Brendan Rodgers has taken over Liverpool with the promise of delivering not only substance, but a certain degree of style to the side’s play. A mandate and blueprint for how to achieve success has been set out, but is it what the club really needs?
Swansea received plaudits aplenty last term under the stewardship of Rodgers, for their disciplined and attractive style of possession-based football. The emphasis on retaining ownership of the ball can be seen as much as a defensive requirement as an attacking one, with Rodgers stating that this is when his side rests, which then allows them when they don’t have it to chase it down so ferociously. It’s a fine principled approach and has borne fruit all over the world and can be seen as an English hybrid of the famed tiki-taka stable.
However, the need for an element of style has long since distorted people’s views on what’s most important in the game – results. It is true, having a style such as Rodgers allows it to be more transferable to a higher level, working with better players, than say Tony Pulis’ long-ball slogfest at Stoke ever could, but you do severely limit yourself when you get to bound down by talk of ‘philosophy’ and ideals, as if football is really about styles of play and some form of loose moral hierarchy about ‘the right way to win’, rather than, you know, actually winning stuff.
Over at Arsenal, the increasingly-stubborn and zealot-like behaviour of Arsene Wenger should have fans of the club somewhat worried that a more pragmatic approach won’t be adopted in the near future after he stated: “‘I totally agree with Cruyff — and I won’t change. The only sad thing is that sometimes your work is destroyed by others. You want to see a player in his prime doing it for your club. But it does not work like that all the time. I am a victim of that. I lost Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas at an age where they should have been playing their best football for Arsenal. But I never left the club when I could have. I could have left 10 times to join another club but I didn’t because I have worked with the same vision and philosophy at Arsenal for the last 16 years — and that won’t change. We do this because we want to give something back to football.”
The sheer lack of perspective from the so-called ‘Le Professeur’ is astounding. Players are leaving Arsenal not because the club are being picked on or because others intentionally want to destroy their work, but because ultimately, the reasoning behind each player’s departure from the club over the last few years has been the same and the only constant is that Arsenal can’t offer them the silverware they so crave.
Wenger’s experiment of trying to win silverware in a certain style has become more of a rampant ideal rather than a realistic goal to aspire to. It’s become a stubborn, puritanical moral crusade aimed at proving the doubters wrong rather than one motivated by securing results and winning trophies.
Swansea finished last season in 11th place on 47 points, having scored 44 goals and conceded 51 – a decent crack considering it was their first full season in the top flight and they have to be applauded for not compromising their ideals from the outset, but they were helped by the surprise factor – it will be interesting to see whether they are capable of replicating such a strong season this coming campaign, particularly with a new man at the helm, Michael Laudrup.
Nevertheless, the main criticism is that far too often Swansea could be accused of keeping the ball for possession’s sake and Rodgers has talked at great length about the need for penetration upon his move to Anfield. A direct consequence of that is playing with such a high intensity in training can lead to fatigue, both mentally and physically, and it rests solely on the form of key personnel involved with the system for it to work over a long period – even Barcelona, the demi-Gods of our era have shown that they are suscepitble to fatigue, so one has to worry about the less than bright bunch at Liverpool.
It may come as something of a surprise to some of you that Swansea scored less goals than both relegated Bolton and Blackburn last season and eight goals less than fellow promoted side Norwich – a team which strike a decent balance between possession football and the more direct stuff.
Under Kenny Dalglish, particularly before their Carling Cup triumph last season, his Liverpool side were more than capable of playing some intricate, fluid and aesthetically pleasing stuff on the deck, so a long-term ‘philosophy’ (I hate that word being attached to football) such as Rodgers isn’t particulalry that out-of-kilter with what is already present at the club. FSG (Fenway Sports’ Group) were thought to want a top four finish from Dalglish last term to warrant giving him another crack this year, but Rodgers is not under quite the same constraints and pressures in terms of league finishes and targets, which may help matters this time around.
Last season the side looked easy on the eye at times but were hugely profligate in front of goal which led to results not matching up to performances – it is this issue, along with the chronic lack of pace in the side that needs addressing rather than any overhauling in the club’s style of play.
Rodgers has promised: “It will be about playing attractive, attacking football full of imagination” but the style wasn’t ever the problem, rather the application. In times of transition, things can be glossed over as everyone welcomes the hope which comes with the dawning of a new era, hopefully that message isn’t one that will get lost in translation.
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