Wednesday 26 October 2016

James Lawton: If new signings don't work out, Brendan Rodgers is out of a job

Owners have trusted Liverpool boss and now is time to deliver

Published 26/06/2015 | 02:30

Firmino, Clyne and Milner are good additions for Liverpool
Firmino, Clyne and Milner are good additions for Liverpool
'Firmino may still have some way to go until he totally eliminates misses like that against Colombia from his game, but he almost always offers something worth looking at'

Liverpool have come clattering into the transfer market, as well they might after a season of dismaying underachievement, but as someone once said, it is too easy to mistake mere speed for genuine movement.

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And of course if any club and any coach needed to give the impression of taking a seriously significant new direction, it is surely Liverpool and their coach Brendan Rodgers.

To be fair, the acquisition of James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne carry more than a whiff of authentic substance.

In that jamboree of financial upward mobility at Manchester City, Milner has always given the impression of serious professionalism, someone who likes the rewards of superstardom but is also manifestly prepared to make them look something less than daylight robbery.

Clyne is of similar ilk, a proper defender who has played a vital part in Southampton’s impressive refusal to slink back into the Premier League’s survival belt.

His stated ambition to justify Liverpool’s belief in him, to extend his reputation at one of the old power centres of English football, is not difficult to take at face value.

Nathaniel Clyne
Nathaniel Clyne

Not after noting the commitment of his play and his discipline.

Clyne, at a little north of £12m, looks like serious business. Certainly Rodgers must hope so for he is getting through the still unbanked Raheem Sterling money quicker than he, or perhaps his transfer advisers, did the largesse that followed the departure of Luis Suarez.

The American owners, surprisingly benevolent in their analysis of the futility of the post-Suarez spree, have surely reached a point of no return in the case of Rodgers.

Assuming he has had significant input into the latest splurge – and having less than that plainly makes him potentially a casualty in waiting – he has to be down to his last chance.

The Americans have shown him the money. Now he has to show them a little evidence that he has the nerve and the enduring confidence to make it work.

Plainly, Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino is utterly crucial to such a career-saving exercise.

If Firmino is half as good as his compatriot Ronaldinho believes, Rodgers might just have the means to re-shape a team which faltered under the weight of his reliance on the splendidly creative Philippe Coutinho – and Sterling’s failure, for all his gifts, to score some of the goals which disappeared with the injuries of Daniel Sturridge.

Ronaldinho believes that Firmino and Coutinho can become an inventive axis at Liverpool, something that became a memory at Anfield with the physical decline of Steven Gerrard and the loss of Suarez’s finishing touch.

James Milner
James Milner

It means that Rodgers’ belief in passing football is to be given one more surge of life. He insists that he is the man for the job and now it is again his to fight for.

The Firmino-Coutinho pairing comes without guarantees, of course, but there is the promise of cleverness, a starting point for the kind of spark and sharpness which Liverpool have rarely been in such need.

The running and competitive character of players like Milner and Clyne are additional points of encouragement and if Danny Ings can re-assure his new Anfield bosses that his bewilderment in the face of classic Italian defence in this week’s brusque dismissal of the England U-21 team from the European Championships was mostly to do with a collective team failure, there might indeed be stirrings of Liverpool recovery.

In the end, though, it always comes down to the ability of a coach to shape the mood and the confidence of his team.

For Rodgers the hurdle to overcome is the sense that he signally failed to do this in the wake of Liverpool’s aborted title drive in the spring of 2014.

He had a parade of new faces and they blurred into the image of a lost cause, a team fractured  not only by the insurrection and inconsistencies of Sterling and the loss of Suarez but the overwhelming sense that the pursuit of some kind of working cohesion was a lost cause.

That reality came down horribly in the FA Cup humiliation imposed by struggling Aston Villa, a team for whom the tyro skills of Jack Grealish were sometimes wielded like a lance.

Now Liverpool have £29m worth of Brazilian touch and vision which, while scarcely engulfing the Bundesliga, certainly won some solid admiration for craft and skill and the ability to make decisive initiatives up front.

That became the desperate Liverpool need at the end of the season and in Firmino, maybe, they may just have turned a corner.

It is the possibility on which Rodgers’ career now hangs. He has new material to work with, another chance to paint a persuasive picture of his ability to go to the heart of the modern game.

For a little while he convinced Anfield that he was indeed such a man. Liverpool looked like Liverpool, a team who ran and passed and believed in the classic values of the tradition first imposed more than 50 years ago.

This was some impression to create and now it has to be done again, with new players and new hope.

In this players like Firmino and Milner and Clyne may well be vital. But then soon enough Rodgers has to stand up and show who he is and what he can do.

The June sales have given him some new life, but still it is one that could hardly hang more perilously.

Irish Independent

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