LAST season ended badly, writes NEIL POOLE of the We Are Liverpool fanzine. Very badly. It seemed like the manager was sinking with along with his team. Yet FSG have given Brendan Rodgers a second chance. Something that — in the modern game at least — almost feels like unchartered territory.
A second chance is an interesting concept. Bad stuff weighs more than good stuff: Giant Haystacks weighed more than Big Daddy. Hitler weighed more than Gandhi. Neil Ruddock weighs more than Philippe Coutinho.
That’s rock hard, granite evidence. It must be true. It’s also the only reason to explain why — up until a few weeks ago and looking forward to the season ahead — I was less tolerant of the Brendan Rodgers 2015 Model (despite knowing he had taken us to the brink of a league title) than I was of the Brendan Rodgers 2012 Model (who had done nothing of the sort). It’s an unusual concept, and one which is perhaps peculiar to football — to have less faith in someone once they have demonstrated they can do more than you originally thought they were capable of.
However, in 2012 we also didn’t really know Brendan Rodgers’ weaknesses either. Now we do.
I appeased the pain of each of last season’s failures and abject performances by dipping into my piggy bank on which I’d scribbled: “Brendan’s Credit — 2013-14”.
Beaten by Aston Villa at home? I’d buy a Twix. “Yum, yum, munch munch. It’ll be ok. Brendan proved it last year. I’ve got his back,” I’d say as I took to comfort eating. But come May, the piggy bank, after frequent raids, was depleted and after being walloped by Stoke I removed the last coin to purchase a tissue to wipe away the single tear which rolled down my cheek. The money was gone. I was spent. My mascara was all over the shop.
It’s seemingly much quicker and easier to spend credit than build it. Consequently, Rodgers faced his own personal credit crunch. In the face of austerity, I’d become more austere. I’d drastically reduced the terms and conditions of my goodwill and I wanted to know minutiae of his business before I even considered lending him my patience again. In essence, I’d become a football Tory. I felt deeply ashamed.
I expected Brendan to be sacked at the end of last season and I wasn’t averse to the prospect. Rodgers’ team took a meagre 11 points from the last 30 available in the league. Stats, however just draw the outline. The spineless no-show against Villa in the FA Cup semi, the inability of the team to give Gerrard the decency of going out on a high for his last Anfield performance against Palace, and the aforementioned capitulation at Stoke all coloured the season finale. It coloured it with the frantic scrawl of a serial killer’s purple crayon. There was no way he was turning this round.
Recent history pointed to the imminent arrival of his P45 as the likely outcome. Over the last decade or so when the perception takes hold that a Liverpool manager is in decline, the decline is always assessed as terminal and the axe falls in the summer.
Liverpool managers with much more credit in the bank than Brendan Rodgers have suffered the same fate.
When Kenny Dalglish was sacked by FSG he had so many strings to his bow that it was more like a fucking harp — Kenny is unanimously accepted as the best player Liverpool ever; he won the double in his first season as a manager in 1985-86, scoring the winning goal against Chelsea to secure the league; he saved us from Hodgson and he managed to win us another cup. And genuinely, I’m only scratching the surface. You know that. But none of it was enough to cancel out a league performance at the back end of the 2011-2012 season which hit the skids and saw Liverpool finish eighth on a mere 52 points and having only picked up 16 points out of a last possible 42.
At the end of the 2009-2010 season Rafa Benitez was armed with a European Cup, an FA Cup, a title challenge and season after season of Champions League qualification that you used to take for granted. But missing out on the Champions League for only the first time, and finishing seventh on 63 points put paid to his time at Liverpool. Taking only 13 points out of the last possible 30, the season ended badly and he was gone. The view was taken that even after all he had done it still wasn’t enough to warrant a second chance.
Gerrard Houllier had a 2001 treble under his belt, plus a healthy sprinkling of other trophies and a title challenge. He even managed to ensure Liverpool qualified for the Champions League in his final season. We finished fourth, although only on 60 points. But like Rafa, he was judged in the context of his own previous successes and to that end was judged to be on an irreversible downwards trajectory.
So with case precedent, I expected the same fate for Rodgers. And although I never sought it, I welcomed it.
But then that strange thing happened. He was given another chance. And it’s very interesting to see what’s occurred as a consequence. Time has been allowed to pass. Dust has settled. Space has been given, and the first unexpected shoots of potential recovery have begun to spring up in the wasteland of the previous season.
Each change, with the exception of Firmino, was uninspiringly low key as it occurred: The ‘sackings’ of Pascoe and Marsh. The subsequent recruitment of O’Driscoll and Lijnders. The recruitment of Milner, then Ings and Clyne and Gomez. The return of Gary Mac. The pursuit of Benteke and then finally sealing the deal (we think).
However, it’s a range of changes and acquisitions that when I stop and look back at them in their totality, smacks of being more than the sum of its parts. Now it’s all but complete, it looks like a coherent plan and concerted effort to dig a fresh channel and direct our course down a new path. It ‘appears’ that lessons have been learnt.
Don’t get me wrong, it still may all go to shit. However, the very fact that it even looks like we could do well next season comes as a welcome surprise.
The treatment of Rodgers raises a series of interesting series ‘what ifs’. What if Houllier, Benitez and Dalglish had been given just one more summer to turn it round? Would they have come up with a plan? I think so.
Brendan has been given the full backing of FSG to implement what he thinks are the necessary changes. Whether you’re a Rodgers believer, a Brendan agnostic like myself or whether you think he’s the anti-Christ, the full backing of Rodgers by FSG is a valuable commodity. It will remove any doubt. By the time Rodgers leaves Liverpool there should be no ‘what ifs.’
As a consequence of the simple passing of time –and the radical idea of giving people a chance — I’ve got some of my faith back again. I’m making a new investment in Brendan. I’ll give him more time to turn it round. Nothing mad like, I’m not talking twenty quid! But, I’ll throw in a tenner. What I’ve seen this summer has earned him a bit more credit.
Pass me the piggy bank.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo