ONE day Liverpool won the league. It was the eighteenth time they’d done it. The reaction was the same as always – delight but perhaps too much of a sense of it all being the norm. Liverpool always won something, give or take a couple of seasons, and the something was usually that trophy or that great big one that used to belong to UEFA.
A year later and Liverpool hadn’t won the league. The last manager to win it had gone (although he’d win it again elsewhere) and changes would begin that would see the end of all those years of glory that fans really had been taking for granted. Even when Liverpool didn’t win the league they’d usually finish runners-up – but not any more. Liverpool were about to start 22 years of being in transition.
Talking about those 22 years is quite painful really. Highs weren’t gone completely – see 2001 and 2005 for details – but any idea that Reds supporters could afford to take anything for granted should have been long gone. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. At times the so-called best fans in the world have sounded – in some cases – like the most spoilt brats in the world.
Have a look how many times Liverpool have finished second in the seasons since Kenny Dalglish’s first spell as manager came to an end. Have a look at the last time. Think back to the calls for the manager’s head, the complaints about him throwing it all away and the progress made since. Liverpool haven’t even got into the top five since then. Fans took top two for granted because they were more concerned about another team catching the Reds’ total than they were about encouraging some genuine progress in the face of arguably the clearest case of financial adversity since the club’s formation the century before the last one.
That chance has gone, that ship has sailed. The new owners won’t speak to that manager. Some of those who survived his departure, who played along with the game of distracting supporters from the true cause of the problems, who helped rip the club apart whilst hoping to be recognised for saving it, are still around. It would be a surprise if those who helped him out the door were giving FSG advice other than to steer clear of that old boss. It would also be a surprise if FSG, as wise as we’ve been led to believe they are, haven’t spotted the apprehension those people show at the mere thought of an old boss chatting to new owners. FSG aren’t afraid to terminate a contract, no matter how recently it was awarded and no matter the status of who it was awarded to.
FSG are trying to rebuild Liverpool Football Club and are going to do it their way.
Or, at least, their way with a nod to the ways that they think have worked elsewhere. They see parallels between Liverpool now – on and off the field – and Barcelona in 2003. That doesn’t mean they’ll do exactly what Barcelona did in 2003 to turn things around, or that the club has the same raw materials at the academy to help make that happen, or that they’ll put as much money in as went into Barca, but they do seem to be looking to borrow some of the ideas.
The imminent appointment of Brendan Rodgers is an extremely brave move. Nobody knows how it will turn out – and that includes those who see it as a positive move as much as those who see it as a negative move. He’s a manager with potential, not a manager who arrives ready-made with proven success at the level Liverpool fans – and FSG – want the club to be at. But he’s a manager young enough to prove that he can achieve that potential.
Liverpool don’t have the money that Chelsea throw around, the kind of money dwarfed by what Manchester City throw around. Liverpool can’t keep chopping and changing managers and certainly can’t expect instant success. Brendan Rodgers will need time – and FSG must ensure they make it clear to everyone looking on that they’ll be giving him that time.
One of the worst things FSG can do now is to put high expectations and tight deadlines into words they’ll have quoted back at them later. At least five of the seven clubs who finished above Liverpool last season will be pushing for top four this season; one or two clubs who finished below Liverpool might fancy their chances of pushing for top six. Liverpool are not entitled to a bye to the top reaches of the league, all that history is exactly that: history.
To expect Liverpool fans to smile and accept Brendan Rodgers like it’s the best decision the club has made since the sixties is ridiculous and even FSG wouldn’t expect that. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that the same kind of process that lumped the club with Roy Hodgson has been dusted off and used again – but the sooner those with that feeling can shake it off the better. Roy Hodgson was a choice based on what the papers said – Brendan Rodgers certainly doesn’t seem to be that.
Issues with the way the club has conducted this change of manager remain, but those issues are nothing at all to do with Brendan Rodgers. Someone somewhere at the club seemed to think it was a good idea to brief the press that Pep Guardiola was on a shortlist of twelve names. The feeling is that whoever that was didn’t run the idea past the owners first. Time will tell.
There are still big questions about what happened to the plans to build a stadium that could hold up to 75,000 supporters and there may yet be questions about other issues that are related to the boardroom. But for the next couple of days at least it’s worth trying to forget about the boardroom. It’s probably also time to forget about the bootroom, or not so much to forget it as to forget about it being part of the club in 2012.
Liverpool are moving into a new era and we’ll not know for a long time how it compares to the other eras in the Reds’ history books. It certainly isn’t time to panic, 22 years of that has done more harm than good. It’s also not time to bury heads in the sand – there are still problems at the club and ignoring those problems doesn’t help either. But maybe we’ve got to build on that unity Kenny Dalglish brought back to Anfield if we want to get back to the heights we last saw under Rafael Benítez, let alone the heights we saw back in the old days.
Brendan Rodgers, welcome to Anfield.