I think it’s fair to say that opinions have been split over Brendan Rodgers throughout his first year as manager of Liverpool Football Club.
I myself, as is my way, tried to be as optimistic as possible when he first arrived – and I put my thoughts on the matter into writing here.
I have naturally swayed in my opinion of Rodgers as his first season wore on, as have many fans, and I’ve rarely ventured off the fence one way or the other. I think there are positive signs that he is progressing well enough to have a fair crack of the whip at Liverpool, but this season is possibly going to provide the best indication of whether he is the right man or not.
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers brought with it a mixture of feelings. Firstly, saying goodbye to one of the biggest figures in our history was never going to be easy. I think it’s an understatement to say that the decision of FSG to get rid of Kenny Dalglish was an unpopular one however that is a different debate. Secondly, the perceived exclusion of Rafa Benitez from the managerial shortlist didn’t go down too well with many Liverpool fans. There was always a desire to see what Benitez could do under a less destructive ownership model – again a different debate – yet there was no contact from the club.
Lastly, and one of the biggest factors for me, was the standard of managerial candidates in the running.
There’s nothing that reinforces a fall from grace harder than seeing all of the top European managers instantly ruled out of contention on day one. It didn’t take long for the shortlist to be whittled down to Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez. Both underwhelmed in comparison to the Klopps and Guardiolas of world football – there’s no denying it – and the new reality of our football club was confirmed.
Add all of these factors together and Rodgers had a tough start to his Liverpool career. When he was appointed, I don’t think anyone was under the illusion that we were heading for a swift return to the top. He was always an appointment for the next few seasons in mind – with a philosophy that would take time to implement and to get everyone on board. In footballing terms, Rodgers brought with him something that all Liverpool fans would be proud to associate themselves with if he pulled it off. Another season of bedding in to a new approach was not the most welcome idea but it was a necessity if this approach was to be implemented successfully.
First days in the job
The first snippets coming from the manager were very promising, for me at least.
Rodgers had an air of a more experienced manager, speaking passionately about the kind of philosophy he wished to implement and providing us with an impressive insight into how he feels these tactics will make us play. There were many, however, that felt Rodgers was talking above his station given his experience – or perceived lack of it.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Being Liverpool was possibly a very harsh expose of a manager still finding his feet in the biggest role of his career. I doubt it did Rodgers any favours by denying him any kind of settling in period. There’s no way of telling whether Rodgers acted as he would have done behind closed doors and whether the very public David Brent comparisons have left a negative impression on many associated with the club.
Throughout the season, I was critical of Rodgers’ insistence of overstating everything.
I suppose this can be attributed, in some part at least, to the media coverage of our football teams that we all demand in the modern era. Rodgers was more often than not answering questions he has been asked in interviews, etc. However he now seems to be more concise in his answers, so perhaps these criticisms have been taken on board.
I’d also like to give him credit for his recent handling of the Luis Suarez situation. His responses on the matter over the last few weeks have been in fitting with how a Liverpool manager is expected to answer questions on such a sensitive issue. He has maintained that the club is bigger than any one man, that his antics have been disrespectful and that we are going to act with the interests of the football club at the forefront of our minds – and rightly so.
Perception of Rodgers amongst fans is changing
I’ve seen a change in perception of Rodgers as Liverpool manager from many people over the course of last season but particularly this summer, myself included. I was amongst his harshest critics, especially when it came to speaking on the behalf of the football club, but I honestly have no complaints of late. He appears to have matured into the role and is speaking more naturally rather than going over the top when a simple answer would suffice.
On an operational level, Rodgers spoke of his Transfer Committee early on and how it would work. It is clear that this was not up and running in a debatable first window, and the contrast in decision making when compared to the arguably more effective winter window is clear. We struggled following the summer window but we remedied the issues we encountered effectively in the winter window.
It was argued that in the early stages of last season, our lack of attacking options forced Rodgers into playing a fair contingent of our youth players last season – with Raheem Sterling and Suso being the main benefactors of our plight. I personally think these were brave moves on Rodgers’ part as in his first season the temptation must have been there to safeguard his own managerial wellbeing and utilise some of the older heads in the squad at the time in a safer formation. Credit is deserved on that front in my opinion as he did the right thing in persevering with his own approach and trying to mould what players he had into it.
Tactically we seem to be on the right track. It’s a very different approach to what has been proven to work in the Premier League over the past five years, but it is one that has illustrated that we are capable of giving anyone a game. We didn’t win every big fixture last season, but we certainly weren’t out of our depth. We just need to get that balance right across the team, as we did in the latter stages of last season, and ensure we’re performing well on a more consistent basis. Hopefully the players Rodgers has brought in so far fit into the mould more effectively than the ones he had at his disposal in his first season.
Looking ahead to this season, there are still changes that the club will have to adjust to. The loss of big voices in Carragher and Reina will need to be addressed. And the potential loss of one or two more big names in the squad – some more likely than others – will also need to be remedied quickly as and when they happen. On the evidence of the last window, I am confident we have plans we can act on quickly as and when these influential players leave. Hopefully we have the authority from FSG to bring in replacements before they go so we can safeguard ourselves rather than leaving ourselves short at the start of a big year.
In summary, with a season under his belt and a settled backroom staff, Rodgers now has a solid base on which he can build on – and subsequently one he can be judged on more fairly. It’s easy for fans to write a difficult first year off as one of transition but I think the majority of fans reluctantly accepted that this was the case.
If the signs are pointing to the fact that Rodgers is approaching his public speaking with more of a direct approach then there will be less for the harsher fan – such as myself – to nit-pick about. And if the positive results on the pitch follow, all the better.