From last season's finale capitulation to Stoke through a hammering by West Ham at Anfield heading into the September break, there hasn't been a worse time for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool football club. Things seem a touch steadier in the weeks since, but that's mostly down to the simple, unavoidable, and depressing fact that it's hard to imagine things could have gotten very much worse.
That run of dire football and middling results sandwiched by a pair of statement losses has, now well into his fourth year in charge and following on from a year three that was mostly disappointing even before Stoke beat Liverpool 6-1 on the final day of the season, has set up something of a feeling of expectation surrounding Rodgers. And that expectation is that it's really only a matter of time before he ends up out of the Liverpool job.
It's quite a hole to find oneself in, and if he's ever to dig himself out—or even to have the outside chance of digging himself out—he's going to need to show his side can deliver both performances and results. And he's going to need to do it in an awful hurry. A victory over Aston Villa on Saturday, even if it was at times tighter than it probably should have been, at the very least has the manager fired up to try.
"There has been a frenzy, there's no doubt about that, to get me out of here," said Rodgers, who is one of only three Premier League managers to have been in the same job for more than three seasons. "It's a huge club, so you know as a manager it's something you have to deal with. You know what comes from leadership and being a manager. I've never got too carried away when we've won or disappointed wen we've lost."
One can imagine that, in his position, it does feel a bit as though he has been cornered by a screaming chorus of voices all wanting him out. Yet at the end of the day, Rodgers has been given far more financial backing than any Liverpool manager in the Premier League era, and he has been given more time to make things work at the club than he would at almost any other. The proof is right there in the numbers.
Under pressure and with people on all sides seeming to want him out, it might seem something of a frenzy. A belief that Rodgers has been given backing and multiple chances to come good on his managerial promise and that it's time for the club to make a switch, though, is hardly knee-jerk. And the reality is that the club have delivered poor results on the back of poor performances consistently for more than a calendar year now.
The reality is that, having been given three summers to build, financial backing, and now free reign in the transfer market, too, this is wholly Rodgers' team. Every side brings in new talent every season, and player overturn and time to settle is no longer a valid excuse—or if it is, it's an excuse that applies to every club equally. This is Rodgers' team. This is year four. And things have looked mostly dire now since the start of year three.
"It' not about proving people wrong," the manager insisted. "I think I have shown in the early stages of my management here—without being arrogant—that with a talented group of players I can compete at the top end of the league. There are very short memories in football. The team was eighth when I got here and we built and produced a team to excite people throughout European football that should have won the league."
They should have, perhaps. But the reality is that his Liverpool sides have not looked much like that Liverpool side in more than a year now. The reality is that this Liverpool side is once again smack dab in eighth place, just like the one he inherited. That's a situation that will put pressure on any manager, particularly when the performances have been poor to go along with the middling results. And it's a pressure that's fully deserved.
These are all Rodgers' players. If their talent is an issue, that's on him. Since arriving at the club, Rodgers has been backed to the tune of an average net spend of £36M per season. That's a number that may pale in comparison to the spend of Manchester City or United, but it's also nearly £10M more per season on average than Jose Mourinho has been given at Chelsea since his return and than Arsene Wenger has spent at Arsenal.
Tottenham have had a negative net spend during Rodgers' tenure. Roberto Martinez at Everton has been given around £11M per year. Liverpool may be playing catch-up with more established sides ahead of them, but the club's owners have given Rodgers enough financial backing that they along with the fans and pundits should reasonably be able to expect more than what has been on display since the start of last season.
"I know how to manage top players and build an exciting group," Rodgers insisted. "But when you lose that or those payers are not available, it takes time. All the good work gets forgotten. My only gripe is that it seems the focus has not been on what's gone on and what we've been missing, but more about getting me out. I am the same man who nearly won us the league, but better. If you give me the tools, I'll do the work."
He's been given the tools, and is now solidly into his fourth season in charge. So far, the results—a win over Aston Villa on the weekend notwithstanding—have not met with expectations. With Fenway Sports Group loathe to sack him so soon after their summer backing, he may still have time to prove he can work with those tools. But he doesn't have very much of it. The clock is ticking.