Saturday 18 November 2017

Brendan Rodgers showing familiar signs of buckling under the pressure of Anfield's unique job

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

Chris Bascombe

There are times when you wonder if Stephen King’s novel ‘The Shining’ was inspired by an Anfield trip.

A caretaker is handed the keys to a grand institute and succumbs to neurosis and paranoia after seeing ghosts in every corridor. It looks like the timeline of the last five Liverpool managers.

Following the 3-2 win over Aston Villa, Brendan Rodgers suggested he is the victim of campaign to oust him - a conspiracy overseen by unnamed, shadowy forces. This script is written with a quill and has been recited almost word for word by some of his predecessors. One wonders if Rodgers found it hidden in a cobwebbed box buried under the floorboards of his office. The remarks evoked images of Gerard Houllier compiling lists of ex-Liverpool players in the media who, he felt, were not empathising with the peculiar demands upon him.

Rodgers will be mocked by some and have the sympathy of others given the pressure he is under. Whatever the merits or otherwise of his observations, the evidence is compelling: the idiosyncrasies of this particular job temporarily deprives intelligent, lucid managers of perspective.

The Northern Irishman is entitled to feel besieged by his perceived lack of support – and he is right that plenty didn’t like the cut of his jib when he was winning so they were never going to tolerate a poor run - but it makes no difference to his job security.

No Liverpool manager has ever been sacked for anything other than results. Never. This club hates sacking managers. Plenty like to say they were persecuted - over-exaggerating the impact of negative commentary - but that is just background noise, even if it is often screeching.

The ‘hysteria’ is fed by deterioration. Play well, win and no crowd deifies its boss like The Kop. Lose a lot and the effigy is danger of being burnt. The last Liverpool manager left after finishing 8th. The one before was sacked because the team was 12th in January. The one before finished 7th after four trophyless years.

The Liverpool manager most recently sacked for failing to win the title was Houllier in 2004. He qualified for the Champions League and it wasn’t good enough. That would not happen now. Fourth is like a new Eden. We should not be distracted by claims of 'unrealistic expectations' at Anfield and instead focus on the real source of the current critiques.

The ultimate ambition of Liverpool to win the Premier League and add to those five European Cups is extreme given the competition, but with the greatest respect the primary causes of disillusionment recently were a 1-0 defeat to a rancid Hull team; 3-1 home loss to Crystal Palace; 6-1 defeat at Stoke; 3-0 home defeat to West Ham; and the most limp FA Cup semi-final display in the club’s history against a poor Villa team.

Mitigating factors have been presented– and most importantly accepted by the club’s owners – but others aren’t convinced the last 16 months could not have been better.

If John W. Henry makes a change it will have nothing to do with the yahoos stalking him and his wife on Twitter, nor will he will he care for the thoughts of any ex-player or journalist. The Liverpool owner, like the FSG President Michael Gordon, is a stats man. It’s the numbers game that will decide Rodgers’ short-term and long-term fate.

Far more pertinent in Rodgers’ quest for safety is the return of the player capable of giving the data a polish.

In Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool possess a world class footballer. His two goals were a joy: clinical, beautiful and so reassuring for a team that can’t score more than once in a game without him.

For the last 45 minutes on Saturday, this was the Liverpool of two seasons ago - marvellous in attack and hopeless at the back, buckling under the mildest pressure. Aston Villa are terrible but scored twice. Because of that - if he really wanted to get this off his chest - it might have been wiser for the manager to pause until after next weekend’s Merseyside derby before picking up the axe and swinging at those spooking him.

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