Jack Stevens on an Anfield reign that’s seen more ups than downs but might now have run its course.
Whilst planes flying with messages across the Anfield airways may have you thinking Liverpool fans are a fickle bunch that want their manager Brendan Rodgers to leave and stay, it’s a much more split situation than it seems. With many feeling that with the high amount of money that the club have spent, a fifth place finish is underwhelming, and many who feel that he deserves credit for even getting the red side of Merseyside back into the chasing pack for Champions League qualification and possibly even title challenging territory. To really consider either Rodgers in or out its important to remember just how poorly the club did in the few years before Rodgers and after Benitez, a period that many fans wish to forget.
Although Liverpool’s name will always be one of the biggest in England, and even Europe, between 2009/2010 to 2012/2013, which includes Rodgers first season at the club, they finished in the top 6 once. A period of massive disappointment for the team, which saw their smaller local, rivals Everton finish above them two seasons in a row, something that hadn’t happened for over fifty years before this. The managerial position through this period switched several times, going from someone who had achieved success at the club but had burnt himself out in the process similar to Klopp at Dortmund in Rafa Benitez. A manager who achieved one of the great premier league relegation escapes but found the Reds a step to far in Roy Hodgson. This before going back to the manager who last brought the club league dominance they had only dreamt of replicating now in the Premier League era with Kenny Dalglish, the clubs player-manager in the late 1980’s. Whilst many remember Kenny’s return to the Kop negatively due to poor league finishes, it is fair to recognize him as the manager to really begin using the illustrious academy at Liverpool by turning to players like Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan and Jay Spearing rather then splashing out on big names, something that all the clubs around him were doing with the new wealth of Manchester City and Tottenham.
During this time, Brendan Rodgers after a spell of working under Jose Mourinho, had achieved true success at Swansea, by getting them into the top flight of English football for the first time in any welsh clubs history since the Premier Leagues establishment. In the clubs first season of Premier League football, they received plaudits up and down the country for their continental possession style of play, whilst still getting solid results and finishing the season in 11th place. This not only brought in neutral support for the club, but also Rodgers as a manager, who many felt was ready for a move to a bigger club, which he found at the beginning of the 2012/2013 season when he became Liverpool manager.
One of the first things Rodgers did at the club, was begin to build a British spine around star player Luis Suarez in the likes of striking partner Daniel Sturridge, young midfielder Jordan Henderson and several of the players from the clubs academy, similarly to what Dalglish did at the club. One of the players he brought through was Raheem Sterling, a troubled 17-year-old wildcard of a winger who had joined the academy from QPR the previous season. When Sterling first started breaking into the first team for Liverpool in the early stages of the 2012/2013 season, he was a breathe of fresh air to the fans who for years before hadn’t been used to the exciting wing play that a majority of Premier League clubs has enjoyed. Whilst rivals Chelsea were going abroad for exhilarating entertainers such as Eden Hazard, the previous succession of Liverpool managers decided to stick to what they knew and buy predominantly tried and trusted English wide midfielders in Stewart Downing and Joe Cole, whose best years were already behind them at this time which proved on the pitch. Rodgers had become one of the most popular managers in Britain thanks to the patient passing style he had installed at Swansea, which was boosted with out and out wingers in Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair, a sign of what was to come at Liverpool.
During Rodgers first pre-season at the club, a short documentary series was made in America entitled ‘Being Liverpool’ in which the club were followed behind the scenes on their pre season in North America in July 2012. This was where most fans had their first encounter with Sterling, as Rodgers on the show verbally disciplined the player for talking out of line, Sterling responded with almost child like obedience and worked on his attitude over the tour, enough to work his way into the first team plans of Rodgers.
Sterling started the season fitting in perfectly to the role Dyer played at Swansea, as the man to press the opposition’s defense onto the back foot with quick paced counter attacking football. It was this free-flowing football at times that Rodgers implemented into the players to a mild degree of success for Liverpool up until his second season in charge, in which all the pieces of the jigsaw seemed to mount themselves into place with a real title challenge on the cards for the first time in 6 years. This mostly thanks to the form of Suarez, Sterling and Liverpool’s team spirit pushing the club to a second place finish due to a ‘slip’ in form in the final few fixtures of the season.
After losing some big players over the course of this season, whether it was from selling them on, or to losing them to injury, or even some older players in the squad just not having the ability anymore, the Anfield club slumped back down into a disappointing 6th place finish. This wasn’t helped by a poor end of season run that eliminated any real title challenge or even a whimper for Champions League qualification, capitalized by a shocking 6-1 loss away at Stoke on the final day. But it wasn’t just this loss of form that damaged Rodgers, its also been a loss of the dressing room in some parts, which is ultimately personified by the Raheem Sterling contract situation, a similar affair to Robin Van Persie leaving Arsenal back in 2012. With Sterling’s contract up in just two years time, he has now come out and announced that he wont be signing a new deal, even if its close to a million pounds a week. This is a complete transition from the brash young winger who Rodgers seemed to have complete obedience from in 2013.
With this coming at a time of uncertainty for Rodgers as Liverpool manager, will it end up being the player that he gave an opportunity to and ended up making into the superstar he is today, who ends up proving to the board that the Northern Irishman has lost the dressing room to such an extent that he needs to be removed as manager, or will Brendan be given one more season to prove that he is still the same manager who for the first time in years made the neutral support Liverpool.