By Stuart Craig
So the Liverpool players have apparently reacted angrily to suggestions from Brendan Rodgers that they aren’t playing for him.
Ill-conceived and poorly timed comments these may be, but he would certainly be right in saying that they are not playing for the shirt and the city.
We can all lament the lack of locally-grown talent turning out regularly in a red shirt in the Premiership. On Saturday, only bench player Brannagan can claim to be ‘local’ as he has been with LFC since the age of eight, but is actually a Manchester lad.
However you don’t have to be local to know what it means to put on a Liverpool shirt. Look at Suarez, Hamann, Riise, Garcia, Alonso, Mascherano, Hyypia, Reina and dozens of others who all ‘got it’. In the current squad who can we say the same about? Amongst the foreigners, only Skrtel and Sakho seem to actually understand.
Let’s look at the line-up on Saturday and where these players truly stand:
Mignolet – revitalized after his short spell on the sidelines, but a keeper you would call a ‘shot stopper’ rather than a commanding keeper. Has now conceded 6 in last two games and looks more comfortable away than in front of his home crowd. Lacks the personality or presence of a truly world class keeper
Can – for me Rodgers’ best signing. A player of obvious energy and quality. He is young, rash and often naïve but that goes with the pressure of learning a new position. We would be in a much worse position without him. He will develop into a proper leader on the pitch given time.
Toure – once a great centre back, sadly he doesn’t play regularly enough nor does he have the legs to be dropped into top quality fixtures and be expected to perform. Out of his depth in a top 4 challenge nowadays.
Sakho – has grown into his red shirt and wears it with pride. Tough, no nonsense defender, but does he really fit the philosophy of being comfortable on the ball? At times Sami Hyypia, all too often Djimi Traore, but even the latter won a CL medal.
Henderson – how can you carry the mantle of being the next Gerrard when you are only just learning to be Jordan Henderson? The most ‘developed’ player under Rodgers not just in terms of ability but mentally too. We lost the title last season not because of Gerrard’s slip but because of his enforced absence.
Lucas – consistently Liverpool’s best player but not at his sharpest after his latest absence from the team. He makes a big difference to how we play and is often underrated by the media but I can’t help feeling he doesn’t really know where he stands at LFC and would happily emulate Mascherano and move away.
Allen – I’m not a fan. Picking Allen is a bit like a grassroots manager picking his own kid in the team! Brought to LFC because of his energy and pass completion but has shown little of the latter and isn’t physical enough to cope with top Premiership midfielders – oddly better suited to playing in European competitions.
Moreno – an exciting prospect with a big heart but somewhere along the way he forgot to attend defending classes. Need to improve massively to play at this level and remove the basic errors from his game.
Markovic – glimpses of quality but that’s all we have seen – glimpses. How does he feel about playing at wing back? Doubt he likes it but we don’t see him kicking off in the media. Needs more game time, needs to play in position or risks becoming the next Vladimir Smicer (who also won a CL medal BTW)
Coutinho – true quality and has broken into the Brazil squad. Seems a level headed guy but we can’t rely on him every game. He isn’t actually a real magician you know.
Sterling – if ever a lad had his head in the clouds! Needs to get back to concentrating on his football, stay off the media and get the fans back onside. He’s not a top, top player yet. Three more years at LFC he will be. Anywhere else in the CL he’s on the bench. BR must stop playing him at wing back, this isn’t the U18s, it’s the First team.
Jones – nice guy, dependable, not good enough to push Mignolet. Time to move on and play regular football before it’s too late.
Johnson – someone who in his own head moved on three seasons ago! Also forgot to attend the defending classes and looks best coming forward. System doesn’t suit him and has been kept for his versatility. Deserves a chance abroad.
Lovren – yet to settle and perhaps he never will do. Especially if BR turns to Toure ahead of him. How does that help confidence? Carries a big price tag on his shoulders lack a pack of bricks. Make him your ‘go-to’ guy and play him or get rid.
Sturridge – a massive miss for Liverpool when he’s out, but his injury record is getting such that you’ve got to wonder if he has a future at this level and international football. Can we really expect LFC to perform as they did last season with Suarez gone, Gerrard out and Sturridge injured? Not going to happen.
Manquillo – talented young player but again a bit naïve. Looks like a loan player who isn’t too bothered, as he doesn’t believe he will stay at LFC anyway. Have we got anybody at wing back/full back of the right quality? Not currently.
Borini – the forgotten man. Why hasn’t he moved? At some point could we not risk him up front with Balotelli? At least they speak the same language. An option BR obviously doesn’t fancy, but the manager needs to remember Borini was his first signing.
Brannagan – not seen enough of him. A token gesture on the bench so BR can still claim to be developing young players?
Gerrard – One of the top three greatest players to ever wear a red shirt but a long way short of being able to meet the intensity of fixtures for top four football. Liverpool need to learn to live without him and learn fast
Ballotelli – rumours are he left himself out for Saturday. The man asks ‘why always me’ and that sums him up. Everything has got to be about him. We are a team Mario. Great quality, but will never fit LFC’s style and BR’s own ego made the decision to sign him. Move on.
Skrtel – our best player this season for me. A big miss on Saturday and one of the few who puts himself on the line for a red shirt. Needs an organizer alongside him and doesn’t have one currently.
So Rodgers has a point. As a player, if you want to finish in the top four, get Champions League football and play alongside the best players in the world, it’s really in your hands. You can’t put in a lackluster performance and then blame the manager when he lets his frustration show through. All too many of the current squad think they can just do a Suarez and up-sticks to another club in CL contention if they don’t get top four with Liverpool. None have the ability, few have the class.
Has Rodgers made some mistakes? Of course. But he has made them in the interests of development and maintaining his own philosophy. Did anybody condemn Alex Ferguson for that? Initially they probably did. Is Rodgers the right man for the future of LFC? I think he demonstrated that perfectly last season and up until a poor 180 minutes in 2015 was doing exactly the same with a very much depleted squad.
He needs our backing and vocal support. Every player in a red shirt needs to be respected whatever their faults and we need to spend money wisely in the Summer – this for me has been our biggest failing in the last two seasons – but without Champions League that