Friday 20 April 2018

'An unreasonable man is now needed at Liverpool - Jurgen Klopp can offer a fix'

Rodgers lacks the force of personality to change Liverpool owners' ways, but Klopp can offer a fix

‘Sooner or later, FSG will have to look to the world after Brendan Rodgers and that is where there are more concerns for Liverpool’
‘Sooner or later, FSG will have to look to the world after Brendan Rodgers and that is where there are more concerns for Liverpool’

Dion Fanning

When New England Sports Ventures became owners of Liverpool in 2010, they didn't have to do much to be greeted as saviours. Liverpool had been on the precipice, doomed by its debt and the toxic unpopularity of then-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

As the contracts were signed in the London offices of Slaughter and May, the principal shareholder of NESV, John W Henry, announced, "We're here to win and we'll do whatever is necessary".

The following year, NESV would become FSG and by then Henry would have elaborated on what kind of club the Liverpool his group owned would become. By then, it was possible to admire FSG for more than simply not being Hicks and Gillett. Under their ownership, Liverpool would maximise commercial revenue, but their aim was to win, they admired the business model of Arsenal and they felt UEFA's financial fair play regulations had to be strictly enforced.

After the deadening reign of Hicks and Gillett, everything FSG talked about had a shine that, in some ways, made them seem more desirable owners than if Liverpool had been bought by a petro-billionaire. John Henry was smart and engaged. He met with supporters' groups and listened to the right people. Liverpool would be intelligent, modern and efficient. In 2012, the appointment of Brendan Rodgers was in keeping with FSG's vision for the club.

Before Rodgers, they had hired Damien Comolli as a director of football, but he had been dismissed earlier in 2012 and Kenny Dalglish lost his job that summer. The initial plan was that there would be another director of football working with Rodgers, but then that plan changed and the plans have kept changing ever since.

In the five years that have followed FSG's purchase of the club, Liverpool have won a League Cup. They had one magical title challenge and a brief return to the Champions League. The one trait they share with Arsenal is stasis - although it has been achieved in a very different way - and financial fair play has been weakened, not strengthened.

‘Sooner or later, FSG will have to look to the world after Brendan Rodgers and that is where there are more concerns for Liverpool’
‘Sooner or later, FSG will have to look to the world after Brendan Rodgers and that is where there are more concerns for Liverpool’

Read more: Brendan Rodgers: There is a group of people that don't want me as Liverpool manager

Henry is not as engaged these days and Mike Gordon, FSG's president, is the most central figure and a member of the hapless transfer committee.

Last week, Alastair Campbell was asked by the BBC to talk about crisis management in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal. Campbell knows about crisis management, although some would say he caused a few himself. He said the key thing an organisation can do when in a crisis is "get to the worst point you think you're going to reach before you get pushed there".

In the summer, FSG had an opportunity to dismiss Rodgers before they reached the worst point. If a manager like Jurgen Klopp was available, he would be worth pursuing and it would be better to do it in the summer than to wait. It would be ruthless - after all, Rodgers had led the team to second place the year before - but it would have been better than doing nothing or what passes for it.

Instead, Rodgers' coaches Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh were dismissed and the club went looking for proven Premier League players, something which many felt Brendan Rodgers wanted.

Liverpool are now heading towards the worst point, with many doing the pushing. Despite yesterday's victory when they attacked and defended as if it was the spring of 2014 again, Liverpool will always be one poor result away from toppling towards the worst point with many doing the pushing.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claims the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford last season was the best of his career.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claims the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford last season was the best of his career.

Read more: Comment: Crisis not over yet for Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers has been under pressure this season since Liverpool lost to West Ham on August 29. It was Liverpool's first defeat of the season but they followed it up after the international break with an anaemic loss at Old Trafford. For a crisis to arrive so quickly was a direct consequence of FSG's failures.

Sooner or later, FSG will have to look to the world after Rodgers and that is where there are more concerns for Liverpool.

It's hard to know what FSG stand for any more beyond selling Liverpool's best player every summer. It is easy to see what they don't stand for if the authoritative reports suggesting they have been advised to stay away from Klopp are correct.

FSG appear to believe their model is working. They have tweaked another corporate slogan and made it their own - if it's broke, don't fix it. They want a manager who will work within their existing structures, even if those structures have failed, no matter how they try and tweak them. The transfer committee signed nine players in 2014, including Lazar Markovic for £20m, as they tried to plan for a post-Luis Suarez world. These were players who were young and whose value would improve in keeping with the FSG strategy.

Few of them have made much impact, so in the summer of 2015, they would alter the policy slightly, but the recruitment would continue as Liverpool brought in seven more first-team players. Arsene Wenger made a remark a couple of weeks ago which FSG might have noticed if they were still paying attention to Arsenal.

"In the end, you do not buy to give hope, you want to buy because the players who come in can help your squad to be stronger. Buying and selling is one way to strengthen your team, but that's not the only way."

Read more: Brendan Rodgers’ five biggest blunders as Liverpool boss

Wenger has taken his approach to the other extreme, but FSG would have known from their knowledge of Billy Beane what he was talking about. "You can always recover from the player you didn't sign," Beane is quoted in Moneyball. "You may never recover from the player you signed at the wrong price."

Liverpool didn't want to risk this type of recovery, so they tried again. Some fans celebrated the arrival of Roberto Firmino this summer like they had previously hailed the arrival of Luis Alberto, Joe Cole and Harry Kewell. They had hope, but hope comes at a price, especially when it is doomed.

This high turnover of players has ensured it is hard to establish what Liverpool are supposed to be on the field. Rodgers can demand patience when he has been in the job three years and, unlike Gerrard Houllier, who was said to be on year six of a five-year plan, he is perpetually on year one, ripping it up and starting again, saying the new players will need time to settle when the one thing Liverpool couldn't afford this season was a slow start.

This high turnover also removes one of the more sensible reasons for not dismissing a manager: the fact that a new man will want to sign his own players and get rid of those already at the club. Whoever is at Anfield next summer will probably decide to get rid of Adam Lallana and a few others anyway. Far better if it is Klopp rather than Rodgers and the transfer committee.

Klopp, however, may be shunned. He is exactly the kind of disruptive force Liverpool need, but they may prefer Carlo Ancelotti, who has many talents, among them a gift for managing upwards. Like Sven-Goran Eriksson, he has always had a talent for rubbing along with the super-rich, whether they own the club or play for it. How he rubs along with Dejan Lovren may be more of a test for him.

Read more: Rodgers wants to manage Liverpool for the 'next 20 years'

Ancelotti has an outstanding record, but it is hard to know if he would be the manager Liverpool need right now. When they appointed Rodgers, FSG went for the collegiate model; they had a reasonable man who would sit through the committee meetings. Rodgers might have been unhappy with some of the decisions taken, but he lacked the force of personality to change FSG's approach.

Liverpool will move on from Rodgers eventually and when they do, they need an unreasonable man who will remind them they need to do whatever is necessary to win.

They need a manager like Jurgen Klopp who will tell them it's broke and needs fixing.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport