Not everyone was happy to see Brendan Rodgers keep his job following last season. How did you feel about it at the time and, with pre-season over and another league campaign upon us, has your thinking changed? And either way, just how safe is Rodgers heading into year four?
In the immediate aftermath of last season and that 6-1 loss to Stoke, I was too numb to care much about Rodgers’ future—I thought he’d probably be gone and even fantasized a little about Klopp showing up, but ultimately decided not to get too worked up either way. So I didn’t have the biggest reaction either way when it was announced Rodgers would return for a fourth season.
However, over pre-season I have become at least a little more optimistic about Rodgers’ ability to turn things around, though that’s maybe more due to how the transfer window has gone than anything the manager himself has said or done. In any case, I do think the pieces are there for him now to guide Liverpool to the Champions League, and that has to be his target to get a fifth season in charge, but unless the wheels completely fall off I think the backing he’s been given means he’ll be given time.
Like many, I was disenchanted with Rodgers by the end of last season and felt he was, at best, back at square zero, having spent absolutely all the goodwill the 2013-14 title run had bought him. I was surprised FSG backed him as much as they did over the summer rather than hedging their bets, but I’m a big fan of the additions of Lijnders and O’Driscoll, and feel they could end up as important as any player brought in this summer, because they—and especially O’Driscoll—appear to have been brought in to challenge Rodgers’ decisions. Hopefully that will help with his issues when it comes to lack of rotation and stubbornly sticking with misfiring tactical decisions.
Beyond that, I’m convinced Rodgers will at least be given until Christmas regardless—at least if we don’t go on some Hodgson-esque apocalyptic run and the players revolt. With all the new playing and coaching pieces in place around him, though, I have increasingly high hopes he can take the next step as a manager.
The opening fixtures of this coming season will be the test, I think. If he makes it through those rough ten games, with trips to face Stoke and Arsenal and United and Everton and Spurs, then his job will be secure through the end of the season.
Either way, though, it’s fair to say I wasn’t happy about his performance last season. I wanted him gone. He wasted all the goodwill he’d earned after 2013-2014 for me, and his tendency to make the same mistakes again and again was incredibly frustrating, and spoke to a bullheadedness in his character that could be detrimental to him ever growing as a manager. I hope that this season, particularly without Steven Gerrard, we see the innovative and creative Rodgers of his first two years with the club.
The manner in which Liverpool crumbled last season would have left nowhere for Rodgers to hide had he been canned, and part of the remarkable offseason FSG have had is the way they’ve backed their manager to the absolute hilt during a thin time, just as they said they were going to do when he first arrived. Forget the Stoke City result, though—Liverpool looked broken from West Brom on. I mean, everything was the worst. Couldn’t score, poor in possession, and definitely not defending worth a damn. Breaking that wrist and walking away would have been fully justified.
Instead, FSG gave Rodgers everything he needs to succeed, while also—and this is entirely conjecture on my part—keeping an eye on the convenient fact that both Klopp an Ancelotti are just hanging around working on their tans, and ruminating on fresh tactical concepts for the modern game. It’s a potential win-win whether Rodgers grabs this last chance or not. Excepting the part where Liverpool would have to lose enough to fire Rodgers in order to get to that next win. The ol’ liver really doesn’t deserve that part.
There were only two times I considered Liverpool would be better off without Rodgers this season. The first was in the darkest depths of the poor end to last year, where I felt like any goodwill or second chances extended to him had long since been used up by a man who clearly kept trying the same thing over and over expecting different results. Even then, I’m not sure I wanted him to be fired per se. It’s just I wouldn’t have been surprised or upset if it happened. The second was when Jurgen Klopp resigned and it seemed that if a guy like Klopp was available, you go out and get him.
In the end, though, if Rodgers survived his performance evaluation with FSG after last year, he’s going to be given a bit more slack than the angriest Liverpool fans would probably prefer. The club absolutely need to get off to a good start, but with the horrific list of away fixtures that kicks off the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rodgers given time by the owners since taking a ton of points from those matches would be a big ask of even a title challenging team. So even if Liverpool get off to a bad start, I still think Rodgers makes it to at least Christmas. But I’d rather not be in a position for that to even become a point of debate!
I was more shocked than disappointed Rodgers survived, as over the final month of last season I was sure he had managed himself out of a job. It was just catastrophic from Liverpool, and I thought he would be fired for sure. If he doesn’t manage a strong-ish start through the first few months, despite the backing he’s received, I think FSG go shopping—and that could happen as early as the first few weeks if results don’t go his way. This is by far his strongest squad, and the one that’s arguably been built in his own vision, and as has been mentioned frequently, there’s nowhere for him to hide at this point.
I’m also shocked Rodgers is still around, but not particularly upset. A lot went wrong last season, and the manager is certainly to blame for a great deal of it. His tactics were often predictable, and he was far too stubborn to make adjustments either before, during, or after games. His team selections were often baffling. Then you add the fact that Klopp and Ancellotti were openly flirting with Liverpool, and the decision to keep him seems curious. All that said, I could never bring myself to set foot in the #BROut camp, because he has shown flashes of genius over the years. I still believe Rodgers can right the ship. I hope he can. If he does, FSG deserve a lot of credit for sticking to their guns in the face of great scrutiny.
Obviously, Rodgers is going to be on the hottest of seats to start the season. And by the end, even with a decent run—say missing out on fourth by a couple of points and a few deep, albeit fruitless, runs in the cups—Rodgers could be on his way out. He needs to show marked improvement between last season and this one, regardless of circumstances, up to and including the spontaneous combustion of both Sturridge and Benteke.
Being shocked seems to be a common theme! I was quite surprised that Rodgers survived in the manner he did actually, but now believe he’s safe until the end of the season given the backing he’s received and the new coaching team in place. There’s definitely a sense of renewal in the Liverpool camp, but Liverpool have some difficult fixtures early on in the season as has been pointed out.
However, FSG haven’t supported the manager in the manner they did this summer just to turn around and fire him quickly after a poor start. That probably means he has at least until Christmas before his job security is in any question, and even after that it would likely take something disastrous to see him fired before the end of the season. At that point, though, it’s a case of Champions League qualification or bust.
The last time we did a roundtable, I said that if Brendan Rodgers was to survive as Liverpool manager then FSG needed to put all of their eggs into one basket. It wasn't a popular opinion in the midst of a season falling apart, but I fully believed that Rodgers needed to live or die by his own sword and it seems like that is exactly what is going to happen.
In truth, though, I never really wanted him to be fired. For the last two years, there have been signs that he might be out of his depth, but I honestly think he’s got the potential to build something special—a dynasty, even—at Liverpool. There's no longer a Steven Gerrard shaped elephant in the room, and he's got a squad at his disposal that is, for the most part, one he can call his own.
That means there will be no margin for error and no excuses to fall back on if things begin to unravel, but he's got the talent, the knowledge, and the ideas to find success here. And while I wasn't pleased that Pascoe and Marsh were conveniently scapegoated, I'm hoping O'Driscoll, Ljinders, and McAllister bring enough to the table it won't be a prolonging issue.
I still struggle to reconcile the two sides to how I see Brendan Rodgers. One keeps saying there’s a world class manager in there. The other sees the repeated personnel issues and the self-destructive stubbornness others have touched on, the way he reverted to many of the same early season mistakes at the end of last year, and is shocked he’s not only still around but that FSG have gone above and beyond backing him. And heading into a new season, that conflict remains.
On one hand, Liverpool look set to embrace an exciting, free-flowing approach with some great new talent having been bought. On the other, Rodgers has already raised the possibility of A and B Teams for the league and everything else and seems intent on starting pet project Dejan Lovren ahead of the far superior Mamadou Sakho, which is disappointing, didn’t-learn-a-damn-thing-last-year stuff from a manager everyone still hopes might one day lead Liverpool to success in both Europe and the league. No matter what happens over the next few months, though, it’s clear this is now Rodgers’ team. He has been given the kind of backing past Liverpool managers could only have dreamed of, and if he fails he will have no excuses.
Monday - Part 1: Transfer Business
Wednesday - Part 3: Player Expectations for 2015-16
Thursday - Part 4: Premier League vs. Europa League
Friday - Part 5: What Would Make the Season a Success?