Sunday 9 December 2018

Dion Fanning: Liverpool's failure to sack Brendan Rodgers in the summer showed weakness

Everton manager Roberto Martinez and Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Everton manager Roberto Martinez and Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers has left Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers has been sacked by Liverpool

Dion Fanning

Last week Brendan Rodgers talked about the rebuilding process he was currently embarking on at Anfield.

He spoke with assurance as he attempted to usher this concept into the world. He spoke as if he was a manager who had taken over in the summer, not one who was entering his fourth season in the job.

Rodgers was a master of reinvention but FSG have decided they can’t wait for any more reinvention. “Although this has been a difficult decision, we believe it provides us with the best opportunity for success on the pitch,” Liverpool’s statement on Sunday said. “Ambition and winning are at the heart of what we want to bring to Liverpool and we believe this change gives us the best opportunity to deliver it.”

Liverpool, it turned out, weren’t prepared to rip it up and start again, something Rodgers seemed to think was necessary when the club decided to keep him in the summer.

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That decision to retain him was always misjudged, something his sacking confirms. Liverpool had drifted so much last season that, as long as Rodgers remained, it was never going to take much for them to enter a state of crisis or, more precisely, it was going to take a lot for them to leave a state of borderline despair. The failure to act ruthlessly in the summer, but instead to double down on the manager, dismiss his assistants and bring in another six players, was both a gamble and a sign of weakness.

The high turnover in players guaranteed that Liverpool would always be in the first year of some sort of rebuilding plan, heading bravely towards some bright future which was always just over the hill.

Rodgers has great gifts as a coach but he also possessed an ability to make football appear to be about something other than what it is about. Of course, managers need to have their philosophy and they must have a process but there must also be an urgency about winning and that was something lacking from Rodgers, even before he became Liverpool manager.

Instead things that weren’t outstanding became outstanding. Ordinary performances were described as something else and the ongoing failure to deal with defensive problems became some kind of curiosity that he could do nothing about, a failing that would have to be tolerated like leaving the toilet seat up or forgetting to put the bins out.

Rodgers has great talents as a coach and Steven Gerrard speaks highly of his man-management in his current autobiography but he was a manager, who more than anything, rode the wave.

In the season when Liverpool came thrillingly close to winning the title, Rodgers showed a gift for capitalising on the attacking talent at his disposal. The team was driven by the preternatural gifts of  Luis Suarez, a players whose influence on those around him cannot be overestimated.

Rodgers was able to display his coaching ability, his man-management gifts and his tendency towards flowery and meaningless rhetoric. He was seen as potentially one of the greats but there were also similarities with other managers like David O’Leary whose star had also shone brightly and briefly.

Liverpool’s football that season was crazy and unpredictable which made it even more thrilling. Perhaps another manager would have seen that there was a need to slow things down when they reached the game against Chelsea but perhaps another manager would not have been so daring as to ride the wave in the first place.

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This was his highest moment but, once Suarez left, it would never be glad confident morning again.

Or it would be but only through the rhetoric of the manager. Last season, Rodgers - or people close to Rodgers  - let it be know how he had toiled to overcome Liverpool’s early season problems and reinvented the side.

The articles which revealed this heartbreaking work of staggering genius appeared on the weekend when Liverpool played Manchester United, an occasion which now appeared to be billed as the final confirmation of Rodgers’ achievement. Instead Liverpool lost and they won only two more league games all season, reaching rock bottom on the final day with the 6-1 defeat at Stoke.

This season, some said Rodgers had set out to talk a little less. Yet whatever drove him to speak ended up causing more problems. Perhaps as a manager who had no playing pedigree of note he has always felt that if he did not push himself forward, nobody would. Those who know Rodgers well say he is a different man away from the cameras but when he was in front of them, he reached a point where he wasn’t helping himself.

What he said wouldn’t have mattered if Liverpool’s results had been better, some say, although his comments after the Aston Villa win last weekend when he spoke of ‘hysteria” and hinted at a conspiracy to remove him from the job managed to deflect attention from the victory. His statement that “If you give me the tools, I’ll do the work” might not have been well received by his employers.

While Rodgers remained, questions were going to be asked about FSG’s attitude to the club and the failure for them to reshape it as they once had envisaged. Their statement on Sunday talked about “ambition and winning” being at the heart of what they want to bring to Liverpool.

What they want to bring to Liverpool has become harder to discern. There are others who have failed alongside Rodgers and the way the club has been operating needs to be examined. Jurgen Klopp is the current favourite for the job and he would be the most challenging appointment but perhaps the best one.

Rodgers’ time will come again. He has been suggested by some as the next England manager. It would be a job that would suit his gifts but one where he would also need his talent for reinvention.

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