WE’VE been here before. Perhaps not as poisonousness, perhaps not as omnipresent. But this is a familiar juncture, a well-known walkway.
Brendan Rodgers should be sacked to save Liverpool. There are petitions. There are campaigns. There are banners and there are planes. The collapse of form and fight is squarely at his feet. Club legends have had their say, it feels like there’s a civil war of sorts among supporters, and the bookies already have their favourites to succeed him.
Hang on a minute. It’s Thursday, let’s throw it back.
Sack Rafael Benitez, Save Liverpool FC. That is the title of a community page on Facebook, which seemingly originated in October 2009 and actively advocated for the axing of the Spaniard. It also picked Jose Mourinho for prime position in the Anfield dugout, before uploading a petition to expedite Rafa’s exit.
In January the following year, Ronnie Whelan provided his view on Rafa: “The way Liverpool have been playing, they have not been good. They have lost 10 of the last 20 games. He should have gone a long time ago. They have got to do it now.”
“Dalglish to blame for Liverpool collapse” is the headline of an article on a fanzine, dated March 2012, calling for the King to be immediately dethroned. A month afterwards, a blog on CNN went with Why Liverpool must sack Kenny Dalglish. A few columns that May referred to the heightened discontent swirling around in the stands. One in particular read: “The savage reaction of some fans to Liverpool’s defeat [in the FA Cup final to Chelsea] demonstrated he is no longer untouchable.” The phone-in shows after that Wembley disappointment were packed full of voices who wanted rid. The message boards were at breaking point.
This goes back further. To when Dalglish departed the first time around, which was the last time the league title was around. Back to and through the terms of Graeme Souness, Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier.
25 years. Seven managers. Zero league titles. That last bit, that’s the punchline. It’s the part that ensures this is a familiar juncture, a well-known walkway.
Souness was too steely. Evans was too soft. Houllier was too stuck. Rafa rotated too much. Kenny was out of top management for too long. Rodgers has not been in top management long enough.
All of them vastly different, all them painfully the same in failing to bring the championship back.
Forget first, Liverpool have only finished second four times over this barren period. New manager, new strategy, new style, new direction — same result.
Over the past 11 campaigns, only the three richest clubs in England have popped champagne and planned the parade. Arsenal finished the 2003-04 season as Invincibles, but have been practically invisible in the picture since. They were runners up to the billions of Stamford Bridge the following season, but by a gigantic 12 points.
The Gunners have stuck by Arsene Wenger, Liverpool have twisted, but still both teams have had to look up at Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Down the M6, United replaced the ‘clueless’ David Moyes with a ‘certified winner’ in Louis van Gaal. Senior players have complained about the dressing room being flat. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic feel the style and transfer policy under the Dutchman is unrecognisable. Gary Neville believes “if he was playing the football he’s playing and getting the results he’s getting, having spent the money he’s spent, at Bayern Munich or Barcelona, he would be in significant trouble.”
Neither of the trio think United will win the league. And Van Gaal has stated as much.
Against all expectation, their neighbours didn’t post Manuel Pellegrini his P45 after an underwhelming season by their standards and spend. “City’s title defence fell apart because they have the wrong man in charge,” insisted a Mirror report. Now, after five wins, 11 goals for, nata against and full collection of league points, he’s the rightest of the right.
Mourinho is widely considered to be at the peak of the managerial pack, and yet, his expensively assembled defending champions have done a Humpty Dumpty thus far in the league.
So what is the right formula? Apart from a kajillion bajillion dollars, is there any other secret? Should a smarter policy be devised around scouting? Should commercial expansion not be side-eyed? Or is it all on the guy in the hotseat?
Is there a man guaranteed to walk into Anfield, and immediately flip the bird to the three big wigs plus one? Can he pack in his bag some of the best players in the world, and make Liverpool party like it’s 28 April 1990? It has to be straight in and win, because if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing in football happens soon enough.
If this miracle man exists, would Merseyside even be his destination of choice? And if he isn’t just a figment of imaginations, wouldn’t a club as desperate to touch glory again as Liverpool are, have parted the sea to already have him chained to L4?
It seems we’ve been asking ourselves the same questions since 22 February 1991. Dalglish’s resignation is described by Jamie Carragher in his autobiography as the “one significant event in Anfield history, which changed the fortunes of both clubs, opening the door for United and sending us into an era where cup success was our main salvation every season.”
Alex Ferguson, he says, capitalised on the Reds’ uncertainty and lack of stability. That book, along with countless others (special mention to the brilliant Men in White Suits) details how Liverpool’s journey to this 25-year point has been largely self-inflicted.
Not capitalising on the globalisation of the game, failure to solve the stadium conundrum, being too slow to change, then being too quick, buying poorly and passing on quality (Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and Cristiano Ronaldo to name just three), clinging to the past instead of fighting for the future…
When you read all the accounts of the challenges and missteps, it becomes obvious that there is no short-term fix. No over-the-counter solution. And certainly, it goes beyond the job of just one man.
In Carra: My Autobiography, the defender muses: “If a world-class manager such as Benitez leaves Anfield considered a ‘failure’ for having not won us the league, who will win it for us?”
If anaemic performances and poor results continue to be the trend under Rodgers, he should — and will — be waved away. But let’s not pretend the answer to Carragher’s question is elementary.
Because we’ve been here before. And we’ll most likely be visitors again very soon.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo