Brendan Rodgers’ return to Reading last week with Liverpool was a frustrating 0-0 draw, in a game that made more headlines for the traveling supporters’ admonishment of Margaret Thatcher than any action on the pitch.
With five games to go in the season, Liverpool sit in seventh place in the Premier League – one spot behind Everton, eight points out of the Champions League spots, and 27 points behind leaders Manchester United. Liverpool were retired in the Round of 32 in the Europa League, the fourth round of the Capital One Cup at the hands of Rodger’s former club Swansea City, and most embarrassingly, the fourth round of the FA Cup at the hands of League One side Oldham Athletic.
Yet the consensus around Anfield is that Liverpool have made substantial progress this season. The consensus is that Rodgers knows what he’s doing, his slick-playing system is working, and the return of the club to Europe’s elite isn’t so far off.
The question is, why such sunny attitudes?
Last season, Liverpool were perceived to have hit rock bottom. The club’s 2011-2012 campaign was apparently bad enough to get club icon Kenny Dalglish sacked without much, if any backlash from fans. Judging from the vibe around the club comparing this season to last for Liverpool, it would seem that the two season’s were eons apart in quality and results.
Yet Liverpool’s ’11-’12 hasn’t been so much different than their ’12-’13. Yes, Liverpool’s league play has improved, but they’ve only made small gains in points, and failed to jump a single team in the table except Newcastle United, who have graciously removed themselves from Premier League relevance this year. While Rodgers has improved Liverpool’s attack, both in style and substance, the Reds’ defense has suffered.
Rodgers’ Liverpool flopped out of three cup competitions, and turned Being: Liverpool into Being: Inconsistent, while Dalglish led Liverpool to their first silverware for half a decade by winning the League Cup, and Dalglish also took Liverpool to the FA Cup Final, unluckily succumbing to eventual Champions League victors Chelsea.
For thrills, excitement, three trips to Wembley, sentiment, and stability, Dalglish would have been a good bet to keep his job. But he was sacked without much ado. King Kenny may have been forgiven for his side’s disastrous play in the 2012 calendar year, but when the poor league campaign was combined with Dalglish’s wildly extravagant transfer dealings – all of which backfired – Dalglish was dismissed.
In his year and a half in his second spell managing Liverpool, Dalglish ran up a tab for his American owners exceeding 100 million pounds. He sunk 20 million into Stewart Downing, 16 million into Jordan Henderson, seven million into Sebastian Coates, and seven million into Charlie Adam. Dalglish’s first purchase back in charge at Anfield was Luiz Suarez for 23 million pounds. He should have stopped there. Most comically, Dalglish gambled away most of Liverpool’s Fernando Torres fortune on Andy Carroll, who was worth possibly 25 million pounds less than the 35 Dalglish paid for him.
Did Dalglish boost the youth system at Anfield? Yes. Did he clear out the glut of mediocre players that were populating the Liverpool team under Roy Hogdson? Yes. Did he bring a cup home? He did. But with all the money he spent, the results should have been better.
It’s easy to picture John Henry looking at Dalglish and saying, “You’ve spent my money populating the team with your players. You spent over 100 million pounds to finish eighth. That’s underachieving in the first degree, and that earns you a pink slip.”
Spending money builds in an excuse to fire a manager. If a manager spends like Dalglish did and doesn’t win, he can have no excuses when he gets fired. In situations like Dalglish’s, the money and resources were obviously in place, and the manager used them, only to fail to meet the team’s goals.
Brendan Rodgers’ spending has been less, and less high profile. While Rodgers has spent almost 50 million pounds on player transfers thus far at Liverpool, the most notable transfer storyline of his tenure has been that the boss couldn’t get his owners to scrape together enough money to buy Clint Dempsey. So Rodgers gets a pass for this season that Dalglish – who you could argue was good everywhere but the transfer market at Liverpool – couldn’t get.
Spending money is dangerous for a manager. Spend, and you could build the squad up and achieve great things. But spending also ratchets up the pressure, and as the face of transfers at most club, makes the manager responsible for the players’ he has brought in. Managing is all about the expectations game. Keep them down, and you have a better chance to be viewed positively.
Tony Pulis has spent more money at Stoke in the last five years than any club in England except Manchester City and Chelsea – yet Stoke find themselves sliding backwards, mired in a relegation fight. That’s why it seems like a long-shot Pulis keeps his post.
Portsmouth finished deep in the last place in their last season in the Premier League, but with the club broke and players leaving by the day, Avrahm Grant exited the club as a hero, just for taking Pompy to the FA Cup Final.
Because Arsene Wenger doesn’t spend money, he keeps his job. At this point – eight years without a trophy – it’s as simple as that. Wenger remains in charge because he has justification for finishing third or fourth every season – he doesn’t spend anywhere close to as much money as the clubs he is competing against – and he is good business for his owners, who can turn a profit and not have it spent in the transfer market. Because as much as fans want their club to spend money, owners are usually less enthusiastic – there are of course exceptions – without substantial results.
David Moyes is a similar story. He has mastered the art of doing more with less. Moyes is revered at Goodison for keeping the club in the upper echelon of the Premier League with a shoestring budget – if Moyes spent 60 million, then finished seventh and tacked on another year to his trophy-less reign at Everton, his managerial ability would be viewed completely differently.
If he has a solid team, not spending money can equal job security for a manager. If the results are steady, a manager can control expectations and public opinion by being cheap. Want to stay employed? Don’t spend.