It was mentioned in some media outlets earlier this week that new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was invited to discuss some tactical ideologies with Spain manager Vincent Del Bosque. After Swansea City took to the Premier League with a swagger and a scintillating style of play last season, the Northern-Irishman has drawn much praise from managers all over the continent, with Del Bosque seemingly a particularly keen admirer. It is a testament to Rodgers’ coaching credentials that one of the most highly decorated managers of all-time has asked him to drop into the next Spanish squad to casually discuss their footballing philosophies like two pals in the pub.
The reputation their new manager holds must provoke a positive outlook for Liverpool fans before the inception of a new season. The fact that Rodgers has learnt his trade as a coach by studying and sampling various footballing cultures all over Europe, means that he will no doubt try to implement the style of football that Liverpool supporters have been deprived of under predecessors Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. He has made no secret of the admiration he personally holds for the way in which the Spanish go about their football and did a superb job of mirroring their possession focused, high pressure style of play during his tenure as Swansea boss.
But does Rodgers have the assets available to allow him to develop this style of play at Liverpool FC? Many account some of his success at Swansea to the foundations that his predecessor Roberto Martinez laid, who is also a practitioner of the Spanish method. When Rodgers took over, the players were used to the 4-3-3 system and tailored to play a free-flowing, possession based game. But does he have that at Liverpool?
There aren’t many managerial appointments that I can recall in recent years that will result in such a drastic change in the way in which the team will approach their football.
There was a spell not too long ago where Liverpool was beginning to represent a style similar to that of the much lauded Spaniards. Rafael Benitez built a side including future World and European champions Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. A group of players which should have gone on to achieve more than they ultimately did at Liverpool. If the new manager wants to replicate this side, he should take note from Benitez as it was not built over night. The Spaniard was the Liverpool manager whose approach most closely mirrored that of Rodgers.
But for some reason, maybe two in particular (messieurs Hicks and Gillett), that side was not allowed to flourish after narrowly missing out on the Premier League title. Benitez and the three Spaniards who made up the core of a project that worked so successfully went on to pursue pastures new and made way for Roy Hodgson and suceeding him, legendary figure Kenny Dalglish. Both of these successors moved further and further away from the approach that Benitez instilled after uninspiring and unsuccessful spells. It is this shift in emphasis that makes the challenge facing Rodgers especially intriguing, if not decidedly difficult.
None of the players on the current Liverpool roster are used to playing in a Rodgers-style system. Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson are the only regular first team players who were in the side that blossomed under Benitez. The players have been used to playing in principally a 4-4-2 system under the previous two managers, with the emphasis on staying hard to beat, counter attacking with pace and relying on moments of brilliance from the likes of Gerrard and Suarez.
Now, Rodgers will have to actualize his own philosophies from a seemingly blank canvas at Liverpool. The players are going to have to undergo some adapting to fit into this style. Such is the manager’s unreserved commitment to the tiki-taka approach, strong rumours have already emerged about players who might not adhere to this being out of the exit door. This includes British record transfer Andy Carroll, who cost Liverpool £35m merely eighteen months ago. It seems Rodgers will not care for the sentiments of previous managers signings as he looks to put his own stamp on the club. It looks to be a case of either adapt or move-on for Liverpool’s players.
But as history has shown us, what makes top players succeed over a sustained period of time is the ability to adapt to different styles of play under different managers. I definitely think Rodgers will have some players at his disposal who are very capable of doing just that and blossoming in a side that will look to cherish their possession . Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard are already world class players who would be close to demanding a starting berth in any side on the planet. Lucas Leiva also looks set to return to the fold and he will be looking to replicate his early season form before he was injury struck. It will be crucial for him to get a solid pre-season under his belt, as injuries such as the one he suffered can result in the respective player never being the same again.
There were also some encouraging signs from a few of the younger players towards the end of last season that may suggest they can adapt to the Rodgers approach. Jordan Henderson, much maligned for long spells last campaign, proved to be an asset for Liverpool when played in his preferred role of centre midfield. I recall him and Jonjo Shelvey both putting excellent performances against Chelsea towards the end of last season. It looks as though these young technical players can only improve in a system which will look to place a greater emphasis on their individual skills, when compared to those implemented in past campaigns. The Liverpool faithful will be looking to see more of youngster Raheem Sterling too, as he has continued to excel in reserve team football in addition to some brief cameos in the first team from the substitutes bench.
After all is said and done however, the decisive factor for Rodgers will be the time he gets to put his own ideologies into place. With his predecessor being one of the most popular figures in the clubs history, many fans are still bitter about his removal from the helm. If Rodgers does get off to a less than average start (which is very possible when looking at Liverpool’s opening rounds of fixtures), then he could possibly feel a bit of pressure from the Liverpool faithful. The owners must stick by their man regardless and allow him time to grow into the job. A job thats pedigree and history, should command a patient and well thought out strategy, not a rushed hopeful punt at regaining some success. A bit similar Rodgers own style of football…”