"If there is no struggle, there is no progress."
"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
George Bernard Shaw
We're an odd lot, us football fans. We deal in absolutes. A player is either a demi-god or a nugatory buffoon. In our day to day lives we would never dream of deriding a colleague's abilities and dismissing them as utter dross (we might think it but we would never say it or plaster it in ALL CAPS across cyberspace). Similarly, no matter how highly we admired a friend or family member, it's highly unlikely that we would compose ditties in their honour, hailing them as the greatest in the world or defend even their most egregious actions out of blind but fervent loyalty.
When it comes to our chosen football club, however, there seems to be a completely different extremist doctrine which prescribes that folk are either heroes or villains, to be loved or hated with a passionate zeal. As a footballer, Luis Suárez was the nonpareil in the English game for two seasons and therefore Liverpool fans loved him. For that exact reason, opposition fans abhorred him. Now, with Suárez there were mitigating circumstances which allowed those people to justify their loathing and caused even Liverpool fans to feel a tad queasy about their blind loyalty, but enough of all that. The point, dear reader, is that fans are tribal to a fault. It's what makes them great and it's also what undermines them.
If there's one thing that makes football supporters extremely wary, it's change. There have been two occasions in recent years when there has been a general mood of content amongst Liverpool fans. The first was when FSG replaced Roy Hodgson with Kenny Dalglish. Of course, even then there were some dissenting voices. Liverpool fans, as a body, are riven by so much internal conflict and sniping that they can scarcely call themselves brethren. I genuinely wonder about some of the souls who stand beneath the same banner as I do -- not because I feel in any way better but because I cannot identify with anything other than their love of the club.
The other occasion on which the fan base was merged in reasonable harmony was the blissed-out period from January to May of this year. Liverpool supporters understood, believed and knew that the club was a force again. Title challengers, players of the best football in the land and entertainers par excellence. Something had been altered and it was glorious. The catalyst for this change was not the aforementioned Uruguayan genius, but rather the unassuming but authoritative presence in the dugout.
Brendan Rodgers had weathered the storm of doubt and derision that greeted his appointment and earliest months of tenure, emerging as a man of quiet dignity and intelligence. Certainly, he may still be given to the occasional hubristic utterance but these grandiose statements don't seem to come from a place of arrogance or vanity. If Rodgers thinks he is "special," he does not feel the need to share it with the assembled press.
Indeed, from the first moment, the focus of the manager's occasionally magniloquent statements has been Liverpool Football Club and it's standing. The Antrim man believes passionately that Anfield is one of the world's footballing hubs and he is immeasurably proud of his position at the helm. Liverpool supporters have occasionally winced at some of the more high-flown pronouncements their young manager has made but that is because they have been recently schooled in the Academy of Disappointment. Rodgers has no truck with pessimism or defeatist caution. He is a man with a plan -- a plan he admits is ahead of schedule -- and he is reveling in it's successful implementation to date. And so he should.
Now, to complicate matters further, comes a massive shift in the playing staff. Suárez is gone along with his virtually anonymous dinner buddies Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto. That trio will likely be joined by quite a few more, with rumours linking Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger to moves away from L4. In have come the beguilingly handsome midfield enforcer, Emre Can, the extravagantly maned attacking trickster, Lazar Markovic, the deceptively adroit Scouse striker, Rickie Lambert and the pricey but undeniably skilful midfielder, Adam Lallana.
The good or bad news for fans, depending on their predilection for change, is that there will be more awkward leaning on inanimate objects around Melwood in the weeks to come, as the manager looks to create Liverpool As Title Challengers 2.0. Rodgers, as previously stated, is only two years into a long term plan. His progress last year was a delightful surprise and all the more impressive in that it masked several glaring issues in relation to the relative depth of talent in the squad when compared with the altogether more impressive groups in direct competition with the Redmen. The plan, he insists, was always to address that deficit in class.
"We felt last year we just never had the depth and we are in the Champions League this year, so we have to ensure we have as strong a squad as possible," insisted the Carnlough native. "We are getting the right type of player in. But we certainly won't spend just for the sake of spending. It has to be the sort of player who is going to improve us. Obviously Luis going gives us the clout to go and spend more and we are getting the right type of player in. But we certainly won't spend just for the sake of spending. It has to be the sort of player who is going to improve us."
Fans can debate the merits of those already through the door and they can also drive themselves into a rabid frenzy about the superstars who may or may not yet arrive but the spumescent froth at the corner of their mouths will impact the future not a jot. Rodgers will call the tune and his selections will be the ones he feels can best achieve his vision. The good news is that the manager is not slavishly tethered to one dogma. If his current plan is failing, he will change and adapt. A real concern will be how to help Daniel Sturridge and replace the goals scored by his partner of last season.
"In the times Daniel has played up there without Luis he has shown his qualities," opined the Liverpool boss. "But the onus is not really on one player, the strength of us has been the team. When I came in, people talked about how Luis didn't score regularly, how he didn't get enough opportunities or take them. In the last two years we've proved with the number of chances we create you can get goals. But it is not just about him. We scored 101 goals last season and he got 31 of them. We have goals all across the team and will bring in players we think can assist with making them. The signings we have made have no relation to Luis going, absolutely – these were players that were always earmarked to come in."
So then, with money available and a will to restructure the squad, Liverpool Football Club is about to undergo another considerable alteration. However, the tactical and personnel choices of the manager to date have been overwhelmingly positive. To paraphrase Monty Python, he may not be the Messiah, but Brendan Rodgers is not a very naughty boy either. The lesson of Rodgers time at the club to date? Don't be afraid. Change is good.