FOOTBALL is rich on million-dollar questions and here is another. Had Brendan Rodgers led Liverpool to the Premier League title in 2014, would he still be manager?
Many treated Rodgers suspiciously from day one. Surely the goodwill generated would have ensued trust: a trust that he could get Liverpool over the line when it mattered most.
Fortune is an unquantifiable force and it is accepted that it plays a part in destiny, particularly in football.
Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea is cited as the moment it all fell away but had Gerrard not been deployed as the last man with no safety net in the first place, maybe there would have been cover and maybe Rodgers would still be in a job.
Conversely, had Gerrard not played there all season — a decision made by Rodgers — maybe Liverpool would not have possessed the quick-pass release mechanism from deep to supply some, if not many, of Luis Suarez’s sublime goals.
Maybe luck was present. Maybe it wasn’t at all.
What is certain is that Rodgers needed to win something when the opportunity was there. The title did not happen and a year later, Liverpool were knocked out at the semi-final stage of both domestic cup competitions amidst a poor league campaign.
Liverpool may have beaten Chelsea on another day but losing deservedly to Aston Villa was damaging and from there Rodgers was clinging on to his position.
I read an old interview with Xabi Alonso last week in relation to the success endured by the Spanish national team between 2008 and 2012 when they lifted the World Cup as well as successive European Championships.
He explained that Spain had long attempted to play with a certain style but only through winning trophies did it become accepted as ‘the right way’.
“Maybe if we hadn’t beaten Italy on penalties at Euro 2008 the belief, the fidelity to our style, would have been lost. That was a turning point,” he said.
“Then you play Russia and, bam!, you destroy them. And Germany in South Africa and, bam!, our best game. That reinforced our collective identity. You think: ‘This is the way we have to play, this works.’
“Success convinced us that it is the right way forward. The past doesn’t count in terms of results but in terms of approach it does. It doesn’t mean we’ll win in the future but we know how we’ll try to win. The European Championship and the World Cup reinforced the idea but you have to start with an idea.”
Alonso’s observation is relative to Liverpool and relative to Rodgers because he will forever be known as the Liverpool manager stuck on a good idea.
In the same way a first European Cup after 21 years collected in seemingly impossible circumstances defined the future for Rafael Benítez, had the end of April and early May 2014 transpired differently for Rodgers he would have probably done enough to convince people that he was worth following — for a good while longer at least.
This week, Liverpool face two season-defining fixtures. One might even prove to be era-defining for Jürgen Klopp.
It is unlikely from here that Liverpool will qualify for the Champions League and although that is not entirely Klopp’s fault, it was, nevertheless, a private target of Fenway Sports Group at the start of the season — as it is every season.
When Klopp was appointed in October, it remained a realistic aim largely due to the number of games left. There was also a belief that the players he inherited were adequate enough to achieve the goal.
Klopp’s idea, however, is different to that of Rodgers and he is currently saddled with a squad that requires change to meet his demands. FSG appreciate he needs wingers and in the summer Klopp will be backed to make the alterations he deems necessary.
Before that happens, beating Manchester City in the League Cup final on Sunday would bank him even more time than he already appears to have with his employers while also potentially dissolving lingering trust issues left with doubters elsewhere.
The prospect of a positive outcome against City would have improved had the matter of a tricky Europa League second leg match against Augsburg not been impending tomorrow.
The tie is finely poised and although Liverpool’s history in European competition has been underpinned by 0-0 draws on continental soil, it should frustrate Klopp that Liverpool are not in a healthier position, especially with a final looming 60 hours later.
The performance in Germany last week was unconvincing. Before the game, common opinion in the beer halls around the city among Augsburg supporters was overwhelmingly in Liverpool’s favour: that their team had sustained too many injuries to key players to be able progress beyond this round.
Today, Augsburg arrive on Merseyside in a more optimistic mood than they envisaged seven days ago.
Klopp said before travelling to Bavaria it did not matter that a final followed so soon after exertions in Europe.
He even claimed that Liverpool’s players would be ready by Friday morning because of the adrenalin levels ahead of such an important moment. “Finals take care of themselves,” he said.
Alonso, indeed, described in the aforementioned interview that nobody really remembers how Spain beat Holland in the World Cup final, and only that Andres Iniesta scored the winner in extra time by finishing with calm that belied the occasion.
Before, it had been dour and scoreless: Holland’s aggressive tactics enough to negate the threat posed by Spain’s attacking players.
For Klopp, in the fullness of time, it will not matter how Liverpool win a first trophy under him if it happens on Sunday — it will not require a 4-1 victory like the one at the Etihad in November.
Just making it happen will be enough.