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Fan Focus: When Roker Report Met The Tomkins Times

"He's not perfect, but he has fresh, modern ideas and an impressive persona" - Paul Tomkins
"He's not perfect, but he has fresh, modern ideas and an impressive persona" - Paul Tomkins

The long wait for Sunderland's first home league game of the season is nearly over, if delayed further thanks to television coverage - oh well, just means a little bit extra time in the pub before kick-off I guess.

As part of the build-up I spoke with Paul Tomkins, football columinist, author and the man behind the brilliant Liverpool site The Tomkins Times to gather the LFC view ahead of this weekend's clash.

Hi Paul, thanks for joining us! So, another turbulent summer at Anfield how frustrating is it being a Liverpool fan at present?

Paul Tomkins: It's been a difficult few years, but I'm not sure it's ever difficult being a Liverpool fan. But we do need some stability. The chaos of Gillett and Hicks led to Rafa Benítez being sacked after a 63-point finish (and having missed out on making the Europa League Final on goal difference). Roy Hodgson was an awful fit - wrong ideas, wrong statements in almost every press conference, wrong signings, etc. He moved us back a couple of years, to compound the culling of Gillett and Hicks. He had to go.

Kenny then oversaw a brilliant second half of 2010/11, but last year was as confusing as it gets - some great football, but some woeful finishing. Two great cup runs, but the league form fell below what's acceptable. Even so, I was still shocked when Kenny was sacked. In time, however, I hope he looks back at his second tenure with some fondness, as he had been out of the dugout for over a decade, and he was able to complete his full set of domestic honours, having already achieved the feat as a player.

Brendan Rodgers appears to divide opinion on Merseyside, what have you made of his appointment?

PT: Does he divide opinion? I've not seen it amongst Liverpool fans, beyond the nutters on Twitter.

He's not perfect, but he has fresh, modern ideas and an impressive persona. I was among those unconvinced at the start of the summer, when his name first appeared, but once I read up on him, and listened to what he had to say, I became excited.

The Andy Carroll transfer saga over the summer months was undoubtedly a bit of a disaster and has left LFC seemingly short on options up top - what did you make of it? Should Carroll have been allowed to move?

PT: It was a farce. You can't afford to jeopardise a season in such a manner. For starters, Rodgers had made it clear that Carroll was not part of his preferred XI, so that undermined the player's value. It was also odd that Rodgers apparently vetoed a £15m bid for Daniel Sturridge, who seemed a good fit, but that's his prerogative. Rodgers was also definitely naive in allowing Carroll to leave before a new player had signed on the dotted line. But ultimately, the buck stops with whoever was negotiating the deals. So while I think Rodgers has some culpability, he was badly let down by the administrators.

What do you make of the recent news coming out of the club with regards to a "Technical Committee" being implemented within LFC to help assist with transfer dealings etc?

PT: Well, there was always going to be something along those lines, with two of Manchester City's senior scouts (Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter) on gardening leave ahead of a switch to Liverpool.

Like Roberto Martinez, Rodgers demanded autonomy, but in the modern game, at a big club, you need a lot of support. Providing that Rodgers is okay with the members of the technical committee, it makes a lot of sense. It may just be the name that's different, as every club has a head of scouting and recruitment and a head scout.

Pepe Reina's form has come under scrutiny so far this season and some sections of the media seem to believe the goalkeeper is on the wane, thoughts?

PT: I don't think he's on the wane. He's 30, eleven years younger than Brad Friedel, and probably eight or nine years below the average retirement age for top keepers. He's had no injuries. But he is making too many mistakes.

His passing skills will be vital to Rodgers. He's massively experienced and a true leader - arguably the main personality in the Spain squad. But question marks have remained over the goalkeeping coaches at Liverpool since the sacking of Rafa Benítez. I also think that Reina has possibly stagnated, having been used to Champions League football and had the opportunity to leave Liverpool in the past. He's seen a lot of his friends move on, but ultimately, he needs to get back to his old form as a world-class shot-stopper and one of the best keepers in the world at starting attacks.

Former Black Cat Jordan Henderson seems to find it hard to shake off the negative press associated with his pricetag - how do you rate the lad?

PT: Very highly. He's not as good as Joe Allen, who's the same age, and who has come in and looked sensational. Jordan's obviously not as good as Steven Gerrard in the final third, and he's not as good as Lucas, who's the midfield anchor. He's also a long way behind Nuri Sahin in terms of pedigree. Indeed, it's the strongest area of our squad by far. So Jordan isn't in the first XI on paper. And it seems that, somewhat bizarrely, he was allegedly offered to Fulham for pittance last week. He wasn't helped last season by playing on the right, and people expecting more skill and trickery than is his style (though he occasionally skinned full-backs).

However, when he played centrally last season, he looked like someone who'd be at home in Rodgers' system. He has good movement and is an impressive first-time passer. It seems that he's got five months to prove his worth, and I hope that Rodgers takes to him. Unlike Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam, he's still at the club, and as the formation involves three central midfielders, he has to be next in line to make the side if there's an another injury, following on from Lucas'.

Moving on to Sunderland how do you rate Martin O'Neill's side?

PT: O'Neill's a "strange" manager. I think it's understandable that he never got a stab at a top four club, as to me, he's not that good. However, he's one of the best managers outside of the biggest clubs. He is a superb motivator, and has a set way of playing that is usually effective. He rarely underachieves.

For me, however, his transfer record is questionable, given the fact that he's barely signed any players from overseas - the few he does plump for are usually Premier League stalwarts. So he doesn't have much foreign guile in his sides, which means they never quite hit the heights others can. It's an effective British style, but I'm not sure he's developed much as a manager since his Leicester days. With your squad the 9th most expensive in the league, will he get you above that? Possibly, although 9th sounds about right. If he does better, then kudos to him.

However, he has bought well with Steven Fletcher, who has impressed me since his Burnley days. He's a player we could use in our squad right now!

Confident of a result ahead of Saturday's game?

PT: Not really. We've played well in one and a half games, and poorly in one and a half games, and got just one point, from what has been a tough start on paper. Sunderland away is never an easy fixture, and I fear we might struggle as we look to change the way we play.

Our main problem last season was finishing, and that hasn't really been addressed. While I think that our long-term outlook is good under Rodgers, we might have to suffer a few more bad days along the way. In time I think we'll control midfield and therefore control games, but right now mistakes are being made at the back.

Can I trouble you for a prediction?

PT: No!

So there you have it! Many thanks again to Paul for contributing his thoughts for the website, so do us a favour and follow him on twitter @PaulTomkins and be sure to check out The Tomkins Times for your Liverpool needs.

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