Saturday, 1 September 2012

Rodgers Must Prove Coaching Credentials To Earn Transfer Kitty

For a large amount of modern day fans, it seems who we buy and sell is more important than the actual results on the pitch, more interesting than the performance and development of players, and stirs more emotions than derby wins or last minute goals. The summer is spent constantly speculating and debating targets and guessing budgets, and the moment the window shuts, eyes are cast towards 1st January. Consequently, 31st August 2012 will go down as just about the worst day of a lot of Liverpool fans' lives. I can only sympathise.

The least enjoyable weeks of the football calendar are now over and at last, the season can begin - for 15 blissful days, until the international break ruins it all.

Of course, yesterday was disappointing, mostly because we have a new manager who we assume was promised certain funds to spend, and ruthlessly disposed of certain players, even resorting to publicly criticising players he's worked with for a matter of weeks, and ended up with no replacements. Rodgers fully committed himself to lowering the wage bill, and creating space in the squad for new recruits, and wasn't able to fill those gaps. The immediate concern is Rodgers' relationship with the owners, and whether it has already been damaged, while wider questions need to be asked about FSG's long term strategy.

However, this absurd competition amongst Internet-warrior fans to be the most infuriated at yesterday's events, calling for the heads of the individuals they can only guess are responsible, even making baseless suggestions that FSG are looking to sell up, is just another tiresome phase that will predictably pass as soon as the team starts winning. I can understand some of the intense paranoia and frustration when thinking back to the Hicks, Gillett and Benitez years, but it is clear that, while I'm not siding with the current owners, it is a completely different situation to that which Rafa faced in 2009.

Here's why this is no time to panic.

What many are failing to realise is that even if we'd signed Dempsey, Sturridge and Walcott, sixth place was still our likely maximum finish, given the existing gulf between us and the top five and their own current levels of investment. As it is, we're going to have some competition for that spot, possibly from Everton and one or two surprise packages, but if we have a strong season, and no repeat of last season's off-field chaos, the squad we have is more than capable of securing more points, and a higher position than last season, which I suppose is the definition of progress.

It is that sort of progress, albeit modest by a club of our standards, that the owners can rightly expect to demand before they inject serious cash once more. Therefore, the onus is on Brendan Rodgers, who is only 157 matches into a managerial career which has delivered reasonable, but not spectacular results, to prove that he is the coach worthy of a bottomless pit of transfer funds, which will provide us with a reasonable expectation of challenging for a return to Champions League football within the next three seasons. To those who haven't been behind the team long enough to stomach waiting that long, again, I'll offer token sympathy.

Although last year's £100 million summer spend was accounted for by a large chunk of sales, it was still £100 million sanctioned for purchases by FSG that ultimately resulted in a side that grossly under-performed beyond Christmas on the pitch, while off-pitch matters descended to a new low. That squad was more than capable of finishing sixth, and should have done so.

Now what on earth are John Henry and Tom Werner, if they don't learn from experiences and mistakes?

If Rodgers wants to have this glorious, league-title-guaranteeing 'backing' that everyone keeps going on about, perhaps he should at least prove his credentials as a coach first? Just a thought. It's what he is here for, after all. Now this may disappoint the twitter-fans, but I am far, far more interested in what Rodgers can do with what is at his disposal, than any hypothetical signings. I am fascinated to see him continue to impose his philosophy and style on our squad, something we saw encouraging signs of materialising against City.

Furthermore, Rodgers made the considerable step up to manage a Liverpool team in one of its most desperate states of recent times, in a summer that contained both a European Championships and an Olympic Games, making for the trickiest of transfer markets. The squad meanwhile, was littered with players who simply weren't worth their wages, meaning sales would be doubly tougher than purchases, making shrewd squad turnover incredibly difficult. It is no wonder, again, that FSG were reluctant to take risks, given that the maximum likely return on that investment in the first year would be sixth position, and a Europa League place. The clear priority was to reduce that wage bill and relieve the club of dead-weights who were simply sucking away their funds and not contributing on the pitch. Some, like Joe Cole, still refuse to budge, and will continue to hold us back.

Rodgers may be paying for the mistakes of previous regimes, but if he is as progressive and philosophically sound in his approach to the transfer market and squad development as he is to playing style, then I am sure he won't allow yesterday's events to linger in his mind in the way it will for many fans. Who knows, he may even look back one day, with a quiet nod of approval to his bosses, and think that it was a necessary struggle.

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