Against Blackburn, he scored twice in the opening twenty minutes in what should have been an easy Liverpool victory. Against Everton in the FA Cup, Liverpool played the bulk of their best football after he was brought on from the bench on 75 minutes. Yet despite that Liverpool have consistently played better with him in the lineup than out of it, Maxi Rodriguez has only made thirteen starts and a further four substitute appearances across the 47 games Liverpool has so far played this season in all competitions. No matter if he leaves in the summer, this represents a misuse of the talent currently at hand that cannot be justified.
Moreover, if he does leave in the summer, it will represent a failing nearly as large as his underutilisation in the current season. Not only should Maxi have played 25 to 30 games this year, but he needs to be kept at the club for the final season of his current contract with the promise that he will make at least 25 appearances. What he can provide by staying is worth far more to the club's bottom line than an extra million pounds on the transfer market, and to chase what would be an exceptionally small gain by footballing standards would represent an even more shortsighted approach to the club's finances than last summer's decision to maximise the return on Raul Meireles.
At the time, many defended his transfer by suggesting that to sell the Portuguese midfielder for £12-13M was preferable to giving him a £20,000 per week raise and holding on to him until he might only be worth £8-9M. And by those numbers, moving Meireles rather than keeping him on an improved salary would mean a £6M gain for the club over three seasons. Yet if success is the only thing that matters—if wins and trophies and European qualification and maybe because of that an improved chance at league success not too far down the road is all that matters—then Liverpool "saving" roughly £2M this season on the Raul Meireles deal is a mistake. It's short term thinking; a trap they fell into last summer and a trap they risk falling further into in the coming months.
The move towards developing youth that many would point to as justification for moving on players like Maxi, Meireles, and Dirk Kuyt is important; it's inarguably important. Marginalising and then getting rid of more experienced players who can still perform at a high level for short term gain with little concern to the longer term ramifications, however, is the height of foolishness. It's a cycle that Arsenal has repeatedly fallen into in recent seasons, and this season Liverpool has been given clear first-hand insight into the downside of its embrace.
Worse even is that it has been an embrace at Liverpool that has been all the more frustrating for its inconsistent application. Given the approach to a player like Raul Meireles last summer, where a short term financial gain was seen as preferable to any potential longer term benefit, and given the misuse of veterans like Maxi and Kuyt this season, the decision not to play Sebstian Coates over Jamie Carragher in recent weeks when Daniel Agger was injured becomes even harder to justify. Similarly, the time it has taken for Jonjo Shelvey to see significant minutes is difficult to understand. Half of the club's actions seem to speak to a plan—poorly considered and executed, perhaps, but still a plan—and yet the other half of the club's actions appear to be in direct opposition to it.
Aside from the muddle and confusion in the club's attempts to set a direction, players like Maxi Rodriguez have clearly shown they can still be important to success in the present. As much as a move towards youth makes sense, it's important for the club to realise the benefit of keeping veterans who can still perform around and that doing so will often outweigh the short term gain of an immediate sale. Right now, players like Maxi give Liverpool their best chance at success, and unless the club makes a huge splash on the transfer market the same will be true next season. And keeping him around for another season doesn't have to lead to a dichotomous choice between starting Maxi in every match or never playing him at all—just as is shouldn't have this season.
Playing Maxi more this year on the left wouldn't have meant never playing Stewart Downing. If it had led to Liverpool scoring more goals and securing more points, it may even have taken pressure off Downing to perform when he was on the pitch. Similar questions have to be asked about mismanagement of the left back position, too. Most people accept that Fabio Aurelio will be off in the summer, and unlike in the cases of senior players such as Maxi and Dirk Kuyt one expects the Brazilian's injury record will mean little resistance to the idea amongst fans, but while he still is on the payroll and fit it's hard to understand why Dalglish wouldn't at least have used him to give Jose Enrique the occasional night off. Even if it only meant him playing sixty minutes a month it may have been enough to help preserve Enrique's form, as with five minutes more to his name than Pepe Reina the Spanish fullback has of late clearly suffered from leading the club in minutes played in the league.
In the end, then, it's not really an argument over bedding in new talent versus sticking with known quantities, since there is little reason a manager should have to entirely do one or the other. The issue is a more simple misuse of the talent available. Maxi Rodriguez, amongst others, could have helped Liverpool this season—almost every single time he has played he has helped Liverpool—and there's no reason increasing his minutes would have meant consigning others to the bench permanently or preventing their integration into the side over a slightly longer time frame.
Given the quality he has again shown in cameos late this season, too, there's no reason to think he can't make a difference for the club in around 25 games next season as a starter and off the bench. With a year remaining on his contract, the value of that contribution has the potential to far outweigh whatever transfer fee might be gained by sending him home to Newell's Old Boys this summer instead of allowing him to leave on a free in 2013. Selling him this summer might lead to a very small increase in short term profitability, but that short-sighted gain will mean little sat next to the longer term value of keeping him and other senior players who are still able to perform at a high level around.
Though of course, keeping players like Maxi and Dirk Kuyt around for another season at this point may be far easier said than done given the often poor treatment they appear to have received at the hands of a coaching staff determined to toss them aside no matter the cost.