Brendan Rodgers. The current Liverpool manager is, at time of writing, the favourite to be the next sacked Premier League manager, according to almost all major bookmakers ahead even, of Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat, whose side have continued their struggles from last year.
There has been a feeling that all is not right at Anfield for a while now. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when it began, but certainly, it was during the 2014/15 season, probably around the time Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification went from unlikely to almost impossible with a 4-1 loss and a dire performance away to Arsenal which put them eight points behind Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United.
For many, their patience lasted longer: there were those who said they would give Rodgers even more time, that he was still the man to rebuild Liverpool Football Club and deliver that Premier League trophy that was so cruelly snatched from them at the end of the 2013 campaign.
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It was hardly Rodgers’ fault, they said. He had lost the two highest scorers in the league: Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge – one moving to a club more befitting of his unbelievable ability, the latter as so often seems to be the case, injured. Next season would be different, and Liverpool would return.
This train of thought, in the eyes of a large number of Liverpool fans, was well and truly derailed by Mark Hughes and his Stoke City side on the final day of the season. For Liverpool, this season was over. Yes, they could finish fifth rather than sixth, but did it really matter? This had been a dismal season and finally it was over. For Stoke, it mattered even less.
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But, crucially, this was also Steven Gerrard’s last ever game in a Liverpool shirt. His Anfield send-off, whilst a celebratory though slightly melancholy occasion, had ultimately ended in a poor overall performance and a 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace. Here was an opportunity to put things right.
It didn’t go to plan. Liverpool were hammered 6-1, with goals from ex-redmen Crouch and Adam rubbing salt into the club’s fans’ already gaping wounds. The sheer manner of that defeat spoke volumes. It is probably acceptable for a team’s fans not to be too bothered about a ‘dead rubber’ match, but the players? Unforgivable.
There was no desire, and Rodgers – hailed by club legends Gerrard and Carragher as a magnificent man-manager – looked on, helpless. Unable to motivate the players, unable to fathom how he had been so humiliatingly outclassed. Suddenly, his status at the club was being seriously questioned and many Liverpool fans saw no way back. You cannot lose 6-1 to Stoke City as Liverpool manager. It does not happen. But to Rodgers, it did, and Liverpool manager he remained.
Rodgers joined Liverpool in 2012, and the following season was seen by almost all fans, quite fairly, as a season of transition. Liverpool finished in an underwhelming 7th place, signed Fabio Borini, Oussama Assaidi and Joe Allen (swiftly followed in January by Phil Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge) went out in the fourth round of both domestic cups and the last 32 of the Europa League. Disappointing, but much to build upon, and hints, most notably during a 6-0 dismantling of Newcastle, of what was to come.
Then came season 2013/2014. Nothing could have prepared Liverpool fans for what was to come. Some truly mesmerising football, eclipsed by the closest title challenge the club had since 1990 when they last won it. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were directly involved in so many goals that season it is difficult to find the exact number. It was the defence, ultimately, that cost Liverpool the title they so craved.
2014/15. Consolidation. As soon as Luis Suarez left the club, Liverpool fans knew it was going to be difficult. As with the season before, a title win was not the minimum expectation. Champions League qualification and a solid cup run and a respectable run in Europe was.
To replace Suarez, Rodgers and his infamous committee made £117,000,000 worth of signings. They did not pay dividends. Three of the signings, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli, are not currently at the club (Markovic is on loan in the Turkish league, the other two have left permanently).
Dejan Lovren, suffice to say, does not have the ability to play at the level Liverpool want to be at, and none of the other signings have managed to secure themselves starting roles. Lovren replaced Agger, a far superior defender who fell out with Rodgers: still Rodgers failed to sort Liverpool’s defensive woes. One could even argue he made them worse.
Liverpool finished sixth, after an abysmal run in the Champions League followed by an almost immediate exit from its partner competition the Europa League and, though reaching the semi-finals of both domestic competitions, a perfunctory defeat to Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa left a sour taste in the mouth along with a feeling of what might have been. This was not consolidation, this was a disaster.
This was a campaign that said “we have learnt nothing”. A campaign that said the season that preceded it was an anomaly provided by the magic of Luis Suarez. A campaign that meant they were back where they had started. Poor signings meant next season would be, yes, a season of transition.
Four years into Brendan Rodgers’ time at Liverpool, with the departure of Steven Gerrard from the club, with not a single trophy won and with the departure of Jürgen Klopp from Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool fans had had enough. The club’s owners decided to give Rodgers one more year to prove himself. He pleaded for Christian Benteke and got him. He needed another 2013 season. As of now, it is far, far away from happening.
Rodgers is losing the fanbase. This season required magic, it needed to be colourful with hugely memorable moments, as seemed to be constantly around the corner up to the latter half of the Luis Suarez season. It needed to be majestic, like the eagle-like bird on the club’s crest.
So far, Liverpool have been more like the proverbial elephant: plodding through games against Bournemouth and Stoke showing little or no real purpose, the players themselves clearly struggling to comprehend exactly what was expected of them.
This culminated with embarrassing defeats to West Ham and Manchester United. Attacking football to finally replace Luis Suarez and to aid the injury-ridden Daniel Sturridge is what was needed: Liverpool spent £70 million on attackers alone this summer and after five games have the same number of goals as West Brom, Watford and Stoke.
To sack a manager after five games under any circumstances would seem rash, but what one has to remember is that this is not after five games. This is four seasons in. The club is still unstable. It is quite simply not good enough, for Liverpool’s owners, twisting now before it is too late may indeed turn out to be the best option.
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