In defence of Liverpool’s under-fire manager

In the short space of time between now and 5pm yesterday, the whole world appears to have turned against Brendan Rodgers.

The Telegraph and The Daily Mail both felt compelled to give the most sensationalist accounts possible of the Ulsterman’s transfer history at Anfield, a separate Mail article described him as ‘the real flop at Liverpool‘, Mirror Football complied an entire report #RodgersOut Tweets, The Evening Standard are already billing a Rafa Benitez vs Jurgen Klopp battle royal for the honour of being his successor and even The Metro have decided to weigh in.

It’s as if last season never happened; as if Rodgers spent the 2013/14 campaign mixing protein shakes and quipping bizarre philosophical remarks whilst the players unilaterally recorded Liverpool’s joint-best final standing and second-highest points total of the Premier League era – whilst scoring over 100 league goals – without any help from the dugout.

Was he not the man who implemented the diamond formation that had the Reds ripping apart Premier League defences on a weekly basis? Was he not the man who designed the 3-4-2-1 system that saw Liverpool claim 33 points out of a possible 39 from mid-December to mid-March this season? Was he not the man who snapped up Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho for just £20million combined in January 2013? Was he not named the LMA Manager of the Year last summer?

Rodgers has made crucial mistakes over the last three seasons – that is without question. Liverpool don’t have much to show for the £215million he’s spent in the transfer market and poor performances in big games have cost them dearly this season. In combination with yesterday’s defeat in the FA Cup semi-final to Aston Villa, a 3-0 thumping at Old Trafford followed by a 4-1 thrashing at the Emirates have all-but-mathematically ended the Reds’ chances of Champions League qualification this season, whilst a monumental choke against FC Basel in December saw them eliminated from the European tournament’s group stages.

But Rodgers’ biggest crime – by far – is setting the standard too high at an impatient club, desperate to return to its former glories.

This season was always going to be overshadowed by the runner-up exploits of last year, an inevitable situation further amplified by fate continually conspiring against the Ulsterman. After all, in the 11 months since the end of last season, Rodgers has lost talismanic attacker Luis Suarez to Barcelona, iconic skipper and leading midfielder Steven Gerrard to age and key striker Daniel Sturridge to injury, whilst the jewel in the Liverpool crown, Raheem Sterling, has spent the last three months trying to force a move to one of the club’s direct divisional rivals. That’s easily the four most important players of Liverpool’s 2013/14 campaign absent in mind, body or both.

Could Rodgers have done better with the Suarez money? Perhaps. But he missed out on priority target Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal, and few saw Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren or Rickie Lambert – or for that matter, even Mario Balotelli – as particularly poor signings when Liverpool snapped them up last summer. Meanwhile, the countless similarities with Tottenham’s plight following Gareth Bale’s record-breaking departure to Real Madrid in summer 2013 suggests that, regardless of finance, it’s near-impossible to sustain the performance levels of a team whilst surrendering their stand-out, only world-class star.

So considering Liverpool are still on course to finish in a higher Premier League position than any of the four seasons prior to 2013/14, it’s hardly been a Liverpool horror show. It’s certainly been a season to forget, without silverware or Champions League qualification, but can you really condemn a manager who reached the semi-finals of both the Capital One Cup and the FA Cup, whilst bagging fifth place in the Premier League?

Some might argue that to be evidence of Rodgers as a managerial lightweight. I’d suggest it’s evidence things could’ve been very different for Liverpool this season; if Sturridge had been fit, if Gerrard hadn’t declined so quickly, if the rot at the start of the season had been halted sooner, if some of the summer signings had hit the ground running.

We can’t expect managers to take full responsibility for every twist of fate – every freak goal, every injury, every signing that doesn’t quite pay off – and managers are a lot like players; they need time and experience to develop their skills.

Lest we forget, Rodgers’ is still just 42 years of age with only four campaigns’ worth of Premier League experience under his belt, so consider what he’s been competing against this season; Arsene Wenger, the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, a 63 year-old Louis van Gaal, who has managed Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Netherlands at a World Cup, a two-time Premier League and Champions League winner in Jose Mourinho and a 61 year-old, well-travelled Manuel Pellegrini, all of whom have been privy to, quite frankly, far superior squads.

If Liverpool are to regularly compete at the Premier League’s summit once again, it will take time, patience and a few broken eggs. Rodgers has smashed his fair share on the proverbial kitchen floor this season, but that’s an inevitable part of the process.

The Liverpool squad is now bursting with young and ambitious talent, especially when compared to the dire personnel who served under Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, so let’s at least wait and see what kind of omelette Rodgers produces before discarding it completely. After the unexpected heights of last season, surely another term in the Anfield dugout is the minimum he deserves.