Within the last four years Liverpool have had four different managers; a fact you would never have before associated with a club which has prided itself on being patient and allowing managers time. A mantra synonymous with ‘The Liverpool Way’.
However it would be naive to not look past the surface of this fact and the events that have surrounded this famous club over recent years. Up until October 2010, the football club’s foundations were being crumbled by its owners. The abject failure of their pledge for a new stadium, endless loans which threatened the club with bankruptcy and not to mention the poor handling of on-field matters through financial backing and undermining of manager Rafael Benitez left Liverpool fans angered, but helpless, and for once their attention was off the pitch as much as it was on it. The club descended into a revolving door with Benitez exiting, Hodgson coming in, and only a few months later George Gillett and Tom Hicks’ – memorable for the wrong reasons – reign ended, and with that so did Hodgson’s. Liverpool were now being controlled by John Henry’s Fenway sports venture; cue the return of the King!
Kenny Dalglish’s main remit was to return stability to a club divided at its heart and it was a job he essentially completed as soon as he stepped through the Melwood doors. But now focus was back on the field and although performances in his first six months in charge were enough to earn him a three-year contract, a poor last season ending in a 8th place finish meant even the King was not immune.
Liverpool fans have always been regarded as knowledgable and realistic but even they are posed with the nigh on impossible task of predicting how their team will perform this coming year under yet another new manager in ex-Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers. They have seen their team fluctuate between title winning and relegation form almost every six months leaving them in limbo on how the new season will shape up for them. But is this fluctuation the fault of the players, the manager, or both?
In Benitez’ last successful year as manager the club finished 2nd behind Manchester United, with a spine consisting of Reina, Carragher, Agger, Alonso, Mascherano, Gerrard and Torres. Presently: Reina, Skrtel, Agger, Lucas, Adam, Gerrard and Suarez. It is hazardous to jump to the conclusion that the first list completely outdoes the second. For one, three players remain from the first list and albeit Gerrard is not near the class he was in 2005 through to 2008, he is still one of the best midfielders around justified by his performances at this summer’s Euros. Furthermore Skrtel and Lucas have become central figures in this Liverpool side and and are finally getting recognition from those outside the club. The partnership between Skrtel and Agger has left the cramp stricken hero of Istanbul Jamie Carragher sat watching from the bench, whilst Lucas won player of the season in 2010/11 and was on course to do so last season before his horrific injury. And now Liverpool have a true edge of your seat striker in Luis Suarez with the ability to create something out of nothing, even if his finishing is a bit rushed at times. Thus bar the exceptional Xabi Alonso, the spine of this present Liverpool team is not severely weaker than its predecessor.
On paper then it should it be easy for Liverpool fans to be optimistic. They have a keeper comfortably in the top three in the league, a central defensive partnership that rivals any in the league, the countries outstanding performer at Euro 2012 as captain and a striker that no defender relishes playing against. Then why are Liverpool fans more cautious than ever?
This is where the experiences of those previous four years become apparent. The evident lack of investment by Hicks and Gillett after the successful 2008/9 season when they had hoped to push on, meant them watching as their rivals strengthened leaving Benitez furious. Moreover the sounding out of Jurgen Klinsmann as a replacement as the season was still in play most certainly filtered down through the club and had an adverse effect on the pitch. Not to mention the departure of Xabi Alonso which cannot be underestimated.
But the manner in which Roy Hodgson, then manager and figurehead, carelessly abandoned the long held principles of the club was incredibly hard for fans to stomach. Openly criticising players (Glen Johnson), defensive tactics sucking the spirit from the team; lack of support for Fernando Torres to accusations of diving by Mr Ferguson; constantly expounding the details of his illustrious career of consistent mediocrity, not to mention criticising the support of the fans themselves.
This Liverpool team didn’t lack quality, but lacked the management through which its quality could be channelled, evident in the dramatic upturn in performances and fortunes when Dalglish replaced Hodgson mid-season.
However, the following season saw this new found upturn in performances and optimism dashed as they slumped to a meager 8th place finish, leading Liverpool full circle and back to the drawing board once again it would seem. But is it that simple?
We are talking about a team who reached two domestic cup finals, winning one; a feat which meant they had to beat the best the league had to offer. Sides who which Liverpool’s league form against was no way poor and in most cases, notably at home against United, City and Arsenal, they were unlucky not to take maximum points. This was a story which became all so familiar when teams visited L4 as the home side dominated most games but failed at the most important stat whilst opposition goalkeepers had blinders and the woodwork seemed to grow an extra few inches. The team itself also lacked continuity with Lucas’ season stopped in its tracks before christmas, Gerrard’s and Johnson’s being stop start with injuries, as well the amount of new players needing to bed-in and the Luis Suarez affair not helping matters to name a few. As a result it was clear the team that Dalglish had was always going to be better at the one-off cup games when key players were available compared to a week to week basis where frequently forced changes meant they faltered.
Compare that current Liverpool spine to the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal and there is little and far between. Therefore a more pressing issue for Liverpool Football Club and the root issue of why many fans of the club are left pondering what the season ahead has in store is not the lack of faith in the players but instead uncertainty over whether the right environment can be installed for those players to succeed whether it be through managerial skills or simply luck with injuries. In Rodgers Liverpool have a manager whose philosophy is a throw back to the club in the 80s when quick pass and move possession football was high on the agenda. An ideology one would assume would allow the likes of Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, two players who suffered poor seasons, to flourish, but on the other hand where do the likes of Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam fit in? Carroll experienced his best form as a Liverpool player in the tail end of last season but even now he is being touted in a possible loan move away from the club, providing evidence that Rodgers is insistent of stamping his ideas on the club rather than trying to devise the best formula for the players he has. An arrogance that although exciting or worrying, depending on how you view it, risks alienating certain players.
It is therefore an almost impossible and so far unanswered question as to what we can expect from Liverpool this upcoming season. They have the spine, but do they have the manager? Thus whatever complimenting words are said or written about Rogers, only time will tell if he can finally take Liverpool gradually but steadily back to ‘The Liverpool Way’