by Ernie Fox
Brendan Rodgers set out a plan when he first took over from Kenny Dalglish in the summer of 2012. That plan was to implement a philosophy that would dictate the way in which the team played, not just in the near future but one that would provide a foundation for future teams to come.
Last summer it looked as though this plan was working, it produced results much sooner than the more pessimistic of pundits would have predicted. We pushed the title race to the final game of the season, qualified for the Champions League and spent a huge amount of money in the summer reinforcing our squad with talent to deal with the rigours of a return to Europe’s top club competition.
Eight months are a long time in football. It was a risky move to invest so heavily in a multitude of talent without a single one being an adequate replacement for the outgoing Luis Suarez. The following injury to Daniel Sturridge didn’t help, but the fact is that the summer’s risk didn’t pay off, this season has been a thorough disappointment. Of course Brendan Rodgers will take the brunt of the criticism and this summer he will be hoping to turn things around, but there are far more areas of the club whose roles this summer will be under intense scrutiny.
I have declared my support over the last few weeks for Rodgers and his philosophy, however that will only work if the club fully buys into his game plan. It has been quite apparent what was missing from the club this season, we now have a game plan that is impactive and effective, however it requires a spearhead, a goal scoring output for all the possession and hard work that the rest of the team put in. Rodgers has confirmed in his recent press conferences what most of us have suggested, the question is are we the club willing to do what is necessary able to fill that hole?
At present I would expect the club to be working tirelessly in identifying the appropriate individuals and putting into place whatever is needed to sign those players. We are only a couple of players away from having a side that can genuinely challenge for honours, but that is not to say that those players will be easily obtainable. We’re not necessarily talking about big money marquee signings for the sake of it, but rather players with the right attitude, mentality and talent to match, ones that will compliment the style of the team not undermine it, and add that little extra.
Identifying the correct players is only half the battle, convincing them that Anfield is the place for them is the real test for the current regime. In January, Liverpool target Shaqiri stated that he chose Inter ahead of the Reds because the Italian side showed a stronger desire to sign him; if we identify an appropriate player this summer, we don’t want to be missing out under similar circumstances. I appreciate we don’t want to be priced out of the market and that there is a necessity to keep our options open so as not to be blackmailed into paying above the odds, but this summer we have to make some big decisions and do our utmost to see them through.
We don’t want to be spreading our options too wide, identifying so many key individuals that we fail to sign a single one. To sign the type of player we need we will have to pull out all the stops, we have no Champions League football to offer so this will be a real test of the club’s resolve and ambition to bring in two or three world class players. We are not just trying to convince the player, but the agent as well who will naturally be trying to arrange the best possible deal for his client – and himself.
There is a small number of great players out there who would fit beautifully into our side, but there is also an equal amount of wealthy suitors who would love to steal those players from under our noses. Last summer we were linked with a number of world class forwards who would have provided reasonable coverage for the departure of Suarez, but what we ended up with was Mario Balotelli. I realise there are a number of fans who were really excited to see Ballotelli arrive, but he is not a typical Rodgers player. He has skill, but he doesn’t pressurise the opposing defence when not in possession, he doesn’t have the pace to burst through a resilient defensive line and break the dead lock. Let’s be honest the club failed to attract the quality of player we needed and Balotelli was a poor last gasp attempt to make amends for our failure to capture a genuine world class forward.
So far if there is one criticism of the Jon Henry regime it is transfers. It is not always apparent where the blame lies, but we have missed out on a lot of top international players and you have to question whether the Fenway Sports Group transfer policies are compatible with running a modern, top European football club. There have been unbelievable delays in negotiations for a number of players which have at times resulted in failure – Konoplyanka, Willian and Salah spring to mind. We very nearly missed out on Moreno whose summer transfer seemed to last the entire summer owing to extended negotiations over a fee. It is true we don’t have an endless pot of gold, but sometimes we will have to throw caution to the wind and do what is necessary to get the right man before someone else does.
With that in mind we must identify those key individuals sooner rather than later and commence the ground work to sign them as soon as possible. If the club are committed to Rodgers’ vision they need to get behind him 100% and do everything they can to sign the couple of players his team of scouts identify to fill those gaps. If not we may as say goodbye to Brendan now because his system will not work unless he is given the correct tools to do the job. Make no mistake, season four of the Rodgers regime will be the one of judgment; we will be expecting a top four finish, we will be demanding a challenge for honours. If Rodgers is unable to add the world class quality to his squad that will elevate the first eleven to the next level then we are unlikely to see any change to our fortunes.
Now is the time for the club to show its ambition. Although I am a big fan of Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy, I can’t deny that there are question marks over the man himself and whether he has the capability of putting into practice what he preaches so well, or whether the owners have fully bought into his vision for the future of this club. Next season there can be no excuses, there has been time and opportunity to build a squad and ingrain the work rate and philosophy into the players. If we can’t show genuine signs of progress then one would have to question which part of the machine isn’t pulling in the right direction.
Written by Ernie Fox