It’s never really possible to recover from a 6-1 defeat to Stoke.
In the end, the only surprise was the timing. Just over three hours after Liverpool’s latest inept display – this time a draw in the Merseyside derby – news broke that Brendan Rodgers was to be removed from his post as the club’s manager.
In many ways it’s a remarkable turnaround in fortune for a man whose name the Liverpool fans were at one time yearning to elevate to the hallowed status of predecessors Rafa Benítez, Kenny Dalglish, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Bill Shankly.
“Make us dream” the fans used to cry, and Rodgers was ready to give them what they wanted. Unfortunately José Mourinho wasn’t, and that 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Anfield that cost them the Premier League title in April 2014 appeared to cause shell shock within Rodgers and the squad that they were never really able to come back from.
It could be argued that this situation is as much the Fenway Sports Group’s fault as it is Rodgers’. It’s understandable that they wanted to give the manager one final chance to prove himself but then, from their own point of view, can it not be considered a damning indictment of their own management of the club that they gave Rodgers another £80 million or so and ten games of the new season to make things worse, and only then did they decide to act?
Would it not have made more sense from a business point of view to get rid of him in the summer before deciding to throw good money after bad? For all of the good work they have done since taking over the club, this has been a colossal error of judgement on the owners’ part.
“I am better when I have control” Rodgers once said. At Liverpool though, he was never really in full control. He successfully talked the owners out of going with their initial plan of appointing a Director of Football, but the formation of the much-maligned transfer committee ensured that signings were never under his absolute authority.
That committee deserves a portion of the blame for this too. That there is such a high turnover of playing staff at Liverpool in recent years indicates that there is clearly something fundamentally wrong with how the club recruits players.
That being said, Rodgers did himself no favours either. In times of crisis the thing to do would have been for him to endear himself to the fans, to reassure them that, although things weren’t going well, he understood their frustrations and was striving to turn it around. Or at the very least, show a bit of humility.
But that never happened. Apparently all it took though was a 3-2 win against a horrendous Aston Villa side for all that famous Brendan Rodgers bluster to return, and realistically by then the fans had had enough. They had enough of the hubris, the constant talk of “rebuilding” despite having four summers to rebuild, the team selections, the substitutions, the inability to organise his defence, the signings, the unearned air of bravado – it just became one massive stick to beat him with.
The 3-4-3 formation, which became a safety blanket for Rodgers last season, has been sussed out by opponents in no time at all this year – that the manager had no idea what to do to change things after that speaks volumes. For a manager that prides himself on tactical sophistication, he seemed paralysed by fear.
In any event, playing such a defensive formation at home to Carlisle, Norwich and FC Sion – and drawing all three 1-1 – is borderline unforgivable.
Without wishing to generalise, it is easy to see why the American executives at FSG liked Rodgers. His use of business jargon and staggering levels of self-belief (such as the time he once said that his greatest mentor was himself) would undoubtedly have struck a chord with John Henry and Tom Werner, and the second he strutted into the room for his interview and brandished a 180-page document outlining his philosophy for the role, the job was his.
By the end, that massive document might as well have been put through the shredder. Whatever philosophy he had envisaged for his time at Anfield, he had deviated from it so much that their play had become a stagnant mess – and Rodgers simply didn’t have the first idea how to fix it.
When a set of principles is abandoned to such a degree, questions have to be asked over whether Rodgers even knew what direction he wanted the club to go in. In fact that’s not even a criticism of Rodgers alone – can anybody at that club really say for sure what the plan for the future of Liverpool FC is?
He will be remembered and thanked by the fans for the good times. He oversaw what was arguably Liverpool’s best (and definitely most enjoyable) league season since Margaret Thatcher was in power, with a style of football that won plaudits from so many that were willing them on to see their wonderful performances rewarded with that elusive title.
Unfortunately what followed – due in no small part to the loss of Luis Suárez and injuries to Daniel Sturridge – was some of the most joyless football Anfield has seen in some time.
So what now for Liverpool? Early reports indicate the frontrunners are, unlike the last time this job this became available, managers of genuine European pedigree.
If FSG do end up appointing either Jürgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti it will be seen as a massive upgrade on what has come before. In fact either would arguably represent one of the biggest managerial appointments in the club’s history such is their substantial standing within the modern game.
Rodgers departs safe in the knowledge that for a brief moment, he did what he set out to do – he made them dream.
Unfortunately for him, he was ill-equipped for what happened when the dream was over.
Simon O’Keeffe, Pundit Arena