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Liverpool have shown a history of baulking at the opportunity to bring in players and managers who perhaps could have taken them to the next level. Klopp seems like that man, but sacking Rodgers? Unthinkable? Maybe. Maybe not. 

April 28th 2015

The assembled media have congregated around Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, following his side’s latest setback in the race for the final Champions League spot. Rodgers team have just suffered a damaging 1-0 reverse to Steve Bruce’s Hull City. The defeat leaves his side seven points behind 4th placed Manchester United with four games remaining. The probability is that Liverpool will need to content themselves with the humdrum of Thursday night Europa League football. Meanwhile over in Spain, earlier in the night, Luis Suarez contributed 2 more goals to Barcelona’s cause in the head to head battle with Real Madrid for La Liga.

Lamenting Luis

The question was put to Rodgers that if he remains in charge, what plans are in place for summer recruitment? The response was nine months in the offing.

We have to look to improve the squad again which every big club will do” – Rodgers on potential summer spending

For fans and players it’s great to get those marquee players – and there are maybe one or two we need. The owners will support that. If they’re available and affordable within the model then we will look to get them”.

We’ve been here before.

Summer 2002

Following a second place finish behind Arsenal, Gerard Houllier embarks on a £20m summer spending spree. Convinced that El Hadji Diouf (£10m), Salif Diao (£4.7m) and Bruno Cheyrou (£3.7m) will deliver the League title, Houllier resists the temptation to give Liverpool the width and creativity they need. He baulks at the £17m price tag placed on Damien Duff by Blackburn Rovers and instead goes with what he knows. His team revert to type and take two steps back. Relying on Michael Owen’s pace on the counter attack and the physical presence of Emile Heskey, those summer signings would become a noose around the Frenchman’s neck. The failure of those signings and that of Harry Kewell would eventually lead to Houllier’s departure in the summer of 2004.

Summer 2009

Another second place finish, another what might have been. However, the difference being this was a Liverpool side laden with quality. A spine consisting of Reina, Carragher, Alonso and Torres augmented by Mascherano and Gerrard, convinced supporters that the good times were near. Two Texans by the name of George Gillett and Tom Hicks put paid to supporters’ hopes. Alonso’s departure to Real Madrid and the Benitez/Texan power struggle, set the club back years. A seventh placed finish that season and Benitez was on his way. Another chance missed.

That was then, this now

Five years after the departure of Benitez and with memories of Houllier’s 2002 ill judged spending spree still fresh in the mind, Brendan Rodgers faces the first serious questions of his managerial ability. Where one opportunity evaporates another becomes available. Lurking in the background is the charismatic figure of Jurgen Klopp. Having announced his upcoming departure from Borussia Dortmund, some bookmakers last night suspended betting on him becoming the new Liverpool manager. Klopp and Liverpool seem a natural fit. Since his appointment in 2008, Klopp has cultivated a young hardworking side in Dortmund and forged a close relationship with the clubs vociferous support. He has supplemented this with two league titles and a Champions League Final appearance, all against the backdrop of a resurgent Bayern Munich.

The John Henry led FSG consortium now face a difficult decision, possibly the most important since taking over the club. Do they stick by Rodgers and grant him another season to improve results or do they take a plunge on the maverick Klopp? who is unproven in English football. Benitez name continues to be mentioned with a return; however this is a classic Liverpool conundrum. The pull of an emotional figure from the past (note Dalglish in 2011) versus realism. Another name being linked is Frank De Boer who’s Ajax background and penchant for youth development could appeal to FSG.

If Rodgers is to be given a stay of execution, a wholesale summer of changes must begin in earnest. Too often this season Steven Gerrard has been overwhelmed in midfield. No longer able to dominate games, Gerrard’s departure and the circus it’s generated cant come quickly enough. Liverpool and the player need to move on. Other’s such as Lucas Leiva and Jose Enrique have served they’re purpose and also need to be shown the exit door. Out of contract Glen Johnson and Kolo Toure will free up considerable wages for younger signings. Fringe players such as Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini were never destined to succeed at a higher level.

And then there’s Mario. When Brendan Rodgers failed to attract Alexis Sanchez last summer to replace Barcelona bound Luis Suarez, it left a gaping hole which they have not addressed. Balotelli at this stage can be struck off as an impulse buy. What’s more worrying was the decision making process behind the purchase of the Italian. Considered ‘unmanageable’ by Jose Mourinho while at Inter Milan, what chance did Rodgers stand? His decision to play him from the start against West Brom on Saturday and Hull last night, smacks of desperation. Rodgers publically criticized the player’s suitability to his team’s style earlier in the season. What’s more remarkable is starting the player when chasing victories required for the final Champions League spot. Hauled off after 70 minutes last night you begin to wonder will any potential buyers come forward?

Hampered by injuries, the absence of Daniel Sturridge for the majority of the season has been a cruel blow to the manager. His continued absence, combined with Luis Suarez move to Barcelona robbed the team of its attacking lifeline. It was the very basis on how the new Liverpool styled itself. You only had to look at how Chelsea fared last season without Diego Costa. With a further £45m spent last summer on the Southampton pair of Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren, Rodgers prowess in the transfer market has come under heavy scrutiny and rightly so. The presence at Liverpool of a six man transfer committee heightens the confusion as to who makes the final decision on player recruitment. Surely all six members did not agree on the signing of Balotelli? Perhaps they reverted to a game of short straws?

This coming summer will start and end like most others over the last 20 years at Liverpool. Eternal hope mixed with realism. The inevitable departures will be balanced by highly anticipated incomings and on the season will rumble. Speaking of incomings, just who can we expect to pose under the famed ‘This is Anfield’ sign this summer? Of three potential midfielders who may be on the market, two have already seemingly decided on they’re club of choice. Ilkay Gundogan, if reports are correct, has plumped for Manchester United with Morgan Schneiderlin looking to reunite with his former manager at Tottenham, Maurico Pochettino. Both of the above would command £20m plus fees in a transfer window. Of greater value would be Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira. Although susceptible to injury, the German international is available on a free transfer. His vast wage demands could be a stumbling block.

The centre of defence as ever with Liverpool is a source of concern. The expected impact of Lovren has failed to materialise and it will take a lot for the player to regain the trust of manager and supporters. The manager’s indecision between playing three central defenders and reverting to a flat four has cause confusion. In this department, the only bright spot has been the continued improvement of Emre Can. The German may well develop into the all action midfielder we saw in a young Steven Gerrard.

Will Daniel Sturridge shake the injury prone tag? Who will eventually replace Suarez? Will Jordan Ibe ascend to the highest level?

Will Brendan Rodgers provide the answers to these questions?

… Only time will tell.


Eoin O’Neill

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