The phrase, “must get off to a good start,” is as horribly tedious as it is immortal. Every season it seems to get dusted off as we evaluate a new manager’s chances, as if a mediocre or uninspiring start would be some form of viable alternative. Every time a manager walks into a new club, they’ve got to hit the ground running and start winning games. For Brendan Rodgers though, the phrase might hold a bit more prominence.
Liverpool enter the new season under a real paradox of expectation. The appointment of Brendan Rodgers is one that is supposed to exude longevity. The Ulsterman is a of the new breed of young manager and he brings with him a blueprint for the future alongside his roadmap for technical excellence. Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, seem to be doing everything in their power to emphasize this- it is said that Champions League football is not a direct necessity for next term.
But as much as FSG want to, quite rightly, quell expectation, there is a bubbling undercurrent of impatience. There is only so long that a club like Liverpool can stay in regression for, and since the dying moments of the Rafa Benitez era, the club has slipped further and further away from the summit of English football.
Whilst you could hardly describe the club as undergoing freefall, expectations have been dealt a ruthless reality check in recent years. Since Benitez guided his side to Premier League runners-up during the 2008-09 season, the club have kicked on my moving backwards. Finishes of 7th. 6th then 8th have succeeded since and Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish have all been and gone during the same time frame.
But it’s not been the decline caused by drastic implosion or lack of investment, which is what makes it all the more frustrating. They’ve not invested petromillions, but Benitez was always backed, Hodgson was allowed to bring in his own men (enter, Paul Konchesky) and the new regime gave Dalglish as much help as they possibly could. Of course, the aforementioned change in ownership played it’s part. But after a pretty mediocre three years, the notion of being told to wait a little longer isn’t the most appealing of prospects.
Although Brendan Rodgers hasn’t been brought in for a slap dash season. He’s been brought in for the long haul, and supporters generally seem to have brought into him. He plays the brand of football that is hoped will drag Liverpool kicking and screaming back into the forefront of the modern game and he’s already made the right noises in and around the club. Rodgers speaks with drive and authority and he has a far more accessible feel than Kenny Dalglish. King Kenny will always be King Kenny, but his PR skills certainly didn’t help proceedings last term. Rodgers has brought genuine optimism back to Anfield.
Yet all the pre season posturing and column inches of adulation mean nothing when the season kicks off. Rodgers will be given plenty of time by both the fans and the board but ultimately, he has to start winning football matches.
When people start talking about embarking on a project at a football club, expectations and aims seem to fluctuate as and when the season goes on. Supporters understand that to get to the finished article, they have to endure the building process and results can often be unpredictable and sometimes volatile.
But the improvement needs to be there to see and progress will have to be made. Memories don’t last long in football and time is a commodity that few are afforded. Rodgers needs to get off the ground quickly, specifically by flying out the blocks in the Premier League. The fixture computer, however, hasn’t been particularly kind.
Their opening five fixtures are potentially as savage as they can get, or at least their three home games are anyway. Rodgers takes his Liverpool side to the Hawthorns on the opening day, where the somewhat unknown quantity of Steve Clarke’s West Brom await. And this represents the perfect acid test for supporters’ patience.
The aim will of course be, to beat West Brom. But more importantly, Liverpool simply cannot loose. Because in their next three home games, they play host to Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United respectively. Throw in a tricky away trip to Sunderland in between and you can understand why the Liverpool management are asking for patience.
But whilst fans will do everything they can to heed to their demands, Rodgers has to combine building his project for the future with winning over a set of fans that intrinsically behold high expectations.
He can have all the time in the world, but if Liverpool lose to City and Arsenal at home, he will be under huge pressure to get a result against Martin O’Neill’s side at the Stadium of Light. Why? Losing three on the bounce would set up an encounter with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to try and stop the rot.
You can see why the stakes are high- the Anfield crowd would be loathe to see their fiercest rivals create a stink around the place come mid-September. But that’s exactly what it would create. Defeat would hurt and suddenly the rebuilding process will have to be undertaken without the probation period of time and patience.
Supporters should never go into a new season with pessimism and Liverpool fans will be loathe to see observers putting Rodgers under pressure before he’s even started. He could of course come out and stuff the opposition and any remaining doubters by putting the League Champions to the sword on the 26th. But however he does it, Rodgers needs to get his project winning games and soon. We’ll soon see just how patient Liverpool fans are.
How do you feel about Brendan Rodgers’ difficult set of opening fixtures? Do you fancy Liverpool at home or do you sense danger around the corner? Let me know you see it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat us your views.