Brendan Rodgers began preseason training with his Liverpool team this week, but it wasn’t so long ago that he was expected to lose his job. I’ve taken a look at why this was and why I think the clubs owners were right to stand by their man.
If you remember back to the final day of the season, Brendan Rodgers arrived at the Britannia Stadium having already endured a difficult year. The previous summers dealings had seen the talismanic Luis Suarez leave with the meme-tastic Mario Balotelli and catastrophic Dejan Lovren return in his place, predictably leading to an underwhelming start. Defeats to West Ham, Crystal Palace, and Aston Villa graphically illustrated the transformation that had occurred since the season before – the goal crazy party of 2013-14 gone, a particularly inhibiting hangover taking over in its place.
Things didn’t turn out much cheerier on the continent either. Liverpool FC’s much awaited return to the Champions League lasted a grand total of six games, including just one win at home to Ludogoretz Razgrad and a particularly humbling hammering at the hands of Real Madrid.
There was a brief reprise in form over Christmas. By introducing a 3-4-3 formation that can only have been preceded by the thought ‘how many midfielders can you fit on a football pitch?’ (eight, apparently), the team looked to have regained the liquid movement that served them so well the season before. A run of victories, including an impressive display against Manchester City, ran the team to the verge of the top-four Premier League places.
That form however, didn’t last. A hammering away at Arsenal was followed by a home defeat to the old enemy, Manchester United. Follow that again with one of the worst performances the football club have ever produced in an FA cup semi final, and you can imagine there being quite a lot of pressure for the manager to contend with.
To put it simply, this was not the ideal time for Liverpool FC to lose 6-1 to Stoke City, and yet ‘The Brodge’ (a name Noel Gallagher coined) survived.
Financial needs of league champions
To understand how requires a brief understanding of the current economics of the Premier League. Liverpool, despite being the second most successful club in England and joint third most successful club in Europe, currently have only the fifth largest spending power in the Premier League. So what? As Paul Tomkins, a football writer who’s put a lot of research into Premier League spending, details in great length here, spending is everything and ultimately determines where a team finishes in the league.
Paraphrasing from that piece, since 2004 the average cost the title winning first XI has been over £300 million. On the two occasions since then that Liverpool have come close to winning the league, their first team cost has been £142 and £143 million – miles off where it needed to be to get over the line.
With that in mind, it might be obvious to say that Liverpool need to spend more in order to win the Premier League. However, the rules of financial fair play mean that teams aren’t allowed to just throw more money into their team without raising it in ways such as raising ticket prices or increasing stadium capacity – the former being something Liverpool can’t really justify and the latter something that will take a number of years, and a lot of money itself, to achieve.
So what can Liverpool do?
In my opinion, until Anfield is expanded, the only way forward is to be a little bit mad.
For Liverpool to compete against the top teams, they need to steal a yard wherever they can. That can be in terms of transfers, tactics, anything.
With transfers, Liverpool are already running a policy of buying young talent on lower wages with the expectation that after a few seasons they could have a world beater on their hands – that they will have secured for a fraction of the price. This is where Brendan Rodgers returns to the fore.
Having already ushered talents such as Raheem Sterling, John Flanagan, Emre Can, and Jordan Ibe into the first team, Rodgers is an expert at nurturing talent. Raheem Sterling now commands a transfer fee of around £50 million thanks to the coaching of Rodgers, and if Liverpool is going to continue buying players at 18-20 years of age they will need him more than any other manager.
One of the main criticisms of Rodgers is that he hasn’t won enough trophies and doesn’t have the experience to manage Liverpool. Given the economic circumstances I listed and the transfer plan being employed, could experienced managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti perform any better in this situation?
In terms of tactics, Rodgers is definitely a front foot manager. On the title run in of 2014, the team fluctuated around 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 diamond with every game. Players swapped flanks, found new positions, the opposition never really knew what to expect. This of course doesn’t always work so well. During the aforementioned FA cup semi final defeat the team tried around three different formations before half time and ended up playing an absolute train wreck of a game, but in my opinion this is the risk the club have to take.
Liverpool could play it safe, play like everyone else and finish somewhere around fifth every season, but where’s the fun in that? If Liverpool want to win the league they need to risk finishing seventh, use young players who could be equally as brilliant as they are inexperienced, and play them in formations that on first inspection make no sense. That’s just the risk they have to take. If that means employing a manager that can be confused with comedy character David Brent, so be it.
All hail The Brodge.