The summer transfer season has yet to kick into full gear but Liverpool has already completed its most important bit of business this offseason. Brendan Rodgers’ contract extension at Liverpool may not come as much of a surprise to fans. Understandably, a manager signing an extension is not nearly as exciting as the club welcoming in a new player. However Rodgers’ long-term contract brings with it both a sense of direction and stability that cannot be undermined.
One only has to look at the scenes following Liverpool’s 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace to see how far the Reds have progressed under Rodgers. Steven Gerrard’s look of dejection and Luis Suarez’s uncontrollable tears signaled disappointment of the highest order. Regardless of its capitulation against Chelsea and then Palace, Liverpool was actually top of the league with one game to go as the players walked off the field that night.
Rewind back to the scenes following Rodgers’ first Premier League game in charge of the Merseyside outfit. The likes of Suarez and Gerrard looked similarly disappointed, albeit to a lesser degree, as they trudged off the field at the Hawthorns. The Reds, having finished the previous 2011-2012 season in an underwhelming 8th place, had just been trounced 3-0 by West Bromwich Albion.
The prominent change in expectation from that horrid day at the Hawthorns to the more recent match against Crystal Palace is Rodgers’ doing. The Northern Irishman’s ability to adapt both playing style and team formation is well documented and rightly praised. However, it is Rodgers’ ruthlessness that has accelerated Liverpool’s rise from mid-table mediocrity to within touching distance of the Premier League crown.
The days of a side reliant on Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing for attacking impetus are a distant memory thanks to Rodgers. The former Swansea City manager was quick to loan out or completely offload underperforming big money signings that Kenny Dalglish insisted on starting.
Moreover, Rodgers has not been shy in benching and loaning out his own signings. After disappointing early, Joe Allen and Fabio Borini have found themselves on the bench and on loan respectively for large chunks of their Liverpool careers. Rodgers’ ruthlessness places greater accountability on players for their performances and likewise provides incentive for youngsters like Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan to impress their way into the starting eleven.
However, the greatest exhibition of Rodgers’ no-nonsense approach has been off the pitch. Few Liverpool fans will forget the transfer speculation surrounding Luis Suarez last summer. Though the situation reminded many of the Fernando Torres ordeal, Rodgers and Liverpool’s owners ensured that the end result would be different. While Dalglish famously claimed following Torres’ departure that the, “Football club is more important than any individual,” Rodgers’ insistence on holding onto a “want away” Suarez was an admission of the club’s dependence on its star striker. Simply put, Liverpool needed Suarez more than Suarez needed Liverpool. Rodgers knew that without the attraction of Champions League football, replacing a talent like Suarez would’ve been impossible. Roughly one year and 31 Premier League goals later, Rodgers’ decision to remain firm with his best player seems vindicated.
Having signed a new long-term deal, Rodgers will know where both he and his side must improve. Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho’s immediate impact following their arrival in January 2013 has masked many of Rodgers’ failings in the transfer market. Questions remain about big money signings such as Mamadou Sakho, Joe Allen, and Fabio Borini. Additionally, Rodgers must improve his side’s leaky defense, which conceded an alarming 50 goals this season.
The arrival of new players at Anfield this summer will inevitably overshadow Rodger’s contract extension. And yet, maybe that is the way it should be. After a Tottenham-esque period that saw Roy Hodgson and Dalglish come and go, Liverpool fans will welcome a summer where they do not have to acclimate to a new boss. For the first time in long time, there is unanimous support for a Liverpool manager. He may not be nutmegging defenders on a weekly basis or performing wacky goal celebrations, but Rodgers is steering the Liverpool ship in the right direction.