IT’S three trophy-less years since Brendan Rodgers was confirmed as Liverpool manager, an appointment that prompted John W Henry – who remains principal owner of the club despite his current disinterest – to say at the time: “We do not expect miracles overnight nor should anyone else.”
But we do expect miracles. And we should. We want them overnight. We want them after three years. We want them always. And when we don’t – well, why bother? Deal too much in what’s probable and what’s likely – talk yourself out of it, basically — and there’s a 99 per cent chance you’ll wonder just why you’re skinting yourself to watch Premier League football.
We’ve seen miracles happen in red before. And no apologies should be made for wanting to see them happen again. Rodgers knows this. It’s why he said the shirt is heavy. It is heavy. And it should be heavy. Managing heavy shirts is part of the job.
However it is pitched – Liverpool’s position in the food chain financially, the stadium, the mistakes of the past, the quarter of a century without a title – many Reds will ask a simple question when it comes to assessing the suitability of the current manager at Anfield: “Can he win us the league?”
It was asked on Rodgers’ first day in 2012 and it’s still being asked now, three seasons and £210million later. Is that enough time? Is that a long time? Is that a lot of money compared to what the teams Rodgers is tasked with competing with have spent and will spend? Rodgers has had more time in charge of Liverpool than Graeme Souness. Than Kenny in his second spell. Than Hodgson (obviously). He’s had more time than Mourinho in his second spell at Chelsea. Than Ancelotti had at Stamford Bridge. He’s had less time than Roy Evans at Liverpool. Than Kenny at Blackburn. Than Mourinho in his first spell at Chelsea. Than Mancini at City.
Can Rodgers win us the league? It’s debatable and it’s debated. Daily. The rest is best guess. I can only say I’m more sure he could win it than when he was Swansea boss but less sure he could win it than this time last year. That seems fair to me. Whatever your answer, it is what it is. Rodgers is the manager. We can only watch it unfold now and hope for the best.
It was naïve if Henry genuinely expected people not to expect miracles of Liverpool managers and by now he probably knows that. Football waits for no man. Especially not at Liverpool. When a ‘this is OK and OK will do’ attitude pervades all that Liverpool do it will no longer be the Liverpool we know and love. And then it really will be time to wonder just why you’re skinting yourself to watch Premier League football.
FSG had decided, in Henry’s words in June 2012, to “embrace the unconventional” and appointing Rodgers as the manager of Liverpool was just that. It was never going to alter the unwritten standard though – that’s the bar; that’s what we’re in it for. Call that what you like – delusional, unrealistic, madness (I call it being a supporter) – it’s there regardless at Anfield. No amount of calculations, quotes and expectation management will ever temper that. We want trophies. We want days out. We want trips abroad. But more than anything we want to see Liverpool winning – and winning enough to finally lift that bloody title.
So what next for Brendan Rodgers? Win the league. He has to at least come close now. To prove the second place not to be the outlier. To reach the standard or get near to reaching the standard. Otherwise, what’s the point? And otherwise, Liverpool are likely to look for a new manager. For Rodgers then, the only way will be down. What’s his next job after Liverpool if he leaves on a low?
It remains a big ask. Only seven managers have ever won the Premier League in its 23 years of existence (Ferguson, Dalglish, Wenger, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Mancini and Pellegrini) with those titles ending up at just five clubs: Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
After FSG sacked one of those responsible for achieving the feat, albeit with Blackburn (and a man who just so happened to be a club legend and the boss who had lifted Liverpool’s first silverware for six years), appointing Rodgers – with only Watford, Reading and Swansea on his CV – didn’t convince many as a replacement on paper. He’s never truly convinced everyone ever since, even in *that* season. Then the mockers simply fell silent. They soon found their voice again last season. Rodgers has acknowledged himself that there some fans he will never win over. He’s right.
The Liverpool job is a tough gig no matter who takes it on (look what it’s done to the people who have held the position, physically and mentally, for evidence). Replacing Dalglish, even after an eighth place finish in the league, made it harder. Doing so with an unconvincing track record made it look like Mission Impossible and it’s felt like many have been gleefully waiting for Rodgers to fail ever since. It may seem trivial but that utterly shite Being Liverpool didn’t help matters either. A new boss. Big boots to fill. All the pressure in the world. Oh, and by the way, we’re going to film it. Genius. The lowlights of that visual cringe fest remain in the lexicon of the Rodgers naysayers to this day. Who needs enemies when you’ve got friends like these?
Talk among fans before Rodgers’ appointment – aside from the rights and wrongs of Dalglish’s dismissal – centred around (just like this summer) a return for Rafa Benitez, or at least a move for a manager with pedigree in terms of trophy wins and European competition. Those close to FSG linked Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Martinez to the vacancy, while Johan Cruyff and Txiki Begiristain were tipped for a director of football role.
In the end it was Rodgers who arrived. Alone. “The number one target” as he was later pitched. The DoF never arrived, instead the elusive transfer committee became the compromise.
An improvement of one place and nine points in the Premier League, allied to early exits in all the cup competitions – including defeat at Oldham in the FA Cup — in Rodgers’ first season in charge did little to silence the doubters, although some of the football in the second half of the campaign hinted at the attacking thrills to come. And so it proved.
The season after? It doesn’t require another review. You know it. You lived it. And it’s still tapping you on the shoulder. If anything it needs to be forgotten now. Ideally by bettering it… But to suggest it had nothing to do with the manager remains madness. As is suggesting it was *all* down to Luis Suarez. The LMA Manager of the Year award has ended up in the hands of some strange recipients down the years but few begrudged Rodgers after a season no one predicted. The world being what it is, it now seems to be remembered as a time Liverpool ‘blew’ the title. Look again at that run of results from January to April. Rodgers’ stock was rightly high then. Manchester City rumours had floated around, as had links with England roles. No one really regarded them as mad.
This time last season, with a spring in his step, Rodgers was happy to deliver the soundbites. “There is no depression here, there hasn’t been a hangover,” he said. “I wasn’t lying on a sun lounger on a beach over the summer crying and fretting over the fact that we lost the league.
“There is only an excitement and a belief inside the club that we can challenge again for the title this time.”
A season of disappointment on, from the Champions League no show to the waving of the white flag in the race for top four, it’s a different Brendan Rodgers that will return on Sunday to the scene of one of his darkest days in football.
Publicly at least, since the last season ended, Rodgers first said nothing and has then said less, even when his own future was on the line (again) and even when his trusty sidekicks, Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh, were unceremoniously told to find a new job. Major things attracted minor comment.
When Rodgers has spoken at length he’s seemed more deliberate about who gets the gig (the club’s own media). Allied to the silence from FSG – a Q&A from Mike Gordon on the Liverpool website is the best they have managed – it’s clearly a policy. Someone, somewhere, sometime – Brendan himself, Brendan with others, who knows – has decided that the snipers will snipe so let them. There’s no use handing them more bullets. Just get down to work.
Rodgers remains the favourite to be the first Premier League manager sacked in season 2015-6. A fact that tells its own story and a fact he will be more than aware of.
Rodgers said himself that his future was in doubt last November. His haunted expression in May said he knew the same was true again then. “I’ve always said if the owners want me to go, I go,” he said then.
After that 6-1 horror show at Stoke, which had come on the back of a worryingly weak end to the season, I was convinced the manager had, metaphorically of course, taken a fatal one to the chest.
It wasn’t just the biggest Liverpool defeat in a half a century. It was everything. Talk of dressing room unrest. Defeats home and away to Crystal Palace, the dismal display at Hull, the Wembley humiliation, crashing out of Europe twice. The team sleepwalked through two months of football, managing just three wins in 10. The manager always pays. Only this time he hasn’t.
So what was the thinking? Did FSG recognise their own role in last season’s failures? The folly of the signing of Mario Balotelli? The sitting on hands during the January transfer window? Has the manager sold a new vision to sit alongside his new coaching team?
Or is it as simple as a new manager means starting again. They need ‘time’, they need to ‘bed in’, the three-year stopwatch is reset. Perhaps it was decided that one more season will make Rodgers hungry again. Keep him on his toes. Bring out his best. And if it doesn’t work, there can be no more if onlys or what ifs.
Ian Ayre’s recent comments are interesting in this respect. Ever since Rodgers was appointed as Liverpool manager endless debates have raged about who signs who and how and when and so on – a legacy of the director of football that never was when FSG so clearly wanted it.
Ayre has set the record straight this time. He said: “We set out a plan with Brendan at the start of the summer, and the objectives the manager wanted to achieve.
“We’ve achieved all of them. So we are very pleased with how the summer has gone and it’s been kind to us this year.
“It’s interesting because we don’t do anything differently, but sometimes the cards fall in your favour, and sometimes they don’t.”
Recognition that last summer wasn’t great in terms of giving the manager what he needed to win games? Maybe. A crystal clear statement that this year he’s got the lot. Definitely. They are men of Rodgers’ best – a team that plays the Liverpool way? We shall see. Allied to the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll and Gary McAllister, it seems Rodgers has been given the lot. FSG have backed their man. The Steven Gerrard sideshow is no more. Now there are no excuses. Brendan, it’s over to you.
It’s left a manager who looks determined not to be distracted. There are less smiles, shorter press conferences and a more workmanlike manner. But – as ever – it will all come down to results.
Rodgers dodged a bullet in the summer but a finger remains poised over the trigger in Boston. Transfer committees and strategy talk have disappeared as fast as Rodgers’ jokes. And perhaps that is no bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a follower of ‘Deluded Brendan’, nor am I in the ‘Rodgers Out Club’. And I couldn’t give a flying one what he does with his teeth who he rents houses from or how often he likes to say ‘character’ (less than Rafa would be my guess). I don’t find calling him ‘Brenda’ funny either. Because it isn’t funny.
In short – I’m not arsed about Brendan Rodgers the man. I’m arsed about Brendan Rodgers the manager of Liverpool. Watching the end of last season peter out, it seemed some players had lost faith in that manager and the manager had lost faith in some players. Now there are fresh faces, new voices and, as ever as this time of year, renewed hope.
Don’t expect miracles overnight? With trips to Stoke, Arsenal, both Manchester clubs, Everton, Spurs and Chelsea before the end of November, that’s exactly what Brendan’s after.
And it’s what we want too. What’s next for Brendan Rodgers? We’ll soon find out.