It’s funny what a couple of months can do your managerial credentials. At the end of last season Brendan Rodgers was one of the bright lights of football management, a new potential inductee into the list of the world’s top bosses. Earmarked in his Swansea days as an up and comer among those plying their trade in the dugout, Rodger’s justified the scouting reports last season firing Liverpool out of the Premier League wilderness and inexplicably straight into title contention. It was unbelievable for the Liverpool fans. With Suarez on the pitch and Rodgers at the helm it would seem their years of heartache were past them. The tagline from Liverpool’s support after Rodgers first year in charge was “give him time”, and rightly so the Northern Irishman had a clear ideology that he brought with him from Swansea. Off the back of disasters under Hodgson and Dalglish the red half of Merseyside needed some sort of consistency rather than a game of managerial roulette. Rodgers was young, the fans were willing to give him time as expectations had lowered over the years and the new owners had backed him. We are now nearing the Christmas period of Rodgers’ third year in charge and times have dramatically changed. Only six months after getting Liverpool back their spot in the Champions League and coming as close to a title win as any in recent history, the writing could be on the wall for Rodgers. The young manager has fallen from grace with terrible rapidity in recent months and it is worth exploring, why?
Firstly, was his inability to find an acceptable replacement for Luis Suarez. Replacing a player of Suarez’s caliber for a team like Liverpool is a near impossibility; you simply aren’t going to get a like for like replacement. The Liverpool fans are more than an aware of that, but with the money received and the new lure of Champions League night’s at Anfield you would at least expect a higher quality of player to help try and pick up some of the slack left by the Uruguayan. Rodgers pilfered an on-the-rise Southampton side of their biggest stars, brought in the enigma that is Mario Balotelli after categorically stating he would not be signing him, a few other young bright sparks from around Europe (Moreno, Markovic and Can) and a hard to explain loan deal for young Spanish full-back in Manquillo. Rodgers, rather than try to replace his star player decided that squad depth was his priority, since this season he was going to have to deal with European fixtures on top of the Premier League schedule, something the club weren’t burdened with in their breakthrough year. Perhaps this was the most pragmatic approach to the summer transfer window, but now at the end of November we can see it was an exercise that has failed. The club has been humbled on their return to Europe and find themselves in an uphill battle to maintain their European status within the Premier League. Top tier managers are judged heavily on their ability to operate in the transfer market; should they be trusted with the massive war chest Premier League managers are afforded nowadays? Rodgers has a massive mark against him in this area, the money he has spent on players since his arrival at Liverpool that have failed to live up to the pedigree expected from the club is telling. Daniel Sturridge being his saving grace, which was hardly a stroke of genius everyone was aware of his immense potential
Worst of all is that Balotelli was offered up as the marquee signing. I can’t even begin to get into how wrong this was. Ultimately, it showed a complete deviation from what was believed to be Rodgers footballing ideology. The Italian front man doesn’t fit the system Rodgers has developed. He isn’t going to press quick and hard from the front like Suarez did, he isn’t going to go win the ball and drive forward putting defences on the back foot. He looks to hold up the ball, slow down play and link up with those around him. Which is fine, but it just isn’t what made Liverpool such a success last season. The transfer just screamed panic buy, especially when it went against Rodgers’ own word. Rightly so it’s made people question Rodgers’ credibility within the transfer market.
Secondly, Brendan Rodgers is ultimately a victim of his own success. Liverpool fans had been through a few years of disappointment. Not challenging for the title was a given. They wanted back in the Champions League, this was their title equivalent. He not only gave them that but his side allowed the fans to dream again of title glory. As such, expectations for the new season were heightened. Rodgers had backing in the long term, and I imagine the owners had set out a plan about when realistically he could get them back in Europe’s elite competition and then from there how they would build into title contenders again. I think last season Rodgers’ side skipped a step. This was mainly down to having Suarez for the full season (after his ban was completed) and the Uruguayan decided he was going to throw the team up the league and challenge, Rodgers’ side was all in. After losing Suarez in the summer, which was an inevitability considering how good he was last season, it was always going to be hard to carry on the form they had shown with him leading the line. Rodgers had to show his pedigree not only in signing players but in adapting his system to still work without one of the best talents in the world carrying it. It’s clear at this point in time he is failing in doing that. His team doesn’t have the same obvious goal scoring threat, they don’t play with the same intensity that saw them win games in about the first 15 minutes from kick off. Also with all the players he signed and injuries they’ve suffered he doesn’t appear to have what we can pinpoint as his strongest line up.
After going so close it’s understandable that expectations are renewed, but Liverpool went the whole of last season with really just the Premier League to concentrate on and that’s no small matter. Considering that this season the European hangover they have shown has been immense. Rodgers is a young manager and these are all factors he was going to have to face at some point but clearly his education isn’t at that stage yet. In an ideal world he would’ve maybe had another few seasons to prepare properly for a European and domestic challenge but his own success has turned up the pressure on him and his team. He’s doomed to fail in the circumstance; his team isn’t good enough to rest key players for big European games; and not playing a full strength team in Europe is unacceptable to Liverpool fans who pride themselves on their club’s European exploits and even after resting players in Europe his side haven’t shown enough quality to beat big teams in the Premier League. His success has put him over a barrel and in his post-match interview after the Palace defeat you can see he is feeling the heat.
The Luis Suarez saga has both benefited and damaged Rodgers, the quality of that player gave Liverpool their best campaign in recent memory and as a result Rodgers’ stock grew in a huge way. Now without Suarez the former Swansea boss is exposed and is struggling to hide from the spotlight. Liverpool should really be continuing with the same plans they had before last year’s success. Nothing has really changed in regard to Rodgers, he is the same man they hired to carry the club forward into a new era. He needs to correct his flaws as he attempts to evolve as a manager. Nothing highlights this better than the Chelsea game at the end of last season, a point was enough for Liverpool but Rodgers’ style is still one dimensional. It was all about attack to cover up their deficiencies in other areas. It was easily exploited by the kind of manager Rodgers should be looking to emulate if he wants to bring that kind of success to a club like Liverpool. A decision will be made by the Liverpool owners on whether they are willing to stick by the young manager they saw great potential in when the club was in a flux of mediocrity or has the impressive timetable with which they reached Europe and near Premier League glory allowed them to see ahead of schedule that he is not the man to have Liverpool fighting on all fronts as they had before. Perhaps just the man to put them on the footing where someone else can come and take them to those heights.
The loss of Suarez and injuries to Sturridge this season show Rodgers’ ability to put together a side and implement a game plan to be lacking, this is the kind of adversity, however, that he needs to overcome if he wants to be one of the world’s best in his role. At the weekend Richard Keys said something along the lines of “there is talk that Liverpool will look to bring back Rafa Benitez in the summer when he is available”. When it comes to being a Liverpool boss, that I believe is one of the harbingers of the apocalypse. Rodgers need something big to put him back on the pedestal he was so proudly stood upon just six months ago, and if recent results and media speculation are anything to go by he needs it soon