Setting Targets

"I love you, man." - Alex Livesey

The season has unfolded thus far in a manner that has left Liverpool fans possessed of more questions than answers and with a modicum of hope tainted by the sour bite of cynicism. Do we dare to dream? If we do, what should we dream of?

Plans and expectations can be fraught with attendant tensions. For every goal that is achieved, another goes crushingly unrealised. In the run up to the Champions League victory of 2005, a banner could be seen on the Kop that encapsulated the simple desire of all fans with regard to their football team. "Make us dream," it implored. Rafa Benitez and his charges did exactly that, and what grand dreams they were. How gratifyingly magnificent was the reality that those dreams became.

Four years later we dared to dream again, as the Spaniard's team mounted a creditable title tilt, but the belief amongst supporters was not as fervent. Standing on the Kop was an oddly uncomfortable experience, despite Liverpool sitting imperiously atop the Premier League table. Angst was more prevalent than hope and our great history weighed upon us as the fear of failure crushed the joy of hope. The great burden of expectation coalesced with an understandable perturbation that all would be for naught and the result was disquietude and fretfulness where optimism and excitement should have held sway.

Setting goals, then, is a risky business and this has not been lost on Brendan Rodgers, who has tempered his early effusiveness admirably, since taking charge at Liverpool Football Club. The Northern Irishman had been inclined to bouts of grandiose pontification about what might be possible for his team but a steely pragmatism has taken over in recent months and although he is still too loquacious for some, in the opinion of this scribbler, the man has adjusted impressively. There is a sensible restraint in his words these days, for the most part. At this rate he'll soon be espousing the old Anfield mantra of taking one game at a time!

When it comes to outlining targets for his players, Rodgers appears to be similarly circumspect. Of all his signings to date, Daniel Sturridge has had, by far, the most profound effect on the team's fortunes. The current first-choice England man has amassed a frankly stunning twenty goals in his first twenty six appearances for Liverpool, with seven in only eight Premier league games, thus far. The manager, however, will not put a number on what tally he may achieve.

"The way I've always worked with Daniel is I don't set him goal targets -- I think he's a natural goalscorer," insisted Rodgers. "For me, the communication and the talk with Daniel is about him getting into areas and working hard. I think you've seen already this season the types of goals he can score, whether it be with his head, his left foot, his right foot, his pace or his power. I believe he's a natural goalscorer. It's just about him understanding his role in the team with the ball and the intensity without the ball. I firmly believe, and I've said it before, he can be one of the top strikers in European football over the next two to three years, as long as he continues to work hard."

That was almost perfect, dear reader, wasn't it? A steadfast refusal to put the pressure of a set tally on the shoulders of a young man who is in fine form, followed by a reminder of his sublime talents to reinforce the player's self-belief but then, like the Rodgers of old, a portentous prediction of his potential greatness! Oh, Brendan, Brendan. Well, like his team, he too is a work in progress. One does not simply transmogrify into a Shanklyesque leader overnight.

When it comes to the bigger picture of the club as a whole, Rodgers returns to being a study in careful chariness. He is fully aware of the size of the task facing him and his emergent team, and despite their comparatively lofty early placement, it is gratifying to hear him speak warily of a slow build and the non-existence of a "quick fix." The manager is very clear that there is  a long way to go in the evolution of the club and counsels against any complacent thinking.

"We will always look to improve and endeavour to work hard to improve our performance levels," said the manager. "The squad will evolve. If you look at the Champions League level, and I was at the Bayern Munich v Manchester City game recently, we know we've got work to do. But it's about building here. That's the key. There's not going to be a quick fix. We need to build towards that level so that it can be sustainable in the longer term.

"It's something I will always feel. I think that the minute you're happy with what you've got maybe that wee bit of complacency will set in. We all understand that we needed to improve. When I came here the club finished eighth in the Premier League and last year we were seventh. So we've still got huge strides to make but I think it's pretty clear in the work that the players are putting in. We've had a few injuries as well and those players are returning. I think our game will continue to improve and alongside that the results will come."

Once again we see the evolution of Rodgers as a Liverpool manager. No lofty targets set unattainably high. No grandiloquent pronouncements about the likely achievements of his team. The key expectation here is that the players and staff will put in the very maximum effort. This is not an overwhelming demand of any professional. As long as Brendan Rodgers and his players stay true to these humble goals, there is every chance that success, in some fashion, will be theirs by season's end.

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