"Even Achilles was only as strong as his heel."
"Sometimes, for my job, I have to put fear in other people."
In Beau Willimon's coruscating political drama, House of Cards, the chief protagonist, a dead-eyed sociopath hiding in plain sight beneath the twinkling charm and genteel manners of a Southern gent, is one Frank Underwood. The role is essayed charismatically by Kevin Spacey with an almost lascivious glee. Frank has a nice line in self-serving grandiloquence and is a master of political prestidigitation, with the happy knack of emerging on top from most of the conflicts in which he embroils himself. The very definition of ruthlessness, he's a self-proclaimed "survivor," with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall and imparting withering insight directly to the viewer.
Now I know what you're thinking, dear reader, and you can relax. I am no Doug Stamper, putting fear into you. There will be no awkwardly rendered comparisons here between Underwood and Liverpool's own silver-tongued smoothie, Brendan Rodgers. As already stated, Frank wins all his battles. Sadly, the man fronting the Anfield house of cards has not displayed anything like the kind of preternatural mercilessness that his fictional counterpart does. Unfortunately, for the incumbent Anfield boss, he has the unenviable record of being the only Liverpool manager not to have won a trophy in his first three seasons.
"We are nothing more or less than what we choose to reveal."
However, one does sense that within Rodgers there is a constant conflict raging and that beneath the calm, loquacious exterior is a man of passion who would dearly love to cudgel some of the more impertinent television hacks with their own microphones. That he retains his decorum and politeness in the face of patent baiting is to his credit, and this discipline over his emotions when under scrutiny is perhaps the one thing he shares with Willimon's Machiavellian schemer. It's an impressive act of will, misunderstood by his critics as weakness.
The stakes for Rodgers have never been higher. The nature of last season's painful fall from grace has left him in an apparently delicate situation. Still to be publicly backed by the men who employ him and with the summer's business already underway (Hello Jimmy Milner!), the Antrim native will know that he must perform well from the start, with the not inconsiderable presences of Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp, looming and temporarily unemployed. In the months to come, political machinations at Anfield will be cranked to levels not seen since the final years of the tenure of Rafa Benitez, a man who, ironically, has just taken the helm at the biggest viper's nest of all, Real Madrid.
"There's no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth."
"The gift of a good liar is making people believe you lack a talent for lying."
There have been many who have harshly dismissed Liverpool's coach as some kind of snake-oil salesman, a fellow possessed of an eloquent tongue that may, in fact, be forked. This has always seemed unfair to this scribbler. Certainly, Rodgers has been continually guilty of the politician's trick of over-promising and under-delivering but there has always seemed to be an earnestness to even the most ill-judged guff he spouts, a kind of enthusiastic optimism that it is impossible to dislike.
Honesty, however, will be the best policy for the Liverpool gaffer in the months to come. The tolerance of fans, even those who still warily back him, is worn to a wispy thread and one senses that it will take only a couple of defeats before the media vultures are drawn to an easy kill and add their considerable weight to the, often obnoxious, torrent of abuse he already endures from those purporting to be supporters of the club. Apart from the odd politically judicious fib, there can be little doubt that the only way for Rodgers to rekindle the waning trust of the Anfield faithful is to be straight with them and to admit when a performance was, in fact, not outstanding at all.
It will be encouraging for the beleaguered boss to hear the words of his new recruit, Divock Origi, who after being loaned back to Lille following his signing last summer, endured an unhappy campaign in Ligue 1. The young Belgian international, whose star has waned somewhat, is the very definition of enthusiasm as he looks forward to linking up with his new teammates and he was particularly complimentary of Rodgers.
"I'm very happy to be going there," averred the promising striker. "Brendan Rodgers is a very good coach and he has proved that so it will be very exciting to work with a world-class coach. Most of all it is important to be at a good club where people believe in you and where you feel good and at Liverpool I had a really good feeling and they have experience of working with young players. It's always nice to play with good players. The important thing is that I work hard and then I think everything will be okay."
"That's how you devour a whale, one bite at a time."
"My only option is asymmetrical - to pick off the opposition one-by-one, like a sniper in the forest."
Oh how we all wish that 'everything will be okay,' Divock. The reality, however, is that may not be. Contractual problems are mounting within the squad for Rodgers to deal with and the Liverpool manager must come up with a strategy to overhaul at least two of the clubs who finished ahead of his charges in the season just ended. This will be a challenging path and it will begin with an improvement on the recruitment performance of last summer and continue with a systematic bettering of defence and attack.
For better or worse, and it has been a matter of much debate, Martin Skrtel is the senior defender at the club. The 30 year old Slovakian national team captain has come off the back of a mixed campaign, excelling when he was the centrepiece of a back three but struggling somewhat in his various partnerships in a more conventional rearguard. His experience, however, in a squad that is sadly lacking in that commodity, is something that Rodgers needs. The money men at the club, however, are not so sure and the deceptively thuggish looking centre half has been left miffed by what he considers a wholly inadequate contract offer.
"It's unacceptable for me," he griped to Slovakian publication Aktualne. "I think that such contracts are offered to players who are much older than me or players who have had some health problems. The contract, which was presented to me, makes me uneasy, so I did not sign it. There has been some speculation about the interest of other clubs for my person, but they are currently being addressed."
With Skrtel disgruntled that the club don't value his 'person,' Steven Gerrard gone, Glen Johnson about to be happily jettisoned and Daniel Sturridge seemingly made of fine crystal, Rodgers is painfully short of senior guaranteed first-teamers. The addition of James Milner is a step in the right direction, as is the contract extension of walking good vibe, Kolo Touré. However, in the absence of too many more seasoned veterans, if Liverpool are to push on to a consistent level of top four attainment, the manager will need more from the bracket in their mid-twenties and exceptional levels of consistency from the youngsters in the squad.
Regular Champions League football must be the goal for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. It may be a tad deluded, given the stinging reality of recent history, but the fans of this great club demand at least that. For some of us, even that comparatively lofty ambition is not enough, having once gorged on the banquet of delights served up by previous incarnations of Liverpool Football Club. For us, the prosaic achievement of Arsenal will never be enough.
League titles and European Cups are all that count. After all, as Frank says, "treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me." Of course, Frank also says, "never slap a man when he's chewing tobacco," so what the hell would he know?
Have a good summer folks.
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