Brendan Rodgers was unveiled as Liverpool manager on Friday, June 1st and immediately set about winning over his would-be doubters. Rodgers first press conference as Liverpool manager can be described as nothing other than a resounding success and gave, what Liverpool fans will hope is, a sign of things to come. Rodgers answered every question he was asked confidently and truthfully, without bluster or self promotion.
As he sat next to Ian Ayre and took question after question from those present he made a big impression on everyone who watched, both in person and on the official club website. He made it clear that there would be no quick fixes at Liverpool, that this wasn’t going to be a year one miracle.
When asked what his hopes and ambitions were for his time at Liverpool he replied;
Well I think overall, this is long-term. That was important for me. To come into a project that was going to be over a number of years. For me first and foremost it’s to defend the principles of this great club which is offensive creative football but with tactical discipline and to retain the values of the club, the tradition. That was the attraction, the history of the club. Also, the frustrations, that was also an attraction. It’s been 20 years since the title and for sure the realism is that it might not be ready for the title now but the process begins today and it’s a new cycle and of course that’s something that we’ll work towards for the years to come.
Rodgers showed an understanding of the club with this comment. An understanding of what he’s been appointed to continue and protect. While I don’t want to use the term custodian, given the last people to arrive at Liverpool and announce themselves as custodians of the traditions of Liverpool, Rodgers is acutely aware of the values of the club and could perhaps give new life to The Liverpool Way. Rodgers appreciates what the club is all about, and what it means to the fans. He also made it clear that expectations need to be tempered but he did not once downplay the possibility of success.
He didn’t bristle at potentially difficult questions which likely would have upset other managers and was very clear in how he intends to go about the job at hand. When asked about his thoughts on a mixed reaction towards his appointment from Liverpool fans and questions over whether or not he was a big enough name the job, Rodgers didn’t hesitate or appear flustered. He answered calmly and frankly:
Well all I’ll ever do is what I’ve done in every job, is promise that I’ll fight for my life for the supporters and for the people of the city. When I arrived at Swansea, again it was probably pretty much similar, you know I’d come off a period at Reading where it didn’t quite work out but again I was quite realistic and I didn’t want to make any false promises. I’m a realistic man and for me, like I said, I’ll always give my life trying to trying to make the football club (better) and to try to represent the city the best I possibly can and hopefully over time I’ll earn their respect.
Rodgers again showed an keen understanding of the job he’s just taken on. He realizes that he’s not just coming to Liverpool Football Club, he’s coming to the city of Liverpool and the club with whom he is charged of taking forward represent the city from which they take their name.
The club and it’s employees are duty-bound to do the city and it’s residents proud. Previous managers may not have fully understood that when taking the job. Rafa Benitez clearly learned it quickly and embraced the city, Roy Hodgson never tried to. Rodgers spoke of how much he and his family are looking forward to moving to the city and involving themselves in the city. It’s very clear that this appointment is not just a big deal for him, but for his wife and children. It’s equally clear that he gets what is required of him, and what he has to live up to.
I will never replace Kenny Dalglish, that’s the reality of it, I can only be Brendan Rodgers and do the very best I can for the football club. I’m not here to jump above – this was a guy who was voted the best player in the history of Liverpool Football Club, who’s a legend of a manager here and a fantastic man. So there’s not a race for me, that’s a race I would lose. But for me, what I want to do is prove my worth and prove my honesty and commitment to Liverpool Football Club. History judges you as a manager, that’s the reality of it. So it won’t be now, it will be history and I hope history will allow me to walk alongside some of the great managers here.
Rodgers had made mention of Kenny Dalglish earlier in the press conference and spoke of his great respect for the man. His answer to Gareth’s question shows the true level of that respect and his own realism about trying to replace him. He knows where he stands and he knows what he wants to do.
He can’t and won’t replace Kenny Dalglish.
He’ll just be himself and do the job to the very best of his ability. It was the last line of the quote that struck me. His hope that history will allow him to walk alongside the great managers that Liverpool have had. That, to me, shows the ambition of the man. Without openly stating it, he has made it clear he’s at Liverpool for the long haul and wants to bring great success back to the club.
Rodgers will no doubt have been prepped for the press conference, but he spoke with an honesty than can’t be coached. There was also a glint in his eye and a look of pure joy on his face during the official unveiling photographs which would have betrayed any hint of mistruth or bluster about his words. This wasn’t a man taking on just another job, this was a man taking on THE job.
A destination is what he called it. He hopes Liverpool are his destination, not a stepping stone to something else. The job he wanted, the job he had dreamed of. His father and grandfather were both Liverpool fans, that he is now Liverpool manager will mean the world to him and one look at him made that obvious without even hearing him speak.
While it was only a press conference and a series of interviews, one can’t help but be impressed by what Rodgers had to say, more impressive in my eyes was how he said it. There was a self-assured nature to everything he said but not a single trace of arrogance. There was a forthright tone to what he had to say. He made it clear that he had joined the club under his terms and made mention of the owners lack of knowledge about football.
There was some who thought FSG might be appointing a yes man, Rodgers dispelled those worries within ten minutes of sitting down to answer question. He made it clear that he had told his new employers that he would not work under a Director of Football, that he would not have his hands tied. He also made it clear that he had no problem working with other people as part of collective decision making. His way, but not a demand for total power. It was impressive.
He was open and honest about his own failings and lack of managerial experience. He didn’t attempt to lay the blame for his unsuccessful time at Reading on anyone else’s doorstep. He took responsibility for it himself.
Rodgers won over a lot of people with his press conference and subsequent interviews. Those that were on the fence are now backing him to do well, those that were slightly against his appointment are now on the fence. Of course there is a section of the Liverpool fanbase who remain totally against his appointment. Those are the people Rodgers knows he will he have to work hard to win over. He’s clearly not afraid of working hard and he clearly knows the task that faces him. As he stated many times during his first few days in charge, this is a long term project.
As part of any long term project, a person will be faced with making big decisions and Rodgers has walked into a project which will require him to make many big decisions over the next three years. More pressingly, it will require him to make some big decisions this summer.
Here are three that spring to mind:
What to do about rumoured “want-away” stars?
Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel are likely to be players that Rodgers penciled into his starting eleven when he first began to consider the possibility that he may very well be the next Liverpool manager. All three are top class players, all three are experienced international players in the prime of his career and all three have been linked with moves away from the club.
Rodgers must make a decision on the each of them. Does he, if they do wish to leave, try to convince them to stay and give him at least one season to show them that their futures lie at Liverpool, or does he thank them for their service to the club, wish them the best in their future endeavours and try to get the highest possible amount for them?
In Reina’s case the will he stay or go circus has been in town since the day after final day of Rafa Benitez’s final season in charge. As one of the best goalkeepers in world football, Reina is a highly sought after talent who would walk into almost any team he wanted. He came close to leaving in the summer of 2010 after Roy Hodgson was appointed Liverpool manager and has continuously been linked with moves to other Premier League teams as well as clubs in Italy and Spain.
Reina has a very specific skill set and would prove tough to replace.
He is, one would assume, perfectly suited to Brendan Rodgers philosophies on sweeper-keepers and building from the back and it’s very hard to see Rodgers not wanting to keep him. Given that he has just had the worst season of his career, on the back of a relatively poor season in 10/11, Reina’s value is likely to be lower than it has been in years and it doesn’t make sense to sell him financially unless a replacement of a similar level can be found.
The likes of Hugo Lloris would prove too expensive, whilst the young pretenders like Jack Butland and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are simply too young to immediately come into the Liverpool team, regardless of their wonderous ability. Rodgers would be well served to sit Reina down and make him see that Liverpool are going to move in the right direction from now on and that he, Reina, will play a huge part in that.
Glen Johnson’s case is slightly different in that he doesn’t appear to have any wish to move on, but might be tempted should Real Madrid come calling. If Madrid did come calling, with their plentiful resources, then perhaps Liverpool could consider a deal for either straight cash, or one or two players from Madrid like Granero and Sahin would be good fits in Rodgers system.
In the more likely event that Madrid don’t make an approach, Liverpool might be best served to ignore any other offers because an attacking fullback of Johnson’s calibre can be hard to find and unless the Reds want to go for an unproven young player like the uber-talented Sime Vrsaljko of Dinamo Zagreb then they will looking at paying big money to replace Johnson.
Martin Skrtel’s rumoured discontent has only surfaced recently with rumours that he wants to play in the Champions League and that his head may have been turned by the financial wonderments on offer at the likes of Manchester City. Skrtel is coming off, by far, the best season of his career. A season in which he partnered Daniel Agger for the most part and helped form the foundation of a defence Liverpool which was one of the few bright spots in Liverpool’s season(Carling Cup not withstanding).
Skrtel’s value has never been higher and should Liverpool decide to sell him they would probably be looking at a figure in excess of £15 million for the Slovakian.
I would be of the opinion that the Reds should sell him.
Prior to this past season Skrtel was seen by many as a liability. An accident waiting to happen. He was clumsy, slow on the turn and always looked like he could give away a penalty at any minute. Prior to this past season, not many Liverpool fans would have complained too loudly if he had been sold. I don’t think one season should change that.
My opinion is that if an offer of £15-18 million is put on the table Liverpool should take it, rather than risk Skrtel reverting to previous form and only being able to get half that amount in a years time. It’s the same tactic that Newcastle and Aston Villa used when selling Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing to Liverpool; they sold them when their value was at its highest, replaced them and in Newcastle’s case, improved greatly. With an extra £15-18 million in the transfer kitty Liverpool could be much stronger in the transfer market and Skrtel’s sale would also provide an answer to the next question.
What to do with Martin Kelly?
Martin Kelly is the best young player to come through the ranks at Liverpool since current Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. At 22 years of age he is ready, willing and able to be a regular first team player for Liverpool and his selection for the England squad for the European Championship will give him even more confidence in his own abilities. Kelly has been held back by injuries thus far in his career. A back injury cost him two years of his career as a boy and frequent muscular injuries have affected him since he first broke into the senior squad under Rafa Benitez.
Kelly has played predominantly as a right back for Liverpool but his natural position is in the centre of the defence and that’s where he belongs. He’s 6’3, broad as a barn door, has great pace, reads the game very well and is strong in the air as well as on the floor. Kelly needs to be playing regular first team football this coming season, and it needs to be in the centre of defence. Rodgers used Steven Caulker in the centre of his defence at Swansea which shows he does not hesitate in giving youth a chance. Kelly is older and better than Caulker and deserves a similar chance. While some may suggest that he can continue to play at right back, I would point to the injury problems he’s had as proof that the stress on his legs at fullback is too much and that he’s better served in the centre, and Liverpool would also be better served using him there.
I’ve heard a lot of Liverpool fans talk about wanting to see Mats Hummels or Neven Subotic brought to the club, but who’s to say Kelly can’t be every bit as good as them? Kelly and Agger as Liverpool’s first choice pairing has the potential to be fantastic. With Sebastian Coates at the club Liverpool have the ideal third central defender, and Jamie Carragher will likely be around too to add experience.
There probably is a need for another left footed central defender, but that can be solved with the next question.
What to do with returning loan players?
Danny Wilson, Dani Pacheco, Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani all return to Liverpool this summer having spent last season on loan and Rodgers will have to decide what to do with them. Each of them have pros and cons and must be looked at individually.
Wilson’s not had the best of time since moving to Liverpool from Rangers but remains an extremely talented player. He’s comfortable on the ball and left footed, two things which give him the chance to make his mark at Liverpool under the new manager. He’s also a far better player than he’s been allowed to show at Liverpool.
If the new manager has confidence in Wilson, I would bet Liverpool fans would start to see the best of him and he’d be a good option as a back-up to Daniel Agger. A five man central defensive unit of Agger, Kelly, Coates, Wilson and Carragher, with Andre Wisdom possibly getting a run in the League Cup, should certainly do the trick for the Reds in the coming season.
Pacheco was much hyped during his time in the youth and reserve teams following his arrival from Barcelona but he failed to impress in his limited opportunities for Liverpool’s first team. His skill set does lend itself quite well to the style of play Rodgers likes and given his low wages, he could well be worth keeping around.
Cole was brought in by the Hodgson/Purslow braintrust in an attempt to look ambitious and has failed miserably at the club. Lack of fitness, lack of tactical awareness and not being able to find anything resembling form led to him going out on loan to Lille last season. He had a decent season at Lille and the French style of football seemed to suit him with its slower pace and lower quality of opposition.
There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding him at the moment. Claims that he has been “brought back to Anfield” have become widespread.
It’s probably a bit redundant to say this, but that’s generally what happens when a loan ends.
The player returns to his parent club. That’s why it’s called a loan. Others are pointing to comments by both Brendan Rodgers and Lille manager Rudi Garcia as proof that he’s going to play a part next season. Rodgers merely complimented him, as any manager would, while Garcia is highly unlikely to be privy to Rodgers thoughts and his comments should not be read into. He merely stated things from his end.
Lille wanted to take Cole on loan again next season under the same terms as last year. Liverpool have said no, and rightly so as there is no point in paying a player £50k a week to play for someone else. Cole’s wages make him too expensive to hang on to if he’s not going to be first choice and he will likely be sold, or possibly released if an agreement can be reached in a similar manner to the deal which saw Milan Jovanovic leave the club last summer.
The most interesting case is the Italian prodigal son, Alberto Aquilani whose time at Liverpool has been well documented. There’s no question that he’s perfect for the style of play Rodgers wants and has the ability to immediately improve the Liverpool team greatly.
The question is whether or not he wants to be at the club. He was quoted last summer as saying that if Liverpool wanted him, he would stay. I believe he meant that if he was certain of first team football week in and week out, he would stay. Kenny Dalglish could not give him the assurances he wanted for one reason or another and Aquilani spent his second straight year out on loan.
If he wants to stay, then it’s simple, play him next to Lucas, behind Gerrard and run the play through him a la Joe Allen at Swansea. If he wants to go, sell him or try to use him in a makeweight with an Italian club to secure someone else. If Aquilani does stay then it will help solve the question of….
How best to use Steven Gerrard?
This is a big decision facing Rodgers, and one he must make during pre-season training as he attempts to mould his own team out of the existing players and players he might sign. Barring serious injury, Gerrard is going to be a huge part of Liverpool for the next two years at the very least and Rodgers must find a way to get the best from him.
Karl Matchett covered the position side of the topic as part of his excellent article yesterday so have a read of that because it echoes my thoughts. The other side of the topic is whether to play him every week, or pick and choose his games as United do with Scholes and Giggs. Gerrard is a lot younger than the United pair but has had far more surgery than either of them.
Finding the right balance between playing him sporadically enough to keep him fit, and frequently enough to get the best out of him, is something Rodgers must try to strike.