A WIN at last. Two fantastic finishes from the much-missed Daniel Sturridge. Impressive midfield performances from the going now staying Lucas Leiva and stand-in skipper James Milner. Tireless running from Danny Ings. More magic from Phil Coutinho.
It might have ‘only been Aston Villa’ — a team in the bottom three with one win in seven that sold its best players in the summer — but Liverpool were desperate for a victory after more than a month without one. We got one. There were reasons to be cheerful on Saturday. And two of Liverpool’s top performers on the pitch were doing their bit off it as well.
Milner and Lucas both tried to tell the media that the players are behind Brendan Rodgers. That morale is good. That he hasn’t lost the dressing room and they’re fighting for him because they think he’s a good manager.
Job done then, on the field and with the media. Let’s all go home and have a bevvy.
And then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like “hysteria”…
It was a brainless line to take by the manager. A mouth in overdrive. “More rabbit than Sainsbury’s,” as Chas and Dave once sang. A home win against a team Liverpool should be beating at home; a team that finished three points above the relegation zone last season and are tipped to be embroiled in another scrap this, is not the time to go all big bollocks. Not when that same team knocked a gutless Liverpool out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage not so long ago. Because, you know, accusations of “short memories” and all that.
Let’s have it straight again. Rodgers is extremely lucky to still be the manager of Liverpool. Approaching lottery winner standards. He was lucky to start the season still in position after last season and after results and performances that have failed to convince this, most think he is a dead man walking; a manager sure to get the bullet the next time a bad result comes along. With a defence still playing like strangers, there’s no denying that it remains a possibility whenever the Reds take to the field right now.
At Anfield, boos have punctuated poor performances. For all the criticism of modern football, that’s not something we’re used to. The criticism that Rodgers told the world is “outside” is inside. Online, the vitriol directed his way is daily and endless. It’s from Liverpool fans. For many, he isn’t a great manager or a great man. And seemingly anything goes until the day he is told to pack his bags. Coming out swinging when you’re top of the league is one thing. Trying to float a boat on a sea of shite is quite another.
On Friday, Rodgers seemed to recognise all this. Knew he was in trouble. Understood why. Respected the owners if they said ‘enough is enough’. He seemed humble. Discussing how he could get the fans back onside in that press conference, he nailed it in one: “You do that by winning games and performing.”
Exactly right. This. This all day. So do that.
All that has come since is a win against a below average Premier League side. One that without any real inclination to attack scored two goals and could have had more. The ego should have stayed in its box, the inner chimp still in chains. A 3-2 win over Aston Villa is not the time to be taking on all-comers, particularly with a trip to Goodison, a fixture that went a long way to pushing Hodgson over the cliff and a venue where Rodgers is yet to taste victory as Liverpool manager, just days away.
When Rodgers was appointed, plenty of Reds held reservations about his pedigree to manage Liverpool. His CV didn’t impress, showing only a promotion to the Premier League as evidence of being a winner of sorts.
Then he started speaking. And he was slated for being a salesman, football’s answer to David Brent — full of management-speak and the rest, to put it mildly.
The dreadful Being Liverpool didn’t help matters, evidenced by the fact that it is still referenced to this day, more than three years later. The envelopes. The touchy-feely stuff. The picture of himself in his house. All that.
Ultimately, though, when Liverpool started winning games and performing, nobody gave a flying one. All the stuff that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth now — the abuse, getting personal, the online baiting of anyone seeking the smallest bit of balance in the debate about his performance as Liverpool manager — none of that existed when Liverpool scored goals left, right and centre and won games. There was nothing to get in a “frenzy” about. There was no need for “hysteria”. Not of the negative kind, anyway.
The Kop sang his name. Said he built a team like Shankly did. The fans held banners aloft. T-shirts appeared in shops and Rodgers was named manager of the year. “Who cares about Being Liverpool and CVs now?”, Rodgers could have rightly asked while flicking the Vs at the world.
Then it all went tits up. Liverpool stopped winning and stopped performing. The bullshit came to the fore again. When the Reds did find a period of form, Rodgers was too quick to blow his own trumpet. The press was full of the genius of his formation change and how it was discovered — briefed by the manager — only for Manchester United to slap the egg on his face the following weekend. The rest of the season was a write off. Liverpool were an awful watch and Rodgers looked like he had ran out of ideas. Stoke was the horse’s head in the bed moment. Only a matter of time.
And so the summer. The support staff were whacked instead. And keeping Rodgers in charge wasn’t the only obvious decision made during the close season. The manager made one himself. Basically, he decided to shut up for a bit. To wind his neck in and say little more than was necessary. And not before time. All the Balotelli stuff. The tales of pacing kitchens. It didn’t really wash when you’re going up and down the country watching Liverpool lie down for piss-poor sides that should be put to the sword no matter what stage of development the club is supposedly at.
It felt that during pre-season, and early into the new campaign, that there was a humble approach; a new focus. A recognition from Rodgers that things had gone wrong, that he’d been lucky to remain in position at Anfield, and that now it was time for getting things right on the pitch and worrying a bit less about public perception.
So there was less of the Talk Sport matey bollocks. Less of the cosy Sky chats. Fewer cringeworthy ‘jokes’. Press conferences seemed shorter and straighter. Answers played with a straight bat. More business-like.
Then came the important bit — the results and performances bit. An away win at Stoke courtesy of a world-class Coutinho goal. A fortunate 1-0 home win courtesy of an offside goal against promoted Bournemouth. A battling draw at Arsenal before a dreadful 0-3 capitulation to West Ham and a feeble failure at Old Trafford. Three 1-1 draws with Bordeaux, Norwich and League Two Carlisle and finally the win over Villa.
Liverpool haven’t convinced at either end of the pitch in the season so far. Formations have switched. The Lovren experiment failed. An identifiable pattern of play — an ‘identity’ — is yet to truly emerge. If there is “hysteria” by Brendan Rodgers’ standards it is because Liverpool have been poor. There’s been nothing to convince. Nothing to get excited about.
Aston Villa was the first Liverpool win over 90 minutes in seven matches. And while it was better, it wasn’t a signal for popping champagne corks. It was a start. A Saturday night with a smile on your face. A step in the right direction. A sign that Liverpool — maybe, just maybe — can turn all this around. So why didn’t the manager just say all that? Say it was a good win. Say it was great to have Sturridge back. Say Lucas and Milner were great and Ings’ work-rate is fantastic. And then go home. Leave the rest. Forget the other.
Early in the season it may be, but the “frenzy” that Rodgers referred to was born from frustration that this season very quickly felt like another campaign disappearing around the u-bend. And we’ve had quite enough of those for one lifetime, thanks very much. It’s also on the back of a season that ended in a way that Liverpool are unaccustomed to.
Most Liverpool fans know where the club is financially. Most Liverpool fans know that other clubs have better resources available to them — in terms of money, in terms of facilities, in terms of youth systems, in terms of stadiums. Most Liverpool fans are also more than aware that the club finished 7th, 6th, 8th and 7th before the run to second place that no-one predicted under Rodgers.
But then there was last season and the idea of par. We’re not after par. We’re not after OK. We’re not happy for Liverpool to roll over and die in Europe. We want Liverpool to fight. And we want Liverpool to be angry, to be pissed off, to be annoyed when they lose at home to Crystal Palace, or away to Stoke, or to West Ham at Anfield.
When that happens, we expect our ex players to say that’s not good enough in the media. Because we don’t think it’s good enough either. And as much as it saddens me to say, we expect boos from some if what they’re seeing in front of them doesn’t meet expectations. That’s the way it is.
Brendan Rodgers is already walking a tightrope, and he’s a strong wind from falling out of a job. He should fight Liverpool’s corner when he’s up there representing the club by all means. But his own fight for recognition isn’t going to be won via the media. It’s not politics. It’s not an election campaign. It’s not a sales pitch. We don’t want to hear that Rodgers is a better manager than the guy who almost won the league when we’re eighth in the league having scored only seven goals in seven matches.
We don’t want to hear insinuation about the players the club have bought, or their quality, either. Whoever signs the cheques has done so on £200million-plus in two summers. And by common consensus, the latest batch was of the manager’s choosing. So whatever “tools” Rodgers has, he should try to do the work and make less noise while doing so. Results and performances. Results and performances.
The team that come so close in 2013-4 is a long time ago now, ancient history. Luis Suarez is long gone. Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling are no longer. And who that team excited and when and where is now irrelevant. Liverpool fans, Liverpool ex players, whoever Rodgers is pointing the finger at regarding the ‘campaign’ to get him out, all will be silenced if he can do it again. We all want Liverpool to win. That’s it. Just win.
In the meantime, seven defeats in 16 league games and only 16 goals scored is grim reading. Not being able to beat League Two Carlisle United is embarrassing.
Suggesting another manager could do a better job with the same resources is not hysteria. It’s not a frenzy. It’s yearning for standards the club has traditionally set itself that we expect Liverpool to try to return to. When it goes wrong, the manager carries the can. Rodgers wants that to end?
“You do that by winning games and performing.”
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo