The manner in which Liverpool have dispatched most of their opposition this season leaves little wonder why the Merseysiders had two bites at the cherry in trying to secure Brendan Rodgers’ services before the 2012-13 season.
Lauded for his attacking style that guided Swansea City to their maiden Premier League berth a season before, Liverpool seemed certain, from their initial overture, that Rodgers was the man to lead the team into a glittering new era.
I, however was less certain, even convinced he lacked the experience required to manage a club like Liverpool, much less return them to the Premier League summit or even European action. At the time I felt my doubts were rooted in good reason, as so many ‘talented’ managers have moved from smaller teams to the Premier League’s elite with limited or no success.
Newcastle United, for example, after ridding themselves of Sir Bobby Robson in 2004, saw fit in appointing a string of gifted managers from teams lower in the league: Graeme Souness from Blackburn Rovers, Glen Roeder a couple of years after he was removed from his position at West Ham, and Sam Allardyce after his marked success at Bolton Wonderers. Newcastle eventually dropped to the English second tier in 2008-09 as a result of a combination between misplaced trust and impatience with management staff.
In the early stages of his Liverpool tenure, I even felt a little justified in my critique of Rodgers as The Reds recorded their worst start to a league season in forty years, sitting as low as 17th in the early stages of the 2012-13 campaign, with only three wins from their opening twelve games.
But I found a degree of solace in what I started seeing from game to game. Liverpool concentrated on ball retention for a start, and then battled for possession and results from whistle to whistle.
Rival fans continued to mock in spite of the team steadily clawing their way back up the league table, and even Everton’s (at the time) David Moyes claimed that Liverpool were “passing the ball for passing’s sake.”
The loudest cries came in the form of questioning what happened to Rodgers’ attacking style from his days at Swansea. Fear spread that he may have fallen into the ‘great coach for a small team’ mould, in that gifted small-team coaches seldom experience success at bigger clubs, as mentioned before.
Rodgers and his charges paid little heed to such criticism and simply kept their heads down and continued their recovery. Screams of frustration softened to whispers over time as The Reds built attack on their foundation of possession, and positive results began to flow once more.
There’s an old adage that says “you can’t please all the people all the time,” and I’m certain this proverb has its roots in football, as still criticism was leveled at Rodgers and his team – this time for an inability to beat any of the teams above them in the league, despite their continued progression up the table.
Rodgers made a bold decision to bring a somewhat maligned Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to Anfield in the 2013 January transfer window. This time Sir Alex Ferguson took aim at Liverpool in apparent disapproval of Sturridge’s arrival, claiming “his track record moving between a number of clubs suggests Brendan Rodgers is taking a bit of a gamble.” It’s a gamble that paid massive and immediate dividends, to the extent where Sturridge scored within seven minutes of his Liverpool debut, and then formed a near-instant clairvoyant understanding with Kop King Luis Suarez.
Rodgers made further gallant decisions by involving the burgeoning talents of Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan more regularly, as well as allowing the likes of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen a hatful of opportunities to prove their worth – and that with striking accomplishment.
Liverpool would finish the season in seventh – one better than the season prior – trophy-less, but still unbeaten in their last eight matches. The result was no European football in 2013-14, and Luis Suarez stated his intentions to leave the club for pastures greener: another hurdle in Rodgers’ path for success. Couple that to Suarez’s much-publicized 10-match ban for his bite on Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and Liverpool’s campaign seemed destined for another season of also-ran obscurity.
Brendan Rodgers though ensured that the club hung onto their prized striking asset, a feat made difficult by Arsenal’s £40 000 001 bid for Suarez’s services. In Liverpool’s refusal to sanction a move, Suarez found a change of heart and largely as a result of their form this season, even committed to a contract extension with The Reds in December 2013.
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