Liverpool's Learning Experience Continues

Posted by John Brewin

"Whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, my life is devoted. It's all part of the dance," is how Brendan Rodgers closes the trailer for Being Liverpool. Liverpool’s result at West Bromwich Albion would have had them facing the elimination round on Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing With The Stars.

For twenty years now, Liverpool is the club of new dawns and corners being turned. Every summer sees acres of text arguing, begging and pleading that this will be Liverpool's time again. Each year sees those targets being adjusted downwards.

It was four years ago when Rafael Benitez had the squad strength and confidence to challenge for the Premier League title. The seasons since have been of decline though each one has begun with the usual groundswell of hope. Last summer -- with £100 million-plus lavished on players by Fenway Sports Group since their takeover -- saw even Sir Alex Ferguson suggesting that Liverpool would be title contenders. And yet one year on, even the most optimistic of Kopites are pinning their hopes on mere Champions League qualification.

One game in, those sights are lowered yet further and defeat at the Hawthorns may yet be treated as a blessing in disguise. Rodgers has talked a good game all summer with his pronouncements possessing a Bill Shankly-lite quality. Indeed, in his office at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Rodgers sits underneath a portrait of a beaming Shankly, the father of football who produced tomes of memorable quotes and took the club to the brink of being the superpower it became in the 1970s and 1980s. Rodgers has clearly not shirked the role of philosopher king.

To embrace Liverpool’s past is a necessity for all those lucky (or unlucky) enough to become its manager. Roy Hodgson singularly failed to do so and lasted barely six months in the job. It didn't help that he was seen as having ousted Benitez, the Spaniard who so bought into Liverpool life that he still lives on Merseyside during his exile from football management.

Yet inviting comparisons with the glory days is a dangerous game to play. ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish almost sullied his legacy by taking on the job again before being made to vacate his throne after his team failed to mount a serious challenge for fourth place. The Carling Cup was not enough to save a manager whose obtuse behaviour during the Luis Suarez affair cannot have helped his job prospects.

Saturday’s defeat came at the hands of Steve Clarke, Dalglish’s former assistant. That Liverpool has become a club of modern business practice under Fenway was confirmed by Clarke when he told of being “let go” by “the girl in human resources.” However, the manner of Liverpool’s defeat bore many of the hallmarks of the latter stages of the Dalglish/Clarke regime. Liverpool looked tactically confused and it is clear that Rodgers’ hopes of his winning back possession in seven seconds, as Barcelona do, are some way off being realized. Then there was the litany of individual errors.

Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel made clumsy mistakes to concede two penalties while Luis Suarez missed two golden chances to head in, a continuation of his poor form in front of goal for Uruguay at the Olympics. Joe Cole, a rare remnant from the Hodgson era, then came on and tweaked a hamstring. It could have been written off as just one of those days but instead Rodgers painted it another way.

'There is a big job to do and we will have more days like this along the way,” he said. “That is the reality of it. It is still a work in progress. There will be days along that will hurt us and it will be difficult for us.”

Hurt and difficulty would appear to be accepted moves in the choreography of Rodgers’ new dance troupe.

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