After Liverpool’s historic and abject surrender to Stoke it appears time may now be up for Brendan Rodgers, writes Jeff Goulding.
Rodgers must shoulder the responsibility for many of our on-field failings this season, but others must also be held accountable.
As Liverpool were writing a new horror story in the Potteries, the city of Liverpool is gearing up for a ‘Royal’ spectacular. On Monday up to a million people are expected to gather on the banks of the Mersey to watch three cruise liners – Queens Mary, Victoria and Elizabeth – sail along its historic waterfront. In the evening, a smaller crowd will gather at the Echo Arena to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Liverpool becoming Kings of Europe. I will be one of them and it will be a bitter-sweet experience.
A decade on from that wonderful, magical night in Turkey, our club is a pale imitation of what it once was. In truth Rafa’s heroics in the Champions League in 2005 represented a spectacular over-achievement. You only have to look at the fifth place finish and the fact that Djime Traore and Josemi now have Champions League medals to see the scale of Benitez’s feats that year.
Nevertheless it was to mark the beginning a period in which the club climbed to the summit of UEFA rankings, competing in yet another final, winning the FA cup and coming desperately close to a first League title in more than two decades.
Ultimately it all ended in acrimony and bitter in-fighting but, from the standpoint of today, these now seem like halcyon days. Once again we find ourselves playing the blame game. Let’s face it there is plenty to go around. I have been a supporter of Brendan Rodgers. I still think he’ll go on to be a good coach, even if it seems unlikely that will be at Anfield. However, for all of that it’s becoming harder to identify reasons to keep faith with him.
This is not about being pro or anti-Rodgers; it’s about what is best for all parties. Rodgers deserves to be treated with respect. He is a Liverpool manager and I believe whatever his failings he has given his all to bring us success. Some have criticised his post-match assessments, but that’s unfair in my opinion. These encounters with the media are always traps and attempts to suck a hapless manager into a gaff and a potential headline. The sensible among us know, that what managers say on camera doesn’t always reflect what they think or say in private.
The denigration of his achievements last season is also disappointing. I’ve heard it said that Luis Suarez, not the manager, led the team to an unlikely title tilt last year. It’s certainly true that the loss of the prolific Uruguayan cost us dear this season. Few teams on the planet could have coped with the loss of such a player.
However, this ignores the fact that it was Rodgers who developed a style of play and a system that got the best out of Luis. In the preceding season many had criticised Suarez for his poor finishing, but last year he netted 31 times. In 2013-14 we saw some of the best football played at Anfield since the days of Barnes and Beardlsey. So where has it all gone wrong?
There were plenty at the club eager to share the credit for last season’s second place finish. Everyone from the CEO to the resident club psychologist were queuing up to accept the plaudits. When you win in the modern era, it’s the club’s success, but in defeat you stand alone. If success has many fathers then failure is an orphan.
Brendan Rodgers looks hopelessly exposed right now. As a Liverpool supporter I take no pleasure in watching him squirm in a post match interview. There is literally nothing he can say in these situations that won’t draw criticism, or be seized upon as evidence that he should go. Sadly though for him, even if he was to perform immaculately in front of the camera, his failings on the pitch will always be the barometer by which he is judged. It really is difficult to see a way back for him. So what next?
It seems inconceivable at the time of writing that Rodgers will still be our manager next season. In pointing out the case for his defence, I can’t ignore the glaringly obvious. Even when you place Liverpool’s failings this year in the context of last year’s second place finish, even when you allow for the loss of a world-class player and the failings of a transfer policy written by the owners; you simply can not ignore the fact that this Rodgers Liverpool team have bottled it on too many occasions.
I could forgive last season. A young inexperienced coach, leading one of the youngest squads in the league came up short when it really mattered. It happens and, after all, we were never expected to challenge last year anyway. However, it has become a pattern at the club. When it really matters we lack the resolve to see it through. Sadly the responsibility for this lies at the door of the manager. It is his job to coach that mentality into the team.
This lack of a nasty streak was evident as far back as the Champions League tussle with Real Madrid. I wrote at the time, that we were just too nice in that game. The sight of players swapping shirts at half-time and sharing a laugh with their opponents on the pitch, was an anathema to the ethos of the club. It appears now that it was symptomatic of a wider malaise. They can’t be blamed for losing to a world power-house, but to capitulate the way they did, without conceding a single booking was unforgivable and suggested that they surrendered without a fight.
Liverpool finished top of the ‘Fair-play League’ this season, proving that our lack of a nasty streak continued all season. This is not a badge of honour. I don’t want a team of cheats, but I do want players who will tackle hard and do what’s needed to win the game. After the loss of Suarez Liverpool needed someone to step up and get in peoples faces, instead they have wilted in the face of pressure too many times.
Rodgers did turn it around at Christmas. The switch to back three seemed to shore up the defence and Mignolet, after being unceremoniously dropped for Brad Jones was reinstated and transformed himself. For a brief period it looked like Brendan had solved one of our main Achilles heels.
The Reds went on another 14 game unbeaten run, suggesting we had turned a corner and overcome the loss of last seasons strike force. There was even talk of summer signings beginning to bed in. Going into the United game, most of us were supremely confident of a win. I admit I was looking further up the table at an unlikely third place finish. In the cups we were progressing nicely also. Then once again on the biggest of stages the team just went missing.
Liverpool as a city is rumour central. I have learned to tune this stuff out over the years. Tales of dressing room bust-ups and rows between Dalglish and Rodgers and Rodgers and Gerrard abound. My only question would be, if any of this is true and at least some of it will be; then why do we always have to channel our anger and aggression inwardly. Why not get angry with the opposition. Instead, over and over again Liverpool press the self-destruct button.
At such times you want your manager to create a fortress and a sense of togetherness, an us against the world mentality. This season we just don’t seem to have had that. The semi-final exit to Chelsea may have been unfortunate, but the performance against Villa was a criminal abdication of responsibility by the players and the manager.
You’ll forgive me if I say that I considered that the lowest point of the season, because I had no idea what was to follow. It doesn’t come close to the incompetent, gutless and shambolic displays we have been served up in the last two games.
These games were opportunities for the team to show that they cared. There was no hope of Champions League football, the cups were gone, but there was honour and pride to play for. They needed to show us they cared and they needed to honour a club legend. More importantly for Brendan, they needed to give an indication tht they still wanted to play for him. They failed on all counts. Once again when they needed to rise to the occasion Rodgers Liverpool went missing.
Sunday represented a true low point in the club’s history. The manager is very unlikely to survive it, but if and when he walks out the gate, questions will remain about the future of the club and those leading it. They may have improved the club commercially, the new Main Stand will be spectacular, but what sort of football will those extra eight thousand corporate supporters be watching next year?
We are being run by absentee owners, who didn’t see fit to attend Gerrard’s last game at Anfield, who failed miserably in the summer transfer window and who preside over a transfer committee whose credibility is shrinking by the day. There transfer policy of filling the squad with young up-and-coming talent is now in tatters as the poster-boy for this philosophy, Sterling is agitating for a move.
FSG made much of their admiration for Arsenal‘s youth policy. They neglected to see how little that has yielded since Arsenal last won the league. It’s one thing bringing through youth and signing players before they become great; Coutinho is a great example. Ultimately young players, like him, want to compete in the biggest competitions and win medals. If the club don’t surround him with quality and deliver success soon, how long can they hold on to him?
Yet again we face a huge summer. Will the owners recognise that their strategy on the playing side has failed? They have to, but it’s going to be expensive. The cost of not doing so may be even more costly. Sadly, there is a lot more to fix at our club than the position of manager. If Brendan does go, whoever comes in will be hoping the owners learn from their mistakes and learn quick.