When Brendan Rodgers gave his first press conference as Liverpool manager, it was faultless. His respect for the traditions of the club, his honesty about his “short career” and his infectious drive and determination bought him the good will of even the most sceptical fans. He summed it up like this:
“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 is a great talker, but history will judge him on his actions rather than his words. There have been lots of positives since he joined but there are already some niggling concerns which are explored in detail below.
Rodgers has been too honest with the media when it comes to transfers and, in some press conferences, he has shown a small club mentality. He needs to learn quickly that at Liverpool every sentence a manager utters is magnified and this can lead to seemingly innocuous comments being blown out of all proportion. He also needs to learn that at Liverpool we do our business behind closed doors, not through the media.
When asked about whether Daniel Agger could be sold, Rodgers responded by saying “Every player has a price.” This was a schoolboy error which led to a spate of “Agger up for Sale” headlines. Rodgers had fed the vultures and, in doing so, risked unsettling his best defender.
When asked about Andy Carroll’s potential move to Newcastle he almost said the right thing, “I would need to be a nutcase to even consider at this moment to let Carroll go out.” He then let his true feelings clear by saying “unless there are other solutions.” It is hard to imagine Rodgers saying he would let Gerrard leave if he could find another solution, and the media interpreted his comments to mean “Carroll is surplus to requirements.”
If Carroll or the fans were in any doubt about where he stands with Rodgers, it was put to bed with these extraordinary comments: “I am talking generically here, I'm not sure we are in a position to have £35m players as third-choice strikers.” How that statement is generic is anybody’s guess, and it was yet another example of a man who is far too honest when it comes to discussing his players with the media.
He is not much better when it comes to the players coming in. When asked about Liverpool’s interest in Dempsey, he said "Ian Ayre has spoken with the club to see what the position is. That is where we're at. He's a very talented player but we don't like to talk about other clubs' players." His comments led to an official complaint by Fulham to the Premier League and unsettled Dempsey to such an extent that he has not played for Fulham since. The final part of his statement “we don’t like to talk about other clubs players” was all he needed to say.
It will be very interesting to see how Rodgers handles the media when the pressure is really on. His tendency to be too honest with them could turn into a noose around his neck.
Lucas is out for three months with an injury that may not have been so severe had Rodgers and the medical team got a crucial decision right. After such a long layoff with a serious knee injury, Lucas needed to be wrapped in cotton wool. This did not happen and he was allowed to start the game against Manchester City despite carrying a thigh injury. In the post match interview Rodgers said, “in the warm-up Lucas felt his thigh muscle when he took a shot." As soon as he knew there was a problem, Rodgers had an opportunity to say "I'm not risking him." He did not take it.
We will never know how long Lucas would have been out for had he been withdrawn prior to the match, but there is no doubt that the decision to play him was ill advised, even bordering on reckless. This is not directly Rodgers fault, but when it comes to team selection the buck stops with the manager.
Where is Plan B?
Swansea City were electric at the beginning of last season. Their brand of attacking football was a breath of fresh air and, importantly, it was delivering results. However, there was always a question mark about whether they had a “Plan B”. As one Swansea fan put it, “don't expect a Plan B because Rodgers believes in Plan A so much. It can be frustrating at times ... when you're a goal down with 89 minutes on the clock you don't want to see your back four stroking it about in leisurely fashion!” Liverpool fans who watched the WBA game will relate to this. It was very frustrating to watch us outnumbered and getting outplayed, yet seemingly unwilling to try something different. The decision to bring on Joe Cole instead of Andy Carroll with twenty minutes to go summed this up. Even two goals down with ten men, Rodgers stuck to his philosophy.
The biggest risk with this philosophy is that teams will bully us into defeat. It happened to Swansea against Stoke and Everton last season and it could well happen to Liverpool this term. With a team like Barcelona you do not need a Plan B because they execute Plan A so effectively, but there is a big question mark over whether a similar philosophy will bring similar success at Anfield. Ultimately, the success or failure of Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager will be dependent on how well Plan A is executed, because there is no Plan B.
I have highlighted these concerns in the hope that they are teething problems rather than the tips of some very big icebergs. I will come back to this article at the end of the season to see how he has progressed with his handling of the media, his ability to get big decisions right and, most importantly, the success or failure of his football philosophy.