European Football - UEFA Champions League - Group B - Liverpool FC v PFC Ludogorets Razgrad

FLAGGING SUPPORT: A Brendan Rodgers banner is lifted on The Kop before the Champions League match against Ludogorets last September

“IN mathematics and digital electronics, a binary number is a number expressed in the binary numeral system, or base-2 numeral system, which represents numeric values using two different symbols: typically 0 (zero) and 1 (one).”

In today’s game, too many football fans view things as binary. Win or lose. Good or bad. Goal or miss. Black or white. There is no longer a grey area as far as the modern-day fan is concerned, it seems. In his match review of the home loss to West Ham, Neil Atkinson refers to it as “a need to be explicit”.

Here’s a case in point. On Sunday morning, I joined Neil, Rob Gutmann and Stu Wright to discuss the defeat to the Hammers. We talked for an hour and 25 minutes about everything that was wrong with the game — from team selection to individual performances and tactics.

Here are a couple of the comments on the TAW website regarding our discussion:

“The panel discuss the failings of the team, the set up, tactics etc as if they just went out there and done everything off the cuff, making it up as they went along. Rodgers doesn’t get a mention. He’s the reason, fellas.”

“I love the way the panel uses the collective ‘we’ when discussing poor team selections, vague tactics and bizarre in-game changes. I know we all refer to Liverpool FC as ‘we’, but it’s Rodgers who has the power to do what they complain about, but he is rarely mentioned. It’s as if suggesting he doesn’t know what he’s doing is taboo. Like a panelist said, echoed by Rob, ‘I support Liverpool FC so I support the manager’ as though it was a badge of honour and loyalty. If we all thought that then Souness would still be running the show.”

Is it not implied that if we make criticisms of the starting line-up, the tactics and the substitutions we are talking about the manager? Have we really got to the point that people need to say, “Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, got the following things wrong”?

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v AFC West Ham United FCThere’s a perfectly acceptable debate to be had about Rodgers’ decision to continue to select Dejan Lovren in Liverpool’s starting 11. On the podcast, Stu makes the point that if the manager continues to put his faith in him then that could be the main reason he loses his job.

Yet is it not also fair to point out that it’s highly unlikely that Rodgers has told the Croatian to fart around doing step overs on the halfway line? Or that he didn’t encourage the former Southampton player to basically pass the ball to Manuel Lanzini? And he definitely wouldn’t have been keen on Philippe Coutinho sliding in on Dimitri Payet.

Just as Liverpool’s tremendous defensive performance at The Emirates didn’t mean that the team was going to go the whole season unbeaten, neither does this home loss imply that we’ll never be able to win a game again.

There does now seem to be a rush to judgment after each and every game and that judgment is based on binary thinking. If Christian Benteke doesn’t score he’s a waste of money. If Lovren makes an error then he should be taken outside and shot. If Rodgers gets his tactics right, like at The Emirates, then he’s a genius. If it goes wrong like against West Ham he’s a fool.

For the hardened Rodgers critics, every time Liverpool lose it’s entirely down to him and every time they win then it’s in spite of the Northern Irishman. It makes those who view the game as having grey areas feel we’ve got to defend him from those determined to attack him.

“He’s had three seasons and we’ve won nothing,” say the critics. “We’ve given him time and he’s gone backwards — time for him to go.”

Here’s another quote from the comments under the podcast link on the TAW website:

“Rodgers has to go — the players have no confidence in him and no wonder when the most inspirational leader in Liverpool’s history, Stevie Gerard, decides to leave his beloved Liverpool! Why? This vote of no confidence by Stevie shows me Rodgers has no clue and he has displayed it time after time with inept displays. Time for Reds owners to cut their losses, admit the experiment was wrong and sign Klopp before the season is lost, which it is already.”

Let’s start with “the players have no confidence in him”. I’m interested to know what that’s based on. Presuming — as I am — that ‘Tony’ doesn’t work at Melwood and deal with the players week in, week out, maybe he’s got that idea from interviews with the players. Like when James Milner said: “After the conversation, I felt like I wanted to go and run through a brick wall for the manager and the club.”

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v AFC West Ham United FCHow about the notion that Stevie G gave Rodgers a “vote of no confidence”? Is that what happened? Or did he leave because he realised he wasn’t going to get the game time he wanted? Steven Gerrard is my hero — I’ve grown up with him as the talisman of the club and he deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Kenny Dalglish and Bill Shankly as inspirational figures at Liverpool Football Club.

But do any fans seriously think that, at the age of 35, the future of the club should be built around him? That managers should be sacked if they can’t find a way to incorporate him into the team?

Finally, let’s have a look at this sentence, which seems to be a parody of the anti-Rodgers brigade but I fear really isn’t: “Sign Klopp before the season is lost, which it is already.” The season is already lost, apparently. Four games in with two wins, one draw and one loss and seven points on the board, none of the cup competitions even started yet but the season is lost. Binary thinking.

I have no problem with criticism of the manager any more than I do with people asking questions of player performance. Where I have an issue is when the criticism takes no notice of context, refuses to acknowledge that there is a bigger picture and is based around the notion of just not liking someone or something.

I understand that the loss to West Ham is not an outlier as far as Liverpool Football Club is concerned. It’s a result that follows a worrying trend that started at the tail end of last season.

Viewed in that context it’s entirely fair for people to question the wisdom of allowing the manager to continue in his position. But that kind of thinking fails to take into account several other factors. There have been six new signings this summer, for example, to say nothing of the arrival of Divock Origi.

Of those signings, it’s fair to say that four of them are first-team players, five if you want to include Joe Gomez after his impressive start. That’s nearly half the starting XI who have never played for Liverpool before, never worked with the manager before and have barely had time to learn each other’s names.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v AFC West Ham United FCThere’s also the small matter of an entirely new backroom team who need to be given time to adjust to each other, to how the club works and to how Rodgers wants to make use of them. Those who want to stick the boot in on the manager will say that he “threw his mates under the bus” by sacking them and bringing new people in, thereby saving his own skin. But is it not also possible that those at the top of the chain at FSG decided Rodgers should be given another season and asked him what tools he felt he needed to succeed?

There’s a rush to judgment every time Liverpool play a game of football at the moment. People are refusing to give the manager any more time, feeling he’s had his chances and must be lambasted for every failure and ignored every time he gets a modicum of success. It’s all or nothing for many within the fanbase at the moment, with supporters turning on each other depending on whether or not they are in the pro or anti-Rodgers camp. But football isn’t binary — there isn’t always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.

After the game at Anfield on Saturday, West Ham boss Slaven Bilic said: “It’s one of those days that will be written in books about the club — beating Liverpool 3-0.”

That, to me, is part of the problem. For as long as I can remember games like this have mattered far more to the opposition than to Liverpool. There has almost been an arrogance from the players; a presumption that we will pick up the three points simply because we’re Liverpool and the other team are not.

I remember being at Anfield in 2008 when we drew 2-2 with Hull under Rafa Bentiez. The Reds started slowly, going a goal down but not really waking from their stupor. It wasn’t until the Tigers went 2-0 up that the team seemed to acknowledge there was a problem, turning on the style to get it back to 2-2 before promptly assuming we’d get a winner because, you know, it was Hull and the game was at Anfield. The game finished 2-2 and the truth is the Reds just never got going enough.

It’s easy to blame Rodgers for a lacklustre performance against lesser opposition but it’s happened with Liverpool teams for as long as I can remember. In other words: it isn’t black and white.

Football - FA Premier League - Arsenal FC v Liverpool FCIt was generally acknowledged that the Liverpool performance against Arsenal was tremendous and that on another day the Reds could have gone in three or four to the good after half time. The defensive display in the second half was excellent, with Dejan Lovren leading the backline superbly.

Was Rodgers so very wrong to go into the game against West Ham with the same starting line up? It’s easy to say so after the fact, but I’m not so sure.

Had the Reds produced the first-half display at The Emirates all over again but actually taken their chances then people would have been praising Rodgers for his consistency in team selection. Had we seen the Lovren performance from the second half at Arsenal we might not have been in such a pickle at the back.

Such things can’t be judged in a binary fashion. It’s not as simple as good or bad, black or white, shit or not. Football is not, and has never been, a binary thing.

A 0-0 draw doesn’t always mean that the game has lacked excitement, or that the teams were equal for the 90 minutes. Neither does a 4-0 scoreline always suggest that the winning team has outright dominated for the duration of the game.

Judge the manager by all means, but if you approach your assessment of him as a question of good enough or not you’ll find a way to twist every result and performance to suit your initial thought — and football just doesn’t work like that.

FREE PODCAST: The Anfield Wrap – Liverpool v West Ham

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