International weeks are a torture for elite clubs. In come sundry national managers to take their pick of your best players for free and destroy the rhythm of the working week for those left behind.
Sir Alex Ferguson has cleared off for a few days to New York to visit his son, Mark. Why not? All is not particularly well in Fergie’s garden, but he has a £24 million striker banging them in while he works out the problems behind.
There is no Robin Van Persie to soothe the febrile brow of Brendan Rodgers, for whom the intrusion of the World Cup qualifiers could not have come soon enough. What a mess he finds himself in at Anfield. That old bastion of tradition and calm, where titles flowed from evolving teams quietly nurtured in the sanctuary of the Boot Room, was beautifully summarised by the minimalist tunnel inscription greeting visiting teams: This is Anfield.
Have three words ever struck greater fear into the opposition? That is history.
The old certainties have gone. The club is owned by American venture capitalists with no background in the beautiful game, who understand little about the nuances of running a football club or picking a team. The Fenway Sports Group know all about the American sporting franchise and saw in Liverpool primarily a brand, which they snapped up in accordance with investment principles.
That works fine in America, where professional sport has developed along commercial lines in city franchises and fans are seen as customers to serve and ultimately to plunder. In Britain, football clubs developed organically and very quickly came to represent communities. The globalisation of the game has eroded that to a degree but not the essential relationship between fan and club, which remains a love affair and not a transaction.
The infamous John Henry missive was more a mail shot to clients than a letter to fans. It recognised the need to do something but did not strike the right tone. It was a clumsy attempt to fill the leadership void, which is the real issue that has dogged the club since it first fell into the ownership of American speculators, Messrs Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
The lack of expertise at the top of the food chain has exposed the lack of experience in the manager’s office. At Swansea, Rodgers had absolute power. The club was run according to his wishes. Players came and went because he said so. And more importantly he was judged only by the citizens of Swansea.
At Anfield, the whole world is watching and executive power lies elsewhere. The Andy Carroll fiasco and the failure to secure Clint Dempsey laid bare the crippling weakness of the management structure at the club.
Henry says there will be no knee-jerk reactions, yet the brief tenure of FSG has been characterised by short-term thinking, from the sacking of Roy Hodgson to the emotional appointment of Kenny Dalglish, to the panic purchase of Carroll and the rushed signings of Stewart Downing, a modest trouper at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, Charlie Adam, the shining star of the Blackpool promenade, and the over-rated, over-priced Jordan Henderson.
Dalglish is out of the door. Carroll and Adam have followed him, Henderson has been offered to Fulham and Downing languishes unloved. How’s that for long-term thinking.
The fans remain, however. They were there long before Henry discovered ‘soccer’ and will be there long after he has gone, whether that be at Anfield or a new Jerusalem in Stanley Park.
As well as embarrassment, Rodgers is dealing with a weakened squad without a recognised goal scorer. For now discontent is directed at the ownership and chief executive Ian Ayre, but patience will not endure. The next engagement is at Sunderland, far from easy, followed by a trip to Young Boys in the Europa League.
It must be remembered Liverpool were a miss-placed back pass from beating the champions Manchester City ten days ago. More than anything, Rodgers could do with a change of luck.
Manchester United are next up at Anfield on the 23rd of the month. A fixture that needs no hyping is already looking like one Rodgers cannot afford to lose. If he does it will take more than a letter to placate the Kop.
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