Liverpool right to call time on Rodgers, but what was it that went so disastrously wrong?
Brendan Rodgers has been sacked as manager of Liverpool Football Club, just eight Premier League games into his fourth season in charge. While some fans are calling for Jurgen Klopp to become the man to lead the team to glory again, many are left wondering how long Liverpool’s ‘transition period’ will last, and whether a change in manager is all it will take to return the club to winning ways.
It did not come as a great surprise when it was announced at 6:30pm on Sunday the 4th of October 2015, that Brendan Rodgers would no longer be managing Liverpool Football Club. Ultimately, it was the inevitable consequence of a dire start to the season; mirroring an equally miserable end to last season – one which concluded with a 6-1 thumping by Stoke at the Brittania.
Although Liverpool would have moved within one point of the top four had they won today’s game against Everton, nothing could change the fact that they have looked mediocre in every single game played thus far. The season seemed to start well, with seven points from nine, until a crushing 3-0 defeat to West Ham brought the Reds back to reality. Toothless in attack, Liverpool have relied on spectacular flashes of individual brilliance, or favourable refereeing decisions, rather than team play, in order to get them goals this season. Meanwhile, the defence has looked shaky at best – Mamadou Sakho being the only player to provide some sense of solidity at the back.
Defensive frailties are not new to the team which conceded 48 goals last season and 52 the season before that, despite Rodgers announcing that “it’s not difficult to coach to just get 10 players right on your 18-yard box.” His naivety in not hiring a specialist defensive coach was soon found out when Liverpool went 5-0 to Stoke in the last game of the 2014/15 season, almost three years after Rodgers told the press to “judge me after three years.” Throughout his tenure at Merseyside, Rodgers had a knack for putting his foot in it; for spouting David Brent-esque syllogisms that have cemented his position as an internet joke. One remark which stands out was his assessment of Tottenham: “[When] you spend over £100m you’d expect to be challenging for the league.” In 2014, Liverpool spent £117million on new players, only to finish sixth; one place below Tottenham.
And here is the conundrum. In May 2014, Liverpool were fighting to win the Premier League, having finished a mere seventh one year earlier. It was a fairytale story. Suarez and Sturridge had netted over 50 goals between them. Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United had been demolished and embarrassed. Brendan Rodgers would go on to win manager of the year. If it had not been for one fateful slip from captain Steven Gerrard against Chelsea, and an unbelievable fightback from Crystal Palace the game after, Brendan Rodgers might have finally been the man to bring home Liverpool’s first ever Premier League trophy, and their 19th domestic league title.
And yet here we are now. What happened? The question remains whether this extraordinary charge for glory was accomplished because of Brendan, or despite him. As a Liverpool fan, I can honestly say that the 2013/14 season was the best and most thrilling nine months of football that I have ever witnessed, and for that, I thank Brendan. But now we must acknowledge that his time is up.
There are many reasons why I changed from a #RodgersIn to a #RodgersOut. The most glaring and obvious reason is simply that he remains tactically inept. Worse, he is frustratingly stubborn. There are two types of managers: those that try to impose a particular philosophy and style of play on their team, and those that adapt their tactics to the circumstances and opposition. Mourinho is an example of the latter, while Rodgers is the former. He came to Liverpool with the idea of playing “death by football”, Guardiola-style, 4-3-3 tiki-taka football. What he lacked were players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Messi to actually execute it. Rodgers only succeeded at Liverpool when he was forced to change his philosophy: when players were actually played in their natural positions, and when speed on the counter was favoured ahead of possession stats. What is often forgotten is that it took Rodgers half a season in 2013 to realise that by actually playing his best players in their best positions (in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation), he might actually win games. In the 2014/15 season, he waited until December, despite repeated losses, to change the formation from 4-3-3 to an altered 3-4-2-1, and even then, it wasn’t long before his reshuffled team was exposed.
Many fans, including myself, blame Rodgers for the loss to Chelsea in 2014 that essentially lost the league title. It was tactical naivety to try and blitz a solid counter-attacking Mourinho team, when a draw would have sufficed. More than that, Rodgers has often been stubborn in his selection of players – too proud to admit fault. His insistence on playing Lovren this season is evidence of this.
However, this is not Rodgers’ greatest crime. The ultimate problem with his team for the last 15 months has been the complete lack of style, ambition and character. It is ironic, considering how many times Brendan has told the media that the team “showed great character.” Ever since Gerrard’s slip and Suarez’s departure, there has been no fight. No desire. No sense of identity. If you asked any Liverpool fan to describe the team’s style of play, they would be at a loss.
Against the top-four BPL teams, plus Everton, Liverpool have managed only ONE away win under Rodgers out of seventeen. The last three derby matches against Everton have been boring draws: 1-1, 0-0 and 1-1 respectively. We have not won a match by more than one goal since April this year. We haven’t won a game in Europe since October last year. The players look disinterested, and many of our young, promising talents look lost and out of position. Sterling didn’t exactly stop to say goodbye either.
In 2013/14, we had an injury-free Sturridge, a galvanized Gerrard, and a goal machine in Suarez, who almost single-handedly elevated the team to become title contenders. Once these three factors disappeared, we were left with a manager that looked out of his depth. The signings were wrong. The tactics were wrong. All in all, the man in charge was wrong.
Rodgers may think that there is no one better to lead Liverpool, but he is mistaken. Perhaps Klopp is the right man for the job, perhaps it’s Ancelotti. One thing is certain: it isn’t the man with the empty trophy cabinet.