Liverpool FC manager Brendan Rodgers stated earlier this week that there’s no reason why further down the line that the club can’t be able of challenging for the Premier League title under his guidance, but does this line of thinking really carry any weight?
Despite being awarded a three-year contract in the summer, Rodgers has already intimated that the rebuilding job at Anfield will probably take longer than that before they are truly able to compete at the highest echelons of the top flight and in Europe. My contention is that while league performances certainly tailed off dramatically after the League Cup triumph last season under Kenny Dalglish, that the basis of a strong top six side was already very much there and that only tweaking was required to the existing side rather than a radical overhaul.
Rodgers argued that they could be a force to be reckoned with in the future by telling BBC’s Football Focus programme: “There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t [challenge] over the next numbers of years. Sometimes you’ve got to drop a few levels before you build. We’ll get there in the end; there’s absolutely no question about that. As a group of supporters, these fans deserve it.”
Nevertheless, there is a big difference between becoming a stable top six outfit and trying to win the Premier League title, but when you cast your eyes over the squad, while Liverpool’s may be short on numbers, with the manager himself labelling it ‘thin’, there are plenty of exciting prospects that in three or four years time will have matured hugely and could play a leading role, with very few of the squad at what would be considered their peak.
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While both first-choice centre backs Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger will be in their 30s by the time Liverpool could potentially be up the higher end of the table again, Sebastian Coates is still just 22-years-old at the moment, while goalkeepers traditionally get better with age, so Pepe Reina at 30 is no cause for concern either.
Right down the spine of the side, Lucas Leiva (25), Jonjo Shelvey (20), Joe Allen (23), Jordan Henderson (22) and Luis Suarez (25) are all players that if the club can keep hold of from the bigger names in and around Europe, they could help form the basis of the side for years to come and there’s a very long-term look about the current set-up.
On the flanks, the likes of Raheem Sterling (17), Suso (19), Andre Wisdom (19), Fabio Borini (21) and Martin Kelly (22) could all stick around Anfield for the foreseeable future and the way in which they’ve all improved, Borini aside, from first-team exposure over the past year or so and with the potential that they possess, they remain truly tantalising prospects that only promise to get better with age.
Of course, clubs these days always both endure and enjoy a rapid rate of turnover when it comes to players, and while all of those listed above may not be around in the next three or four years, with Suarez and Sterling in particular in danger of becoming too big for the club further down the line, while the club remains in a period of transition – if they can keep hold of them, they have a hugely exciting partnership on their hands.
Given that the Uruguayan received almost unparallelled support during the racism scandal last season and the precocious winger was given his first big break in English football by Liverpool and Rodgers, you’d like to think that they feel a degree of loyalty towards the club and will give back when presented with the opportunity; the cynic inside me does think that to expect anything more than pragmatism motivated by money and silverware from a footballer is doing little more than tempting fate, but we can but dream.
Nevertheless, the nucleus of a strong side is there for all to see and in three of four years time, with the right additions, they should improve. The league position that the club find themselves in this season, as was often the case under Dalglish last term too, is not a fair reflection of their performances. Liverpool on the balance of play in their 13 games up to this point are much better than their 16 points and 11th position in mid-table suggests, but when you’re blooding so many young players in at once, it’s inevitable that certain inconsistencies will be rife.
The club have needed this period to get away from the spotlight at the top and rebuild. The dampening of expectations around the club, which has seen the fans really take to Rodgers’ regime since he came into the club in the summer was an ideal scenario when you consider the reigning in of the transfer budget and need to utilise youngsters more.
The club’s owners need to back Rodgers in January to make the most of the potential within the rest of the squad and ensure Suarez doesn’t suffer from burn out further down the line, and securing European football again this season should remain a priority, but the club across the board seem prepared to take a step back now if it means they are better prepared in the future.
It’s difficult to factor in how strong the formidable opponents of Manchester United, City and Chelsea will be in a few years’ time and their spending power alone means that they will remain difficult to overcome. Having bright young players is not necessarily a recipe for success, but Liverpool remain in a better position in that respect than their rivals and they will still need to be canny in the transfer market when trying to compete with teams who can out-muscle them at every given turn with higher wages and inflated fees.
There is no guarantee that the path Liverpool have chosen at the moment is the right one, and gambling on youth in such a way is fraught with risks, as Arsenal have proven to an extent in the past, but with the club unable to compete financially, they have been left with little alternative and if they can keep the spine of the squad together, they should improve.
Moreover, the pressure to qualify for the Champions League is no longer there right now, and while they are far away from the finished product at the moment, let alone being able to challenge for a top four slot or the title, the first seeds of a hugely encouraging era are being sown.
Patience is the key, but they are certainly heading in the right direction after being allowed the opportunity to regroup, free from the tightening constraints of expectation.