SO it seems Liverpool Football Club have a new assistant manager — and it wasn’t who anyone was expecting.
Rumours, and a fair degree of hope, were suggesting a LFC legend would soon be gracing the dugout, or at least that a renowned assistant coach in football would be given the job.
Whispers, or a fair degree of cynicism, suggested someone from the academy would be promoted in what would essentially be a cost-cutting exercise, or an open attempt to undermine the manager.
What we have ended up with, rather interestingly, is something in between.
Unless everyone in the world is wrong, Sean O’Driscoll is going to be officially named the new assistant manager in the next couple of days. I am not going to even pretend I know what he is like as a coach because 15 minutes before starting this I thought he played outside centre for Ireland, but it is possible to try to read something into what the appointment means.
The first people who have, for want of a better expression, been ‘had off’ are the self-proclaimed ITKs who have been confidently proclaiming that the reason for the manager’s silence is that he is being replaced before the season starts. Well soz abar you, lads, but O’Driscoll is clearly an appointment to work with the manager next year. Quotes being dug up by real-life journalists who research these things include Rodgers waxing lyrical on our new coach. Here we go:
“Look at Sean O’Driscoll. He is one of the best coaches I have ever come across. He is working at Bristol City. He has never had a chance in the top flight. His teams were expressive, had movement, they were technical, but he will probably never get a chance at the higher level.”
Well now he does, although probably not the type of chance Brendan was referring to. His chance comes as an assistant to someone who clearly believes in him because he practices, in theory at least, the style of football our manager likes to play.
Doncaster Rovers under Sean O’Driscoll:
Of course there are some, myself to some extent included, who wanted a greater name replacing Colin Pascoe. Someone who would command instant respect from the players. Who could “put their medals on the table” as one assistant is infamously alleged to have said. Someone who would challenge the manager in a way that we had all decided Pascoe and Marsh didn’t.
Well we might not have the first one or two, but it seems very likely we have the last one. A customary glance at O’Driscoll’s experience shows someone experienced in leadership. Before taking charge of England U19s he managed Bournemouth for six years, Doncaster for five and Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Crawley Town for shorter periods. Now this might not be football at Champions League level, but it also suggests we aren’t going to end up with someone behaving like Phil Neal to Rodgers’ Graham Taylor.
O’Driscoll, although seemingly ‘cut from the same cloth’ as Rodgers, will have his own ideas, his own views, and won’t be able to hold his tongue even if he wanted to. This move only makes sense for him if he has authority. If he truly feels he has a voice. As a strong No.2, it is a step forward in his career. As a background yes man, it is a step back. If he takes the role, it will be under the assurance that his opinions, and skills, are valued.
Time will tell if it’s a clever move for him. Time will also tell if it’s a clever move for Liverpool. But the more I think about it, the more it seems a clever move for Rodgers. The last thing he will have wanted is an assistant who was seen as primed to take over by supporters, media and possibly even players after every defeat. Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier offers a lesson from history. But he also won’t have wanted to start the season with his position seen as weak, surrounded by nominal promotions and hovering out-of-work managers.
So what of the sackings? I think too much was made of the Mike Marsh situation. An out-of-contract coach being moved on isn’t big news if you haven’t just been beaten 6-1 at Stoke. But the Pascoe removal was notable. The silence around the club on it meant the next appointment would be key in understanding the reason behind it. A ‘big name’ would hint at owners or administrators thinking more experience was needed, or ‘forcing’ an individual on the manager. This suggests it was all on Rodgers. That he felt the need for a change.
Has he ‘thrown his coaches under the bus’ to save his position? We can only judge that if we know whether his position was truly under threat, something the leaks suggest was never the case. Maybe he just thought he needed a shake-up, new voices, fresh ideas. Many have suggested Rodgers needed to grow as a manager, that his inexperience was — and is — holding Liverpool back. Maybe growing as a manager is understanding what you are good at, and employing those who fill the gaps. Maybe experience is letting go of your friend who was fine for one stage of your career, but out of depth at another. Having the awareness to sack Pete Best and bring in Ringo Starr for the good of the band.
As always with football there are things we know and things we don’t, the rest of it is just guessing. But we can guess from this appointment that the manager has quietly strengthened his hand. That the owners, for the short term at least, are willing to get behind the manager and back him with appointments he wants. Whether this will work, time will tell. Results will be the judge of that. But, among the noise, gossip and people pretending they know more than they do, they always are.
Pics: PA Images
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