For four seasons on the bounce, Liverpool — England’s most successful club in Europe — has not qualified for the continent’s flagship competition, the UEFA Champions League. That means the club has finished below fourth place in the Premier League for
each of those seasons. On top of that, Liverpool have not won a top flight title in England for 23 years, while Manchester United have usurped their status as record holders for League title triumphs (twenty for United, 18 for the Reds).
Liverpool Football Club are revered and romanticized globally for their history, remarkable evolution, achievements, ability to overcome tragedies, and iconic players who have represented the club. Liverpool have turned to managers like Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Roy Evans; each of them were one of their own, men with deep roots in the club. Managers from the continent — Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez — had qualified levels of success in their respective reigns as Liverpool manager, but the Premier League title has still remained elusive.
After the dismissal of Rafa Benitez three years ago, the club has steadily fallen behind so much so that Spurs and even rivals Everton have surpassed Liverpool in the standings for the past two seasons. There’s no doubt that Liverpool are not the once great club they once were. But the question that fans are wondering is when will Liverpool turn the corner and break into the top four again? And is Brendan Rodgers the manager to do it?
Rodgers came across as affable in his first season at Liverpool. His signature move has been to change the team’s functional and tactical shape. He started out with the 4-2-1-3 formation before settling for a 4-3-3 in the second half of the season, and getting Suarez and Sturridge to take turns as the ghost number nine. That move created a lot more movement in attack, as well as passing angles from midfield.
There is no doubt Rodgers is a reformer, a young manager with a modern coaching and tactical ethos, initiating a major shift in Liverpool’s playing style after 12 years of the Houllier-Benitez steely, smash and grab axiom. He did not manage to get Liverpool to keep the ball in the distinctive fashion his Swansea team did in the 2011/12 season, but there are signs his philosophy and reforms would be adapted to in due course. Liverpool’s flourish towards the end of last season is a harbinger of good things to come.
If Rodgers had the goodwill of Liverpool fans and the neutrals last term, then the next season will be one by which he will be judged. The Northern Ireland born manager goes into the second of a three year contract without Liverpool having the distraction of playing in Europe, which offers him adequate room to further groom his players in his philosophy. The size of the task facing him this term is markedly more onerous than the last one. At this point, it’s not clear if they will have top scorer Luis Suarez at the club. And even if they retain his services, he will miss no less than the first six matches of the new season, serving his punishment for biting Branislav Ivanovic.
There will be no substitute to his all round play and goals. His absence has a potentially debilitating effect on the team. The close season signings of outfield players Kolo Toure, Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto crystalizes Liverpool’s drop in standards. It’s the culmination of not qualifying for the Champions League for four seasons. The positive side to signing average players if a club is not involved in the Champions League is that a jackpot potentially awaits, if the club does go on to qualify. There would be a dramatic rise in the sell-on value of these hitherto average players, thus giving the club a positive financial bounce. Brendan Rodgers does not have the luxury of such projections at this point. He is going to have to raise the standards of his new recruits to fire Liverpool into the top four next season, playing to the new design.
It is pretty clear the young manager is about to ascend into the rough clouds and head winds that managers at the top end of the English Premier League have to contend with. Sadly he will not be judged by his pedigree, or reforms, but by Champions League qualification. That immortal cliche “substance over style” comes to mind. The 2013-14 season promises to be make or break time for Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.