A very poor season such as this one is even tougher to swallow knowing that most people actually saw it coming. Last summer we failed to capitalise on the opportunity we had. And though we lost our talisman in Luis Suarez, £120m and the lure of Champions League football should have been more than enough to soften the blow of his departure. Such was his quality, I think the majority of fans would have taken a fourth place finish as a good season, despite that being a drop of two positions from last year. But we didn’t make the necessary signings to assemble a squad capable of fighting for three cups and holding on to a top four place.
There was only ever one point this season where we had even the faintest of hopes of sneaking that fourth place. But in the end our season became a battle for fifth. A battle we also lost. A pitiful campaign in both European competitions accompanied this, and a couple of domestic cups runs did little to paper over the cracks.
We made strange, nonsensical signings last summer, and so straight away we’d shot ourselves in the foot and were fighting an uphill battle. We can debate all day about who is responsible for the turmoil, but my answer has to be everyone. Despite what a shambles it appeared to be, the noises coming from Rodgers, along with the fact that he happily signed his new contract last summer, imply that although there is a specific system and strategy in place, the people at the club are all pulling in the same direction. Unfortunately, the only conclusion to take from that is that last summer they were all as incompetent as each other.
The most realistic theory I can concoct on how our transfer committee works is that Rodgers gets to outline his first choice targets, and they are given priority over everyone else. If these targets are unattainable, it is the committee’s job to make new suggestions and contemplate other options. They are also free to suggest other players to accompany Rodgers’ initial hit list. But no player comes to the club without the manager’s say so. Whether that’s a firm thumbs up and pat on the back for a top target in the bag (i.e. Adam Lallana), or a reluctant, ‘time’s running out so he’ll have to do,’ sort of acceptance (i.e. Mario Balotelli).
I don’t think it’s an ideal way of working, but it does mean that Rodgers has to take the brunt of the blame, as if he could have thought of a better striker than Balotelli, I’m sure we would have prioritised Brendan’s preference. The money we spent on other players, such as Lazar Markovic and Dejan Lovren, is also a worry, as it wouldn’t have been a difficult ask to find a cheaper alternative to both of them. It’s important that if we take a gamble, it’s a gamble worth taking. For example, the two players I approved of us signing were Emre Can and Alberto Moreno. They have both had their ups and downs this season, but they play in areas we needed to strengthen, they didn’t cost the earth, and we knew that even if they had a tough first term, they would learn from it and it would help them reach their potential. Too many other player were bought with high risk, at inflated fees, and didn’t really offer anything substantial to the squad.
This is where FSG come in. From what they’ve said, they have a strict outline of how they see Liverpool progressing. It’s almost like they’ve wrote the pitch-perfect script of how they wanted the duration of their ownership to proceed, but it’s just not quite panning out how they dreamed. But rather than budge from their vision, they’re just going to persist with it until it works.
They knew it wouldn’t be an easy job to turn Liverpool around, but they’ve made it harder for themselves because they seem determined to make us a club that ‘proves the doubters wrong’. We come up with fantasy scenarios that would make a great story if they worked out, but they just rarely do.
The signings of Balotelli and Lambert were ones that, in reality, stood very little chance of succeeding. But we seemed to pin our hopes on a fairy-tale story coming to fruition of Liverpool getting best out of a talented but rebellious maverick, and a lifelong Liverpool fan returning to the club he loves after 17 years to bang in the goals. We can even going back to the signing of Andy Carroll. The whole football world laughed at us when we bid £30m for him. But instead of saying ‘enough’s enough,’ the owners happily came back and bid £35m. Seemingly because they wanted to make a statement, and it didn’t matter to them that that statement actually came in the form of a pretty average footballer.
The appointment of Rodgers himself follows in a similar vein. We could have gone for a well-known, experienced manager, but the owners had to go against the grain and bring a young manager who they wanted to leap from obscurity to lead us to glory. But after just one year as a coach in top-flight football, you had to wonder exactly how much research had gone into the appointment, or whether FSG had just hired the up-and-coming manager of an overachieving team, so that they could once again shout about potential, growth, and the future. Not too dissimilar to if we were to hire someone like Garry Monk right now.
Now’s the time for FSG to snap out of dream mode, and actually start putting in some hard work and doing everything possible to maximise our chances of improving. We can’t keep sticking by these bizarre philosophies that see us signing overpriced players, players we don’t need, or players who aren’t good enough. The right players will create their own stories, and will go down in LFC folklore for being a top quality player, not for defying the odds, proving the doubters wrong, and being given a chance at the expense of the team.
It’s imperative that FSG become more flexible whether Brendan Rodgers stays as manager or not. If the problem is at the heart of the club, it doesn’t make too much difference who it is who’s abiding by the rules; just that the rules are there at all. With so many other obstacles standing in our way as a football club, it seems ridiculous that our own owners should be one of them.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)