Last Monday, the legendary football commentator John Motson broke his usually calm demeanour on BBC Radio 5 Live to argue, “there is some kind of conspiracy going on against Brendan Rodgers”. Pressure is quickly mounting on the manager in question as his team’s performances are described by the media as “underwhelming”, “rudderless” and most recently against lowly Carlisle United a few weeks ago, even “torturous”.
Despite the hopes of everyone associated with the club, the lessons of last year’s poor finish to the league appear not to have been learnt and many now believe things never will improve under the current manager. The first point of call for anyone criticising Rodgers recently has been that in terms of trophies, he’s the most unsuccessful Liverpool manager for over 50 years.
To counter this point John Motson posed the question “what do Liverpool fans seriously expect?” And, before anyone is swept away by the tide of criticism, it is worth seriously considering that question. Kenny Dalglish, a Liverpool legend, and the last manager before Rodgers arrived, took Liverpool to two cup finals in one season, of which he won one, but Liverpool finished 8th in the league and he was asked to leave the club.
he’s the most unsuccessful Liverpool manager for over 50 years
Clearly, to New England Sports Ventures (the club’s owners), quality performances in the league, not occasional cup triumphs, are what count, and in that area Rodgers has taken Liverpool closer to triumph than anyone else over the past 22 years. Sixth place last season, no win in four league appearances, and a failure on Wednesday to break down a League 2 team with England’s worst defensive record this season are stats that bring comfort to no Liverpool fan, but the task of returning Liverpool to the realms of football’s elite must be seen as a long term process. With no consistent Champions League football for six years, Liverpool simply is not the club many fans still consider them to be.
When Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1986, they were in the same position Liverpool are in now. Their last league title had come 20 years previously in the 1966/67 season. What’s more, it took Ferguson seven years to bring the title back to Old Trafford, and four seasons to win a trophy of any sort. Crucially, included in that seven-season period were three bottom half finishes in the League, 11th twice and 13th once, and yet he kept the job and as they say, the rest is history.
Times have of course changed significantly since 1986. The vast earning potential of the top clubs now means that the pressure on managers for instant results is extreme, but the reality is that instant results are no more attainable. Rodgers has received a great deal of criticism regarding his transfer policy. Since his arrival, £291,550,000 has been spent signing 27 new players, most of whom have not remotely been at the standard Liverpool require, but the blame for this cannot solely be laid on Rodgers. The club’s insistence on using a transfer committee to discuss signings wastes valuable time and has led to signings Rodgers may not have personally wanted. As the Daily Mail pointed out back in May, Dave Fallows heads the transfer department at Anfield, but how many are calling for his removal?
Rightly or wrongly, the blame always lands on the man in the technical area. In hiring Rodgers, a man who presented a 180-page dossier detailing every aspect of his plans for Liverpool’s future, the owners have shown an understanding that the task of placing Liverpool back on their perch will take many seasons. Consequently, we should expect them to do all they can to fend off calls for his head.
There are many more reasons than there may seem at first glance as to why Rodgers should stay. He lost both of his star players, Suarez and Sturridge, for the vast majority of last season to Barcelona and injury respectively. His next best forward, Raheem Sterling, towards the end of the year didn’t want to be at the club. Meanwhile Gerrard, indisputably a huge presence off the pitch for the reds, appeared well past his best on it.
Unfortunately, for the man from Northern Ireland, the fans at any club hold a great deal of power over who stays and who goes, and the arrival of boos at Anfield on Wednesday night are a clear sign of just how serious the situation has become. When Rodgers was appointed as Liverpool boss he claimed that failure would only arise “because of not sticking together and nothing else.”
Regardless of what he or anyone considers best for the club, if results do not improve over the next few weeks, there will come a point when Rodgers’ position becomes untenable. Mark Lawrenson is right to say the next 10 days will define whether Rodgers stays or goes.
Conspiracy or not, the reality is that if he wants everyone to “stick together”, he needs to repeatedly prove he’s worth sticking with. In the eyes of his critics, the Aston Villa result has changed little. Rodgers needs to put a run of form together. Otherwise their cries will continue to grow and he will soon be packing his bags.