Liverpool, unlike fellow decadent, former stars Leeds and Nottingham Forest, have had to endure a demise that has spread out over twenty years. Liverpool have descended from the most successful, feared side in Europe with a rich history and worldwide popularity to a team of perennial underachievers. That’s not to say that the current crop of Liverpool’s players are underachievers, they are probably achieving what most of us expected they would, but that the club itself is underachieving is not in doubt.
When Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool it would be fair to say that they underestimated just how difficult it would be to restore the club’s former glories. Damien Commoli’s take on the American ‘Money-ball’ philosophy was bought into, as was the suitability of Kenny Daglish as manager; in retrospect neither decision was right.
Now, with the Fenway group having played their hand, spent their money, and failed, former Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers has been brought in to rebuild an expensively assembled but worryingly disappointing squad. Whilst the suggestion that, considering Liverpool’s recent strife, things can only get better may have an element of truth to it, Rodgers’ task is immense.
Rewind twelve months and consider the objectives laid out before Andre Villas-Boas as he began his ill-fated career at Chelsea. The Portuguese manager was faced with rebuilding a side whose two most iconic players (Terry and Lampard) were perceived to have too much power and well past their prime, and whose record signing was struggling for any kind of acceptable form whatsoever. The former Porto man came in with a reassuring bravado as he went about his business, culling certain stars and thrusting his ethos down the throat of a team who were very much set in their ways.
Rodgers is facing a similar problem. With Carragher and Gerrard entering the twilight of their careers and Andy Carroll still failing to justify has quite remarkable price tag Rodgers must transform this team quickly and effectively whilst simultaneously worrying about the problems that such sharp change can bring.
Villas-Boas faced two major problems. The first was that he ostracised certain key members of the squad in the name of progress. Secondly: he tried to instil attacking tactics and a fast style of play on a selection of players who had enjoyed success in their careers playing, for the most part, in the exact opposite style.
Rodgers will have to combat this problem. Will it be possible for him to change the way Liverpool played last season in to the style of attacking football that got him the job in the first place? Daglish’s tactics might not have been as negative as Liverpool’s goal tally suggested but they’re certainly some way off being Barcelona-esque.
Regardless of the style they were playing last year, some critics have been suggesting that Liverpool’s players are simply not up to playing fast-paced, passing football. Were this to be the case then Rodgers may well have to axe some prominent squad players; could this then be as damaging as it was for Villas-Boas?
Now, many Swansea fans will point to the speed at which Swansea’s squad adopted Rodgers’ attacking brand of football; however, Swansea’s previous two managers were Paulo Sousa and Roberto Martinez, both of whom coached attacking football. At Liverpool, Rodgers will not have the foundations laid down for him as he did before.
Rodgers’ undeniable talent as a manager should be reassuring for Liverpool, yet the same was true of Villas-Boas when he arrived in London having won every single trophy that Porto had competed for the year before. For all of Swansea’s impressive performances, Rodgers has not enjoyed nearly as much success as the man who will act as a warning to him. There is potential in Liverpool’s squad, there is potential in their owners and Rodgers could well be the man to take this club to the heights of European football; but first he must tackle the paradox of instilling immediate change without the dangerous consequences that such transformations invariably bring.
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