Liverpool stuck with an attitude problem

LIVERPOOL'S world has come crashing down around them in a disastrous four days, signalling the end of a great era for the club and English soccer.

The team whose name has been synonymous with success for three decades look almost certain not to qualify for European competition at the end of this season for the first time since 1964.

Out of both domestic cups, the 1992 FA Cup winners are closer to the relegation zone than finishing high enough in the Premier League to qualify for the UEFA Cup.

Bookmakers' odds against Liverpool dropping into the First Division were shortened from 10-1 to 8-1 after their 2-0 defeat at Wimbledon on Saturday.

Liverpool remained in 12th place, only eight points ahead of bottom club Nottingham Forest and 13 adrift of leaders Norwich.

The defeat followed Liverpool's humiliating exit from the FA Cup last Wednesday at the hands of Second Division Bolton.

Troubled manager Graeme Souness, midfield general in four Liverpool championship-winning sides in the late 1970s and early 80s, refused to talk to reporters after the latest setback.

He said after the midweek cup disaster that he was disappointed with the commitment of some of his players, demanding greater passion.

''It's my job to try to motivate players and bring them back to levels where they can win games,'' he said.

''I'm saying the same things now that were said to me when I was a player here, so I know they are correct. It's about how they respond to that.'' Former Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen said: ''I've never seen a worse attitude from any Liverpool team playing in a big game.'' But Souness, who took over from former teammate Kenny Dalglish with the side in second place in March 1991, has failed in his team-building and sixth place at the end of last season was the lowest since 1965 under Bill Shankly.

Souness has spent ?13 million on new players, while off-loading a number of internationals who are in good form at other clubs, notably Welsh striker Dean Saunders and Irishmen Ray Houghton and Steve Staunton at title-chasing Aston Villa.

The manager has, however, had to contend with an unparalleled injury crisis and Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear said: ''They are not the team of old. They've got a lot of young lads in there.

''But they've got enough class to stay in the Premier League. Only time will tell if they go on to better things.'' Kevin Keegan, boss of runaway First Division leaders Newcastle United, has quashed speculation that he will be back at Liverpool as manager by the end of the year.

The former England skipper has been linked with a return to Anfield but Keegan backed Souness to return the Merseyside giants to their former glories.

He told the Today newspaper: ''Graeme's the right guy to turn it around. It won't happen overnight, but Graeme is strong enough to stand by what he believes in.'' Liverpool's city neighbours Everton, who won the League title twice during the 1980s, have been faring no better, although they beat champions Leeds 2-0 at home to pull level with Liverpool on points.

Everton's beleaguered manager Howard Kendall, who guided the club to League triumphs in 1985 and 1987, said: ''That was the most pleasing all-round performance at Goodison this season. We had hard work and passion, which should always be the case, and twogreat goals.'' He said in midweek, after a home defeat to Wimbledon put them out of the FA Cup, that he believed he was the right man to help Everton out of their rut.

Both Souness and Kendall, if they are still around next season, could be competing with a third club, Tranmere Rovers, for Merseyside supremacy.

Tranmere, second to Newcastle in the First Division and spearheaded by 22-goal former Liverpool striker John Aldridge, look a good bet for promotion.

They beat Oxford United 4-0 on Friday night, with Aldridge scoring twice.