog who's been locked in the car while the pheasants fall from the sky, and has to watch while his master sends out a duck-billed platypus to do the job he's been bred for.

"I thought I was coming here to play for Liverpool and get them back where they belong." Frankie says. "I've not played a single game. I'm good enough and if I have to leave to play first team football I will."

"It's difficult for me, Frankie." I say avuncularly. "You're an incredible talent. I wanted to sign you even before I came back to England. But I can't just drop an experienced keeper like JoJo when he's in such good form. You saw that triple save against West Brom."

Both of us fall silent. JoJo is ****. I know it. Frankie knows it. I expect JoJo knows it. He probably has "I earn £85,000 quid a week" painted on the ceiling of his bedroom to remind him why he gets out of bed in the morning. But these are the unwritten rules of team spirit. You can't slag off your own teammate. You can't tell the manager he's wrong. And the manager can't tell his players that he's sabotaging the team because he thinks it would be funny if the 18-times champions of England got relegated. Sigh.

I let him go with a promise that I'll try to get him a loan out. I don't actually want him to get pulled down with the rest of us.

* * * *

We had 8 shots against Blackburn. 4 against West Brom, at Anfield. Away to Man City we have 3. To call it a training exercise for City would be an insult to the attacking flair of those skeletal metal dummies the coaches use. Spring is coming, the snowdrops are out, and Liverpool is dying on its ****.

28[SUP]th[/SUP] February
Liverpool: Played 27, Won 4, Drawn 10, Lost 13, 22pts.
Position: 18
[SUP]th [/SUP] on goal difference.
Job position: Very Insecure.
 
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Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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March

The papers are claiming my position at Liverpool is "very insecure". What is this bollocks? You mean you can't just relegate Liverpool and expect tbe board not to say anything? I had Liverpool bottom a few months ago and the Hill twins assured me my position was stable. It's a difficult job, relegating one of the biggest clubs in the world, and all you want is a bit of consistency.

And, the funny thing is, I don't want to be sacked. Three months ago, when the idea hit me to relegate Liverpool, I couldn't give a stuff about this team. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to deliberately relegate this useless, overpaid bunch of chancers who don't deserve to wear the lycra underpants, let alone the shirt.

And yet, I've become accustomed to their faces. Young Andy Prescott and centre-back Carlton "Commander" Keen could be great home-grown players for Liverpool. There are model professionals like Dimba and Martini among the dross. And my three signings, Towers, Thom and Randy Scott Iniguez (heh heh heh... Iniguez) are genuinely exciting talent and I want to make them Liverpool legends.

I even considered dropping this story and playing it straight from now on. Or making a backup save so I could continue the story but then go back if I got sacked.

But no. When I start a job, I see it through to the end. Except when I left Verona's Serie B title campaign to manage Norwich. Or when I gave up on winning the title with Norwich to take the easy option of PSG. Or when I gave up on winning the Champions League with PSG and threw myself into lower league Brazilian football. Or when I jumped ship from Joinville a month before they qualified for the Libertadores. "Fans are singing the praises of Ze Eduardo" my ****. Basically, I always see a job through to the end, except when I don't.

If that means I get sacked in March and the whole thing comes to a dumb anti-climax where Liverpool finish 15[SUP]th[/SUP] and I end up managing Milan, so be it.

* * * *

I can't really be blamed for losing the Tottenham game. Simon Driver, England's second all time goalscorer after Sir Wayne Rooney, is on fire. And we show glimmers of quality with two goals, but it's not really a contest, and Tottenham win 4-2.

Now the match against Stoke at the Britannia becomes a must-win game. It's not a basement battle, it's a bottom-of-the-barrel battle, 19[SUP]th[/SUP] away at 20[SUP]th[/SUP]. And if 20[SUP]th[/SUP] wins, I get sacked. My career hits its absolute nadir when Stevie G pops up in the media to insist the board keeps the faith. Thanks Stevie. Nice of you to slip in a good word for me.

I march into the boardroom and fight my corner. I insist that the only problem is low morale, and all I need is to get them in the right place mentally. Well, I did my best to get them in the wrong place, with my sullen, reluctant silences in team talks and chipping away at individual players in press conferences. Hopefully I can remember how to get them out of it long enough to keep me out of the dole queue.

Fired up by my clear-the-air meeting, we go into the Britannia, and we strangle them with football. Swing low sweet chariot? They don't have a single shot. We batter their defence. We sneak out with a 1-0 with a set piece header from Commander Keen, the local lad. He's in heaven. He's saved my job. He's going to help me relegate his boyhood club.

* * * *

I go in to the match against Aston Villa with an unchanged side. Now is not the time to throw a match and invite the board back on my ****. I have a blueprint for success. Er, failure. I have to keep our heads just out of water until the last three matches of the season. Which are Man U away, Arsenal away, and for the grand finalé, Everton. Zero points from those first two, and at the very least we should be in the relegation equation on the final day. Then all I need is another world-class act of tactical sabotage like at Goodison Park, and Liverpool are in the Championship.

So I field my best XI. We lose 2-1. Funny old game. There'll be many a Stevie G 'twixt cup and lip before we reach those last three matches.

The Chelsea match has everything. JoJo almost gives away a goal of the month in the seventh minute, wandering out of his area, panicking, slicing the ball to the right flank and inviting a shot from the halfway line at an open goal, which flashes a yard wide. A set-piece goal each is followed by a Chelsea goal gifted by Keen, who may be a bit of a gentle giant. Action flows end to end. It's like a basketball match, only watchable. Martini equalises with a quality strike after all-action Togolese Baba Diallo does the heavy lifting with a knockdown and toe-poked assist. Finally Mirko Butina seals a famous victory with a curling free kick.

With a must-win game negotiated and fans celebrating a victory over a famous rival, my position is secure for the moment – despite still being only 2 points above 18[SUP]th[/SUP]. Seven matches to go. Crunch time.

31[SUP]st[/SUP] March
Liverpool: Played 31, Won 6, Drawn 10, Lost 15, 28pts.
Position: 17
[SUP]th[/SUP], 2 points above the drop zone.
Job position: Stable.
 
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Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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April

The great surprise of this season is how absolutely terrible the relegation battle has been. Our two competitors for 18[SUP]th[/SUP] and 19[SUP]th[/SUP] are Southampton, who started this season playing in the Europa League, and West Ham, who won the League Cup. (Stoke have 20[SUP]th[/SUP] place nailed with 21 points.) If we beat Southampton away then it's quite possible we've relegated them.

So I prepare meticulously. I read all the scouting reports, consider both teams' strengths and weaknesses, and finally reach for my secret weapon. Three at the back.

We actually have the best chances, but after Southampton go two up after thirty minutes, and I withdraw Martini after sixty, the contest looks pretty safe. After Andy Prescott restores a glimmer of hope with a superb twisting header, I do what any manager would do – take off Martin, a midfielder, and sub on Vloet as a striker. Southampton duly play keep ball for the remaining ten minutes.

* * * *

"Our next caller is Gareth from Liverpool. You're on 6-0-6 with Robbie Savage."

"Hi Robbie. Yes, I've got to say what everyone else is afraid to. Spleen has to go. I don't know what's happened to him but if he doesn't go, we're going down."

"You're talking about one of the best managers in the game today. How many Premier League games have you played in?"

"I know his record, Robbie, but whatever he did at Norwich, at Paris and at Joey-whatever in Brazil, it's not working here. He changes formations at random, he refuses to select some of our best players, I don't know what that three-at-the-back at Southampton was about -"

"It changed the game when he used it at Chelsea! How many Premier League games have you played in?"

"Yeah, but that game was mad. Then there's his substitutions. Why do we always take Martin off at 60 minutes? It makes no sense."

"Alright, so what do you want them to do? There's only seven games left."

"I don't care! Just as long as they play 4-2-3-1, two strikers, recall Sam Perry, give Frankie Towers a go in goal, and don't make bizarre decisions that lose us matches. Let Christophe Berra take charge. Get Stevie G in, it doesn't matter. ****, I'll do if it they want. I once won the Champions League with Accrington Stanley in Football Manager 2032..."

"Alright, that's quite enough of you. Next caller is Mohamed from Burnley. What's on your mind Mohamed, and how many Premier League games have you played in?"

* * * *

Something has happened to Grant McParland. He was my spearhead to this headlong charge into the Championship. A hard-working lad from the academy who has all the attributes of a top-class leader of the line, except that he doesn't score goals. The 4-5-1 I used with Grant up front was a thing of impotent beauty.

But the Spirit of Anfield seems to have risen up, stirred into life by Liverpool's desperate situation, and implanted itself in McParland's boot. One long-range strike thunders off the bar, hits a defender and goes in. Another woodwork-trembler falls to the feet of Dimba, who converts. We beat Burnley 3-1. It's the first time Liverpool have won by 2 goals in the league since August. Two years ago.

The following match McParland is determined to get his own name on the scoresheet, and plays like a man possessed. He jinks, he drives, and he unleashes three unstoppable strikes for his first hat-trick. (Well, actually they're extremely stoppable, but not if you're Sunderland's past-it Yank keeper.) 4-1 Liverpool. Suddenly we're potentially one win from safety with four games to go.

And just to cap it off, JoJo breaks his finger opening a can of prunes. I now have no option but to field my good goalkeeper. Is my dream unravelling before my eyes? Was I a fool to think I could relegate Liverpool? This is the bit in the Hero's Journey where the hero sinks into a pit of despair and has to be picked up by his friends. But in my quest to relegate Liverpool, I am friendless.

Then it hits me. There's one man who has always been ready to offer sage advice and counsel to less experienced managers in England. I pick up the phone and dial the number for St Dympna's Home For The Elderly Deranged.

* * * *

"Who tae fock is this?"

"It's Sascha Spleen, Fergie."

"Spleen? That useless lad who used to play for me in midfield?"

"No, that was Tom Cleverley. This is Spleen, the ex manager of Norwich. I'm trying to relegate Liverpool but suddenly we can't stop scoring and the defence actually seems to be buying in to my ludicrously high line."

"Relegate Liverpool? What tae fock are ye on aboot? I'm no buyin' anything."

"Sir Alex, what did you do when United were going through a bad patch and your methods didn't seem to be working?"

"Aye lad, ye've got tae say tae yeself – I'm a great manager and my methods have always worked before, and has anything changed? If tae answer's nae, then ye have to keep believing. Because if you believe in yourself, then the lads will believe in ye."

"You're right. That's it. Thank you Sir Alex!"

"Nae bother lad. And listen Tom, you've got tae have courage and play tae forward pass noo and agin, or you'll end up playing fer Wolves."

"Thanks Sir Alex."

My self-belief restored, I take a little-changed side to Anfield, and we lose 2-1 to Wolves. McParland scores early but spurns five other presentable chances. I put my faith in him, and I am rewarded - he is rubbish after all. An overburdened defence concedes two to secure zero points.

We're now in that crucial last three games – United away, Arsenal away, and Everton at home. The first is duly lost. Those wins against Burnley and Sunderland leave us slightly less precarious than I wanted, but we're still just about in the mix.

30[SUP]th[/SUP] April
Liverpool: Played 36, Won 8, Drawn 10, Lost 18, 34pts.
Position: 16
[SUP]th[/SUP], 2 points above the drop zone.
Job position: Stable.
 
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Spleen

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Apr 17, 2011
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May

You join us here at Anfield for a quite incredible end to the HSBC Premier League. It's Winner Stays On in the Merseyside derby. After that loss at the Emirates, Liverpool teeter just above the relegation zone. A win or a draw will see them safe, and their rivals relegated. Lose, and Everton will relegate Liverpool. It's as simple as that.

I walk, alone, through the deserted corridors and caverns of Anfield.

"Sascha, no-one could have predicted the season would pan out this way. The pressure must be intense. How are you feeling at this moment?" "Whatever." "Wh-?"

A few hours ago, my ears were ringing with the sound of delirious Scousers. Now silence reigns.

"Your team selection for this match has caused... considerable debate. It's a side very reliant on local talent, with Jennings and Robbie Towers making their first starts of the season, Owens on the bench and a Dutch international like Ruben Vloet not even making the squad." "Well, the internationals have had their chance, and given how this season has gone, I think the local lads deserve theirs."

The worst of it is that the game rather took some of the attention away from what was Norwich's second Premier League title in their history. Still, I couldn't help that.

"Can we expect Liverpool to play with that attacking freedom that is the Spleen hallmark?" "Well whoever, we all know the situation, and in a match like this you've got to have the right balance between attack and defence." (Absolutely none of either will suit me fine.)

In some grounds I'd've had to flee for my life. But while the Everton fans partied, the Liverpool fans just sat there with a look of stunned silence. Like they were still trying to wake up from a bad dream. They thought the nightmare had ended when I returned to England, but they'd just woken up into a different one. Like that classic film, Inception. Or the recent sequel, Inception 2: Incept Harder.

Contreras back to Melia. Liverpool have set up very conservatively here, back to the 4-5-1 Spleen used at the start of his reign. It's almost as if they're playing for the 0-0, Michael. - Well Ian, you can't blame them I suppose, but you do take a risk playing that way...

A shape in the gloom reveals itself as Laurentiu Filip, carrying a kitbag. He doesn't meet my eyes as we pass. It suddenly occurs to me that he's just made his 300[SUP]th[/SUP] apperance for Liverpool, he's got over 100 caps for Romania, and he's now a Championship player.

Another corner for Everton. Early pressure here, on the home side. Filip heads away. Peeters picks it up and hits it! - Good save from Towers! Peeters tries to keep it in, and – is that a penalty? Yes it is! Mr Watson points to the spot! - It's a terrible tackle from Jennings, Ian, he's going absolutely nowhere...

Joel Jones, 150 appearances for Norwich, Man City and Liverpool, Championship player. Djuro Panjkret, 67 caps for Croatia, Championship player. Ruben Vloet, on £75k a week, Championship player.

20 minutes to go, and if Liverpool are going to do something, they need to do it quickly. Mertakkas on the left for Everton – oh he's gone past two men beautifully – he's on the byline – into the six yard box – and Barry scores! Two-nil Everton!

I begin to skip through the deserted halls, feeling like Monty Burns dancing through Springfield after he's blocked out the sun and plunged the town into eternal darkness. "Hello Championship training cones. Hello Championship whiteboards. Hello Championship physio table."

The face of Sascha Spleen is absolutely unreadable. What must he be thinking, Michael. - I don't think any of us can guess what's he's been thinking, Ian.

"Hello Championship 'This Is Anfield' sign. It'll be Plymouth, Exeter, Northampton and my own Bristol City walking under you next year."

Liverpool need to wake themselves up. They're sleepwalking into the Championship. - I think they've been sleepwalking into the Championship for a long time, Ian...

I pause under some wall-length posters of former Anfield legends. The eyes of Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva gaze down at me accusingly. "Gaze all you want." I tell them. "You're Championship motivational posters now."

Iniguez with a burst of pace. Owens can't keep it. Butina!! Liverpool are back in it! Great strike from Mirko Butina! - Well Ian, Liverpool have been terrible for 37 games and 80 minutes, but if they can just, just nick one more goal, it'll all be forgotten tomorrow...

I almost skip all the way into the Liverpool executive suite. "Hello Cha – er, Gladys." Gladys isn't interested in football, but even she knows what has happened today. "They're all waiting for you in the boardroom, Mr Spleen."

Butina moves forward. Slips it to Diogo! - ! - and that's curling well over the bar. And that, is it. Everton have won the Merseyside derby. Liverpool, for the first time since 1954, have been relegated.

* * * *

The last time I was in this boardroom, I was sitting just over halfway up the table, between Director of Football Walter Veron and finance director Keith Holland. This time, every seat is occupied apart from the one at the foot at the table. So eleven grey suits are all looking directly at me. Subtle. Not.

Well, two can play at that game. I pull the chair to the left and then casually sit with my weight across it, eliminating an entire row of yes-men from my view. It's just me and the two owners, Matthew and Emma Hill.

"Alright," coughs a voice from the back of the row of yes-men, "I suppose we can begin." John Lovatt, the chairman. "There are only two items on today's agenda. Firstly, the review of this... this season." Everyone waits. Matthew blinks first. "Sascha, would you like to give us your review of the season we've just had?"

"Well," I say thoughtfully, "tomorrow there are going to be over 500 reviews of our season in every paper you care to pick up." It's true. I've seen the "tomorrow's headlines" on the BBC. Nearly all of them are going with a "Triumph And Despair" diptych. Norwich City celebrating their second Premier League title on one side, the diminutive Japanese superstar striker Sho Amano borne aloft. Liverpool players trying to sink into the Anfield pitch on the other. "I feel that a report from me would be rather superfluous."

"In that case," Matthew says briskly, "we can move onto the second item, which will be the overall direction and composition of the footballing staff for next year." I wait. "Sascha... we thank you for all your efforts over the past seven months... but in light of the disappointing end to this season, we feel we have no option but to move forward under new first-team leadership for the season to come." Well, this is new. "Liverpool FC will pay up your contract in full, which is terminated with immediate effect."

I weigh up words in my mind. I'm not going to argue, which means I have to say everything I need to say now. "I've had four seasons in lower league football." The very words "lower league" cause a wince-ripple through the suits. "Every time I've secured promotion. The last time was with a team tipped to finish bottom. I've won the league two out of those four. Is it the Board's opinion that it has someone better for the long term than me?"

There is a heavy silence, while everyone tries to work out what you're supposed to say in this situation, a situation that should be impossible. Finally Emma breaks it. "You. Relegated. Liverpool."

I push my chair back. There's little point in prolonging this. But there's one thing to be said and I have to say it. "I can't argue with the league table. But I've been here six months. I came in halfway through Act V of a tragedy that you" I turn to encompass the dull-eyed incompetents before me "have been playing out for years. I didn't pin all my hopes on the second coming of Rafa Benitez. I didn't bleed the club dry while appointing mediocre managers and buying mediocre players on the cheap. I didn't sell Sho Amano the moment it looked like Liverpool might have a player who could pull them out of mediocrity." I pause. "But I know the job and I know how it works. I am the manager, and I take full responsibility."

No-one says anything, so I continue. "Let me ask one thing. Who have you got lined up to replace me? I deserve that much, at least."

There is some shuffling of feet, before Emma speaks up. "We're interviewing several candidates who have the right attributes to take this club forw..." I give her a "skip the bullshit" look. "...but our preferred candidate, Connor Wickham, has indicated that..."

I rise abruptly. I've heard enough. "Gentlemen, ladies", I say with a smile, "I wish you the best of luck in the Championship."

* * * *

When you've been sacked, it is absolutely imperative to leave with dignity. Your leaving, after all, will be the last impression many people have of you, and that impression will be the strongest they have in their minds. I muse on this as I finish my makeshift barrier in the tannoy man's office, hauling the last filing cabinets and sound equipment into place in front of the door. Finally, I insert the CD, find the right track, hit "Repeat" and then "Play".

A quick escape via the window and a rope made of official LFC bedsheets, and I'm walking into the sunset along Anfield Road. The strains of Frank Sinatra are still to be heard in the Merseyside air, as they have been for at least half an hour, blaring out over the Liverpool FC tannoy at maximum volume. Clearly they've still not managed to break down the door. The music fills the decrepit streets for a mile around.

"I've loved, I've laughed and cried, I've had my fill, my share of losing, and now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing..."

My phone is vibrating non stop. Liverpool may not want me, but Bayern do. So do Monaco. I've had my fill of shooting fish in a barrel as well, so they can sod off. I can wait. The right job will come along, a new city where I can become a hero, transform a club's fortunes, achieve something unforgettable. Still, it will have to go something to match this. To match relegating Liverpool.

"For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows - I took the blows and did it – m---y – way!"

14[SUP]th[/SUP] May
Liverpool: Played 38, Won 8, Drawn 10, Lost 20, 34pts.
Position: 18[SUP]th[/SUP], relegated.
Job position: Sacked.


~Fin~

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