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On Brendan Rodgers, Absolute Power, and Failing to Identify Talent

Brendan Rodgers would only sign on as manager of Liverpool Football club if the owners agreed they wouldn't hire a Director of Football. It’s time for Fenway Sports Group to revisit the issue.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Towards the end of April, rumours Liverpool were looking to bring in Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, or Monchi, who has spent more than a decade as Director of Football at Sevilla to Anfield popped up on Twitter. They haven’t been seen since, but recent reports that Fenway Sports Group may be looking to make changes to the way the club operates on the football side this summer would seem to back up the idea that the owners may try to force the Director of Football issue this summer. Whether those rumours are true or not, it’s an issue they should be forcing.

When FSG hired Brendan Rodgers in 2012, they had wanted to make having an experienced Director of Football part of the deal. They wanted a senior football man guiding the young and largely untested manager’s hand when it came to issues of talent identification and player recruitment. Rodgers, though, refused, making not having a Director of Football above him at the club a condition of his signature, and in the end, FSG liked Rodgers enough to allow him to get his way. In retrospect, it appears a blunder and that their initial instincts were right: Rodgers, for all his promise, needs a guiding hand.

That was a point driven home by reports this week that Rodgers has struggled to coexist with with the other members of transfer committee, the compromise of a group that was put in place—and of which Rodgers is the key member—when he refused a DoF. The supposed key points of contention? Rodgers' desire last summer to bring in Ryan Bertrand and his eventual overruling as the club instead purchased Alberto Moreno, and his desire the summer before to bring in Ashley Williams only to be overruled and see the club bring in Mamadou Sakho. In both cases, the transfer committee and owners made the right call.

It’s part of a worrying trend of poor talent identification on Rodgers’ part, and if the manager does remain in FSG’s long-term plans, they should be using the club finishing outside of the top four this season as a chance to install a competent, proven Director of Football to oversee the management half of the equation. Rodgers has at times shown himself to be a gifted coach but a reliably subpar identifier of talent—both in the market and when it comes to the players he already has at the club. If he is to remain at Liverpool, it should be with a narrowed focus on what he does best and seems most promising as: a coach.

Rodgers has had a clear influence on too many failed signings—and in too many attempted signings and reports of interest that have seemed puzzling. He has also failed to properly identify the talent already at hand. He famously tried to peddle Jordan Henderson along with cash for an aging Clint Dempsey shortly before the United States international returned to MLS. Following his failure to bring in Ashley Williams, Rodgers was the driving force behind the signing of Dejan Lovren, relegating Mamadou Sakho to the bench and shoving Daniel Agger out the door as a result. Both where better players than the man Rodgers wanted.

After a mid-season resurgence for the club that saw Steven Gerrard’s minutes limited, in part due to injury, and a stabilised midfield anchored by Lucas Leiva, Rodgers shoehorned Gerrard right back into the holding role to end a disappointing campaign with him making the same mistakes he began it with. After showing he could excel at either centre half or in midfield, Rodgers has in recent weeks repeatedly forced Emre Can into a right back role he has clearly struggled with while a promising young right back remains on the bench and both central defence and midfield seem in desperate need of Can’s reassuring presence.

Rodgers has real talent as a coach. He’s shown it on multiple occasions in his time at the club. When it comes to his ability to identify talent and put it in its best position to succeed, though, most of what Rodgers has shown so far has been lacking. Most worryingly, there has been a tendency for him to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. With the right structure put in place—the right training wheels strapped to their young and, three years on, apparently still learning manager—it may be survivable for Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club, but getting that structure into place right now has to be the priority.

If Rodgers is to remain as manager of Liverpool Football Club, it needs to be under the steadying hand of a proven, veteran Director of Football. That the club are once again entering into the summer looking something of a dysfunctional mess is massively depressing for fans, as is having just missed out on the top four through largely self-inflicted wounds. If the mess of a situation leads to Liverpool being able to get the kind system into place that it turns out the owners were right to want all along, though, perhaps the club can come out the end of it back on the right track.

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