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In the 1930s, when the British were trying to hold on to India and defeat Gandhi’s attempt to get rid of them, the province that gave the most trouble was Bengal. The British could not understand that.

Bengal was the first province to fall to the British. Calcutta, Bengal’s main city, was the capital of British India and the second city of the empire. But, as the problems in Bengal worsened and the British came under more fierce attack, such was the headache induced by dealing with the troublesome province that an exasperated George V, the King Emperor, asked, “What’s wrong with Bengal?”

A similar question may be asked about Liverpool. Like Bengal it was, through much of the 70s and 80s, the jewel in the crown of English football. Not only did it regularly win the old first division title – often in those days by March it was obvious Liverpool would win – but it also showed a wonderful mastery in Europe.

For Liverpool this must now seem like another, almost sepia-coloured, age. It is 20 years since the club last won the title and, in the last few years, their struggle has been just to keep a foothold in the top tier of the Premiership. This season they might even fail to do that. Should, as seems likely, they fail to qualify for the Champions League, they will confirm what has been obvious for some time. The team that Shankly built and whose tunnel warns visiting players as they take the field ‘This is Anfield’ is no longer the elite, merely part of the second tier of the Premier League.

Indeed Liverpool have been able to sustain their fourth position, the yardstick to belonging to the elite, for so long not because they were good but because those who wanted to supplant them were not good enough. This season one of the chasing packs may prove they are just that bit better.

For some supporters there is no doubt who is to blame for the decline.

To adapt a war-time saying, their answer would be that it is the bloody yanks: they are over borrowed, overwhelmed and over here. A small but sizeable section of the fan base is convinced that Liverpool can only get out of their crisis if Messrs George Gillette and Tom Hicks (photographed) are sent packing.

There are those who feel that Rafa Benitez shares some of the blame. His choice of players has not always been brilliant and his tendency to get into a mind game with Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, a game he more often loses than wins, shows a manager who is aware that he has lost the battle even before he has sent his team on to the pitch to fight his cause.

It is now clear that Benitez’s magical first season was a false dawn. Victory masks many problems and Liverpool’s sensational victory in the Champions League final of 2005, after going in 3-0 down at halftime – a score that left many supporters in tears – has proved a mirage.

Yes, of course, Gillette, Hicks and Benitez all share responsibility. But Liverpool’s decline, and let us remember this is still a relative decline – it does not for instance compare with Leeds, another great club of the 60s and 70s – is more complicated. The real clue to what has happened to Liverpool lies in the club’s failure to manage change, and in particular the expectations of the fans, a failure set against a background of the football business changing more quickly than at any another time.

I know this will not comfort Liverpool fans but the club are going through what Manchester United went through after Matt Busby won the European Cup in 1968. They spent a quarter of a century trying to reclaim lost glory before Ferguson found the high road to success. In some ways Liverpool’s fall from grace mirrors that of United and interestingly, as Liverpool have fallen, United have risen as if they were two sides of a seesaw, if one rises the other must fall. There is something almost inevitable about it.

It could be argued that fates have blessed United while they have cursed Liverpool. Liverpool’s great days at home and in Europe came when there was no money in football, no great television money, no great sponsorship money.

Recall that, in the mid-80s when Liverpool was at the height of its success both in this country and in Europe, the entire Football League (and it was an undivided one then) got an annual income of £200,000 for selling its overseas television rights. I do not have to tell you that this is only slightly more than the £170,000 a week that John Terry takes home from Chelsea these days.

Then the Football League was still a collective enterprise and Liverpool, supreme on the field of play, had to share the money generated with all 92 clubs. It left little to show the bank manager. In contrast when Manchester United won their first league title under Ferguson in 1993, the first time since Busby, it was also the first year of the Premiership and the first year of the new Champions League. Both these competitions had already demonstrated, even more as the decade rolled on, how to mint money from television. Nothing like this has been seen in football before.

And that is where Liverpool’s problems began – in the boardroom trying to copy Manchester United and make sure the money train did not run away from Anfield.

David Moore, the then owner, aware that Anfield was no longer adequate as a venue, wanted money to build a new ground that could rival Old Trafford. Liverpool were touted to a succession of foreign buyers including the then Thai Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra. A deal with Dubai Investment Corporation was nearly done before Gillette, determined to get the club, literally stole the club away from the Dubai investors.

Let us not forget that Moore walked away with nearly £100m, not a bad little earner, and Rick Parry, the chief executive, received a very large bonus for finding a buyer. Clearly Hicks and Gilllete have proved dysfunctional owners. Yoked together like two bulls wanting to pull in different directions, they borrowed heavily then found the markets turn against them and are now stranded in a sea of debt. But, given what has happen to Dubai’s economy, I doubt if DIC would have been a better bet.

The problem is that Moore did not grasp the nettle and come up with the one imaginative solution that might have worked. That is a ground share with Everton who also need a new ground. This is another Merseyside club in even longer term decline. They need new owners with money, as their chairman Bill Kenwright has openly admitted. But, under the shrewder management of Kenwright in the boardroom and David Moyes in the dugout, they have managed the expectations of the fans of the blue half of Liverpool better than the powers that be at Anfield.

Liverpool and Everton share! This may sound outrageous and I can hear the howl of protests.

Yes it is a challenge to how we do things in England but changed times call for new ideas and a brave, far-sighted owner is one who can take decisions which may prove unpopular in the short term but visionary in the long term.

Fans will protest. But then I recall that the Liverpool fans were drooling over Gillette and Hicks in Athens as Liverpool faced AC Milan in the 2007 Champions League final. Then they could not rush up fast enough to congratulate the Americans for taking over their beloved club. A lot different to the mood now, this only proves that all fans, not merely of Liverpool, are very fickle. They may love their clubs but they are not always the best judge of what is in their long term interest.

That is the role of the owners and managers of clubs.

David Moore proved to be neither. He loved Liverpool, no doubt, but in the end he saw the money offered and walked away with it. In the process he took decisions which in no small way have contributed to the long term problems the club faces. Problems that will not go away even if Liverpool somehow manage to cling on to their fourth spot and qualify for the Champions League.

You do not change long term decline by a few, probably flukey, victories on the field of play.

      

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