So this is one of the occasional soccer related posts I feel compelled to write, involving my long-suffering support of Liverpool Football Club. I return to some familiar themes that I have written about previously.
As the current Premier League campaign comes to a close, the summary evaluations are now beginning appear. Michael Cox of Zonal Marking and contributor to ESPN FC wrote what I think was a pretty insightful assessment, Focus on philosophy hardly a factor in Liverpool’s progress, which prompted me to write this response. I planned on writing something at season’s end too. Yet, with some minor changes, I offer this extended comment on Cox’s work up as a post too.
As the season closes, how much better the Liverpool Football Club is in the hands of Brendan Rodgers, rather than previous manager and legend-in-residence Kenny Dalglish, is highly debatable. The truth is, as I have mentioned previously, the players let Dalglish down. Whether it was because they didn’t believe in him as a manager familiar with the modern game or not belies the fact they are professional footballers. Remember, even Luis Suarez was more an uncut jewel last season than the crown-ready gem he has been this one.
Then there is all the English talent Dalglish and Damien Comolli “splashed” for with an open checkbook. What seems too easily dismissed is the fact that they were all national team players. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, and Charlie Adam all play on their national sides. Granted neither England nor Scotland are exactly the strongest sides at present, but I doubt Dalglish decided how much to pay for any of them despite probably identifying them as targets. Moreover, someone had to go down for the price paid for Carroll, but I’ll put that on Comolli. Yet, Newcastle knew the deal, holding LFC up at the deadline.
Truth, there was no way Liverpool could lure proven top talent. if there was any truth the the rumors, even Downing was a second option after Ashley Young rebuffed them for United. In fact, Liverpool will continue to struggle for known quality talent in the transfer market, unless they overpay, until they are back in the Champions League. Unfortunately, the longer they are away the harder it is to get back in the glamour game.
Liverpool pride and prestige might stand for something, especially for long-time supporters, myself included. They remain the greatest club in England by most measures, but the the real glory days were before most of modern players laced up boots – distant history to most 20-somethings who have grown up watching and playing during Sir Alec Ferguson‘s Red Devil reign.
Now, with Rodgers at the helm, he has essentially bought his kind of players, the ones he believes fit into his philosophy, for better or worse. What is slightly dubious, however, is that he had some kind of history with nearly all of them, Phillipe Coutinho being the obvious exception, as well as quite possibly the best of the buys. Also, all the talk of a philosophy is as much marketing as it is truth. Even King Kenny quipped early in Rodgers’ tenure that no one reinvents the game. Sour grapes perhaps but truth nonetheless.
After the struggling during the prior campaign, it seems almost natural that Rodgers would and should get some new life out of some maligned players. As Cox highlights, Downing and Henderson have only really started to show the kind of reasons they were sought in the new year, although both are still a ways off meriting their price tags.
Still, there is some truth in the Cox’s criticism of Rodgers’ decision making, at least since the new year when there have been a few more options available in the side. Yet, the options are still limited in terms of mounting a serious challenge for the top four. Too often, the Reds had to resort to playing kids in order to round out the starting eleven in the early going. In some ways, it is a wonder they have done as well as they have.
My suspicion is that Rodgers has next season to truly show progress and build sorely needed depth in the side, Champions League or not. I am guessing it will be year three before the pressure will really mount for him. If during the next season some exciting talent emerges or is purchased and a stylish surge gets them within a sniff of the top four, everyone can claim improvement and hard luck with more veracity. Fenway Sports Group will also have a chance to suss out whether UEFA is likely to get truly serious about Financial Fair Play rules, which FSG seems to be placing a significant bet.
If in year three Rodgers is still making excuses for missed opportunities and poor results, he will be gone, the club will be in worse shape, and FSG could very well be looking to finish renovating Anfield in preparation for a sale.