Last season, Martin Skrtel was Liverpool's player of the season and arguably the second best centre back in the league after Vincent Kompany. This season, following the departure of defensive guru Steve Clarke over the summer, the effectiveness of both Skrtel and regular defensive partner Daniel Agger has suffered markedly. And now the Slovak has admitted he has been demoted behind the soon to be retired Jamie Carragher by manager Brendan Rodgers.
"I have to wait, what else can I do?" said Skrtel in an interview with Denik Sport where he was asked about his less prominent role in recent weeks. "When I was healthy, I was training with the team, giving 100 percent, and doing all I could to prove to the coach that I belonged in the starting XI. I was waiting for a chance, one then came in St Petersburg, but then I was not playing again. However, now I'm injured and we'll see what happens when I'm back fit.
"It would not be correct to consider leaving a club where you have been on the bench in four or five fixtures. On the other hand, it is hard to put up with it. The coach has his ideas about the line-up and the question is if I would be in it if I was fit. I would say it's likelier I wouldn't, [but] the most important thing for me is to recover as soon as possible and resume training."
Skrtel's admission gives credence to rumours of a falling-out between player and manager and makes it difficult to imagine that if he is chased by other Premier League sides this summer he would turn a move down as he did last August. On his recent form than might not seem a huge loss, yet given that he isn't the only defender whose performances have suffered under the new management team it seems unfair to place blame for that entirely on Skrtel.
"It would be useless to think about a transfer during the season," he added when asked if his recent demotion would spur him into seeking out a new home. "I [just] want to be fit as soon as possible and fight for the place in the starting lineup. If the coach loses interest in keeping me in his team, then we would have to handle it with my agent. For the present I am at Liverpool where I have a long-term contract and I am not thinking about leaving."
While most would have pointed to January's loss to Oldham in the FA Cup, an overwhelmingly poor team performance with Skrtel captaining the young side, as the moment the manager soured on the Slovak defender, Skrtel believes it was actually two games earlier against Manchester United when everything went wrong:
"It all happened after our match with Manchester United in the middle of January. In Manchester we lost 2-1 but I think that particularly in the second half we played very well, but [Rodgers] told me we had lost the organisation of play in the defensive line and that this would be the reason why I would not play in the following matches.
"He selects the line-up and picks players who will be on the pitch. At the moment I'm not among the first 11. It makes me sad but the coach has decided like this and I have to respect it. Anyway, I'm not the type of player who would be chasing the coach, asking for explanations why I'm not playing. I have never done this, I'm not doing it now, and I never will. If the coach wants to tell me something, he will summon me.
"I would not like to make any unnecessary conflicts because the thing that is above all is success for Liverpool as a club and I will support them even if I'm on the bench or in the stands."
After being the club's best player last season and making up half of what was likely the Premier League's top defensive pairing, it's been a long way to fall for Skrtel to unfavoured spare part behind a soon to be retired Jamie Carragher. Now, with the club out of all cup competitions and the player speaking freely of his disappointment, it wouldn't be hugely surprising if he were to find himself consigned to the bench for the remainder of the season.
Aside from the obvious disappointment in the decline of a player who twelve months ago seemed nearly irreplaceable, it likely signals that there will be massive changes in defence over the summer—an overhaul at centre back that will almost certainly see three of the clubs top four centre halves needing replacing. It's the kind of wholesale change that, if it doesn't work out, could lead to yet another wasted season for a club that has of late spent all its time treading water in mid-table.