Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers fears Anfield club will not be able to attract top talents
Brendan Rodgers has admitted that he expects difficulty this summer in attracting elite talent to Liverpool after effectively conceding defeat in the race for the Champions League.
Saturday’s 4-1 defeat against Arsenal has left Liverpool seven points off fourth-placed Manchester City with only seven matches left.
Asked if the top four was now out of reach, Rodgers said: “I think so. I’m a realist. I think we needed to take something from Arsenal. I would not expect the others to slip up, particularly Arsenal or Manchester United. Add to that, the sort of growing number we’ve got unavailable, I think it will make it very, very difficult with only seven games to go.”
With Steven Gerrard compounding last summer’s loss of Luis Suárez by announcing that he will leave at the end of this season, the importance of keeping Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson has been magnified. Rodgers has spoken personally to Sterling since the BBC interview last week that caused such a furore over his future and has blamed the 20-year-old’s agent, Aidy Ward, for setting up the interview. Sterling was also told by Rodgers that he will not be going anywhere this summer.
The England winger has two years remaining on his contract but has so far refused the offer of a new deal worth around £100,000. Sterling says that his football development and not money is the main motivation in his decision and Rodgers is not expecting it to be easy for Liverpool to make major signings this summer. The club’s vast stature and history remain a selling point to some – Suárez and Philippe Coutinho were signed when the club were outside the Champions League – but Rodgers knows that the very best players want to measure themselves against Europe’s elite.
Liverpool have finished in the top four just once since 2009-10. Asked if it would be hard to convince top players to join a club outside of the Champions League, Rodgers said: “I think most players want to be in the Champions League. I think it’s also that Liverpool is a great club. It’s a phenomenal club that players want to play for. But, of course, players want to play at the top level of the game and if you’re not in the Champions League it makes it difficult for you. We know that.
“It’s more frustrating when it comes to progressing as a team. But we just have to continue to fight in order to be a stable club.”
In terms both of their revenues and wage structure, Liverpool are well behind Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. That disadvantage is only likely to be exaggerated if those four clubs do qualify for the Champions League, but Rodgers is still sure that his vision can again allow the club to challenge the very best.
“It’s going to be a little like this until we become more stable,” said Rodgers. “We’ve got young players who are growing, getting more experience and then hopefully there will be a period where we qualify again.
“For me, it’s about restoring Liverpool to the challenge. We want to be in the Champions League. We always felt this year was going to be difficult. We lost a world-class player and lots of other developments happened.” An added problem for Rodgers is again Mario Balotelli, who did not travel to Arsenal after complaining of a knee injury.
Liverpool now face a vital FA Cup replay on Wednesday night against Blackburn Rovers. They are already without Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Emre Can and Rodgers is unsure if Balotelli will be available.
He made it clear that Balotelli had not been ruled out of Saturday’s game by Liverpool’s medical staff.
“He trained with the team, had a slight knock Friday and felt he had to come out of the training,” he said. “He felt it was too sore to travel. The medical team looked at it but it was the decision of Mario.”
Coutinho believes that the FA Cup is now of huge importance. “Winning the cup would save our season,” he said. “It would be a successful season to finish fifth and win the cup, but we want to be in the Champions League. That is our primary objective.”
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is adamant that the players have not been affected by the uncertainty over Sterling’s future.
“That had no impact at all – as a player you just focus on yourself and the job in hand,” he said.