Summertime in Planet Football is traditionally known as the “silly season”, when the doors to the funny farm are flung wide open and every media hack in the tabloid press makes wild speculations as to what the big summer transfers may or may not be. Eden Hazard’s move to Chelsea aside, it’s been a fairly slow start to this madness, primarily because of the impending Euro 2012 jamboree in Poland and the Ukraine. Naturally, as certain players attract attention to themselves during that tournament, the guesswork and rumour mills will start to crank into gear and once the victors raise the trophy aloft, the lunacy will resume in earnest.
To date, since the Premier League has embarked on it’s annual hibernation, the biggest story in the news has been the recruitment and subsequent appointment of the new Liverpool manager. Brendan Rodgers will be officially unveiled today as the latest occupier of the Anfield hotseat and, personally speaking, I believe the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have made a brave but wise decision in this regard. In fact, over the past month or so, FSG have shown positive and strong leadership in dealing with the problems Liverpool have been confronted with, both on and off the field. Recruiting Rodgers is just one step towards the restoration of Liverpool as a major force in English and world football.
Understandably there are varying opinions out there as to the wisdom of such an appointment. Whatever your opinions about the Anfield faithful are, you cannot deny that they are extremely passionate about their club. They live and breathe Liverpool FC; sometimes blinkered and delusional but always with an unquenchable thirst to return to the levels of success they achieved a generation ago. Globally they are still a major club in terms of fanbase yet on the pitch, where it matters, they’ve been gradually slipping down amongst the also-rans of the Premier League. A harsh thing to say? Most definitely but for a club of their stature and heritage, 7th and 8th place finishes indicate a decline which requires urgent attention. Given time, Rodgers can stabilise the ship and restore pride where it matters most: on the green grass of Anfield.
And there’s the one major caveat to this appointment and the regeneration of Liverpool: Rodgers needs to be given time. He advocates that his teams play a certain way, primarily via controlled possession and quick passes. Not for him the Hollywood long balls beloved by Stevie G. Results will not happen overnight and if the fans of Liverpool can tolerate a few more seasons of being placed in the 4th to 7th bracket of the Premier League, yet with the quality of the football improving, then I can envisage them breaking back into the top 4 once again.
It’s interesting to note that FSG did not plum for a big name manager for the sake of fan appeasement. It shows they’re willing to look towards the long term future of the club and the value of their investment. Whilst a true, modern giant of the managerial top table like Guardiola or Mourinho would never contemplate a move to Merseyside, it’s admirable that FSG did not reach for the snooze button and appoint someone based purely on name alone: e.g. Capello or Hiddink. A big name means instant results are required and it appears the FSG have accepted that this project will be a gradual one.
I mentioned above that hiring Rodgers is only one of the courageous and wise decisions FSG have made recently. Removing Kenny Dalglish was the other. It’s easy to terminate the contract of a faceless Director of Communications as they did with Ian Cotton, presumably over the club’s tainted image regarding the Suarez affair, but to unceremoniously axe a club legend takes balls on a grand scale. Whilst a necessary appointment to halt a sinking ship under Roy Hodgson, having Dalglish as the manager to guide Liverpool towards challenging for titles again was never a feasible scenario. His previous successes were with a Liverpool side teaming with stars of the game such as Barnes, Hansen and Beardsley, all of whom were reared and fuelled by previously constant success. At Blackburn, his team was the first example of the Premier League sugar-daddy: a team bought solely to win the title. When having to contend with average players, such as at Newcastle and Celtic, he failed to deliver. He re-invigorated the Anfield support after the Hodgson debacle, that much is certain. But in truth, under his tutelage, Liverpool regressed on the football field and also, in the eyes of a media savvy FSG, as a brand, particularly if looking to capture and retain the affections of a potential new fan in the global marketplace. I’m not as convinced that FSG would tolerate the calamity that was the Suarez incident again, regardless of whether he was right or wrong in his actions. Not all bad publicity is good publicity.
What it all boils down to is this: Liverpool are a big club where their fans are concerned, both domestically and internationally. The possibilities are endless to boost the revenues of the club provided the right teams are in place, both on and off the pitch. Over time, this should translate into being able to compete once more at the top end of the league table. Patience is a virtue and, if Rodgers is shown this, both by the FSG and the fans, then the future will be bright for Liverpool again. Success in football is usually cyclical in nature. However, the mega-bucks of Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour are skewing this trend. Liverpool cannot compete at that game of Monopoly but, by being astute and making the right decision at the right time, they can throw a spanner or two into the sugar-daddy works. They’re showing signs that they’ve cottoned onto this. Brendan Rodgers is only step one in this direction. The Premier League needs a strong and vibrant Anfield.