Brendan Rodgers's biggest challenge...repeat success
If Brendan Rodgers sets the target of fourth this season he is in danger of being accused of accepting a backward step, when he is just being realistic.
Published 25/07/2014 | 10:26
There's a tourist attraction in downtown Boston they call 'The Freedom Trail' guiding visitors to the key landmarks of the American Revolution.
On his return to the city for the first time since his introduction as Liverpool manager in 2012, Brendan Rodgers could be forgiven for escorting onlookers around pertinent venues of his own to recall the progressive steps he has taken since his last visit.
"See that hotel over there?" Rodgers could tell his acquaintances. "When I was in Boston two years ago, that's where I was first asked if I was serious about writing off half of Andy Carroll's £35m transfer fee. No, stop laughing. It's true. I was really asked that. I know. Mad isn't it."
Gasps from tourists.
"Oh, and you see that Italian restaurant. Yes. That one right there. Liverpool had just finished 28 points behind Manchester City the last time I ate there. TWENTY-EIGHT POINTS. Eighth in the league we were. Honestly. Eighth."
As the gathered throng take their assortment of selfies and home videos, gripped by yarns of early team sheets including Charlie Adam, Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani, Rodgers hits them with another.
"Hurry along now. Next we're going to the training pitch in Harvard where everyone thought I was taking the mick when I said we'd eventually make a profit if we signed Fabio Borini for £10 million."
You could be forgiven for thinking Liverpool strategically selected their pre-season base of the last week to issue these reminders of how far they've come in rapid time.
The question asked repeatedly in 2012 was: "How long will it take Liverpool to return to the Champions League."
It is not just the football club that has evolved in the last two years but the tone of the inquisition.
"How far can Liverpool go in the Champions League?" is more relevant now, although the landmine Rodgers finds himself tip-toeing around is what kind of Premier League challenge he can inspire in the season ahead.
The Liverpool manager has been allowed to talk in distant, aspirational terms since he took over, knowing he had at least three years to reclaim a top four place. Lest we forget, this time last year Liverpool were still English football's seventh best side.
While there was a determination to reclaim fourth, the reality was they believed they were one of four clubs scrapping for a potential vacancy behind Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. No-one saw the scale of the Old Trafford deterioration coming and, in truth, Liverpool were measuring progress in the accumulation of points as much as league placing.
If Rodgers sets the target of fourth this season he is in danger of being accused of accepting a backward step when he is just being realistic.
Suggesting Liverpool are better equipped to win the title following the exit of Luis Suarez would set him up for the possibility of becoming a victim of last year's success. A repeat of the sustained challenge of last season is a guarantee no-one at Anfield will or can make no matter how much they spend.
Rodgers can not be sure how much Suarez will be missed, nor how many of his eight likely additions will settle and prove everything they promised to be in the scouting dossier.
It is no surprise then that much of pre-season, both on and off the record, has concentrated on issuing appropriate reminders of how swiftly Rodgers achieved his primary mission of restoring the club's elite European status. There is as much anticipation as there has been for many years at Anfield but also a little apprehension, too.
Listen to Rodgers's interviews and you will note the careful incision of the phrase 'ahead of schedule' when asked about this year's expectations.
Such circumspection ahead of the campaign should be welcomed.
It is worth recalling what Rodgers said to the media while dining in one of those acclaimed Italian restaurants in Boston in 2012.
"I know where the club is at this moment and I don't want to be talking too much garbage at the beginning of my time here," he said.
"We need to become competitive before you can even consider going for the title. It is like getting knocked out of the FA Cup every year in the first or second round but then saying you are going to win it. The first thing we have got to do is make sure that we stabilise and then, in the next few years we want to be challenging for a Champions League place. That's where we want to be."
In retrospect he was far too cautious, but there would have been much spluttering of lobster ravioli had Rodgers promised he would reduce the gap to Manchester City to two points within the next 22 months.
Whether by design or coincidence, what Rodgers was doing then was buying into the unofficial new slogan of Anfield since Fenway Sports Group took over.
"Underpromise and overdeliver," is the mantra.
It has served the club well so far. Whatever is said by manager, players or officials publicly, that remains the truest guide on Liverpool's revolutionary trail.