Monday 20 November 2017

New-look bootroom for Liverpool but buck stops with Brendan Rodgers

Sean O’Driscoll and Brendan Rodgers in conversation at Liverpool’s Melwood training centre yesterday
Sean O’Driscoll and Brendan Rodgers in conversation at Liverpool’s Melwood training centre yesterday

Chris Bascombe

The surest way to make an assistant manager appear the most important figure at your club is to sack him.

A number two never seems more vital than on the day he leaves - a fact Liverpool have discovered since it was announced earlier this summer Colin Pascoe was exiting Anfield.

Pascoe is a genuine, decent guy, who for five seasons was a loyal lieutenant of Brendan Rodgers. He arrived at Anfield with Rodgers from Swansea City where he evidently helped the Northern Irishman assimilate into the Welsh club (and the city) with some success.

Whenever a manager is appointed, they tend to bring with them someone they trust implicitly - the eyes and ears around an unfamiliar training ground - so Pascoe followed Rodgers to Anfield.

His role was always one of deference to his boss, a low key assistant who was uncomfortable on those occasions he was thrust into the public eye, which tended to be when press conference duties were required in the early stages of the League Cup.

That is not to demean Pascoe's contribution, but on the day both he and first team coach Mike Marsh left Liverpool their status was elevated to a level they were never afforded while still in the job.

That can only be attributed to the timing of their departure, coming as it did after a season review which determined the best way to get the best out of the manager and players was to improve the standard of the support staff.

"Thrown under a bus," has been the recurring phrase to assess the dismissals, Pascoe and Marsh cast in the role of convenient scapegoats for a dreadful campaign.

It does not fit the conspiratorial argument that a change in the coaching staff had been under consideration long before the season review.

It's a cute notion that during the course of May's two-hour meeting with Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon and chairman Tom Werner, Rodgers unveiled a masterplan to ditch his pal Pascoe and not renew Marsh's contract.

The reality is somewhat less opportunistic. Indeed, the first tentative discussion regarding the addition of a more experienced coach was 12 months ago - after Liverpool finished second - when former Manchester United number two Rene Meulensteen was a genuine contender.

Rodgers was not keen then. He did not feel it necessary on the back of such an excellent campaign. Few argued with his rationale at the time, and Rodgers was clearly empowered on the back of his new contract.

Meulensteen would later wreck his chances of a fresh approach by publicly criticising Rodgers's lack of an experienced number two.

As Liverpool's troubles intensified last season the issue was revived, with increasing demands for more coaching expertise to be added. Calls for a defensive coach proved especially irksome to the manager but, after such a terrible run, something had to change.

The backroom question has now been dealt with as Sean O'Driscoll and the Liverpool Academy's highly thought of U-16 coach Pepijn Lijnders create a new dynamic.

The arrival of O'Driscoll and Lijnders does not signal a change in philosophy at Melwood, but there will certainly be a shift in methodology.


O'Driscoll's addition is significant because - like Rodgers - he is first and foremost a coach who has dedicated his career to ending the culture of 'kick-and-rush' overly physical football in the English game. That has been an especially tough gig in the lower leagues.

You don't recruit someone such as O'Driscoll to put out the cones or answer questions about which teenagers will play in the third round of the League Cup. He has been brought to Liverpool to coach and will take sessions of his own.

Equally, Lijnders - the 'first team development coach' - will be trusted with individual coaching sessions with players.

Rodgers has always been a hands-on, tracksuit manager who likes to get his boots dirty, so it is a departure for him to have such a highly qualified and experienced assistant.

That said, Rodgers needs his new look bootroom to yield instant results. He has been granted the kind of second chance his predecessors (and his outgoing backroom team) were denied after a poor season. And he knows if there is not a vast improvement immediately, next time the buck will not stop at the door of the assistant manager. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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