As we transition into a new year it is normal to find yourself in reflective mode. There is a lot to say about the last 12 months from a red perspective, writes Jeff Goulding.
We have journeyed through the full map of emotions; excitement, anticipation and expectancy followed by soul crushing despair and disappointment. That was just the first five months, but at least there was some joy to compensate for the pain. Sadly the next seven have offered little to balance the negative.
Despite all of this, the clubs owners found themselves in philosophical mode as the year drew to a close. They pointed to the loss of one of the best strikers in the world and his sidekick, coupled with a prolonged bedding in period for the new signings as mitigation for our woes. All was not lost though as there were, as they saw it, comforting signs that all would be well. The demolition of Swansea seemed to have heralded yet another turning of the corner.
The reality is that, while we do seem to have rediscovered our attacking verve, we still haven’t stopped the rear-guard behaving like a punch drunk Lee Evans facing the Klitschko brothers. Two mad minutes against Leicester saw us surrender a comfortable lead to the bottom club. More depressing was the fact that Leicester could easily have scored more and taken all three points.
The frustration on the Kop throughout this season has been palpable. It’s entirely understandable. The wait for a first league title in a quarter of a century is made more unbearable by how agonisingly close we came last season. To their eternal credit the hardcore, toward the back of the famous old stand, have continued to support and believe. Alas their voices have been but whispers compared the uneasy silence that grips the ground at league games these days.
By way of contrast, the travelling Kop are a beacon of hope, and have chanted the managers name defiantly all season. I see these supporters as the vanguard, the true barometer. Amongst them there is still hope as we move into 2015. However, in the wider fan-base you sense despair and rage. There are those who go beyond merely questioning the manager’s decisions, and would actually like to see yet another changing of the guard.
There is much wrong with the modern game. A lot of it, actually most of it, is brought upon us by the games authorities. However, if we are honest with ourselves, some of it is of our own making. In large numbers football supporters have succumbed to a seductive lie, and this has created a cycle that threatens to destroy the game. It’s time we stood up to it and refused to be taken in.
I am talking about the doctrine of instant success, and the epidemic of impatience it has bred. Yes the media, in particular Sky have cooked this up, but we don’t have to eat it. Brendan Rodgers was manager of the year last season, voted ‘man of the year’ by the club at the annual honours bash. He led Liverpool to an unlikely title tilt, playing some of the best football I have witness in 40 years of watching the team.
When he took the reigns the club was a shadow of its former glorious self. Kenny had managed to stabilise things, but in the league we were light years from where we expected to be. He was a young unproven manager taking over a global institution, and following a club icon and living legend. Far from shrinking from the task, he took us agonisingly close to the promised land in a very short time. He didn’t blow it, as some have said. The fact is we should never have been there in the first place. The fact we almost won the title is down to him, and he was rightly praised for it in May.
This is why I find the stick he is taking this season astonishing. Now I admit, I am a born optimist. When it comes to Liverpool F.C. I often find it hard to be overly critical. But when it comes to my Red faith I am not blind. I concede there are times when a manager and a club just don’t fit. This was the case with Roy Hodgson. It most definitely isn’t with Brendan Rodgers. Then there are times when a manager runs out of ideas and energy. He loses the dressing room and the mistakes and bad decisions start to outnumber the strokes of genius. In such times a parting of the ways (hopefully mutual) can be the right thing to do for both parties. I believe this may have been the case with Houllier. We are no where near this with Brendan in my opinion.
I believe Rodgers has made mistakes. I can see that some of the tactical decisions, formations and signings are questionable. It is an undeniable fact that we have suffered our worst start in fifty years. Although it is interesting to note that in that 64/65 season we were managed by some guy named Shankly. Thankfully there were no twitter or post match ‘phone in’ shows back then.
Fast forward to the career of the most successful English manager of all time, Bob Paisley. In 1981, despite winning the European Cup, Liverpool finished a disappointing 5th in the league. If something like that happened now fans would be clambering onto to message boards to tell us “he’s had his day” or the old standby “he’s took us as far as he can”. Thankfully such short-sightedness was in short supply back then. Liverpool won the League Title and the League Cup the following year.
The fact that Alex Ferguson was once on the brink, before ultimately going on to dominate the premier league, should tell you that even in the modern game patience is a virtue. Actually, it isn’t just virtuous, it’s a recipe for unparalleled success.
Brendan Rodgers may not become a club icon, but in my opinion he deserves the same chance to prove that he can be. Modern football wisdom tells us there’s no time to build, no time for mistakes and setbacks, and no time to learn. Success has to come instantly or its on to the next poor sap. If we buy into this, then we become just like every other club, and every other fan-base. Is that what we want?
As Liverpool supporters we have always celebrated our contrariness. We are defiantly different and revel in marching to our own drum. ‘We climbed the hill our own way’ as that fantastic banner on the Kop declares. We don’t have to subscribe to someone else’s mantra. We are Liverpool. The manager deserves our support and our patience. He is part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of supporters, players and manager. This was once an unbreakable bond, and an unstoppable force. It can and should be revived.
Against Burnley and Swansea the Reds took a massive two steps forward. Leicester represented a step back. It was not fatal in my opinion. Managers, like players suffer dips in form, self doubt and poor decision making. The very best come through these spells stronger, wiser and better for the experience. It’s a school of hard knocks, and in my view Rodgers has what it takes to graduate. Will we give him time? I hope we do.
Happy New Year