‘If we are to replicate what we did two years ago, we will have to build something. That will take time unfortunately. That is frustrating for supporters but there are new players to come in. That will take time, whether that is me or someone else”.
That was Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers speaking after he had watched his team earn a point against Everton in the 225th Merseyside derby on Sunday.
A couple of hours later and Rodgers had run out of time, sacked by Liverpool’s owners FSG after a “difficult decision” coming with the new season just eight games old.
Liverpool have taken 12 points from those eight games but listless defeats to West Ham and Manchester United, partnered with disjointed 1-1 draws with Norwich in the league, Carlisle of League Two in the League Cup and FC Sion in the Europa League have possibly swayed FSG’s view that they will have to look elsewhere for somebody who can get more from the current, expensively-assembled group of players. Only for the first 45 minutes in the game at Arsenal has Rodgers’s current side looked fluent and that has been far from enough.
Rodgers’s request for patience was relevant as it is one that FSG, with their portfolio of sports investments, would have understood. It is difficult to believe that the American owners, as they held meetings with Rodgers in May to discuss the inquest into last season’s failures, wouldn’t have established a reasonable time-frame for Rodgers to show that he can deliver on the backing he received in the summer, significantly the near-£80 million he was given to spend on new players.
Hence why, with not even two months of the new campaign gone news of Rodgers’s sacking comes as a surprise, though taking into account his three-and-a-bit years on Merseyside it is difficult to defend him.
Since taking control of the club in June 2012, Rodgers has spent in the region of £290 million on players, delivering 0 trophies and managing to qualify for the Champions League just once, from which they were dumped out disappointingly in the group stages.
The Northern Irishman nearly delivered the league title in 2014 in a campaign spearheaded by the awesome attacking trident of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.
Rodgers’ own tactical naivety, playing into the hands of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the run-in, and inability to forge a consistently reliable and sturdy defence, witness the capitulation at Crystal Palace, would undermine that challenge.
It is kind of regrettable, given how incredibly bonkers and fun to watch Liverpool were that season, Rodgers should end his time on Merseyside empty-handed.
Both Suarez and Sterling have since left in search of trophies, hinting that Liverpool, in their current financial state of being unable to offer top-level wages as a result of a 45,000-seater stadium and the commitment of the owners to cut the wage-bill, “reversing the errors of previous regimes” as John W. Henry put it, are unable to compete with the financial muscle of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea at the highest end of the market.
Suarez however, signed for £22 million from Ajax in 2011, is testament to what can happen if the market is worked and studied astutely whereas Phillipe Coutinho is another success story, marginalised from Inter Milan and taken to Anfield for just £8.5 million in 2013.
Too often Rodgers’s dealings have appeared scattergun and without a clear plan, from Fabio Borini to Ricky Lambert to Lazar Markovic to Roberto Firmino, whom Rodgers seems to have no idea where to play, via Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas.
Too many purchases, made on behalf of the famed “transfer committee” formed in the aftermath of Damien Comolli’s disastrous stint as director of football strategy, simply haven’t worked out.
Mario Balotelli, signed from AC Milan for £16 million in the summer of 2014, was a remarkable instance of oversight as Liverpool required a striker capable of filling the void left behind by the Barcelona-bound Suarez.
They got a surly, sulky bundle of ineffectiveness who mustered just four goals in his one season at Anfield before he was sent back to Milan on loan this year but what made Rodgers think he was signing something different, given the tales of his time at Internazionale and Manchester City, remains an utter mystery.
Rickie Lambert’s goal haul that season was even worse, managing only three as Liverpool and Rodgers paid the price for failing to properly replace Suarez and, in the absence of the injured Sturridge, they fell to a dismal 6th place from 2nd the year before.
That season ended with a 6-1 humbling at Stoke, Liverpool’s worst defeat for 52 years, and after a meeting with FSG in the summer, Rodgers kept his job but assistant Colin Pascoe and first team coach Mike Marsh didn’t keep theirs. Sean O’Driscoll and Gary McAllister were taken on in an overhaul of the backroom staff but Rodgers had to be aware that with change occurring around him, his side would have to hit the ground running for it to avoid encompassing him.
Sterling ended a long running saga by engineering his move to Manchester City and Steven Gerrard, the former captain who had been with the club for 17 years, moved to America to see out his career with LA Galaxy, so Rodgers had two big voids to fill before the season started and new skipper Jordan Henderson was ruled out until mid-November with an ankle injury.
Meanwhile Christian Benteke, arriving from Aston Villa for £32 million, enjoyed a bright start to life at Anfield but again injury has caused frustration.
Poor replacements and tactical decisions
There has been misfortune and circumstance hasn’t always favoured Rodgers but trying to replace Sterling with Ings on the left is misguided folly.
Emre Can, a midfielder by trade, is repeatedly fielded in defence and that misjudgement was exposed on Sunday as the German swung a panicked clearance into the path of Romelu Lukaku who accepted his invitation to equalise.
‘I don’t feel any pressure – I can honestly say that,’ said Rodgers after the final whistle sounded at Goodison Park, probably unaware that his own error of fielding Can in defence contributed to his team dropping the two points that were made possible by Ings’ opener.
The epitome of Rodgers
That was unfortunately the epitome of Liverpool’s former coach, so determined to make his judgements work out that he is reluctant to admit his flaws when they are exposed.
For FSG, who have backed Rodgers tremendously over the years, their willingness to wait for him to change has evaporated.
Liverpool wave goodbye to the manager who came so close when really he was miles away.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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