So, after two weeks, which felt like much, much longer, FSG have appointed Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool’s new manager. This is a brave appointment for sure, even those fans like myself who believe it’s a positive move, have to admit it’s a brave one, and only time will tell if it is correct one.
It’s fair to say that the reaction to Rodgers’ appointment was mixed. There are still many fans who believe Kenny Dalglish should still be in charge. There are many, many more that wanted Rafa Benitez back as manager and couldn’t understand why FSG seemed totally unwilling to speak to him. There is a huge section of the fanbase who were left wondering if it was wise to fire Dalglish if he was going to be replaced by a relative rookie, rather than a proven manager.
One thing is clear though; by appointing Rodgers, FSG have made it abundantly clear that they are going to rebuild Liverpool their way. I’m sure that both Rodgers and FSG will be well aware that large sections of the club’s fanbase won’t be too happy with this appointment, so this appointment shows both FSG’s faith in Rodgers and Rodgers’ faith in his own ability to make it a success.
Rodgers comes to Liverpool on the back of an extremely successful season with Swansea, where the Swans defied all of the experts’ preseason predictions of near-certain relegation, to not only comfortably finish mid-table, without ever really being in danger of relegation, but to do so playing some extremely good football along the way.
In his first press conference as manager, Rodgers was impressive, and won over a lot of doubters. He came across as extremely eloquent and confident, yet humble, which is difficult to do. He made it clear that he wasn’t going to be FSG’s lickspittle or yes man; he made it clear that he was not happy with the way FSG went about their manager and initially told them so.
The process that has led to Rodgers’ appointment has been quite an interesting one. FSG have tried to do things differently to the way things are usually done and it was interesting to watch how fans and the media have become increasingly agitated at the way that FSG went about the search for a new manager.
One of the phrases that regularly get used by Liverpool fans is ‘the Liverpool way’. This is a statement that stems from the extraordinarily successful period for Liverpool in the 70’s and 80’s, where outside observers tried to put their finger on just what Liverpool were doing differently to everyone else, and how they had become so successful and managed to sustain that success for so long. The conclusion was that Liverpool had a way of doing things and a set of values and traditions that was different to what most other clubs were doing, which became known as ‘the Liverpool way’.
The problem with ‘the Liverpool way’ is that it is an abstract concept, rather than a hard and fast way of doing things; so it means something different to every Liverpool fan, which makes it difficult to interpret if someone is doing things ‘the Liverpool way’ or not.
One of the things it means to most fans is that Liverpool used to have a tradition of doing their business behind closed doors. It used to be that the first you knew about a transfer was when you saw that player posing in a Liverpool shirt, you would never hear anything but vague rumours about any boardroom unrest or any problems the manager may have been having with a player or a member of the club’s hierarchy.
To a large extent that has changed, and that change was inevitable. In a world of 24/7 media coverage of football, it is hard to keep things a secret. Almost inevitably things get leaked. Players, clubs, and agents all leak news about transfers in order to try and give themselves some leverage when it comes to negotiations. Multiple camera angles record any outward sign of dissent by a player to a manager, no matter how slight, and it gets built into a major story. It’s fair to say that at Liverpool in the past few years, business was not conducted behind closed doors.
So, when it came to choosing the new Liverpool manager FSG decided to keep things quiet. Virtually no information was leaked by them, with the only real sources of information coming from either those managers who had been sounded out (or not sounded out in some cases), and Wigan owner Dave Whelan, who decided to update everyone about Roberto Martinez’s chances of getting the Liverpool job. The fans who were craving for some, any, information from FSG were becoming more and more frustrated by the wall of silence that they were met with from the owners.
This frustration sums up both Liverpool fans and the modern football fan, most of who exist in a state of contradiction. Fans want the riches that are available to clubs now, and the star players those riches allow their club to buy, but balk at commercialism. Fans want the trappings the modern game provides but to still do things the traditional way. Fans want to be kept in the loop about what’s going on at their club, but at the same time want business to be conducted behind closed doors. Many of those fans, who want to see FSG behave in ‘the Liverpool way’, were criticising them for doing just that by keeping quiet.
Similarly FSG were criticised for not having a manager lined up when Dalglish was sacked as some fans said it made them appear clueless, but had FSG replaced Dalglish immediately they, and the new manager, would have been criticised for conspiring against Kenny Dalglish, and undermining his position.
The media were also getting increasingly antsy at FSG’s refusal to oblige them by giving any real clue as to what was going on. As the media couldn’t report on the candidates, because they weren’t actually sure who they were, they decided to report on the process that FSG were using to select the new manager.
Being American, and having experience in American sports, FSG understandably adopted the approach used by American sports teams (and pretty much every single company in the world) when looking to hire a manager, which can be a drawn-out, quite public process. They decided to draw up a list of candidates, planned to invite them for an interview, and then make a decision.
This is very different from the traditional way English teams conduct a manager search, which is usually done quickly, and behind closed doors. Most of the time, clubs have a candidate, or a couple of candidates, already in mind when removing the incumbent manager, and even if they don’t, they tend to focus their manager search on just one or two people. In the English media’s eyes, anything that differs from the way things are usually done in English football is automatically wrong; and Liverpool’s owners faced criticism from the media over their method for picking a new manager.
To be fair, some of that criticism was merited. FSG largely managed to keep things under wraps, but one of the few leaks that came from within the club suggested that Pep Guardiola was on FSG’s shortlist. That suggested that FSG’s list wasn’t entirely realistic, as not only had he said he wanted a break from the game before managing another club, but would he really have wanted to come to Liverpool? I think not. Similarly, it was wildly fanciful to suggest that Jose Mourinho or Jurgen Klopp were ever going to consider coming to Liverpool at this time.
Also, I think FSG showed a bit of naiveté in misjudging the relationship club managers have with their various chairmen and their fans. Managers that are currently in a job are reluctant to publicly go after another, unless it is virtually a done deal, for fear that if they don’t get the job after expressing an interest in another, they will have weakened their position within their own club and will have lost the trust of their chairman and fans. This meant that while Liverpool may well have identified several candidates, few would have wanted to risk the wrath of their chairman or fans by taking part in such a public recruitment process.
Brendan Rodgers said as much in his press conference. He had initially ruled himself out of the job because he didn’t want to take part in such a public recruitment process. It was only when FSG kept things more low-key did he agree to speak to them.
As much as the onus is on Rodgers to prove his appointment was the right one, there is an equal onus FSG to provide Rodgers with every opportunity to succeed. FSG stated last season that they wanted a top-4 finish, and the Champions League football that follows. At the time that wasn’t an unreasonable suggestion, as Liverpool had finished the previous season very strongly, and had invested heavily in the squad. Liverpool fell way short of those expectations and as a result Kenny Dalglish lost his job.
It would be unhelpful to put similar expectations on Brendan Rodgers’ shoulders. It is highly unlikely that Rodgers will get a great deal of money to spend, certainly nowhere near the amount Kenny Dalglish got, and FSG have to be aware that while Liverpool many strengthen this summer, at least six of the seven clubs who finished above them in the league last season will also be strengthening, and will be an even tougher proposition next season.
FSG have already shown their faith in Rodgers by scrapping the management model they preferred, which would have seen Rodgers working under a Sporting Director/ Director of Football. Rodgers had stated he wouldn’t work directly under a Sporting Director, and FSG have agreed. It is believed that FSG will appoint people to do the role of a Sporting Director, but they will work in support of Rodgers, rather than Rodgers working under them.
Barring total disaster, FSG should allow Rodgers to keep his job irrespective of what happens in the next few seasons. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Rodgers will require time to get comfortable in the role and start to show what he can do, and the players may need time to get used to his methods. FSG need to have faith in their appointment and allow him to fulfil the potential he obviously has.
Also, the Liverpool fans need to have patience with Rodgers. Last season, Rodgers often spoke about Swansea’s bravery in defeat. In England that usually means throwing yourself into tackles and putting your body on the line for your team. For Rodgers, it had a different meaning. He meant that his players were brave enough to play that style of football, as it carries a risk to the players of making a huge mistake, but they had the courage to play that way regardless, as they knew that it can lead to huge rewards for the team. Liverpool’s fans have to recognise this and not get on players backs every time they make a mistake, which will drain their confidence.
Liverpool ended last season with a 1-0 defeat away to Swansea, and have now hired their manager. In late 1959, Liverpool lost 1-0 away at Huddersfield. A few days later Huddersfield’s manager became the new manager of Liverpool. That man was Bill Shankly, and Liverpool can only hope that Rodgers appointment turns out anywhere near as well as that one did, given enough time and support, it just well could be.