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Sympathy for the devil - by Neil Poole

    Martin Skrtel will leave Liverpool Football Club shortly and very few will be sorry to see the back of him. Neil Poole explains why he has some sympathy for the vilified defender...

Martin Skrtel is no Zinedine Zidane...
 
One thing Zidane taught us is that if you are going to let your anger get the better of you, at least make your parting shot count. Yes, he was sent off in a World Cup Final and that’s a sh*tter and all. On the other hand he did get to butt Marco Materazzi in the chest. It’s an A+ in the testosterone stakes, ten out of the ten on the weirdometer, and swift retribution which perfectly balances the scales of justice when someone just insulted your mum. 
 
In contrast, quickly popping your head up from behind the couch of social media, shouting “dickhead” at Klopp before quickly ducking and telling your mate to take the fall isn’t quite dropping the mike and then swaggering off stage. Also, it doesn’t help that Martin Skrtel is not actually Zinedine Zidane.
 
The latest Martin Skrtel error is another pin to stick in his mass-produced voodoo doll. However, for me, it just adds to the list of things that make me feel sorry for him. 
 
B.A. Baracus pitied the fool who crossed him and would feel his wrath. I pity Liverpool’s fool primarily because he feels the wrath of others.
 
In a modern world in which the number of goals, number of assists, passes completed, interceptions made and headers won can keep a player’s critics at bay, I doubt sympathy is allowed to also squeeze in as a case for the defence. 
 
“Sorry, excuse me. Apologies. I know I’m not welcome here. I’m just trying to find my way to the ‘bloody hell, you don’t help yourself Martin’ column. We’ve got eight and a half years of units to stack up in there. What? Yes, I know it’s very arbitrary and it doesn’t change the fact Martin can be incredibly shit, but...well...you know...”

 

“No. We don’t know.”
 
My sympathy for Martin was sparked by the very same occasion when many people probably began to dislike him: a terrible, full Anfield debut against minnows Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Cup. Skrtel conceded a needless corner that led to the opening goal and scored an own goal to cancel out an equaliser by Lucas (yes, Lucas). Generally he struggled to immediately adapt to the very unique set of circumstances which make up a fourth round FA Cup tie against non-league opposition. 
 
However, my Skrtel pity was set alight by a random man I don’t even know ringing up the abomination that is Talksport. I’m paraphrasing here but Liverpool fan, Derek (I remember your name Derek) said something along these lines: “Havant and Waterlooville shamed us today. Their players played with pride. Good, honest British players. That new foreign lad we’ve just bought, Skrtel, he’s not fit to lace their boots. We’d be better off with these kids, these lower league players in our team than his sort.”
 
No we wouldn’t Derek, you bad biff.
 
Now one of two things has happened here. Derek’s words seem entirely reasonable and I’ve lost you or you agree Derek is a bad biff. I may still have lost you. But from that moment I’ve had Skrtel’s back. Even when he hasn’t deserved it. Even though my support has nothing to do with his qualities as a football player. Go figure. 
 
My sympathy for Skrtel was solidified in an interview conducted on the official LFC channel early in his career. Forever the masters of loaded and leading questions that can only ever evoke a positive response, North Korean TV, sorry LFC TV, asked Martin who his friends were in the Liverpool team.
 
Speaking with an honesty that maybe only comes when English isn’t your first language, Skrtel went on to say that there wasn’t really anyone he mixed with and he kept himself to himself. Pushed for the ‘right’ answer he simply reiterated that there was no one the team he was particularly close too.
 
My kids have never come home from school and said the words, “Dad, I’ve got no friends. Why doesn’t anyone like me?” But if they did, I probably still wouldn’t feel as bad as I did for Martin Skrtel that day.
 
There’s Coutinho and Suarez playing Twister followed by cheeky games of Spin the Bottle round Lucas Leiva’s house. There’s Carragher and Gerrard in each-other’s company, holding nightly candle lit vigils for the loss of Xabi Alonso, their friendship united by grief. Meanwhile, there’s Skrtel on a desolate wind-wept beach in Crosby tentatively siding up to someone to talk to, only to be blanked by an iron man who won’t even look him in the eye.
 
If Liverpool had won the league in 2013/14 and he’d left soon after, maybe Skrtel’s reputation could have crossed the line into the realms of cult hero status. Seven league goals from defence, a gash to the head, a bandaged noggin and a 97th minute equaliser against Arsenal at Christmas time can have that effect. 
 
Ultimately, players achieve cult hero status from somehow being likably sh*t, coupled with one or two memorable moments. Crucially, they also normally don’t stick round for too long and exist on the periphery of the first eleven. If he’d jumped ship earlier, then the vein-popping anger directed at Skrtel, might have been replaced with the smiling, shakey-headed admiration afforded, Igor Biscan, “What was he like eh?”
 
There’s been plenty of Liverpool players of equal quality or less who have escaped such criticism as Skrtel has received simply because they played for better and winning Liverpool teams, or they were not here as long. No one hates Nigel Spackman because it didn’t really matter whether he was good enough. 
 
Skrtel, however, has become symbolic of Liverpool’s inconsistency and demise since 2009/10 and which will hopefully soon be halted under Klopp. I understand why he’s a cat people want to kick. It’s time for Skrtel to go and he soon will. That much is clear. He’s not good enough. He has no future under Klopp.
 
But for me, I choose my last memory of him to be another when he wasn’t even on the field of play. I find some comfort that in the second half of the Europa League Final when the players on the pitch had meekly surrendered it was Martin Skrtel, warming up on the touchline, who argued with and berated the linesman about the validity of Sevilla’s third goal. I like that he was bothered. There’s no stat for that and it changes nothing.
 
But I’ve always made allowances for Martin.
 
Best of luck Martin. Time to make some new mates.
 

Neil Poole


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