Thursday 21 November 2019

Dion Fanning: Brendan Rodgers undone by harsh truth that saying it doesn't make it so

'Rodgers may be a manager who can only bear so much reality'
'Rodgers may be a manager who can only bear so much reality'

Dion Fanning

If, as seems certain, Brendan Rodgers: The Musical is written one day, there will be no problem finding song titles which tell this improbable tale. 'Death by Football', 'You Can Live Without Water (But You Can't Live Without Hope)', 'The Magic Carpet Ride' and 'You Only Train Dogs' will be among the tunes that outline our hero's story with some of the brio, poetry and energy he has brought to his career.

The show will end with the emotional finale, the torch song delivered under a single spotlight on a darkened stage. 'We're All on a Pilgrimage (Here on Earth)', the actor playing Brendan Rodgers will sing, although who could play Brendan Rodgers better than Brendan Rodgers?

But in this musical what will Rodgers' 'I Want' song be? 'Tonight' in West Side Story and 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly' are two classic examples of this genre where a main character lays out all their hopes and desires. It appears that Brendan Rodgers is running out of time at Liverpool and still it is easy to wonder who he is and, more importantly, what does he want?

Certainly, he is not like other football men. It is unfortunate that the debate about style versus success in football came at a time when Rodgers was otherwise engaged because he would surely have made a spectacular contribution to that subject.

He is not Jose Mourinho, we know that, nor is he Pep Guardiola, coiled tight with neuroses and in pursuit of art seemingly in order to prevent him toppling into a world of despair.

After Liverpool's implosion in the Premier League last season and their exit from the Champions League in this, Rodgers exuded all the despair of a man who has popped in to the supermarket for some supplies on the way home but notes with irritation that they're out of semi-skimmed milk.

He pointed out in January that he had to make an 'intervention' after Liverpool lost to Crystal Palace in November, happy that this would be considered the turning point in the season. During this period of bold reinvention - when Rodgers went away to dream it all up again - Liverpool drew with Ludogorets and Basel as they casually exited a competition which it had meant so much to qualify for.

In January as he considered the unstoppable progress of Liverpool, Rodgers spoke optimistically of what was ahead, not just today, not just tomorrow but in a few months. "The reality was, with so many changes, we were not going to win the league this season. I believe we will be ready to challenge for the title next year."

Soon sources close to Brendan Rodgers were providing tremendous insight into the workings of Brendan Rodgers as he was praised for the tactical restructuring which was allowing Liverpool to challenge for their minimum requirement: a top four place.

Last week, he talked about a title challenge again but the time-frame had become a little more vague as Rodgers assumed one of his familiar positions and anticipated how different things would be once Liverpool had made some marquee signings, forgetting that this season began with high hopes as well.

Rodgers exists best in the abstract, when he is painting some beautiful picture of what is to come, ideally some time in the future. His team reflects this. They are strong when they are freed from the burdens of the day-to-day demands of football and weakest when they face a team they have to beat, when reality is bearing down on them.

Rodgers may be a manager who can only bear so much reality. This would explain the desire to find an abstract world where everything is better or, at least, different.

In that world, results don't matter and Liverpool can be considered excellent after a scoreless draw at West Brom. In that world, players don't remember when their manager said they lacked courage.

If Liverpool can improve on Rodgers by appointing Jurgen Klopp then there is no reason to wait for further disintegration under a manager who began the season insisting that Liverpool would be stronger not weaker without Luis Suarez and is reaching the end muttering about injuries and the goals that were taken out of his side, ignoring that more than £100m was spent trying to replace those goals.

There will be some who say that Liverpool simply need to sign better players as if it were that simple, as if clubs haven't always risen or fallen depending on the quality of their recruitment. Others suggest Liverpool's transfer committee should be disbanded and Rodgers allowed to sign players on his own, even if Fabio Borini, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana would appear to be convincing rebuttals of that argument.

Rodgers could feel aggrieved if he was sacked this summer and the transfer committee wasn't dismantled as well. Presumably they have had access to all data so the failure has been a human failure and you can't make people better judges of footballers any more than you can turn Mario Balotelli into Luis Suarez.

Balotelli is not the reason Liverpool have failed this season but the signing of Balotelli is the strongest indication of why they have failed, combining as it does the flawed judgment which identified him as a player worth buying, the weakness of Rodgers in refusing to veto it and the hubris of the manager in believing he could change him.

In the moments after Liverpool beat Spurs in August, Rodgers was at his most magnificent, talking about how he had brought great change to Balotelli by treating Balotelli like a man and giving him responsibility. He was going to succeed where others had failed but, when he failed, it was the fault of others he hadn't succeeded.

Liverpool's structure has created this political climate, this sense that it is not a football club but a bureaucracy where nobody wants to be held accountable and everybody wants a share of the praise even if there is little or nothing to praise.

Perhaps the great man theory of history wouldn't work either but the weak and self-aggrandising man theory has failed too. Liverpool are at par, Rodgers says, and maybe Rodgers - like so many of his players - is average too, a good man unable to achieve great things, no matter how much his rhetoric tries to make it so.

If Rodgers stays at Liverpool, there may be moments of optimism once more. With Rodgers, there will always be glad confident morning again. Maybe he can dream it all up again but what will his dreams be the next time round?

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