As Liverpool started a new season with its fifth manager in five years, many Reds fans were hopeful that Brendan Rodgers would transform the club back to its former glory, with him imposing an overall footballing philosophy on the Club, something Liverpool hasn’t had in over 20 years. However, four matches in, some Liverpool fans may be nervously asking – has Rodgers allowed his grand, long term plans to undermine practical, short term thinking both on and off the pitch?
Rodgers’s Iberian influenced philosophy of short, ball to feet passing, has supposedly made Andy Carroll, with his “limitations,” redundant at Liverpool but, regardless of what one thought about Carroll’s talent or future at Anfield, until three weeks ago, he was Liverpool’s only recognized out and out center-forward.
Whilst clubs with managers who’ve actually won things — Ferguson/Mancini — usually get cover before off-loading surplus to requirements, Rodgers has actually done the opposite. Rodgers’s summer long obsession with getting rid of Carroll — together with letting Bellamy leave before the transfer deadline — has been a true head scratcher. It seems that bringing in a stop gap journeyman goal-scorer or promoting a striker from the academy wasn’t even considered as serious last minute options. As the Reds comprehensive lost against Arsenal painfully showed, Liverpool has no one of any size or presence to lead the line in the best of times outside the untested, hardly prolific Fabio Borini. Should Rodgers need to chase the game, (something I suspect the he will be doing a lot of this season) by grudgingly switching to a more direct route the last 20 minutes, Carroll, even in a limited bench-warming “plan B” role, would have been worth keeping for such a job, at least until January.
Another concern for Rodgers has to be his players at times struggling to adapt to his 4-3-3 formation. Without the likes of the recently departed Alberto Aquilani, Maxi Rodriguez, or inactive Joe Cole around to create any link-play, Liverpool seem to have trouble breaking sides down. Up front, the brilliant but often unfocused roaming of Suarez – coupled with the raw, semi-polished talent of Sterling, as exciting as it is, often lacks composure in finishing. Without Steve Clarke’s defensive organization, the Reds look extremely vulnerable to the counter-attack when possession is lost, as witnessed when Arsenal ran through the Reds’ midfield at will. One has to wonder if even a fit Lucas would have made a difference.
Rodgers must be careful not to be lured to the “El Dorado” of total football. It took the notable purveyors of Total Football’s current tiki-taka variant — Barcelona and Spain — literally generations to achieve tangible success with players whose technical ability exponentially exceeds any player Rodgers can only dream of bringing to Anfield.
Champagne football is a lofty goal in the best of times but once the ball turns from summer white to winter yellow, with freezing cup ties on god awful pitches, jet-lagged euro-trips, and bottle-necked holiday league matches coming as fast as the injuries and suspensions inevitably will, Rodgers must understand there is no shame in switching to “route one” if only for the necessity of getting a result on the day. Spain may prefer to play with a “faux number 9” but they keep a real one in Torres on the bench, just in case.
Assuring as it is, after 20 years to see the return of the liverbird crest on the club’s shirts and red nets to Anfield’s goals, the modern game has little patience for sentiment as witnessed by Dalglish’s sacking.
Liverpool sadly, has been living off the rancid fat of its past glory for far too long, from the Souness-era policy of signing players that were simply not good enough, to Dalglish’s undignified, indignant handling of the Suarez/Evra incident last season – with the 20 odd futile, title-less years in between. Rodgers must transcend the club’s hubris, not get enslaved by it. Rodgers must be humble enough to acknowledge football’s gravitational pull affects all clubs, including Liverpool, that no club (or manager) is too big to follow simple, common sense caution, whether it is in tactics or transfers. Rodgers and Fenway Sports Group have no “director of football” to blame for their latest transfer-deadline fiasco.
With Benitez’s similar decision of getting rid of Robbie Keane, on principle, without bringing in cover a few years ago, arguably costing Liverpool the title – still stinging the Anfield faithful, the re-threaded “We are still in the process of reversing the errors of previous regimes” excuse in John Henry’s open letter, might as well have been written by Hicks and Gillett.
Liverpool fans understand that Rodgers, like his recent predecessors, will need time to turn the Club around. They simply hope that this time, it will actually happen.