At least, we might surmise, Jose Mourinho will have been happy at the timing of it all. It is, perhaps, a reflection of the twenty-four/seven nature of the modern football world that Liverpool’s decision that Brendan Rodgers’ time at Anfield was up should have been made public late on a Sunday afternoon. Somewhere, newspaper editors sighed at having to rejig their back pages to relegate the Chelsea manager’s latest post-match outburst in favour of a real life, genuine managerial sacking. The Chelsea manager’s latest implosion was shunted down the list of priorities on Monday morning’s back pages, for sure.
It was also deemed necessary for the club to confirm that the decision made to relieve Rodgers of his duties had been reached prior to Sunday’s draw at Goodison Park. This, presumably, was to counter criticism at letting him go in the slipstream of a decent enough result, but even this clarification raises as many questions as it answers. Was there anything that the manager might have done to save his job? What might have happened had the Liverpool team turned into an approximation of the club’s 1982 vintage and squished Everton into the turf? So many questions, so few answers, so much conjecture. Such is the nature of professional football in the twenty-first century.
In truth, Rodgers had been skating on wafer thin ice for more than a year. Coming relatively close to winning the Premier League in 2014 had given the club’s support reason to believe that more than twenty years in a relative Premier League wilderness might coming to a close, but the spark behind that team, Luis Suarez, was not interested in staying at the club, the money raised from his sale was frittered away on a succession of unsatisfactory new signings and last season saw Liverpool return to their recent type, misfiring in both the Premier League and the Champions League. Further big signings arrived this summer, but the club’s start to this season has been to say the least underwhelming, and it has come at a time during which the shortcomings of the other Champions League pretenders has made the identity of this season’s final top four as open as it has felt in recent years. The uncertainty at Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and beyond, FSG might well have rationalised, was great enough to justify this sudden shuffling of the pack.
Squandered opportunities, however, have been a common issue in the recent history of Liverpool Football Club. During the early years of the Premier League, the club was eclipsed by Manchester United’s ruthless mastery of the new commercial landscape before them and in their rapid expansion of Old Trafford to a capacity of 76,000 whilst Anfield remained very much as it was before. Similarly, as the oligarchy came a-knocking at the door of the Premier League during the middle years of the last decade, Manchester City and Chelsea found Sheikh Mansour and Roman Abramovich gifted into their laps, whilst Liverpool ended up with Gillett & Hicks and their mismanagement instead. Whereas success during a lengthy era of stratification became the norm for Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, it has come to be the exception for Liverpool, with successes such the club’s 2005 Champions League win being relative outliers, with a consistent ability to challenge where it really counts remaining elusive.
In the midst of all this, Rodgers became much derided for his post-match interview style, which occasionally seemed to lean a little too heavily on the influence of the modern middle manager. His players never did anything wrong. He could never have asked for them to give any more than they did. In this respect, though, Rodgers was no different to any other Premier League manager. The current vogue, after all, most definitely leans towards coaches calling black as white when it comes to publicly discussing the arguable shortcomings of performances on the pitch. The problem for managers begins to occur when they’re not winning enough. Scales begin to fall from eyes. The notion of defending players from negativity starts to look mildly unhinged. But Brendan Rodgers was, in this respect, only playing the game that all managers play, all the time, but results came to contradict those well rehearsed lines.
No small part of the problem for Rodgers in this respect was that, at Liverpool, the burden of expectation, weighed down with the ghosts of the club’s past, leant so heavily upon his shoulders. Liverpool Football Club has not – and this is a unique record in the whole of English football – lost more league matches than it has won in any one season since being relegated from the First Division at the end of the 1953/54 season. This is not just a club at which failure will not be tolerated. It’s a club at which there it can sometimes feel as of there is no understanding of what failure even feels like. At Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, there are older heads who can remember more fallow spells and occasional battles against relegation. At Liverpool, those same older heads remember degrees of success of which even modern superclubs would likely be jealous, and even now a return to those days most likely feels only one managerial appointment or a couple of inspired signings away.
The irony at the heart of all of this conjecture is that the Champions League remains in sight for Liverpool this season, for the time being at least. The team may well currently be entrenched in the middle of the table, but it remains just three points from fourth place in the table and each of those that would be expected to finish in those four places have enough shortcomings about them for other clubs to be able to revise their ambitions for the season in an upwardly direction. At the time of writing, Jurgen Klopp is the favourite to take over this particular poisoned chalice and, should he take the job, perhaps he will be able to breathe some life into a squad of considerable talent that has been unable thus far to gel in the way that it did for a few months a couple of seasons ago. Perhaps the arrival of a charismatic manager will have a talismanic effect on them.
For now, though, Liverpool remains a curate’s egg of a football club, unable in recent years to consistently compete in line with the expectations of supporters, but having not fallen so far into decline as to temper those expectations. There have been flashes in both upward and downward directions in recent years, but overall the club has given the impression of being one in stasis, and both new owners and a succession of new managers and players have been unable to arrest this feeling of being stuck in some form of no man’s land after almost a quarter of a century. Perhaps expanding Anfield will give the club a nudge in the right direction, although West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea are also pushing in the same direction and this may have a diluting effect on the extent to which bigger crowds will usher in the brave world that the supporters crave, whether it be new or old. There are most likely no easy solutions to Liverpool’s current sense of rudderlessness. Time will tell whether replacing Brendan Rodgers will prove to be part of a rebuilding process or little more than another distraction.
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