All change at Anfield

Rodgers dethrones The King

May 30, 2012
By Richard Jolly
(Archive)

One of the Anfield faithful's most endearing traits is their willingness to acknowledge underdogs' excellence. On Guy Fawkes Night, even as an inability to win at home was starting to become a source of frustration, they applauded Swansea off the pitch after a stalemate that doubled up as an exhibition of passing. November spawned a manager for Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers' imminent appointment is the consequence of many factors but taking four points off Liverpool while preventing them scoring (and, at times, seeing the ball) has to rank among them.

Swansea held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield in November
APBrendan Rodgers: Faced Kenny Dalglish when he was in charge of Swansea

Six months after Swansea's Anfield ovation, Kenny Dalglish's reign came to anticlimactic end after defeat at the Liberty Stadium. Rodgers may have been the accidental, unwilling executioner, but he also is the beneficiary. In trading a 61-year-old for a 39-year-old manager, a great player for one who never kicked a ball in first-team football, Liverpool have veered from one extreme to another. Clubs often do when they dispense with managers they deem unsuccessful. For a while, when a wide range of coaches, British and foreign, youthful and experienced, appeared to attract their attention, it was easier to see what owners Fenway Sports Group didn't want - Dalglish - than what they did.

Yet now it should be apparent. Rodgers himself was not FSG's original plan, before the Dalglish bandwagon gathered such momentum it was unstoppable, but he fits the blueprint they had to discard when the caretaker seemed so compelling in the spring of 2011. Young and progressive, an arriviste with ambition, he has a style of play that earned Swansea comparisons with Barcelona. To his devotees, he is not just a victor, but a visionary.

And, perhaps significantly for FSG, he was the Premier League's ultimate purveyor of moneyball. Swansea had the cheapest squad and, surely, the lowest wage bill in the division. By finishing 11th, they were its great overachievers, while Liverpool, after spending £120 million on players in 18 months, rank among its major underachievers.

Moreover, Swansea were minnows with menace. By deservedly beating Manchester City and Arsenal, they offered a glimpse of what perpetual passing can achieve. Apply the same methods with better players and a bigger budget and it is a tantalising thought what Rodgers could accomplish at Anfield.

It is, of course, speculation, simply because he has not had the opportunity to operate at a higher level. It is Rodgers' potential, as much as his performance, that has brought this promotion. The sceptics can point out that the last time Liverpool took a manager from mid-table, in Roy Hodgson, he promptly took them to mid-table. Hodgson's definition of a Liverpool player, in Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky, showed limited intent. Rodgers is accustomed to bargain hunting yet his approach is altogether bolder, and not merely in the belief that a group of lower-league players could out-pass some of the Premier League's most garlanded teams.

Pass and move, of course, was long Liverpool's preferred modus operandi, and something Dalglish sought to restore. While their managerial records suggest he is the master and Rodgers the apprentice, the Northern Irishman has acquired a reputation as an authority in retaining possession. Tactically proficient - something Liverpool were not always, particularly as the season wore on - and with an impressive record in the transfer market, an area where the Merseysiders were found wanting, he can seem to share their ethos while addressing their deficiencies.

Angel Rangel gets away from Glen Johnson as Swansea beat Liverpool 1-0 on the last day of the season
SoccernetAngel Rangel gets away from Glen Johnson as Swansea beat Liverpool 1-0 on the last day of the Premier League season

In some respects, then, Rodgers is a perfect fit. In others, he is certainly not. While comparatively unproven, his record is not unblemished: lured to Reading three years ago, he left after six months when the Royals flirted with relegation to League One. To some, a choice between Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, who spent the majority of the season in the relegation zone, is a sign of how Liverpool's star had waned; in 2004, they were able to hire a manager who had won La Liga twice in the three previous seasons. To others, he starts with a dual impediment: he is not Dalglish and he is not Rafa Benitez.

Moreover, FSG's decision to dispense with Dalglish after winning one Cup final and reaching another raises the bar for his successor. After an abject league campaign, it is logical to expect improvement but, should they fail to secure silverware or finish in the top four, damning comparisons will be drawn.

So Rodgers' is a demanding task. He inherits an imbalanced squad at a time when it is ever more apparent that elite transfer targets prefer the short route to the Champions League. He joins without a background in managing a marquee club or first-hand experience in the pressures it involves. He comes knowing that, even if it has not been stated to explicitly, he has been charged with being the antithesis of Dalglish by his employers, while some of the support hanker for their dethroned King.

But another of the Kop's finer attributes over the years has been a tradition of patience with Anfield arrivals. After three traumatic years when, at various points, it has not been exhibited by some directors, managers, players and fans, Rodgers requires it now. It is the Liverpool way, even as his appointment seems the Fenway way.

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