Rodgers at Liverpool – club at the crossroads
Following his unveiling at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers described Liverpool Football Club as “a dynasty”. Which begs the question did he mean the club had with an established, rich history of class and success, or was he likening it to a preposterous soap opera with storylines that beggar belief.
Liverpool’s current predicament is the result of two decades of mismanagement, neglect and short sightedness, leaving the scale of Rodgers’ task much greater than the seventeen points that the team finished off the coveted fourth Champions League place.
On the footballing side, Rodgers has inherited a squad that, despite the truck load of cash thrown at it over the last eighteen months, will need a great deal of work before it can emulate the high tempo possession game that has already become his hallmark.
The midfield in particular, is staffed by players who either lack the technical ability (Spearing, Shelvey), favour the ‘Hollywood Ball’ (Gerrard, Adam) or have simply been non-descript in their Anfield careers so far (Downing, Henderson). The only players who seem ready-made for the ‘tiki taka’ keep-ball style are Lucas and Bellamy, the latter at the wrong end of his career.
There’s then the Andy Carroll conundrum. Given how he was used, or misused, last season, his critics have been overly harsh as he has shown the potential to be an intimidating force in attack. Yet you don’t need Andy Townsend’s tactic truck to tell you that Carroll is not a player suited to a short passing game. Rodgers will either need time to work with him to refine his game (he is still only 23), find a tactical style that suits him or employ him in some other creative option (scarecrow, coat stand, hired goon – answers on a postcard please).
Lastly, there’s the ‘Gerrard problem’. Those who criticise Gerrard are usually labelled as heretics and madmen. Yet, dare I say it, some Liverpool fans have been whispering for awhile that for all his heroics and swashbuckling drive, he has never developed the all round technique and tactical discipline required to dominate a midfield, and the tempo of a game. Whilst others would just come straight out and say that the team plays better, more incisive football without him.
These might seem harsh criticisms given the years when, at his peak, Gerrard seemingly dragged Liverpool to heights that seemed beyond them. That was in the past though – and a past that heavily relied on Xabi Alonso. One-man Roy Race midfields are not a viable long-term plan in the Premier League or Europe, and it is now undeniable, even for fanatics, that Gerrard is way past his best.
Trouble is, as the club captain, local hero, living legend, and crucially, the top-earner in the squad, he poses a big challenge for Rodgers. One possible option is to gradually deploy him as a centre-back, thus adding some technique and passing ability in defence.
All of the above, however, requires time and patience – two virtues that Liverpool are, with some justification, short of. On the cusp of a fourth season without Champions League football, conservative estimates of the revenue lost over this period fall somewhere around the £100m mark.
With the stadium saga ongoing, the club still playing catch-up with their commercial operations, and Financial Fair Play regulations preventing random cash injections, the longer Liverpool are outside the Champions League the more elusive ever returning there will become.
Rodgers and Fenway Sports Group face big challenges on every front. The club have made a brave and well suited appointment but another period of failure will likely mean that the LFC dynasty may go the same way as the TV programme which disappeared from our screen in 1989 – the same year as Liverpool’s last title triumph.