WHEN Liverpool’s premature Champions League departure was quickly followed by a heavy defeat to Manchester United, plenty was said and written about the Reds’ worrying slide and how to fix it, writes SAM DRURY.
I tried to stick to just thinking about it; to arranging my thoughts on what, or who, was to blame for the team’s concerning plight. However, predictably, I was drawn into writing about it too. Delving into social media in search of answers was never likely to produce conclusive results and the barrage of conflicting viewpoints that followed helped only in muddying the waters further.
Soon dragged into the endless debate on Twitter, I did my utmost to give what I believed to be my logical and reasoned thoughts in a calm manner only to have one assumption quickly, and correctly, shot down by Neil Atkinson as ‘ephemeral speculation’. After a feeble riposte trying to justify my assertion, I made a hasty retreat.
The problem in trying to get to the bottom of Liverpool’s difficulties this season — and developing a definitive opinion on what action should be taken — is that so few facts are known. We rely largely on rumour, opinion and conjecture. As such, even if you attempt to piece it all together to create the bigger picture, the chances are you will still be some way off the reality.
What we, as fans, get to see on the pitch is the outcome of all that has gone on before: training sessions, meetings and discussions to which we are not privy. The desperation of fans to know more about these things is what drives the gossip and speculation. It means that within a matter of minutes a whisper or an offhand remark is circulated far and wide until before long it is essentially regarded as fact. There is a desire to see everything as black or white when more often than not the truth lies in the grey murk in between. All talk of Brendan Rodgers, the transfer committee, ‘political’ team selections and so on must be considered with this in mind.
When looking over the issues affecting the club at present, the manager is the one constant. That is not to say that he is necessarily responsible for all that has gone wrong this season but simply that in his position he has at least a modicum of influence in most areas of the club. On the flip side it means that he also takes a certain amount of credit for the team’s recent upturn in form. Whether it should be the case that the manager has so much influence, of course, is one of the questions being asked by an increasing number of supporters.
It was Rodgers’ sparing use of the players brought in during the summer, especially during the particular disappointing run during November and early December, that brought the issue to the fore. Subsequently, a fan-led review of how Liverpool go about their transfer business began, with both the fabled transfer committee and Rodgers coming in for criticism.
Player recruitment is an important part of building a successful football club and so it is no surprise that how the Reds go about it comes under such scrutiny — particularly when things go wrong. After all, these summer signings were players that supporters hoped could, partially at least, fill the void left by Luis Suarez and mount another title challenge.
That has patently not happened and the inquest as to whether the frustrating, often infuriating, first half of the season was due to them being misused, underused, needing time to adapt or simply being the wrong players is well underway. The first two — categories which an increasing number of the summer signings seem to come under — fall squarely at the feet of the manager, and recent results show that they can, and indeed have, be rectified. If it is the final category though, who, or what, is to blame?
For many the finger of suspicion point firmly at the transfer committee. It’s the unknown, something different to what has come to be seen as the norm. The vast majority of fans have grown up in times when managers had, or at least appeared to have, absolute control. Pundits — usually former players who themselves played under autocratic managers — have reinforced the view that it is the correct way to do things. The ‘continental structure’? Well that is not to be trusted. It works in Europe but it just isn’t the way things are done in England, apparently.
Things, however, are slowly changing as a director of football or technical director figure becomes more common at clubs around the country. However, the transfer committee is seen as something different again and as such makes it an entity not to be trusted in the eyes of some supporters. However, this extract from Gary Neville’s recent Telegraph column, in which he spoke to Southampton technical director Les Reed, suggests a transfer committee is far from being unique to Liverpool:
“With so many clubs making mediocre or outright bad decisions in the transfer market, I ask Reed who calls the shots at St Mary’s. January signings, for example, would involve him, the chief scout, the head of recruitment and, of course, Koeman. “The first stage is – what do we think we need?” Reed starts out. “We audit the squad. Then Ronald might say – we need another winger, or cover at centre-back, or whatever. We then have a discussion about the type of player. The coach can then leave the recruitment department to discuss potential targets, and these would then be set out for Ronald — ‘Do they fit, what would be your preferences in order?'”
We know little for certain about Liverpool’s transfer committee but what we do know sounds very similar to the way things work at Southampton, a club that has excelled in the transfer market in the past couple of years. Indeed, while Reed oversees all football matters at the club, when it comes to transfers, the biggest difference between the systems at Liverpool and Southampton seems to be that Liverpool have given the individuals involved a collective name — making it a ‘thing’, a specific group that can be easily identified and subsequently blamed if things go wrong.
The process may not be perfect and the results so far certainly have not been, but to suggest that it is solely responsible, or even the main reason, for what occurred on the pitch between the end of August and the middle of December would seem to be a very simplistic view based on a severely limited number of facts.
That particular viewpoint, for example, ignores the abandonment of a style of play that brought Liverpool so close to that elusive nineteenth league title during the second half of last season. The idea that without Suarez and Daniel Sturridge playing in such a manner was impossible has been quashed in the past month and a half. The clinical finishing may have been lacking but the fast-paced attacking football and intensity off the ball has returned. It is no coincidence that results have improved as a result.
Equally, a lack of coaching time, while a valid point, was hardly unexpected. Of course, new players take time to adapt and become entirely familiar with how things work at a new club under a new manager but should that mean a complete change in approach until they are fully integrated? Surely that would also mean coaching players to enable them to play in a certain way and then asking them to play in an entirely different style come match day?
Does this mean that instead the manager is entirely to blame for the wrongdoings this season and the committee are blameless? Of course not. The point is that is not as clear cut as that. What is clear though is that however things are structured at the club regarding transfers, it is has not produced the results that many would have liked, or even expected, given the outlay.
We simply cannot know for certain whether compromises have been made in terms of which players have been brought in. It would perhaps explain why players have arrived only to show themselves to be entirely unsuited to the way in which Rodgers’ Liverpool wants to play. But even that remains little more than conjecture.
It makes sense that this is what could have happened, plenty of people have stated their belief that it is what has happened and indeed it could have actually happened — but without being present at specific meetings between the individuals responsible for Liverpool’s transfer dealings, we cannot be sure.
What we do know is how the team played in the last match: the personnel, the formation, the style and the result. The football.
So often the thing that we all claim to be so passionate about is ignored in favour of discussion of club politics and management structures. These things are important to the success of a club but they are nothing compared to the what goes on on the pitch every weekend for 10 months of the year. The football is what we are in this for, the end result of all that has gone before it.
There will always be speculation and undoubtedly we will all find ourselves drawn into the discussion conjecturing with the best of them.
But rather than continuously search for the unknowable truth of what goes on behind the scenes, surely we would be better off focusing on and discussing the things we can see actually see — the matters on the pitch.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda