This month sees the 1 year anniversary of Brendan Rodgers’ appointment as Liverpool manager.
It would be fair to say that Rodgers’ appointment was not universally welcomed and that for many the jury is still out 12 months on. However, there are signs that the new manager is starting to get things right after a difficult start. In this article Matt Sproston takes a look at some of the successes and failures of Brendan’s first season and what he needs to do next to win over the doubters and take the team forward.
The job of manager of Liverpool FC is undoubtedly one of the hardest in football. The weight of expectation and history coupled with the massive fanbase adds significant pressure to the position. Anyone suggesting that Liverpool is not one of the top two clubs in the country is either mischief making or deluded. The media (and our rivals) remain fascinated (and in many cases obsessed) by the club despite poor league results in the last 4 years. Therefore it is essential that the manager can handle the media effectively in order that he can concentrate on the real business of creating a winning team.
Kenny struggled with the press at times particularly over the Suarez/Evra incident. He got away with abrasiveness towards the media during his first stint as manager mainly because the club was in a strong position. You only need to look at how Ferguson conducted himself over the years for proof of that. However, the second time round Kenny did not have that position of strength and was too set in his ways to approach his media duties from a different tack. Added to that the club as a whole suffered a series of PR gaffes that meant that the new manager would be under intense scrutiny from the press from day one.
Brendan Rodgers was given a hospital pass at the start of his tenure when the club opened the doors to the “Being Liverpool” documentary team. The documentary was interesting for reds fans but ammunition for everyone else particularly with Brendan stumbling from one cringeworthy scene to another. The only solace that can be taken is that we didn’t have to watch six episodes of Roy Hodgson. That would have been too much to bear.
Having survived that early PR nightmare, by and large Rodgers has handled the media well. He has been composed and comfortable in his dealings with the press despite having to respond to one Luis Suarez story after another. Diving, handballs, transfer rumours and biting have all been fended off in a measured manner that shows Rodgers is growing into the role. To his credit, his dignified approach to a family court case was not allowed to interfere with his job.
Aims for next season – At times last season we wouldn’t get a penalty if Suarez had been shot in the six yard box by the goalkeeper. Hopefully Brendan can continue to grow in stature and use his press conferences to keep the referees in line and help us get a decision or two. Oh and please stop calling players “wonderful human beings”. Mother Theresa was a “wonderful human being”, Steven Gerrard is a “good guy”.
The 2012 summer transfer window was a disaster. The sacking of Damien Comolli in April 2012 can’t have helped as it seems that whatever plans he may have put in place were thrown out of the window. Brendan came in and, as is often the case with a new manager, allocated his transfer budget to players that he knew. The signings of Joe Allen and Fabio Borini were not what the fans were hoping for. The previous season was a failure purely and simply as a result of Liverpool’s inability to turn possession and chances into goals. The signings of Allen and Borini signalled a change of playing style as opposed to an attempt to put the final piece of the jigsaw of Dalglish’s team.
Allen started the season well in an underperforming team and faded badly in an improving team. It was suggested that he had been struggling with an underlying injury. His early season performances certainly warrant him being given a further opportunity to prove himself. Borini struggled early on before picking up 2 injuries which wiped out the majority of his season. His pedigree suggests that he too is worthy of further consideration next season.
Putting aside issues of quality and potential, the major problem with the summer signings was the price paid. £15million for Allen and £10million for Borini showed that lessons had not been learned from the previous season when many felt that the huge outlay on Carroll, Downing, Henderson etc was money wasted. To add insult to injury, Michael Laudrup expressed his astonishment at the amount paid for Allen and used the Allen money to build a League Cup winning team that included Michu, Hernandez and Ki with change to spare.
Having overpaid for the two “marquee” signings, the kitty was bare. The club had lost two strikers in Kuyt and Bellamy and brought in Borini. As the transfer deadline approached the club scrambled around desperately trying to bring in a goalscorer on the cheap. The NESN website (owned by FSG) declared that Clint Dempsey was to join Liverpool. This PR blunder meant that Fulham were not keen to sell to Liverpool under any circumstances and Dempsey eventually went to Spurs on the last day of the window. The rumour was that Liverpool attempted to sign Sturridge on loan at the last minute but unsurprisingly this also fell through.
Despite the obvious fact that Andy Carroll did not fit into Rodger’s plans, the decision to allow him to move to West Ham on loan at the last minute without a replacement was bizarre to say the least. When the transfer window closed and the dust settled it was clear that there had been a massive blunder on the part of the club in allowing Carroll to go without one or two replacements. The striking options were precariously limited and would become even more so when Borini got injured. Ultimately with no Comolli to blame, Brendan had to carry the can.
Without doubt, the January transfer window was much more successful. The signing of Daniel Sturridge was effectively signed and sealed before the window opened. Coutinho was a more drawn out affair but well worth the wait. Amidst rumours of a bid for Wesley Sneijder, Brendan snapped up a different Inter playmaker.
Both January signings have surpassed expectations and, in Coutinho, Liverpool have found a gem. Encouragingly, the transfer fees for both players were realistic and arguably among the better value for money signings made in recent years.
Aims for next season – the current transfer dealings are well underway with Toure and Aspas done deals. A couple more signings of the quality and value for money of Coutinho would be nice. Much will depend on whether Luis stays or goes. If he stays, the funds will be more limited and Brendan will need a window like the January one in order to strengthen the squad. If Luis goes, guaranteed quality will need to be attracted to appease the fans. With money to spend there is no reason to buy potential at £6-8 million but Brendan should be wary of wasting a potential £50 million kitty by overpaying as occurred in the past.
Team Selection and Tactics
The way Rodgers set up his teams and the emphasis on ball retention came as no surprise to anybody who had seen his work at Swansea. Indeed, it was a refreshing throwback to those of us who can remember the teams of the 80s and earlier to see a Liverpool team dominating possession and playing with patience.
The brand of football preferred by Rodgers requires highly technical players who are disciplined in possession, something which we did not have enough of even after the summer transfer window. We were often found out when the quality of the players did not match the ambition of the playing style.
Brendan seemed to spend the first 3 months of the season unable to make his mind up about several players. Downing, Enrique, Henderson and Carragher barely had a look in before Christmas. The early season saw Sterling, Suso, Shelvey and Wisdom preferred to more experienced players. The youngsters showed promise and certainly did not let themselves down. However, results were patchy and the over-reliance on youth was certainly a factor.
On too many occasions in the first half of the season the fans were left scratching their heads at team selections. Downing at left back. Coates chosen ahead of Carragher against City. Suso chosen to play away to Stoke. Sahin signed on loan and was expected to make a big impact but complained about the position he was asked to play in and was quickly shown the door.
Rodgers stuck to his trademark style for the first half of the season before relenting somewhat and allowing more counter attacking football when required particularly away from home (Fulham and Aston Villa being notable examples). The players settled down into the new style after Christmas which saw performances and results improve.
Aims for next season – Any new signings will presumably be signed on the basis that they will be comfortable with a tiki-taka brand of football and so the transitional period that effected the players should not be an issue. The sale of Andy Carroll shows that there is no chance of a “plan B” long ball game being sanctioned any time soon. However, it is essential that the players are able to mix up the play to suit situations. The baffling team selections have settled down and will hopefully be a thing of the past as Brendan makes his personal mark on the squad.
Ultimately a manager will always be judged on results. Kenny’s league results were poor and he paid the ultimate price despite excellent results in the cup. The club’s priority is clearly the league and qualification for the Champions League. The domestic cups and the Europa League are considered no more than a distraction.
The facts speak for themselves. The league results improved with 9 points more in total than the previous season and one position higher. The position and points total were no higher than the amount that resulted in Benitez getting the sack.
By contrast, the domestic cups were awful. Barely scraping past non league opposition in the FA Cup 3rd round was bad enough but the performance to Oldham in round 4 was the low point of the season. The League Cup was hardly better. A reserve team knocked out West Brom away with an impressive performance but their hard work was undermined when Swansea came to Anfield and played us off the park.
The Europa League campaign was enjoyable enough but the Reds were always flying by the seat of their pants despite qualifying top of their group. Defensive frailties were exposed by Zenit in the knockout stage and despite a valiant attempt to score four at Anfield, the Reds went out.
Aims for next season – Brendan will have to improve again in the league. The club were always going to give him a season to make his mark but I doubt they will give him two. Continuing improvement may buy him more time but the owners have shown their ruthless streak before and will not hesitate to change things if the team stagnates. The domestic cups can be given more priority without the Europa League to contend with. The fans are keen that Liverpool should have competitive football beyond January and will not tolerate sacrificing the domestic cups for a tilt at 4th place. After all, we aren’t Arsenal.
Overall, Brendan has endeared himself to the fans. There have been signs of improvement across the club as a whole and it should not be forgotten that not only is Rodgers an inexperienced manager but we have a largely inexperienced squad and relatively inexperienced owners.
Having said that, Liverpool is still a massive club and must improve significantly for Brendan to retain the support of the owners as well as the fans.