Brendan Rodger’s sacking is the sporting equivalent of reply re-plastering the walls while the whole house is subsiding. Those cracks are going to reappear and they will be bigger and more difficult to fix the next time they do. Liverpool aren’t a sacking club typically speaking, and despite the fact they have had their fair share of managers since the turn of the millennium Brendon Rodgers was at the time of his sacking the second longest reigning manager in the premier league at 3 years 4 months and 4 days.
In modern terms they have been patient and allowed Rodgers a chance to try and build something, the managerial reigns of yesterday are long gone. Arsenal aside every club had changed their manager in the time Rodgers was in charge at Liverpool, rivals Manchester United have had 3 managers in that tenure, Spurs 3 also. While some would say Rodgers needed more time it’s easily possible to say that the Liverpool owners have been patient in what appears to be the transitive nature of modern Premier League management.
Rodger’s problems at Liverpool were 3 fold, chief among which what’s his inability to coach a defence. Think back to the turn of the Millennium when Gerrard Houllier took the charge at Anfield. With Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher Liverpool built a defence that would remain solid for nearly a decade. Benitez added the likes of Daniel Agger, who despite some ups and downs was a cultured footballer. Keeper Pepe Reina would go on to win 3 consecutive a golden glove awards. That brought a certain amount of success and trophies, Which I won’t list here. That stability at the back is long since gone, Liverpool’s defence has been like a sieve and there has been a constant weakness against set pieces and crosses into the box that Rodgers has not been able to erase in his three years in charge. Shortly into the season there appears to be no sign of defensive improvement in Liverpool and that fault seems to highlight Rodgers weakness as a coach and man manager.
Rodgers second problem is Liverpool’s transfer committee. Lots of clubs operate in this manner, Liverpool wouldn’t be the first club to distribute the responsibility of signing players among a team of people, but those clubs that do we tend not to talk about them, because they typically work. There are a few unknowns in this situation, Brendan Rodgers was a member of that transfer committee but his role in it is unclear.
If one was to work on the assumption that the transfer committee was assembled with the task of scouting and recruiting players to fit a specific system that the manger envisions then, it has clearly failed. One possible reason for that is because Rodgers has not been able to display a clear vision for what he wants his team to do, made apparent by the number of formation changes that Liverpool go through in a season. Alternatively the money men on the committee have intervened in the signing of players that would genuinely suit over compromises and “safer bets”, Liverpool have spent money and not been afraid to, a combination of these two things seems most likely.
The biggest problem that faced Rodgers is the fact that Liverpool have become a selling club. The cult of Liverpool has been allowed to dwindle and while Liverpool have spent £300m (£291.55m) they have cleared out well over £150 million of talent. The loss of Luis Suarez for £75m was devastating, he was at the time the League’s best player and it wasn’t even a close contest given how good he was. The £49m made from the sale of Raheem Sterling resulted in the loss of one of the most talented young players in the league. That’s a significant talent drain at the top end of the club’s player pool.
Liverpool have become a stepping stone club for players with genuinely big ambition and a lack of patience, which is most players. This isn’t the players fault, they have a very short career in which to earn enough money to pay for an entire lifetime so trying to milk it while they can shouldn’t be surprising. Arsenal and Manchester United have developed a much more interesting transfer policy in event years, singing fewer players and bigger names, Mata, Sanchez and Ozil for example. Counter that with Liverpool’s policy of filling the squad with gambles or players who could potentially reach a certain potential. Outside of Phillip Coutihno they now lack a genuinely world class player now and the current policy does not tend towards their recruitment. In the event Liverpool do manage to coax a world class player out of someone or some talent they will likely be snapped up because there is no longer the world class talent around them to convince them to stay and that the club can challenge for honours.
The money ball theory doesn’t appear to be working in the Premier League, firstly because there is so much money and secondly having world class players is an attraction to other world class players. Not spending on them means so one or later you won’t have any. The money and the maths play too great a roll in a club that may have gone too far down the wrong route. The damage from this might be too much for Liverpool to come back from any time soon.
The stadium problem is one at least which is finally being rectified, but even this is said with a note of caution. The expansion of Anfield is a 2 stage process, firstly phase one the expansion of the main stand should be completed by the time next season beings. The club must complete the expansion stage 2, the expansion of the Anfield Road end. The club’s owners Fenway Sports Group say they will consider this depending on how the main stand improvement works. While the gains made from improving this stand are smaller Liverpool are in a position where realistically every little will help, even if it’s a 5% increase on income that will help make a difference. The completion of phase 2 is a must.
Upon completion the stadium itself will be taller and more imposing on all sides making for a very unpleasant venue for visiting teams to visit, and a more impressive spectacle for prospective signings. While the finances might be marginal there are less tangible benefits. Tickets in the Anfield Road end will be cheaper seats that can be sold to local and loyal fans who frankly make more noise and who are under served at Anfield for the moment. If thousands of new corporate seats are to be added in the main stand then an injection of noise certainty won’t hurt.
The development of the club under Fenway Sports Group seems very low risk, unfortunately this has yielded a low reward. Liverpool must hire a new manager with a clear vision of what he wants as FSG are unlikely to be willing to relinquish their influence in signings. Whoever comes in must be prepared to work in such a way as to make the committee suit what they are trying to achieve. The committee is designed to support what the manager wants if it’s used correctly, if it isn’t then the mish mash we have seen recently could reappear again.
Liverpool need a winner who can attract names and who must be personable enough as to not alienate the established players as Rodgers appeared to. That man should be Jurgen Klopp, he has faced a similar situation in Germany in resurrecting the fortunes of a storied club whilst struggling to hold on to players. He managed to develop the players he had and remain relevant, at the same time staying true to the brand of football he wanted to play. As fits go he’s as good as there is on the open market right now.
Liverpool are a big club and a big name but with very little to offer world class players at the moment. Act wrongly now and they risk becoming just another name.