ASK any of the greatest Liverpool players and they will speak of the same outstanding quality among the greatest managers they have served: the ability to make a decision and stick to it.
It explains why Jose Mourinho is currently viewed as vulnerable as he has ever been — or, at least, since he left Real Madrid anyway. Though there are other factors that have contributed towards Chelsea’s position in the league, Mourinho is fudging over the issue of sending John Terry into early retirement and presently the Portuguese could not be in any more shit than if he drowned in a colonic irrigation accident.
It explains, too, to some extent at least, why Brendan Rodgers is no longer Liverpool’s manager. It all began to unravel for him in the summer of 2014, when he did not do enough — if anything at all — to really convince Alexis Sanchez that Liverpool was a better career option than Arsenal.
Instead, Rodgers ended up with Mario Balotelli.
This was also a period when Steven Gerrard’s future must have been a part of his innermost thoughts. Yet Liverpool’s club captain, who retired from international football to prolong his playing days at Anfield — with Rodgers’s knowledge — decided just a few months later to move to Los Angeles, ostensibly because it felt like he had outstayed his welcome without anyone really having the courage to tell him.
If Rodgers had his time again, if he felt so strongly about it, I wonder whether he would have chosen differently in 2014; to cut Gerrard loose there and then: by ruthlessly informing him that Liverpool did not need him any more, enabling Gerrard to find somewhere else to play quickly, moving on swiftly and with dignity, rather than facilitating a long farewell, which cannot have helped during what always promised to be a testing season considering the standards set before.
It now transpires that Gerrard could be let back in at Liverpool. And this time it is the responsibility of Jürgen Klopp to decide what to do.
It is possible that the Whiston-born former Reds captain will be back in California preparing for the 2016 Major League Soccer season two months from now. It is possible that he will only train with Liverpool’s first team through December as he maintains a level of fitness –– as Klopp maintained this evening during his press conference ahead of Liverpool’s game at Rubin Kazan.
Klopp is helping the Liverpool legend but surely also recognises that the arrangement will be mutually beneficial: Gerrard’s presence proving a useful reminder to the youngest players in Klopp’s squad — and more are getting a realistic chance to impress now — that certain standards need to be met at Liverpool if success is to be realised.
It is also entirely possible that Gerrard’s legs have gone but Klopp believes he could fill a coaching or advisory role at the club. His medium-term future could be at the academy — a place that needs inspiring.
It could be possible, too, that Klopp will actually quite like what he sees when Gerrard returns to Melwood; that his passing range is still there, a skill that remains superior than those midfielders currently available to him; an asset that could be useful when Liverpool counter attack — just as it was in the 2013-14 campaign.
By comparison to the other European institutions that Liverpool are supposedly competing with, it is strange that the absolute responsibility falls with Klopp. Just like Rodgers once needed, Klopp could do with guidance from above — someone with enough wisdom and foresight to understand what Gerrard’s return would mean, and how they could make it work given the current circumstances.
There is nobody at Liverpool in a key administration position capable of clearing the leaves on the path for the person most likely to slip in them.
And so, again, it is left to Klopp to figure out the way forward. It is interesting that Klopp has barely mentioned, so far, his man-managing abilities. So many in his position do. A major part of man-management is perception: being able to appreciate what, and whom, you’re dealing with and their situations, no matter how complex.
Gerrard has long endured a reputation as a footballer who is not so easy to manage, stretching back to the Rafael Benitez era — a time when Gerrard was in a different stratosphere in terms of ability compared to the rest of the squad.
Benitez got the best out of him then by treating him with indifference, a tactic that would only ever work for so long. As footballers get older, they change — just as anyone does — and therefore, after a while, Benitez’s approach stopped working, as it probably would with any player.
Gerrard never needed to be told how great he was. He must have known it. At his peak, he was Liverpool’s Superman — and this manifested the idea that he was an invincible, invulnerable sportsman.
Yet, like Jamie Carragher, his insecurities were an inspiration. Occasionally, it might have been prudent to for someone to reassure, rather than necessarily praise him. At this moment, all he needs is someone to be absolutely honest.
And so it is up to Klopp now not to fudge it. The message, currently at least, is obvious: Gerrard is back only to train and it is good that he has been so clear on that. It takes away the focus from both parties and gives everybody time to determine what is best for them.
If, and when, attitudes shift, decisions should be conclusive and swift. And then we will know that Liverpool has changed as well.
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Liverpool pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo