Liverpool made a bold managerial appointment in the pre-season. They went for a young, relatively inexperienced manager with a clear philosophy on how football should be played.
When Rodgers was appointed he spoke of playing ‘offensive and attacking football’. This is a style he adopted with great affect at Swansea. I was at Craven Cottage when Swansea demolished Fulham 3-0. That day Swansea passed Fulham off the park and looked as accomplished and technically gifted as any top Premiership team.
Rodgers’ footballing philosophy was clear to see in everything that Swansea did. Pass-pass-pass from goalkeeper to centre back to midfield to attack.
But with the average tenure for a premiership manager being two years will Rodgers be given the chance to succeed?
The current team with the most obvious philosophical imprint on its play is Barcelona. The game between Barcelona and Real Madrid in November 2010 provided one of the greatest club performances of all time as Barca ran out 5-0 winners. The roots of this win came almost 40 years previously with the acquisition of Johann Cruyff. Cruyff both as a player and manager helped install the current total footballing philosophy at the Nou Camp. In particular his ‘dream team’ of the early 90s which featured Koeman, Laudrup, Stoichkov and a young Pep Guardiola set the Barca standards. Pep would return as manager and lead the team that thrashed Real 5-0. Eight of the starting eleven that night came through the Barca ranks. Pep’s Barca won three La Liga titles, two European cups and two world club championships. These titles were forged by a strong footballing philosophy ingrained at every level of the club. Any player coming through at Barca knows exactly how to play to fit into the first team and what is expected from them.
The success of Barca shows what a tough job Rodgers has in store. Liverpool currently have a strong identity everywhere but on the pitch. Previous managers have consistently overpaid for poor players (Carroll, Henderson, Downing) and the current youngsters coming through aren’t good enough. Watching Liverpool this season you can see Rodgers’ influence but he simply doesn’t have the players to fulfill his ideals of total football. Seeing Reina and Skirtel trying to play out from the back in particular had dire consequences at West Brom. As Rodgers said in his first Liverpool interview, your philosophy is governed by the players that you have. It will certainly take time for dead wood to be removed and more suitable players to be brought in.
There are other issues which will hinder Rodgers’ progress. Liverpool just aren’t a very well liked club – they are still seen as a big club and a scalp for opposition teams and fans who enjoy a victory over Liverpool as much as one of the top four. This means that teams will raise their game against Liverpool. But Liverpool just aren’t equipped for this currently. When Rodgers was in charge of Swansea they were playing in a much more forgiving Championship where they could hone their style of football. Mistakes would not be punished as in the Premiership. When promoted they did not score for four games but eventually their class shone through.
I’m not convinced that the Liverpool board or fans will give Rodgers the time he needs in order to completely reorganize the club from top to bottom, from youth policy to first team. Liverpool have had their worst start in the league since the Middle Ages and the press are ready to jump on Rodgers. Typically once you have lost the press and fans’ confidence it’s very hard to come back – and Rodgers could lose this soon if results don’t improve (at the time of writing Liverpool had not yet played Man Utd). If the board and fans are willing to finish mid-table for a couple of seasons than Rodgers has the ability and vision to make Liverpool a force once again, but I suspect this won’t happen. Instead Rodgers will make a few more signings in January – he’ll get sacked and a new manager with a different approach will be brought in and he’ll be stuck with Rodgers’ signings who he won’t be able to move on.
I hope I’m wrong as a team with Liverpool’s history, fan base and Rodgers’ style of play would be a joy to watch in the Premiership.