It says far more about the nature of the Premier League than it does Brendan Rodgers, but if Liverpool’s lukewarm form continues, questions will inevitably be asked about his future at Anfield.
Indeed, the Ulsterman has struggled to combat the unique challenges of his third season on Merseyside; life after star Luis Suarez, the raised expectations after Liverpool’s breathtaking 2013/14 campaign and the added burdens of Champions League football.
Not that I would condone Rodgers’ departure in any way. He’s proved himself to be a savvy tactician, an effective motivator and one of the Premier League’s best when it comes to nurturing and trusting younger players.
Following Liverpool’s unanticipated rise last season, he deserves to be cut some slack – after all, Rodgers is treading new ground this season in terms of the Reds’ Champions League participation, and just like footballers, managers must be allowed to develop too. Inevitably, some eggs will be broken along the way.
But if there’s one field where Rodgers’ track record can be rightly questioned, it’s undoubtedly the transfer market.
Admittedly, this is a bit of a grey area; although the Liverpool gaffer is given the final say on transfers, the majority of the recruitment process is handled by the club’s ‘transfer committee’ – a brains trust of Rodgers, his scouting team, chief executive Ian Ayre, head of analysis Michael Edwards and head of recruitment Dave Fallows.
But if Rodgers remains the controller – the conductor of the proverbial red and green lights – it must be him who takes overall responsibility. It is his squad that’s being assembled, after all.
And of the 23 players Liverpool have signed under Rodgers, only two have gone on to truly exceed their transfer fees – Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. Acquired for a combined £21million in January 2013, they’ve become integral pillars of Liverpool’s starting XI.
In both instances, Rodgers spotted talent and opportunity, but unfortunately, Coutinho and Sturridge remain the exceptions to the rule.
The precedent was set with Rodgers’ first signing as Anfield boss – an £11million swoop for Italian international Fabio Borini, whom the Ulsterman worked with briefly at Swansea.
Borini’s a talented kid and impressed on loan at Sunderland last season, but the Stadium of Light stay also made it abundantly clear that he’d never make it as a Liverpool player. Two years on from his Merseyside move, the 23 year-old is now frozen out of the first team after rejecting the chance to leave Anfield during the summer.
He was quickly followed in summer 2012 by Joe Allen – a firm favourite of Brendan Rodgers from his time at the Liberty. Injuries have affected the 24 year-old’s development and Jordan Henderson’s miraculous rise over the last 18 months warns that one should never judge too quickly, but few would dispute that Rodgers paid well over the odds for a squad player that’s never come close justifying his ‘welsh Xavi’ moniker. The same can be said for Mamadou Sakho, who is yet to resemble a £15million defender.
Then there’s the low-cost punts that simply haven’t paid off; Tiago Ilori for £7million, Oussama Assaidi for £2.5million, Iago Aspas for £7million, Luis Alberto for £6.8million. Their Liverpool careers thus far have ranged from disastrous to non-existent, and that entire £23million cohort are now on loan at other clubs. To think Chelsea signed Cesc Fabregas this summer for just £7million more.
Not that the Reds haven’t tried to attract top level talents. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao, Willian and Deigo Costa are just a few who found themselves in Liverpool’s crosshairs under Rodgers.
But in the absence of a marquee signing, Liverpool have continually settled for second-best. Take this summer for example. Luis Suarez’ £75million departure made Rodgers privy to the most lucrative transfer window in the club’s history – a real chance to bring the club a step closer to it’s former glories.
What do the Reds have to show for it? Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren. Hardly members of Europe’s elite – hardly an improvement on what Liverpool had before.
The £16million Balotelli swoop is particularly disappointing, and not because of the Italian’s dry-patch. Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli all failed to tame the enigmatic striker and nothing prior suggested Rodgers would fare any better. His mercurial, individualistic nature contrasts so heavily with Liverpool’s philosophy and mentality- and indeed, the relentless style of his predecessor, Luis Suarez – and at this point, it’s virtually indisputable that Rodgers cast aside £8.5million poacher Loic Remy, now with league leaders Chelsea, to sign the former Manchester City hell-raiser.
Liverpool have splashed out over £200million since Brendan Rodgers took the helm, but the vast majority of that has been devoted to unnecessary risks and over-spending on above average, rather than exceptional, players.
Apologists will argue Liverpool’s hand is forced; they certainly lack the pulling power and wage structure of Manchester United, City and Chelsea. But one need only look at the business of the Blues, West Ham and Southampton this summer to release there’s scope to find good value at every level of the Premier League.
Place the blame on Rodgers’ shoulders or not, Liverpool’s transfer record under the Ulsterman must improve. For it will be him, not the transfer committee, that the buck is eventually passed to.