By Michael Edge
I may risk the wrath of the majority of Liverpool fans with this piece, but the choice of the manager to lead us into next season is not as clear cut as many would suggest. Especially so now that it would appear that Mr Klopp has ruled himself out for the foreseeable.
We have had a poor season. That much is unarguable. Barring the spell over Christmas where we saw a run of 12 unbeaten games propel us into Champions League contention, our form and most noticeably our performances were a shadow of what we have come to expect at LFC. Take into account our superb season in 2013/14 and last season becomes even more unfathomable. But therein lies the problem.
In recent history, there have been many false dawns and promises of a return to glory, only to be brought down to earth with a bump rather swiftly. After the magnificent treble in 2001, the surge of optimism around the club was inevitable. Despite a second position finish in the league the following year, the period of dominance never materialised. In the seasons that followed Istanbul, again despite a second position and another Champions League final, we seemed to be like Joe Allen’s passing – going backwards rather than forwards. Whilst I would never change that fateful night in Turkey, I do kind of feel that it was the worst thing to happen in terms of our expectations. We have, for far too long, been too far off the pace in terms of quality. As time passes, getting further and further away from 1990 and our last title, the weight of the title-less burden increases, but the fans expectations remain the same. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have ambition, of course we should, but realistically we just aren’t good enough to win titles just yet. One of Brendan’s hardest tasks when he took charge of the club was to manage these expectations realistically so that when we didn’t win the league in his first season, the bitter disappointment wasn’t as intense as it had been for the past 20 years. His quiet demeanour belies his strength of character and his press conferences and interviews often reflect this, none more so than the ill advised documentary about the club. But his desire and hunger to bring the title to Merseyside again aren’t in question even if his tactics at times are.
Nobody is perfect, and mistakes are commonplace in top level management. Even legends at our club have been questioned and found wanting. Rodgers is a young manager and as such perhaps doesn’t have experience to draw on at times, but he is not afraid of making tough decisions, and has the nous to change things tactically when needed. There is an argument that a club of Liverpool’s stature shouldn’t be used to ‘blood in’ new managers, but he has shown that he can find systems to work for the players he has. Let’s not forget that he was appointed directly by FSG after an extensive recruitment period. They obviously saw something in the man and they are not stupid either. The brand of football that Liverpool were selling previously was ineffective, boring and stymied not to mention awful to watch. Under Rodgers’ stewardship, we have started to play the Liverpool way. Fast, attacking, possession based football, and with the right personnel to fit the right sytems, who knows what could be achieved? Initially Rodgers was quick to identify Suarez as the nub of the team with which to build round, (however it must be said that because of the sublime skill of Suarez that decision was pretty easy) and it brought the best out in players around him. The introduction of young players is also a massive plus for Rodgers. With the dearth of young British talent in the Premier League right now, any manager who positively encourages academy players lining up in the first team has to be applauded. Could the development of players like Sterling and Ibe have been so rapid were they to have sat in the U21’s all this time?
Replacing Luis was always going to be nigh on impossible, just like we will find out again this summer when finding a replacement for the skipper, and Sturridge’s injury only served to compound the problem. Throw the forced purchase of Italian misfit Balotelli into the mix and it’s easy to see why we struggled so much in front of goal. The transfer committee needs to back the manager whoever it may be. If Rodgers wants a player who he believes will dovetail with the current squad, the club should pursue them at all costs. It’s clear so far that the current process isn’t working. Whilst players like Markovic and Manquillo show a great deal of potential, we have endured the season we had because we failed to add instant quality to the team which is what we were crying out for.
Rodgers has made some great signings let’s not forget. Coutinho recently cleaned up at the end of year club awards with even Gerrard describing him as the future of Liverpool FC and Rodgers will be keen to point out that he earmarked the young Brazilian almost as soon as he took over the role. Signings such as Sturridge, Can and Sakho can also be viewed as a success. However, with the highs come the lows. The disappointing form of Lovren is a good example. Borini and Aspas are others. Signings made for the future are still a gamble and not what we need right now. Lallana is a proven premier league player and international, yet he struggled to make an impact in his first season. This transfer window needs to be the one where we unearth another gem. We have to find a spine of the team that will strike fear into opposition dressing rooms once again. With a few new experienced faces in addition to the likes of Sakho, Henderson, Can and Coutinho that is something that is eminently possible.
Rodgers has a football ethos that needs time to blossom. There are signs that he’s on the right road but he needs the chance to find out. Chopping and changing managers is a destructive process and one that puts progress back a step. We only have to look at teams like Spurs and Newcastle to see where a lack of continuity gets you. We need to promote squad harmony more than ever given the disastrous end to the season and the perceived contract dramas. Rodgers deserves this season to prove the doubters wrong. Let’s see what he can do with a strike force and a bit of luck.