After the whole world turned against him following Liverpool’s shock defeat to Aston Villa in last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, manager Brendan Rodgers has finally hit out at his critics.
Speaking ahead of the Reds’ visit to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, the Anfield gaffer told reporters; “Three months ago, I was a tactical genius. Now I have lost a couple of games and it is not so good. That is something you have to deal with. When I sit down and look at it, I will hold myself up against anyone to manage this club and to fit the model of what they (FSG) want. I am super ambitious in terms of wanting to win and there will be no greater place to do that than here.
“Of course in modern football there are lots of processes that go on behind the scenes that people will never be aware of. In terms of what we are trying to do, I do not see anyone better in terms of the hand we were given. There is no-one more ambitious. If there comes a time when that is not the case and we move on, there will be no-one who respects the owners more than me. But Christ, no, I will fight for my life. If I can get the tools here to help us, we can be really successful.”
To some, it will seem the bravado of man fearing for his job, desperate not to look weak in the public eye. The recent departure of Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp provides an intriguing undertone, as do rumours that Rafa Benitez’ tepid tenure at Napoli could be coming to an abrupt failing-to-qualify-for-the-Champions-League end.
And in theory, it’s a load of baloney. After all, Brendan Rodgers is a talented manager, a fantastic coach on the training ground and an underrated tactician – who else would’ve thought up a 3-4-2-1 formation practically overnight to completely turn Liverpool’s season around? – but a managerial heavyweight, at the capacity of a Jose Mourinho, a Pep Guardiola or a Carlo Ancelotti? Unfortunately, no.
Yet, the real question shouldn’t be about Rodgers’ abilities in comparison to football’s gaffer elite. It should be whether anybody could do a significantly better job under the Fenway Sports Group model.
This is, after all, the same Moneyball-inspired model that paid £20million for Stewart Downing and £35million for Andy Carroll because they’d registered the most accurate crosses and most headed goals in the Premier League respectively. This is the same transfer policy that insists upon a ‘transfer committee’ to run the rule over every potential Liverpool signing. This is the same ‘model’ that could have resulted in three England internationals walking out of Anfield this summer, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, because contract negotiations were delayed to save on wages. This is the same theory that’s seen Liverpool spend just £12.7million net in the last nine transfer windows.
Indeed, it seems the FSG model, although very astute and financially efficient, doesn’t actually put that much impetus on football itself. After all, pretty much any other club in the world would’ve handed Sterling extended terms last summer, following his intrinsic role in Liverpool’s surprise title bid, and pretty much any other club would’ve wrapped up Jordan Henderson’s situation a long time ago.
And although Rodgers has taken the vast majority of the flack for the manner in which £211million has been spent since he took the Anfield helm three years ago, there’s a clear gearing towards young, unproven players that is probably beyond his control. Of the 24 players signed in that time period, only Kolo Toure, Aly Cissokho, Rickie Lambert, Simon Mignolet, Adam Lallana and Iago Aspas were over the age of 25 upon their Anfield arrivals – and the first three names were all stop-gap signings.
Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of not being a Champions League club. Liverpool don’t have the financial firepower to compete with Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United, so the difference has to be made somewhere along the line. Ideally, every prospective signing will flourish into a Luis Suarez, before being sold to one of Europe’s top clubs for an equally ridiculous transfer fee.
It’s no different to what Tottenham have been doing for the last few years – but they’re hardly the greatest testament. That model has seen them change managers three times in the last two seasons, and not qualify for the Champions League since 2010. Tottenham’s bank balance, on the other hand, remains as healthy as ever.
So under those circumstances, perhaps Rodgers has a point. Would Guardiola’s tiki-taka style work without the best technicians in European football? Would Mourinho’s methods significantly aid the development of young players enough to increase their value? Would Ancelotti’s understated demeanor have the same effect on less self-motivated players? Because with FSG, you have to find success from the hand you’re given – and finance always rules over football.
So with that in mind, and considering the resulting absence of top-class talent currently in Liverpool’s squad, is reaching the semi-final of both the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup whilst finishing fifth in the Premier League actually that bad a season? Could a managerial heavyweight have done significantly better? By my estimations, probably not.