The appointment of Brendan Rodgers at Anfield has seen the use of modern-day football’s favourite buzzword go into overkill. Rodgers arrival in Merseyside hasn’t been christened as the beginning of a new era or a brave new age, as such. This is the Premier League in 2012 and the Ulsterman has come to Liverpool Football Club to develop a brand new project.
Indeed, Brendan Rodgers is part of the new breed of modern-day football manager, the sort of man you’d back if you were NFL betting on top bet. Younger, sharper and tactically astute, they make up the footballing intellects of the Premier League. Like Andre Villas-Boas and to a far lesser extent, Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, they make up for their lack of top-flight experience as a professional with bundles of footballing techno-speak and a brand of highly tuned, possession-based football.
It seems that one of the stigmas of this is to denote their managerial tenures as projects, rather than experiences. Nauseating for some, but the nature of their age and the style of football that they wish to implement suggests that it’s a relatively apt description to use. And in the case of the task that lies ahead for Rodgers at Anfield, it will certainly take time to bring through his style and ideas.
As Jamie Carragher spoke of his glee at being part of Rodgers’ “exciting project,” at Liverpool, it sounded more akin to the pair talking up a new extension to a Bungalow, rather than changing the fortunes of a football club. Whilst the changes Rodgers is looking to make at Liverpool aren’t quite in line with a fully blown construction job, the defensive alterations in particular, still constitute a pretty extensive change.
When the celling caved in on Kenny Dalglish’s latest Liverpool era, many were quick to annihilate a team that ambled to an eighth placed Premier League finish. King Kenny was labeled by many outside the club as something of a lame duck; out of touch with the trappings of the modern game and unable to push the club on to the success that it demands. In some respects, this was true.
A lot of money was spent invested on some hugely suspect acquisitions and the failure to find balance within the team, ultimate lay with Dalglish. He seemed unable to stick to a starting XI and the team regressed on the sharp, passing game that they’d employed towards the end of the 2010-11 term. Throw in the absolute disaster of the Suarez affair and Dalglish’s chilling relationship with the media and the guillotine was seemingly set.
But as strange as it may sound, the struggles that Dalglish faced at Liverpool last season serve as something as a stark warning for the Rodgers revolution.
After last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns, there have already been some absurd conclusions drawn up after only 90 minutes of the season. Apparently, Luis Suarez is an incompetent goal scorer after failing to score in one game and Martin Skrtel is a fish out of water in the new defensive set up. The sight of Alan Hansen crucifying Liverpool’s attempts to play the ball out of defense were as cynical as they were short sighted and supporters must hope that the press keep the knives in the draw for the new Rodgers era.
You can already see what Rodgers is trying to achieve and the way he is trying to mould his team. When you slow down the West Brom game and put every single mistake under the microscope, of course, it doesn’t look good. But there was a lot of encouragement to be taken out of some of the crisp, passing play and most importantly, they were creating chances. Liverpool should have at least scored and a large proportion of the blame will fall on Suarez’s shoulders and they will have better days. But Rodgers’ philosophy can pay dividends and they are moving in the right direction.
Although the change in philosophy comes with a health warning. Liverpool hardly played an overtly negative brand of football last season, but Rodgers simply has to craft the squad into a far more effective and tactically organized product. His game is based around possession and a high tempo pressing game. Getting your attackers to effectively defend from the front and your defenders to play from the back, is a long process that will take time to perfect. The issue for Rodgers will be finding where the tipping point is.
The wheels are well in motion for Rodgers’ project but whilst pre-season demonstrated most of the squad is more than capable of performing this task adequately, the Premier League is the real acid test. Saturday’s loss to West Brom may mean nothing in the long run, but the defensive shape looks like it will take time to perfect. Picking on Martin Skrtel, a superb defender in his own right, is grossly unfair. But both him and Daniel Agger are perhaps under the greatest pressure to adapt quickly.
But how long can the pair and any others for that matter, be afforded to change? Dalglish’s renovations this time last year seemed to ultimately harm the side. The likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam came in but seemed unable to fit into any real pattern of playing. Stripping away the other issues at Anfield last season, Dalglish’s struggle to get the players to adapt to any real effective shape cost him dearly. Rodgers would do well to remember this.
Because whilst the team under Dalglish last year hardly went up in flames as many may like to make out, they just couldn’t consistently get results in the league. Rodgers must allow time to let players fit into his new style, but he must be ruthless if he feels they’re struggling to adapt. Because as much support as he may have from the supporters, the short term future could be putting him and his side under serious pressure.
Liverpool host Manchester City and Arsenal in their next two Premier League fixtures, followed by a tough trip to Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland and then the big one- Manchester United at home. Not so much a baptism of fire but a towering inferno for his new system. Mistakes are going to be brutally examined and he has to start picking up points. There must be no room for sentiment and empathy in the coming weeks. Rodgers must be cut-throat and if that involves dropping a popular figure of the squad, then that’s what must be done.
Whatever Rodgers does, fans have to back him. Everyone at the club is desperate for a term of progression, not another sideways or backwards step. But what he is trying to achieve at Liverpool doesn’t happen overnight. It will be a season of real highs and lows but he has the capacity to push the club on. In order to do that, everyone has to adapt. The manager, the supporters, but most poignantly the players. It’s been said that it’s not the most intelligent species that survive, but the ones most adaptable to change. Never has that rung more true at Anfield.
How do you feel about Liverpool’s transition under Brendan Rodgers? How long should the players have to adapt to the system before the gaffer tries his other options? Let me know how you view it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you’d do in Rodgers’ shoes.