Tuesday 25 October 2016

Rodgers facing inquest over Liverpool decline

Owners to scrutinise every aspect of club after poor performances

Chris Bascombe

Published 20/05/2015 | 02:30

Raheem Sterling and Brendan Rodgers during Liverpool training
Raheem Sterling and Brendan Rodgers during Liverpool training

Brendan Rodgers will face a pivotal end-of-season review as Liverpool look to correct the errors that have led to such a disappointing campaign.

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There is no suggestion Rodgers is under any immediate threat of losing his job. However, his planned annual meeting with Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon will be fundamental to how the club repair the damage of the past 12 months.

The pair will meet after Sunday's final Premier League fixture with Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.

The alarming slump in results and performances since Liverpool finished second a year ago has ensured all aspects of the club's operation will be under scrutiny, from the recruitment and scouting, through to player and coaching performance.

FSG, the company that owns the club, expects a forensic examination of why standards have slipped so much.

There is some sympathy for many of the reasons Rodgers has stated publicly as a cause of his team's failure to qualify for the Champions League, not least the loss of Luis Suarez and injuries to Daniel Sturridge. The lack of goalscoring threat has upset the balance of the team and led to numerous changes of formation.

There is also an acceptance that the multiple signings of last summer needed time to adjust. Some have shown promise but the majority made minimal contribution despite an investment of £110m (€152.8m) in the squad a year ago.

However, while this is seen as partially responsible for the team being in fifth position - defeat to Stoke this weekend may mean they finish even lower - there is also a recognition that the overall standards of performance should have been better.

Liverpool failed in high-profile games this season against Chelsea, Arsenal and - most significantly for their top-four hopes - Manchester United. It was a similar story in the Champions League, Liverpool's brief return ending in humiliation after chastening defeats by Real Madrid and Basel.

The FA Cup semi-final defeat by Aston Villa was another major setback, ending the last chance of winning a trophy.

Since the loss at Wembley there have been abject displays against Hull City and Crystal Palace when the side were outplayed and deservedly beaten.

The loss to relegation-threatened Hull on April 28 was especially disturbing as a top-four place was still at stake at that stage. Instead United were able to claim the last Champions League spot without any serious pressure.

It is these latter performances that Rodgers may find most difficult to explain.

Rodgers has stated publicly that he believes his squad lack quality and experience, but Liverpool have always insisted they take a collective approach to identifying and recruiting targets.

The manager is as influential as other members of the much-publicised transfer committee, even if he does not have sole control of transfers. Despite that, there have been accountability issues regarding transfer activity since Rodgers' first weeks in charge, with several players arriving who were either sidelined or not used because the manager was evidently not impressed.

While numerous issues need to be resolved, Liverpool's plans ahead of next season are based on the premise of Rodgers continuing to execute the long-term plan.

He has been integral to the pursuit of Danny Ings and James Milner, who are expected to sign from Burnley and Manchester City respectively, and his face-to-face meeting with Lille's Divock Origi last summer convinced the Belgian striker to choose Liverpool ahead of Tottenham in a £10m deal.

Rodgers has also tried to intervene personally in efforts to convince Raheem Sterling to commit his future to Liverpool, albeit unsuccessfully given recent developments. There is still some hope Rodgers' relationship with the player will douse the controversy in the event of the winger staying at the club next season.

Liverpool's erratic campaign is further evidence of how rapidly fortunes change in football as last year's end-of-season review was held in much more optimistic circumstances.

In a joint statement 12 months ago, FSG expressed their admiration for Rodgers' work and handed him a new contract, with the club having narrowly missed out on the Premier League.

"We are very fortunate to have a hugely talented individual leading our football performance and in whom we place our trust to deliver the vision we share for Liverpool," they said.

"Brendan is at the heart of what we, as an ownership group, are trying to achieve on the pitch.

"Players and supporters have made it clear how important Brendan is to our success and so to have him commit to us for the long term is a great boost for everyone going forward."

Many will point to a meeting between Sterling's agent, Aidy Ward, and Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre as the most significant of the summer.

But it's the meeting between Rodgers and Gordon which will determine whether the top four remain in view or fade beyond the horizon.

They both know something needs to change ahead of August, the question being whether the most pertinent issues relate to personnel, transfer policy, the club's structure or - as is most likely - a combination of all three.

In some respects, it is not the review of a depressing few months that should focus minds at Anfield, but the chastening preview of what is to come should they get their next major decisions wrong.

It says everything about the current situation that Sterling's itchy feet are the least of Liverpool's worries. Rather like their summit with agent Ward, at least the message is coming through that they are ready to confront a sobering reality.


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