The problem with grand footballing plans is that they very rarely succeed without putting two vital components in place: a visionary manager or coach with the ability to create or change tactics in order to win games and a collection of players with the wit, talent and genius to interpret what the management team requires of them.
Brendan Rodgers’ ambitious plans for Liverpool are a prime case in point. Last season’s second place finish in the Premier League should have acted as a catalyst to go on and make a prolonged challenge during the current season. Unfortunately, we had another of summer of speculation surrounding Luis Suarez.
Once the decision to sell him had been made, then the club should have positioned itself to bring in a suitable replacement. Instead, Rodgers and the Liverpool board embarked on a bizarre policy that concentrated on “talented players who fit our profile” rather than the purchase of more experienced and complete footballers. It seems that they pursued a policy of quantity rather than quality. Shades of Tottenham following the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid?
What we ended up with was the desperate purchase of Mario Balotelli and a motley collection of attacking midfielders. Whilst it is still early days, judgements are already being made on Lallana, Markovic and Can. A distressing pattern seems to be emerging, whereby Liverpool buy players they perceive to have the talent to take the team to another level, but their development seems to hit a brick wall as soon as they come into contact with Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff. You can add Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas and Fabio Borini to the list of misfiring talent that has suffered at the hands of the coaching team. Phillipe Coutinho has been a partial success, but he seems to have lost some of his swagger in recent weeks. With the exception of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge and the emergence of the now injured Jon Flanagan, it is difficult to see where there has been a significant improvement in the young players under Rodgers’ tutelage.
Today’s 3-1 defeat by West Ham came as no surprise. The Hammers were hungrier, quicker to the ball, more committed in the tackle. It confirmed what Liverpool fans have suspected for a long time: the problems that blighted Liverpool’s unexpected title challenge last season still remain unsolved. Over £40 million was spent on bringing in Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno to strengthen the team, but the team is still incapable of properly defending set pieces.
So, what of the future? Brendan Rodgers sets up his team to play a fast, attacking brand of football and there are players at the club who can excite and exhilirate in equal measure. They proved they could deliver last season. However, Rodgers’ grasp of the transfer market seems shaky, whilst his inability to set up a team to “win ugly” in the way that Chelsea did at Anfield last season means that the parts will continue to amount to more than the sum when they are all put together.
There is an undoubted need to strengthen through the middle, in the way that Bill Shankly did when he first arrived at the club in the 1950s. He brought Tommy Lawrence, Ron Yeats and Ian St John to the club, and in the process created the spine of the team that brought great success to the club. Another centre half, a defensive midfielder and a goalscorer are desperately required to put the season back on track, but I hope that Brendan Rodgers is no longer the man bringing those players in. I suspect there are murmurings of discontent from the board. They have invested a lot of money in players and plan to spend still further in January. In addition, the stadium redevelopment is looming and this will further serve to drain resources.
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