A sad end to Brendan Rodgers' rollercoaster ride at Liverpool
In the end, it wasn’t even a surprise. Brendan Rodgers’ relationship with the Liverpool board and the Anfield fans had deteriorated to such an extent that his position as manager of the Reds had become almost completely untenable.
Liverpool in 2015 are a shadow of the side that had almost surged to the title just over a year previously, following a sixth place finish in 2014/15 with an abject start to this campaign. Rodgers, lauded for his breath-taking attacking football with the LMA Manager of the Year award in 2014, slowly became a bit of a laughing stock amongst football fans; the parody twitter account ‘Deluded Brendan’ taking aim at his questionable transfer record, and the overuse of the words “character” and “outstanding” throughout his time in charge of the Reds.
But while the end of his reign was a joke, the vast majority of his three seasons in charge showed many positives and signs of a good manager. It may be difficult to make a case for Liverpool still being a top side, but looking back at Rodgers’ time at Anfield, it would be wrong to label him a failure. Amongst all of his troubles, there are plenty of positives to take from Brendan’s rollercoaster ride.
2012/13: Difficult beginnings
League Position: 7th (61 points)
FA Cup: 4th Round
League Cup: 4th Round
Europa League: Round of 32
Rodgers’ appointment in the summer of 2012 represented a gamble on the part of the Liverpool board. The Northern Irishman had led Swansea City to 11th place in their debut Premier League season, in what was his only Premier League campaign at that point. Promising as he was, John W Henry knew he was taking a big risk in Rodgers.
Brendan arrived at a Liverpool team that was in real trouble. Ever since the departures of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, mediocrity had become the norm at Anfield, and an eighth placed finish the previous season, with as many defeats as victories, was indicative of how far Liverpool had fallen in just a handful of seasons.
In terms of transfer activity, Rodgers’ first summer at Liverpool was a quiet one, with the only acquisitions coming in the shape of Joe Allen, Fabio Borini, Oussama Assaidi and the loan of Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid; none of whom managed to shine at Anfield.
Liverpool’s start to the campaign was an especially tough one, and Rodgers’ tenure began with a mere two points from their opening 5 matches, losing to West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal and Manchester United in the first month of the season. A huge 5-2 win at Norwich showcased the talents of hat-trick hero Luis Suarez as Liverpool began to click under their new manager, but the Reds spent almost the whole of the opening half of the season in the bottom half, and sat a disappointing 10th at Christmas.
This was when Rodgers conducted the two best pieces of transfer business of his whole reign, bringing in the considerable talent of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho for a combined £20 million. The addition of Sturridge, who hit the ground running as a skilful and predatory goalscorer, and the creative Coutinho finally added some extra quality to Rodgers’ Liverpool side, contributing to their significant improvement. Liverpool lost just 3 times in the second half of the season, and recorded huge thrashings against the likes of Swansea City (5-0), Wigan Athletic (4-0) and Newcastle United (6-0).
They may have ended the season in 7th place, but Liverpool had started to develop a unique identity under Rodgers, becoming a free scoring unit that was finally starting to win matches. There was no European qualification or cup success, but their strong finish to Rodgers’ opening season provided them with a fantastic springboard for the season ahead, where Liverpool would become title contenders once again.
2013/14: So close, yet so far
Premier League: 2nd (84 pts)
FA Cup: Fifth round
League Cup 3rd round
Rodgers again neglected to spend massive amounts of money on any individual players in pre-season, but did make some very important signings in Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet, as well as flops such as Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto. Previous transfer failures of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing were both moved on, as Liverpool conducted some solid, if unspectacular business.
Starting the season without Luis Suarez, serving a ten game biting ban, Liverpool shot to the top of the table after three straight 1-0 victories to start the season. Suarez’s return saw a big boost in Liverpool’s goalscoring ability, and by Christmas they led and incredibly tight title race. So tight, that by the New Year, they had fallen to fifth.
However, as soon as the season moved into 2014, Liverpool became a different animal. They scored five goals at the Britannia Stadium, they beat local rivals Everton 4-0, before blowing away Arsenal with a stunning 5-1 victory, which sparked a remarkable 11 game winning run.
Many have argued in hindsight that Luis Suarez was the main reason that Liverpool were able to get within two points of the title, yet that is incredibly unfair on Rodgers. The Ulsterman found a diamond system that not only drew the best out of the world class talents of Suarez, but also complimented Daniel Sturridge, the prodigious Raheem Sterling (who had developed into a fine Premier League player and England International under Brendan), as well as finding a new role for the ageing Steven Gerrard to flourish.
The Liverpool of 2013/14 was Rodgers at his best, and it took the misfortune of Steven Gerrard losing his footing for the wheels to come across the most unlikely of title charges. Brendan had extracted the maximum out of his squad and brought the feel good factor back to Anfield. A promising new era of trophies and Champions League football beckoned, but, sadly, was not to be.
2014/15: A staggered demise
League: 6th (62 pts)
FA Cup: Semi-finals
League Cup: Semi-finals
Champions League: Group Stage
Europa League: Round of 32
It has become popular to point to the £75 million departure of Luis Suarez as the catalyst for Rodgers’ Anfield demise, but it does not tell the whole story. The loss of Suarez probably turned Liverpool from genuine title contenders into mere top 4 challengers, but the Uruguayan’s exit was not terminal.
Liverpool actually started the season in fine fettle, and a 3-0 win at White Hart Lane showed a team of real quality. The real problems started when Daniel Sturridge returned from England duty with a thigh injury, as this meant that Liverpool had lost their two leading lights from their almost glorious 2013/14 season.
Results quickly dropped off as Mario Balotelli and the club failed to adapt to each other and Steven Gerrard rapidly began to decline. With no pace up front and seemingly no ideas from deeper, Liverpool looked dead and buried.
That was, until, Rodgers came up with a brilliant formation change. By switching to 3-4-2-1, playing Raheem Sterling as a lone striker, Rodgers finally started to get the best out of some of his new signings and regain some of his identity again. They may not have been scoring with the same fluidity as the previous season, but during a 13 game unbeaten run, Liverpool looked as good as any other side in the league, and put real pressure on the top 4.
However, with a home defeat to Manchester United, everything fell apart. Another injury to Daniel Sturridge and the contract saga of Raheem Sterling contributed to a dismal end to the season, where Liverpool experienced thrashings at the hands of Arsenal, Crystal Palace and the infamous 6-1 loss at Stoke, falling to 6th position at the end of the season. The return of Sturridge had almost saved their season, but the nature of the conclusion to the campaign was highly disappointing.
2015/16- Goodbye Brendan
Rodgers had to deal with another high profile departure this summer, losing Raheem Sterling to Manchester City for just under £50 million. After a poor summer of transfers the year previously, Rodgers was under pressure from the outset, and questions were raised over the quality of some of his acquisitions.
Christian Benteke is a proven Premier League striker, but many questioned his ability to fit into the Liverpool system. Roberto Firmino is just another player in the mould of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, in an overcrowded position. The signings of Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner and Danny Ings were good ones, but Rodgers’ failure to address Liverpool’s weakest areas, namely central defence and defensive midfield have meant Liverpool have barely become a more attractive proposition than last season. With his poor signings the previous summer this no doubt contributed heavily to his demise.
Rodgers may have been optimistic of keeping his job after two wins from two at the start of the season, but only one league win since, as well as heavy defeats to West Ham and Manchester United only added to the apathy towards Rodgers that was boiling over from the shocking end to the previous campaign.
Looking back, Rodgers has shown a lot of admirable qualities as manager of Liverpool. The Reds may have struggled to initially adapt to his style, but for the next eighteen months after they did Liverpool looked like one of the best teams in the country, receiving admiration from all quarters. The loss of Suarez hit him hard, as did the injury to Sturridge, but his change in formation last Christmas allowed Rodgers to save a disastrous season with another fine run of results. Looking over his entire tenure, there was far more good than bad underneath Rodgers on the pitch.
Sadly, his demise can be partially attributed to some very poor transfer activity, with plenty of money being wasted on the likes Dejan Lovren, Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini. In terms of net spend; Brendan has spent little more than the vast majority of Premier League teams, so to class Rodgers as a man who merely spent a bottomless pit of money is grossly unfair, although the quality of his recruitment left a lot to be desired.
In the end, something changed for Liverpool’s Rodgers at the back end of last season. On the brink of returning to the top 4, Liverpool suddenly flopped at the end of the season with no real rhyme or reason, and the style that had brought Rodgers so much success and adulation had suddenly disappeared.
Whether he could have turned it around again will never be known, but it is clear that the Liverpool-Rodgers love affair had well and truly run its course by the end of his time at Anfield. However, that doesn’t mean the good times should be forgotten. He may have made many mistakes in managing the Reds, but he gave Liverpool fans some of the greatest joy they have seen for around twenty-five years. The poor end to his tenure may make this the right decision, but the good things he did at Liverpool should not be forgotten. Did Brendan ultimately fail to deliver consistent success to Liverpool? Yes. But was he a failure? No. Not by a long way.
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