I’M obsessed with structures. You never want to work with me. I’ll structure you to death, put all sorts of things around you. However, once we have those structures, let’s go crazy. Structures empower. They encourage creativity, guarding against mistakes and, specifically, the repetition of mistakes. We make mistakes — let’s learn from them and reinvent.
Liverpool’s transfer window in the summer just gone was a mistake. Let’s learn from it. Let’s create structures and find new ways to work. Let’s encourage creativity. But with structures around.
Let’s humour ourselves for a second we understand how transfers work or indeed the club’s current structures. We almost certainly don’t, but let’s discuss the imposition of principles into Liverpool’s planning.
Were I John Henry I’d give Brendan Rodgers:
a) A guarantee of a job until 2016 at Anfield and beyond if he meets the KPIs. (A structural target).
b) Control of all transfers. Within a structure. Let the committee report to him, let him set its goals and he can report to me and Ian Ayre.
Therefore reports overnight Liverpool, and specifically Brendan Rodgers, are contemplating letting a load of defenders go scare the life out of me. Not because I believe these defenders to be brilliant players, any of them, just that it is the sort of unstructured nonsense which will lead to getting bogged down in previous mistakes. Wasting time and resources on something which really isn’t anywhere as important as we can convince ourselves it can be. It’s the pursuit of perfection, an idea that Liverpool can play the same game as Chelsea, City and, eventually again, United.
It’s also at odds with a holistic view about the side. Currently it’s fair to say that there have been issues both in goal and in front of the back four. One of those has been an issue since Pepe Reina packed in saving things. Say January 2012? The other has been an issue since Lucas Leiva pulled up lame at Chelsea away in the League Cup back end of 2011. I think you have to deal with at least one of these before you start jibbing a load of defenders and the clear one, the nearest thing to a magic bullet is goalkeeper. Give them a goalkeeper who both inspires confidence (unlike Mignolet) and saves things (unlike Reina and, especially, Jones) and ideally one who doesn’t have a pop in open letters (may all letters stay closed). This goalkeeper doesn’t have to be a world-beater though it’d be better if he was. A steady Eddie like, say Nigel Martyn, who saves what he should, positions himself as he ought, talks etc. One of them would do but world-beaters are always great.
Have that goalkeeper and then judge these defenders. But also, keep these defenders at least for twelve months. They are alright. We came second last season with Aly Cissokho and Jon Flanagan at left back. The moral of this story isn’t “what could you do with a boss left back?” It is “shows how unimportant left back can be if you score a load of goals.” Basically – we have other things to do.
And this would be my structure. Brendan, you can have complete control of who stays and who goes. But we won’t give you a penny to spend on a defensive midfielder, even if you sell one. We won’t give you a penny to spend on a defender, even if you sell one. We will give you half of Gerrard and Johnson’s wages to play with if you let either go at the end of their deal to get a lad in on a free, but the other half? That’s paying for the new goalkeeper. That’s paying for goals. Any transfer fees we raise on anyone we sell? Going on goals and a goalkeeper that.
Because this is your sole KPI for 2015/16 — P38 W??? D??? L??? F90 A55. Finishing position? Nah. Just the F and the A. The For is a minimum. The Against is a maximum. That’s it. Do what you want in the cups. You are a highly motivated individual – we’re sure you want to win games and trophies. But you just make sure on F90 and A55. Should you achieve that your KPI for 16/17 is F100 A50. Then 17/18 F110 A45. Just letting you know now as it might inform your decisions with this new power you have.
So that’s where the money is going and that’s the structure. You can buy any goalkeeper you can convince to come here. You can buy any attackers you like — let’s start talking about lads who score one in two with pace and verve. You can sell any attackers and attacking midfielders you like and you’ll get all the fee and wages to play with for attackers and attacking midfielders. If you want to try jiggery pokery with defence and defensive midfielders then fill your boots. But it is jiggery pokery and you will pay for it if you don’t hit your KPI. So don’t waste your time — overhauls can do one. Buy goals. Always be buying goals. We’re helping.
We were sold that FSG would look for a new way to win. Brendan himself acknowledged goals were a target at the start of 2013/14. Somehow, somewhere, too many have been beguiled by convention, not what actually worked, what achieved the unlikely. Too many have wondered about reversion to mean and instituted a policy most likely to bring that reversion to mean about. We’ve got back on to their playing field and lost. They were terrified of ours — did you see Arsenal at the weekend?
A structure such as this would be good for the manager. He improves footballers. He works well with consistency from his playing staff. He’s very good at midfielders and full backs in possession. He’s good with young players. I trust him to get the best out of the lads coming through, more than any Liverpool manager in living memory. Use them. You can do the controlling midfields. You can keep the ball forever and a day. This is brilliant. But goals and goalkeepers need buying rather than coaching most of the time.
On the other hand, the attacking football he is great at is always going to expose your own centre backs, so acknowledge that. Don’t have an expensive toy there. Have all your expensive toys where they are useful. It’s hard to coach goals, but Brendan Rodgers has shown himself to be brilliant at coaching chances. Further, his achievements in terms of motivation, improvement and tactics with Suarez and Sturridge have, if anything, been underplayed. He got them both playing, not as a partnership almost as two lone forwards who happened to be on the same side. He got the goals Suarez had threatened to score since he arrived out of him. He helped Sturridge develop and gave him room to do so, sometimes at Suarez’s expense but kept both players happy. However what he didn’t do was improve Suarez and Sturridge with a magic wand. He created the space for them to improve into the players they should be and exploited it. You need to buy those players in. They cost. And some will fail. But those who succeed, succeed at a £30m level. Goals. You can work the rest out around them.
Two all draws with Arsenal, season long battles with Arsenal while the big boys are over the hill and far away are the future unless big, bold, risky decisions are made. Having seen Liverpool come closer than they had since I was nine, having seen the impact goals have, having seen Benitez and Houllier get close but never quite have that league title X factor while Ferguson brings on another brilliant forward, having seen a flawed side completely wipe the system out, all I think is we need goals. I used to love a dour 2-0 and the aim was to be that dour 2-0 side. But having had all that, it’s not our path. Both boxes. That’s where the money and focus should go, not on an eternal drab battle for fourth. That, with Brendan Rodgers, is pragmatism. Pragmatism inside the club. Structures inside the club. Aim for process, get outcome. F90. A55. Or better.
You can work out structures and aims which help. You can also define yourself by your weaknesses and it is liberating. Do what you are good at, not what you aren’t, and become very good at it. Brendan Rodgers doing what he is good at is a good thing. Make him do it and you just never know.
Brendan Rodgers shouldn’t try and be a holistic manager. Liverpool not trying to do everything is a good thing – we aren’t in the same financial situation as the current top three. We can’t do everything as well as they always will be able to. Forget an overhaul at the back. Someone in charge tell him not to worry. The Champions League isn’t a promised land. A nineteenth title is. Brendan’s shown the most likely path along with Suarez. Now he, FSG, LFC and all of us need to at least try and walk it again. It is rock hard and fraught with danger but it’s the only awfully big adventure worth having.
I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this, especially the defence. Don’t judge the back 3/4/5 until we have a goalie that they can all get on board with.
Cross in the box? No problem lads the keeper’s got it we don’t need to defend on the goal line.
He doesn’t have to be a world-beater. Just suited to our style.
For tue record; Mignolet isn’t nearly a good enough ‘shot stopper’ considering that’s all he offers.
Also, let’s get a Ben Johnson piece on Brad please.
spot on, wish we could make FSG read one or two articles a year, this would be one of them. Perhaps send to Linda?
I don’t understand TAW view that Pepe was useless post 2012. The guy I saw was the best keeper since Clem up to 2012. He had a dip in form by his high standards but was returning to his old self when Rodgers decided to replace him with the lamentable Mingolet. I think such blanket criticism e.g. ‘smoke hands’ from a recent podcast, is not only wrong, but disrespectful to a true Red – the guy who spoke out against Hicks & Gillett when others chose to remain quiet and use their time to undermine Rafa. You know who I mean! I would have him back tomorrow, especially as Rodgers prefers to play Jones who must be the worst keeper we’ve had at the club for a long, long time.
Mignolet’s stats this season are better than Reina’s in 2012-13. Saves per goal. Saves. Distribution accuracy. Catches. Errors.
Especially since he was dropped…
I don’t buy the idea that some if the signings are people Rodgers didn’t want. He trumpeted that he had sign off rights, and EVERY player we have signed since his ascension is a Rodgers-type player, redolent if his one-dimensional tactics mind set. I do not see a man of his ego, the ‘manager of the year’, allowing someone else to over ride him. Maybe over Balo, but there was nobody else available anyway.
Amen to ALL that. Pepe’s worst eclipses Simon’s best. And he was/is a leader. Among a multitude of Rodger’s fuckups his alienation and disposal if Reina is his worst – cost us the title, in my honest opinion.
Reina was awful from 2010 onwards.
I am romantically swayed by the idea of this. You’re dead on to say that going away from what worked last year has caused us trouble, but outside of kidnapping Suarez & injecting Sturridge with Adamantium I don’t see how it could have been avoided.
However my biggest worry about your actual strategy is that it sounds pretty similar to what United are doing right now. And we haven’t got the dollar to compete with them for the players to make it work, which takes us back to where we are now.
I don’t think competing financially is as much of an issue if you’re only targeting one or two players in the window. Instead of wholesale squad strengthening your budget would go on one keeper (initially) then one attacker to supplement the squad each window. So *if* the club were willing it could pay big wages for one standout attacker.
As we did with Suarez.
That could work, as long as we don’t get caught in the kind of tit-for-tat wage increases that Barca & Real currently suffer from. Every time a new man comes in on big bucks, those who were there before (and usually performing pretty well) want to be on terms. Keeping everyone happy financially is probably harder than keeping happy those that aren’t getting a game.
With Suarez everyone within the club understood he was a man apart, but for this system to work we’d need another of his quality over the top the next year. I can’t see him not wanting an increase in that scenario.
I think the issue is that we didn’t even *try* for something close to kidnapping Suarez or injecting Sturridge with adamantium.
Bringing Lambert was a feel-good transfer that in no way addressed our needs should Suarez or Sturridge be hurt. I really wanted for the Balotelli experiment to work, and was vocal against his early detractors, but Mario was a last-second signing whom Rodgers had effectively dismissed just days prior.
Bottom line, I’m more than willing to accept that Rodgers wanted to give Mignolet another shot – and, errors aside, I think he earned it last year – but we simply didn’t act responsibly where the other end of the field is concerned. We knew that we had to make up for a load of goals and assists (plus the intangibles), but we didn’t make any moves. We *assumed* Daniel would stay healthy, *hoped* that Raheem, Philipe, and Hendo would increase their goal tally, and took it for granted that Stevie would log in another dozen goals and assists.
This rings true.
Can’t argue with your assessments of Lambo or Balo. Even when I was telling all and sundry we can afford for Mario to fail as he’s our plan B and cheap at the price (but still 2 Remys) there was something in the back of my mind telling me I was talking shit.
We put all our eggs into Alexis’ basket, but considering that he was far and away the best available candidate to suit our needs I don’t think we tried hard enough to get him. That being said, that he would ultimately choose London (and a guarantee of CL group stages) can’t have been that surprising, so a feasible back up plan should have been in place. I understand the purchase of Lallana – PL experience and fair bet for 10 assists and 10 goals a season. Markovic is the one I question. Good as he may end up, if we were gonna spend another £20m on an attacker, it shouldn’t be on someone who may develop into an asset, but is one right now. A Shaqiri, A Turan. Or even better, tell AC Milan “Thanks, but no thanks” and have £30 odd million to drag away a Martinez or a Reus…..
Well played, Neil. Well played. I think there is lots and lots to this, more the more I think about it.
I agree with a out 90% of what Neil is saying here but I think it’s a huge mistake to overlook the importance of the CDM role. You can buy a GK and loads of attackers and you will never hit your min/max 55 goals conceded if you don’t address that role. In a system where BR demands is fullbacks come forward on overlapping runs, a class CDM is vital to cleaning up and tracking back. Right now, Lucas in that role has been out only path to clean sheets.
Agreed. I think Neil is overlooking the importance of someone who will break up play BEFORE it arrives for the CBs. Allen has the intelligence to play the role, but not the physique. Small wonder Skrtel is soiling himself every time the opposition break – there is every chance a mistake will be there for all to see. So he backtracks while Lovren pushes forward into increasingly ludicrous positions, but both share the same fear. The wide defenders are nowhere to be seen, and the only thing standing between the onslaught and the CBs are the paceless Gerrard and/or Lucas (playing together, there’s a fair chance they just let the attacker slip by because they think the other has it covered).
Clearly, Rodgers wants someone tidy technical who can take part in play going forward without losing the ball in a dangerous position. Not every DM will fit the bill, but there are some out there (M’Vila was available last summer and represents a wasted opportunity).
That said, I’d say Ian Ayre should earn his paycheck convincing Chelsea that a loan for Cech would be equivalent to Lukaku last season – someone who can help stymie rivals. The trick would be to convince Cech we are worth a career move while convincing Chelsea that we aren’t worth worrying about.
Great article, Neil. I take great enjoyment in your romantic, passionate views on the game. If Ian Ayre (or a sporting director type) had half you’re vision and grasp of what it means ‘to be’ LFC then we’d be challenging more often than not.
Merry Christmas to TAW :)
If you were Rodgers, Neil, and you came to me ( Henry ) with a plan to sell several defenders and buy another keeper, i’d think you didn’t have a clue about defensive football. I’d tell you to appoint someone who does, otherwise you aint getting a penny to spend on a keeper or defender this season.
Sold Reina, signed Mignolet. A season and a half and you want rid already ?
Signed Sakho for £18m. Dropped him shortly after. At the same time another £7m is spent on a centre back yet to start a league game
Signed Lovren for £20m and Moreno for £12m. Dropped both shortly after.
I’m John Henry. I like patterns and i can see one here.
Gotta agree here. There’s an awful lot of defenders/keepers with question marks hanging over them so it appears that either Rodgers/committee can’t pick one or they can’t coach defensive football either way there’s a problem there. There’s defo a case for some defenders to be offloaded but the likes of Sakho need to be kept on and provided with adequate coaching. If Rodgers struggles with the defensive side if the game then its time to bring in someone to help him out. All the great managers acknowledge their weaknesses and surround themselves with guys that can help them.
55 goals is far too many for a team to be competitive. I get what your saying that we don’t want conventional and that a return to last season’s “you score 2 we score 3” attitude is the only way we can beat the system but we have got to tighten up at the back. Start at 76F 38A and go from there. Work to increase our conversion of chances and go to 85F 38A.
It now sounds like Ochoa has been identified as the no1 target (for £3m more than we could have got him in the summer), but what about Cech or Valdes? Surely one of them is available and willing?
Up front I think we’ve seen the last of Borini in a Liverpool shirt and with Origi coming next summer, Lambert could also be gone next summer if we sign someone in January (personally I’d go for Lacazette or Jackson Martinez).
Something to consider.
In the last 15 seasons* only 5 sides (99/00 Man U; 09/10 Chel$ki; 11/12 Man City and the top 2 from last season) have managed to achieve your suggested goals F90 and A55 figures.
In the same time frame, if we look at the sides achieving a GD of +35, only 36 sides have done that. It is effectively saying only 2 sides per season will achieve this but the trend is tending towards 3 in recent seasons. Every side that has achieved it has finished in the top 4 though. The average GD for all title winning sides in that time, 52. (Highest 71 – 09/10 Ancelotti’$ Chel$ki; Lowest 40 – 02/03 Man U)
* I wanted to see from the turn of the century
Congratulations Neil. The absurd hubris of the average football fan thinking he knows better than a coach or scout is, these days, par for the course. But thinking that you know how to structure an entire recruitment and management operation better than businessmen and people that have worked in football all their lives – that really takes the cake. Merry xmas.
Out of interest Kev, who are these businessmen and people that have worked in football all their lives?
The same guys that failed to spot the ‘flaw’ in the system, presumably. Now that’s hubris.
Problem is with the Liverpool hierarchy/back room staff they HAVNT been working in football all their lives.
From top to bottom we are rife with inexperience.
This made me smile.
To be fair to Neil, he did start his piece acknowledging that he/we don’t understand how the committee works. We worry too much about structures, responsibilities, accountability. Of course there is a structure with accountability. Do people really think that the owners don’t know who to hold responsible for failure or success. Of course they do. They just don’t need to offer up a “single throat to choke” to the fans.
Do people think the owners and the committee themselves will not be carrying out reviews of each window and looking at what lessons need to be learnt for the next window? I would be amazed if that wasn’t happening, but again we should not expect that to happen in public.
On the main thrust of Neil’s argument, that we should be targeting KPIs of goals scored and conceded, with a focus on scoring lots of goals; we are just seeing one of the pitfalls of that approach being played out. You can only keep so many world class strikers happy and unless you one of the top 4-5 clubs, you can expect other clubs to cast envious glances at your very best players. When they go, the players you have on the bench ready to replace them are not going to have as many goals in them. We can see how difficult it is to recruit someone who can contribute lots of goals playing in Liverpool’s preferred style.
The fact that we might try and focus the resources we have recruiting the the type of player who is most in demand doesn’t mean we will land them. It might just mean we miss out on the other players who would contribute more assists and goals from midfield and might stop the opposition playing.
Then please explain Lovern over Sakho ? As well as your entire SUMMER of being able to choose a striker only to leave it until the last minute we end up with Lambert and Balotelli?
These so called people you mention must be geniuses
YES YES YES. Also, keep Lucas healthy and fit.
Lucas is crap. Always has been.
So Neil, are you a structuralist or a post-structuralist?
Do we really need to react to every ridiculous unfounded rumour, this time about a defensive clear out? Any evidence if this?
Otherwise this is essentially a long winded way if saying what everyone already knows – we need a good keeper and striker.
And as already stated above, 55 goals against is ridiculous for any top team. Imagine how that defending would fare against the more savy teams in Europe… (hint: we might not get out of a fairly shit group)
How many teams that can’t defend to a high level actually win major trophies? Last season was fun, but ultimately we won nothing. Like Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle.
A balanced team is key to winning trophies, unless you have players like Barcelona and Real Madrid can afford. I don’t think defensively Brendan Rodgers will ever be good enough to coach trophy winning sides, so replacing him with a top class manager who knows how to win silverware is going to be as important this summer or next as any new players we should sign.
One of the most clueless articles I’ve ever read. Truly dreadful.
KPI’ s and structures? “You wouldn’t want to work for me.”Well,I wouldn’t for a kick-off.You should maybe apply for a job on the transfer committee.
Look,football is a very simple game.You start with a team of 11 players and they play together.You then identify a player who isn’t in tune with the rest of the team.So,you replace him with a player who will fit in with the rest of the team.And you keep doing this till you finish up with a team which is functioning in all departments.
You bring in Ray Houghton,John Barnes,Ray Kennedy,Steve McMahon,Peter Beardsley,Emlyn Hughes.
What you don’t do is decide you want to play a certain formation and then forget about it while you leave the recruitment of players to some bloody committee and ignore the players you already have.At the same time telling everybody that you have discovered a new way of playing as though you have invented a new wheel.
It’s a simple game played by good teams.It used to be a Manager with an assistant and a couple of trainers and a few scouts who knew all about the team and could identify a player who would fit in.
Not any more,we’ve now got KPI’ s and strategies to contend with.And committees who spot a good player on a lap-top!
Agree with the article and love the romance of the idea and the football.
My big problem with it is giving full power of transfers to Rodgers.
A lot of smoke and mirrors exists currently with transfer committee, Rodgers claiming ultimate veto, Balotelli saga etc. so no one really knows whats what. But what is clear is several players Rodgers has clearly identified as targets:
– Ryan Bertrand
– Ashley Williams
To a lesser extent Michel Vorm (although everyone would have classed him in above list until the current keeper crisis)
Who knows, maybe Sanchez, Mickywotzit, konadodah etc were his targets as well but the feeling or rhetoric seems to be that he appears to have a soft spot for poor or run of the mill british based players and a limited outlook.
As a manager and coach its kind of fair enough that he doesnt know much beyond this league. But then thats the point isnt it? Thats what the scouts and committee are for.
I firmly believe that the committee is buying players without the full backing of the manager but the manger is also buying players like Lovren, Borini, Allen, Lambert etc who are just not good enough.
My big problem regarding transfers at the min is that I don’t trust anyone to buy a quality player at the min. Even if the committee did buy a quality player I’m not sure if Rodgers would give him enough of a chance simply because he wasn’t “his” man. Sakho stands out for me here.
Don’t think Mignolet is a problem at all.
Not last year, not this year.
Defence is real shitty, Lovren for instance, is not at Premier League level.
I just don’t understand why anyone would give Rodgers until 2016 when in 2 of his 3 seasons we’ve had our worst starts in over 30 years. Last year was built on sand – and has disappeared just as fast. It wasn’t great planning or the culmination of a great plan.
Rodgers is just another 2nd rate manager like a truckload before him and he’ll end up like Moyes is some distant outpost preaching his ‘philosophy’.
With respect. This is nonesense
Rodgers should publish his 80 page thesis that got him the job to show what a talented and intelligent coach he is and shut all these haters up. Sick of it now. If you’ve nothing good to say despite how he’s turned things around, the potential that’s there in the squad, then say nothing at all.
Merry Christmas to all at TAW.
Eighty pages: that’s about as much as you used to get in the Charlie Buchan’d Football Monthly, with about as much football coaching knowledge . And that’s probably what the Yanks bought.
Note that Pepe’s falloff begins very soon after the serious injury to Lucas. The Brazilian’s recent return to the regular first XI can only help the defense in the long run…
As for strikers, anyone but Torres…
Close but no cigar.
This will get UGLY because the fabled Transfer Committee, has non footballing people involved.
It’s quite simple really you need a decent trustworthy CEO who isn’t Ian Ayre.
You, being JW Henry say ‘ I want to be in the Champions League positions next season if not you’re fired, here’s the budget for this transfer window £X amount.
Any money you can generate from sales to ACHIEVE that is yours to spend within the £X amount..I’m off to watch some Baseball, see you at the end of the season.
‘Oh BTW you were right the people on the transfer committee that are not football people have no say or input’
JW Henry gets in his private jet and heads back to the USA…..THE END