If football fans are impatient history buffs with a penchant for competition, there was no way that Brendan Rodgers could ever have expected an easy ride last season after the roller-coaster 2013-14 season which ended with a steep plunge following a briefly exciting bout of altitude sickness. However, neither could he have expected that barely 16 months down the line he would find himself out of a job as Anfield eagerly awaits the wave of Klopptimism to lift them to the top again.
Appointed Liverpool manager in the summer of 2012, Rodgers walked into Anfield having to win over the Kop who were none too pleased to see their King, Kenny Dalglish, unceremoniously booted after winning the club’s first trophy in six long years. Sections of Liverpudlians had mixed feelings about his appointment with some disappointed that the young and rising Andre Villas-Boas missed the cut and others relieved that Roberto Martinez, a habitual escape-artist with Wigan Athletic at that point in time, was not going to be spewing excuse after excuse every week. Forty eventful months down the line, AVB finds himself in exile in Russia while Martinez manages a club in Liverpool, just not THE club in Liverpool.
Rodgers, at least initially, seemed to be saying all the right things and, for better or worse, went about moulding the club in his image. From a British kick ‘n rush style he “educated” players on how to play in a historically continental possession-based system. After achieving mixed results and probably realizing that he did not have the players to make such a machine tick, he switched over to a counter attacking system after the arrival of the incisive Phillipe Coutinho and the jet-heeled Daniel Sturridge. Shifting the previously all-action Steven Gerrard into a quarterback role, he sat back and watched as Luis Suarez, Sturridge and the new teenage English ray of hope Raheem Sterling went on a rampage and Liverpool were within touching distance of their first title in the Premier League era.
All good times must come to an end, and Rodgers’ too ended, albeit much sooner than expected. Towards the end of his reign, Rodgers started to resemble Roy Hodgson not just with results on the pitch but also in his attempts to find a silver lining in every cloud and his denial of how bad things were. Where Hodgson had Northampton Town in 2010, Rodgers narrowly managed to avoid an upset against Carlisle United at home. Whereas the lack of financial backing in the transfer market for Hodgson was matched only by his own lack of imagination, Rodgers had been backed in the market and had no one to blame except himself (perhaps the transfer committee too but the extent of their influence is not clear).
Of his 31 signings, only two can be classified as successes – that too only qualified successes – with Coutinho inconsistent but always fit and Sturridge hardly fit but consistent. Along with a love for possession on the pitch, Rodgers seemed to share with Martinez the inability to set up a tight backline. Half a decade ago, Liverpool had one of the stingiest defences in all of Europe, letting in more than two goals only twice across a season. In the last few months of the Rodgers era, it was a given that Liverpool would let in more than two goals every game. Adding to that, his undying belief in controlling the game with no player magical enough to beat players meant that few goals were scored. Talent drain and an inability to attract proven players did not help either with Suarez, a Duracell bunny if there ever was one, replaced by the static and lazy Mario Balotelli, and the versatile Sterling replaced by Jordan Ibe, a player who would have been a line segment if he was any more one dimensional. As the boos started ringing louder on the Kop, Fenway Sports Group chose to pull the trigger and cut their losses, a transfer window too late in the opinion of most armchair critics.
While it is easy to list what went wrong and flog a dead horse as Rodgers departs Liverpool, the positives he brought to Liverpool must not be forgotten. Most young Liverpool fans owe Rodgers a debt that cannot be paid for the single most scintillating season of football that they have watched. More importantly he made them dream. Tuning in every week to see Suarez, a monster of a player at the peak of his powers, was the highlight of the first five months of 2014. Instilling confidence in a young Jordan Henderson (a player whose signing cost a Liverpool legend his job but now proudly wears the armband) and not just handing debuts to local lads but trusting them in vital matches is proof that he didn’t just pay lip service to “giving opportunities to talented British youth”. Pruning the overpaid deadweight from the squad ensured that high performers could be rewarded and tempted to stay. He also handled the thankless job of phasing out that colossus of a player called Steven Gerrard. Rodgers leaves behind a squad which is leagues ahead (in ability if not in form) of the one he inherited and a younger one too – important for the incoming Jurgen Klopp who lacks a pre-season and an immediate transfer window to mould the squad to his preferences.
However, this also highlights one of the biggest ironies and flaws of the Rodgers era – the squad he assembled at a cost of £292 million is more suited to his successor’s style, which is the polar opposite of his own.
Klopp inherits a squad with a midfield that is solid albeit functional and lacking in magic. The season is still young and, with other teams still struggling to find their feet as well, Liverpool’s season can still be salvaged if he can shore up the currently dysfunctional defense. While a reinvigorated Klopp arrives at Anfield with his own dreams of glory, the conclusion of Rodgers’ charge sadly seems more like skidmarks on the sands of time, than the footprints they were intended to be.