Thursday 22 March 2018

Liverpool's 'committee' has haunted the club - Rodgers' successor must read the script, not re-write it

Liverpool made mistakes in the transfer window, but Brendan Rodgers's constant re-evaluation left club and fans confused about its direction

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

Chris Bascombe

We will come to see Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool reign an exercise in retreating from a vision.

He arrived with an evangelical zeal, preaching the gospel of pass and move football and promising a benevolent despotism from the dug-out. He evolved into a coach embracing compromise, adjusting to ever shifting sands and ultimately undone by a muddled pragmatism and the committee approach he said he’d resist on his arrival.

Rodgers familiarised, thrived and then wilted. He departs a club which must ask itself if changing the manager really solves their problems or does little more than present them to someone else.

We should head back to July 2012 and Rodgers’ first day in office and identify the signs the ‘perfect fit’ was never what it seemed.

Rodgers sat in Anfield’s trophy room and with his customary confidence informed the world he would not have joined Liverpool without full authority over transfer policy.

"I am better when I have control,” he said.

Brendan Rodgers hit the peak of his Liverpool career in 2013-14
Brendan Rodgers hit the peak of his Liverpool career in 2013-14

“I need to feel that I can manage the team and have a direct clear line through to the owners. Once that becomes hazy, for me there is a problem.”

As Rodgers spoke, a long-since sacked member of the Communications Team shuffled uncomfortably at the back of the room, scrawled through the contacts on his smart phone and informed whoever he deemed important enough the new Liverpool manager’s comments should not be taken too seriously.

Read more: Kevin Palmer: Brendan Rodgers' reign was doomed once he became a figure of derision

There would, in fact, be a ‘continental’ approach to recruitment. He even came up with a word to describe it – a ‘committee’.

Liverpool have been haunted by this ever since. They have come to hate the word and the way it is spat at them.

Every major European club has chief scouts, heads of recruitment, chief executives and managers working together, but none of the others give it such a grand and stupid title.

Time has run out for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool
Time has run out for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool

All it has done is create confusion when trying to establish where accountability truly rests at Anfield, particularly on transfer policy.

The club's loss of faith in Rodgers is not solely about recruitment, though.

The theme of re-evaluation has been continuous ever since the Northern Irishman presented his 180 page dossier to Fenway Sports Group, most regularly in buying and selling but also through tactics, man-management and even the manager’s later dealings with the media.

Everything, though, was subject to change.

Brendan Rodgers was sacked by Liverpool in the hours after Sunday's 1-1 Merseyside derby draw
Brendan Rodgers was sacked by Liverpool in the hours after Sunday's 1-1 Merseyside derby draw

Players he didn’t fancy at first would be re-established and eventually sign new contracts. Players he initially adored were ostracised. Star players left speaking well of him, but then six months later it became clear poor communication contributed to their exits, raising suspicions Rodgers quite liked the idea of a dressing room without forceful personalities.

Read more: 'Next five games crucial' - Ray Houghton wants Carlo Ancelotti in for daunting fixture list

He never had the squad he wanted to play the 4-3-3 he craved, every attempt to establish his ‘philosophy’ eventually abandoned – most recently four games into this season. By the end even the passing game was lost amid the theory.

There were times Rodgers admitted he was not being true to himself searching for the wins over the style. He might admit one day he lost his way, partially due to circumstances but also because when you appoint a 39-year-old to be Liverpool manager he is bound to make mistakes.

For all the sympathy we cannot escape the reality Rodgers is as much to blame for the failings of the last 16 months as anyone. Ultimately, his position shifted from a coach capable of improving players to one who needed the ‘tools’ – his euphemism for top class players – to be successful.

That’s not what it said in that brochure. He was the guy who'd create world-class stars rather than pursue them.

But when Rodgers eventually speaks about his Anfield experience he will consider how the parameters were constantly changing. How he had to deal with the loss of so many top players – Jamie Carragher, Luis Suárez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling – and was delivered inadequate replacements whose scouting reports look like they were given several polishes and put through a statistical spin before landing on his desk.

Those who never liked Rodgers – and there were plenty even when he was a freakish slip away from winning the club’s first title in 24 years – always dismiss the structural issues as an excuse in the event of an emergency.

He brought many of the problems on himself with poor decisions. Had his first two signings, Joe Allen (a player he fought so hard for he’d have immediately quit had he not been signed) and Fabio Borini been worth £25 million he would have had more sympathy when later asking for Ashley Williams and Ryan Bertrand instead of Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno. It has also been pointed out, justifiably, he’d have had Daniel Sturridge six months earlier had he not wasted time trying to swap Jordan Henderson for Clint Dempsey in the summer of 2012.

Read more: What the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said just minutes before getting sacked

Rodgers leaves knowing results would not have deteriorated had Sturridge stayed fit, but critics point out he was once reluctant to sign him. That is true, but given Sturridge’s appearance record those initial concerns were not wholly unjustified, either.

Rodgers paid the ultimate price for his poor decision making

For all this we must never forget how close he came to history.

When the tactical shift worked in the 2013-14 season, it was joyous. Sturridge and Luis Suárez combined to play the most exciting football since Kenny Dalglish’s title winners of 1988.

It was flawed, and the defensive errors that ultimately cost them were as much a trend as Suárez’s brilliance, but it was thrilling.

“He’s lucky to have Suárez,” said the cynics. Of course he was, but so was Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool had finished eighth, and then seventh in Rodgers’ first year. There was more to it as Liverpool backed themselves to outscore everyone they played in a 10-match winning streak until that fateful afternoon against Chelsea.

The trouble was they didn’t win and ‘nearly’ qualifies as a mere footnote in Anfield history, regardless of the context and circumstances.

Suárez’s world-class performance camouflaged the underlying issues with transfer strategy, team shape and defensive ineptitude. Since his sale to Barcelona, those arguing the Uruguayan was the principle architect of the title bid have found more nodding in agreement.

The signings since represent corporate negligence. Rodgers championed the pursuit of Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, neither of whom were worth a quarter of their fee. Other committee members showed him the scout reports for Emre Can and said Liverpool had found a replacement for Gerrard. The Liverpool captain would be eased out with clumsiness, leaving behind a club bereft of his wisdom.

Read more: Brendan Rodgers a ‘Steven Gerrard slip away from legendary status’

It is extraordinary the likes of Gerrard and Jamie Carragher – embodiments of everything the modern Liverpool should be – are not on the payroll. There are so many deeply unimpressive figures working behind the scenes at major football clubs these days. You’re not entirely sure they’re aware these great institutions once had a soul, let alone have any capacity to acquaint themselves with it.

“With great power comes limited accountability,” could become the club motto across the Premier League.

Nothing summed up the shambles at Anfield more than Mario Balotelli. Liverpool failed to sign Alexis Sánchez and ended up with the Italian, one of the most fateful concessions by Rodgers.

Two weeks before Balotelli signed Rodgers pulled aside reporters on the US pre-season tour and stated in the most emphatic terms the Italian was ‘the one player in the world you can guarantee I won’t go near’. When it became clear it was Mario or no-one, he convinced himself he could succeed where Jose Mourinho and Roberto Mancini failed. He over-estimated his capacities.

The end would be slow and painful over 16 months.

Liverpool’s Champions League return was a disgusting no-show, and internal mistrust became more apparent. Those who convinced FSG to invest heavily on potential complained the young players were not being given a chance. Rodgers felt they were not at the required level. He accommodated some of them with a change of formation and there was some improvement for a while, but the lack of goalscorer could not be sustained.

Rodgers survived a torrid season in 2014-15 because John W. Henry – who with 40 per cent is still the ultimate power regardless of the political posturing beneath him – accepted the view of his President Mike Gordon the mitigating circumstances were harsh on the manager. Rodgers pleaded for more of the players he’d identified and less of those he was being urged to sign.

Last summer’s transfer activity reflected that, Christian Benteke in particularly signed with some unease by FSG for a huge fee and significant salary. Rodgers again made a clumsy concession – dumping his coaching staff – but obvious outstanding and available candidates to improve his backroom team were ignored.

Read more: ‘Any jobs going at Tesco?’ – The best tweets from the Brendan Rodgers parody Twitter account

After 11 games, despite another vast outlay funded by the sale of Raheem Sterling, Liverpool were still wholly dependent on Sturridge. An insipid performance at Old Trafford empowered those within FSG who felt they’d blundered retaining the manager. The world-class coaches on the market offered an opportunity they had to explore. Instead of appointing a Jürgen Klopp type of manager they could now go for the real one.

So Rodgers goes. Ignore any commentaries backing conspiracy theories and hysteria so soon into a new season. No knees are jerking at Anfied. This is a decision first considered after a poor Champions League campaign, revisited after a home loss to Manchester United last March and semi-final defeat to a dreadful Aston Villa team, and then reassessed when Liverpool lost 6-1 to Stoke. Previous Liverpool managers would have gone then, so Rodgers benefited from the patience and goodwill of his board. A poor start was always likely to finish him off.

We’ll have another unveiling soon, but the new manager will discover similar issues. The next incumbent would be wise to stay on the same page as everyone else at Anfield rather than constantly revise 180 of his own.

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