Tag Archives: Brendan Rodgers

What Is Fair Criticism Of An Ownership Group?

I’ve studied LFC fans on Twitter after matches a lot the last year or two. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that I’m just fascinated with how the fanbase reacts to bad results and other things that happen around the Premiership. Seriously, with all of the shit that fans spout after matches, I could write one really big fucking book on the subject (and I probably will).

Now, I always try to remain unbiased in how I approach my opinion on a subject regarding LFC. I follow a lot of different fans and journalists in order to get as many viewpoints as possible. It’s nice when we can focus on matters that happen on the pitch, such as our use of the 4-3-3, potential transfer targets, sales, you name it. But one of the main things that always seems to come up is criticism of Brendan Rodgers and, particularly, Fenway Sports Group.

When it comes to Brendan Rodgers, all I can say is this: we’re playing better football aesthetically, have a higher points total and goal differential in the league than we did last season under Kenny, and are improving as a squad in his first season. I believe that comparisons to Hodgson are unfair, and that he does deserve more time in charge of LFC. One year is not enough to judge a manager on, and to say otherwise is absolutely foolish.

As far as the FSG criticism is concerned, it never really sat right with me. As an American Liverpool fan who’s supportive of FSG, I’ve received a lot of unfair criticism because fans are still upset about how previous American owners Hicks and Gillett ran the club, don’t like how FSG are doing things because they apparently don’t spend enough money on the club, and believe that FSG will skin LFC and run for the money like Hicks and Gillett did. But is that really fair? I don’t think so.

Look at the club’s net spend the last two seasons. Almost £80m has been spent by FSG in transfer fees alone. That’s not to mention the massive wages given to players and the pay-offs given to the likes of Milan Jovanovic, Philip Degen, Joe Cole, and Christian Poulsen. Also, FSG have made progress on renovating Anfield, thus keeping the cherished history and lifeblood of Liverpool FC intact. The new sponsorship deals have made LFC one of the most marketable clubs in the Premiership, something that Hicks and Gillett always talked about but were never truly able to accomplish. Yes, the last few seasons have had results that were less than admirable, but this was always going to be a rebuilding process.

While I cannot vouch personally for whether or not John Henry watches football as much as Ian Ayre says he does, the simple fact is this: there’s no way the investment made by FSG is truly profitable if a new stadium isn’t built or renovated, and until that happens, it’s in FSG’s best interest to stay at the club and continue investing. Aside from Champions League clubs, nobody in the Premiership comes close to the investment made in the playing squad when compared to what FSG has done the last two seasons. Blame who you want, but they’ve ponied up the cash, and they’re trying their best. As owners of the Boston Red Sox, they won two World Series titles last decade, and turned the club into the only team capable of battling the New York Yankees’ payroll in the American League. FSG knows how to succeed in the face of giants, which LFC currently face in the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. They’re smart business people, and smart sporting men. They’re alright.

But having reviewed the last two and a half years under FSG, I can honestly say that there are some fair criticisms of the ownership group’s tenure at LFC. They’ve made a number of mistakes, which we will analyze now:

Being American
This isn’t their fault, but it does factor in to why LFC fans are very vindictive of them. I honestly believe that if FSG was any other nationality, LFC fans would not be as judgmental and vindictive of them as they currently are. Hicks and Gillett didn’t help their cause, and back when the ownership was being sold, if LFC fans had a choice between Singapore’s Peter Lim and FSG, they probably would’ve taken Peter Lim. Is that fair? Absolutely not. Is it understandable? Absolutely. LFC fans have already been bitten by an American ownership group and they have every right to have reservations about the current ownership group because of that fact. What I hate is when anger about the perceived failings of the current ownership group pours over into anti-American bigotry against myself and other American LFC fans.

Some fans who are critical of FSG have some decent arguments. Others do not. Here are some examples of LFC fans tweeting abuse to John W. Henry after he tweets about a CHARITABLE ACTION in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT school shooting:

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The “Being: Liverpool” Television Series
I’m sorry, but this was total garbage. There were obviously staged scenes in this, there’s no true appeal to it, and all that it basically does is glorify preseason friendly matches and a trip to Belarus while making other things seem more dramatic than they truly are. I only watched the first two episodes, and quite honestly, I wish I could have those two hours of my life back. I really wish I had never seen those awkward scenes in Rodgers’ home, or when Liverpool players met Red Sox players. That’s completely neglecting the envelopes and everything else in that series that made me cringe. Honestly, there is no defending how awful that was, and I highly doubt that it was worth whatever money the club made from it. A poor job done all around that made a mockery of the club more than anything else.

Giving Kenny Dalglish the Permanent Manager Tag
Before you all start calling for me to be chopped off, hear me out. Look, I love Kenny Dalglish. I didn’t want him to be sacked, and I’m extremely grateful for everything he’s done for the club. However, his success at the latter end of 2010/11 was probably one of the worst things to happen for Liverpool FC in the long-term. He was brought in to replace Roy Hodgson as a caretaker, and the main goal of the appointment was to appease the fans and unify the fanbase. It was the right move to bring him in as a caretaker. That being said, we overachieved during his time in charge, and that created unrealistic expectations. We almost qualified for Europe because of our form during the second half of the season alone. Despite all of that, Kenny Dalglish was not FSG’s man for the long-term future of LFC. By giving Kenny the three-year contract and holding off on hiring a manager for the long-term, FSG set the club back a bit. They gave King Kenny and Damien Comolli £100m to spend (approximately £35m net) and let them sign who they wanted. The result? Overpaying for Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, plus bringing in Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique. Everyone at LFC expected a quick return to prominence under Dalglish, when it was never going to be that simple, easy, or fast.

FSG released a statement at the close of the 2011 summer window saying that they expected a Top Four finish. Nothing about cup success or anything else, but only a Top Four finish. The squad played well the first half of the season, but then Lucas went down, Suarez was suspended for nine games, and Kenny was up shit’s creek without a paddle. He had no Plan B. Yes, we won the League Cup and went to the Final of The FA Cup, but we finished 8th with 52 points after spending £100m. I’m sorry, but that is just not good enough. Cup competitions are a crapshoot—hell, Wigan could win the FA Cup this year and still get relegated. It’s best to judge overall team performance on whatever competition yields the strongest XIs, the best teams, and the largest sample size. LFC’s 8th place finish in the league happens to be just that. If FSG were only going to give him one season, then it must be asked: why did they keep him on as permanent manager at all? His spending and lost 8th place season only set the club back another year when it could ill afford to do so.

The Luis Suarez Racism Affair
What else needs to be said that hasn’t already been said? Look, Suarez used racist words. By The FA’s guidelines, he broke the rules. Now, while I have a lot of problems with the written reasons, the evidence, the burden of proof, and a lot of other things regarding that case, the one thing that I am certain of is that LFC had a PR nightmare with this and handled it absolutely incorrectly. The club released statements that were very emotional at the time and not thought through, which made a very bad situation even worse. Liverpool was the only party that used the term “racist” in the aftermath of the verdict. The FA said that he wasn’t a racist and Patrice Evra said he wasn’t a racist. Liverpool tried to argue that the linguistics of the language made use of the word acceptable, which is completely besides the point. The club completely botched the situation, the media jumped all over us, and the club has really been unable to bounce back since this episode took place. When a situation of this magnitude gets fucked up, the blame falls upon everyone at the club, especially the owners.

The Insistence on a Director of Football and their Managerial Search
After the sacking of Kenny Dalglish, FSG insisted that whatever manager they hired would have to work with a Director of Football. This makes sense to Americans like myself, who are used to seeing this system used in American professional sports, as teams have a “General Manager” who makes the personnel decisions, and a Manager who fills out the lineups and works with the team on the field. This is a huge mistake that FSG made, as it cut into the pool of potential suitors for the position. FSG interviewed the likes of Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Martinez, both of whom told FSG that they would not work with a Director of Football. Many believe that Steve Clarke was also interviewed by FSG, which would’ve been an understandable appointment given his background. By that point, they accepted defeat on the issue, realizing how divisive it was, and decided to appoint Brendan Rodgers without a Director of Football. Rodgers replacing The King was not taken well by the majority of fans, with this arguably being one of the two watershed moments for FSG (the other we’ll get to later).

It also did not help that FSG, in the eyes of the fans, was not looking at premier candidates. The big name on everyone’s lips after Kenny’s sacking: Rafa Benitez. Still a hero to many on Merseyside, Rafa was unemployed at the time of Kenny’s sacking, residing in his Wirral home, claiming that he was waiting for a phone call from the LFC Board. Despite being a very controversial figure amongst the LFC fanbase, his supporters were very vocal about wanting him to return. When Ian Ayre was at Aintree, fans at the racetrack chanted Rafa’s name like it was March 2009. The message from those fans was clear: bring back Rafa. Other big name managerial candidates were being brought up as well. Fabio Capello, five-time Serie A winner, two-time La Liga winner and one-time Champions League winner as a manager was unemployed at the time, and had experience in England as the National Team’s most recent managerial failure. Dutch Legend Johan Cruyff claims to have called Liverpool with a plan to get the club back to the top, with FSG not returning his phone call. Ex-Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard was another name floated around. Yet FSG decided to choose Swansea Manager Brendan Rodgers over all of them after a two-week search. LFC fans didn’t like this, and understandably so. That being said, I think that they handled the managerial search relatively well. Could it have been done better? Yes. But they made a appointment who deserves another season to prove himself, as his long-term vision and undeniable progress made seem to be worthwhile.

Deadline Day of the 2012 Summer Window: Andy Carroll, Ian Ayre, Clint Dempsey, and Daniel Sturridge
Even to this day, I’m baffled by what happened in the last 48 hours of the 2012 Summer Transfer Window. I’m not entirely sure who to blame for it either. Everyone knew going into the window that we were targeting strikers. Everyone also knew that Andy Carroll wasn’t favored by Brendan Rodgers, meaning we’d have to sign at least two strikers by the end of the summer. In the last 48 hours of the window, it all went to hell in a hand-basket. Andy Carroll was loaned to West Ham, giving the club 24 hours to sign a replacement. We needed a goal-scorer, and everyone thought Dempsey would be locked up by then. We’d all heard the rumors, and knew that the club was interested after the NESN slip-up in July. Fulham, however, were pissed, and accused the club of tapping him up. When we tried to close the deal, offering Jordan Henderson plus £4m amongst other offers, it became clear that Fulham were not gonna give us a fair deal compared to Tottenham or Aston Villa, and Ian Ayre, fed up, refused to close the deal. We were also going after Daniel Sturridge, but Chelsea wanted £20m for him and we balked. Not having any other targets lined up for some reason, LFC’s window ended with only two first team strikers on the books in Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez, infuriating fans, many of whom saw this as LFC waving the white flag for this season. We eventually got Sturridge for £12m in the winter, but by then it was far too late for us to make a serious push for anything, and the season was effectively over before it even began.

Many still are furious with Ian Ayre over this, claiming that he shouldn’t be involved in transfer dealings at all. I cannot help but agree with this, to some extent. But that £8m we saved by not getting Sturridge in the summer and waiting until the winter could easily be viewed as what enabled us to get Philippe Coutinho. You could easily see that as justification of what happened and there being a method to the madness. But what seemed to be a one-off case of fiscal prudence and poor negotiation from FSG ended up sabotaging the 2012/13 season.

You could argue that FSG have made some mistakes. But they have also financed this club much more than Hicks and Gillett ever did. I do believe that they are trying to make Liverpool competitive for the long-term, and that they are learning from the mistakes they’ve made in the past. I know that isn’t much consolation to those out there who want to win trophies now, but I believe that we will be competitive again soon. Patience is a virtue, and both FSG and Brendan Rodgers should be given time to prove themselves. They’ve done more good than harm thus far (although many fans only see an exaggerated picture of harm), and should continue to bring Liverpool back to the top.

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny

Why the Summer of 2013 Is So Important For LFC

After the Liverpool loss to Manchester United on Sunday, I was in a bit of a mood. I didn’t want to get up from my bar stool. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to do anything. I was upset. A loss always hurts, but when you lose to United, it’s much, much worse. As I watched Arsenal lose to City, I started to reflect on the last few months, and I couldn’t help but feel conflicted when evaluating where we are right now compared to where we were on 1 September 2012.

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for LFC. The majority of us accepted that after the massive Deadline Day fuck-up on 31 August, when Andy Carroll left and no new striker came in, leaving LFC very, very barren at the striker position for the next four months. Brendan Rodgers had been preaching for patience with him for months beforehand, but after Deadline Day, the certainty of a rough season was etched into stone.

What hurt was the fact that every Liverpool fan knew that they needed to add a striker in this window, and it was really the worst-kept secret in the Premiership that Brendan Rodgers didn’t wanna keep Andy Carroll, so two strikers would need to come in for the club to stand a chance. It didn’t really matter to me that LFC had signed Joe Allen, Fabio Borini, Oussama Assaidi, and Samed Yesil. It didn’t really matter that Nuri Sahin, a year removed from being Bundesliga Player of the Season in 2010-11, was coming in for a season on loan. As far as I was concerned, the club had just taken this season and flushed it down the drain.

Now, over four months have passed since the deadline day fuck-up. This season has been, for lack of a better term, a disappointment by Liverpool standards. As things stand right now, LFC is in 8th place, which is where they finished last season in spite of having a net spend of £20m during the summer. LFC have yet to beat a team in the top half of the table (however, it should be noted that Suarez’s Merseyside Derby winner wrongly disallowed at Goodison Park). LFC are out of the League Cup after losing to Swansea City at Anfield. They advanced to the knockout stages of the Europa League, but if Di Natale converts that last chance in Italy, they been knocked out in the group stage. To top it all off, LFC lost to Aston Villa 3-1 at home, a young side that has been getting demolished by clubs since our encounter with them.

Almost all signs on the pitch have pointed to this being a season of everlasting disappointment. And yet, I’m still optimistic. Why, you ask, would I still be optimistic about this club in spite of everything that has gone wrong? It’s because I believe that this squad is finally starting to come together as a unit, and we’re seeing improvement.

Suarez has had a tremendous campaign so far this season. He carried the load after Carroll had left and Borini went down. Keeping that in mind, Daniel Sturridge has come in from Chelsea for £12m. He’s looked solid in his first couple of appearances, scoring two goals. Borini has come back as well. Brendan Rodgers now have multiple attacking options up front to play with for the last half of the season. Imagine what’ll happen if Suarez can finally have a rest at some point this season!

In addition, the youth players that have come into the team are doing well, getting first team experience, and showing improvement. The likes of Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, and Suso have all stepped in and done well for LFC in the last four and a half months. All are under the age of 21, part of the LFC Academy, and have contributed for the first team during the season. Because of the fact that these players have gotten games this season, the club will benefit in the long-term. Yes, this LFC side does need experience, and from an outsider’s perspective, have put a very large emphasis on buying young players, but the fact that LFC is putting in a foundation for the future is something that should be admired and not derided by the fans.

To top it all off, the wage bill can still be thinned out, and when the last stage of wage bill slimming occurs, it will enable this club to make major moves in the transfer window and help us move forward. Before you all start on how John Henry, Tom Werner, and FSG are a bunch of cheap, useless piece-of-shit owners who don’t care about the club or its fans, I want you to keep an open mind when I lay out these facts:

  • In the last two seasons, Liverpool have averaged a net spend in transfer fees of £33,825,000. This season hasn’t even ended, and LFC can still increase that average.
  • Compare that to other clubs that aren’t in the Champions League: Tottenham have averaged a net profit of £13,500,000 in transfer dealings the last couple of seasons, Newcastle £5,000,000; etc. Nobody outside the Champions League Top Four comes close to LFC the last two seasons. The club’s current position suggest that it hasn’t been money well spent, but that’s not ownership’s fault.
  • The only Premier League clubs that have spent more than LFC in transfer fees the last couple of seasons are in the Champions League.

Yes, the wage bill slimming is a valid point when it comes to the finances of the club’s fees being offset by the big transfer fees. Yes, the bad buys under Dalglish and Comolli also have to be factored in. But the fact of the matter is that there’s no non-Champions League club in England that comes close to LFC’s spending on players in the last two seasons, and that still doesn’t include the new contracts handed out to Suarez, Agger, Skrtel, Suso, and Sterling, all done to keep the poachers further up the table from snatching the club’s brightest talent. LFC are not a selling club anymore, and they’re not afraid to be ambitious in the transfer market when the right targets are in line.

As far as the wage bill right now is concerned, things can still be improved. Joe Cole was sold to West Ham, offloading approximately £45,000 per week from the wage bill after his £3m pay-off. Sahin’s loan move was terminated on Friday, freeing up £60,000 per week for the next six months, which is reported to be exactly the wages that Daniel Sturridge is on.

Keep in mind that there are still moves that can be made to thin the wage bill. Carragher may retire at season’s end, and his £50,000 per week wages could go off the wage bill. Doni’s contract also expires at the end of this season, and he reportedly makes €4 million per season in wages. Coates is reportedly being allowed to leave by Brendan Rodgers, and Danny Wilson, who has gone missing since being signed from Rangers in the summer 0f 2010, is probably going to leave pretty soon as well. Dani Pacheco is also reportedly being allowed to leave. Downing could leave if LFC get a bid of £8million for him, which will also offload £80,000 per week (or probably £60,000 cause LFC have to give him a pay-off). Last but not least, West Ham are obligated to buy Andy Carroll for £17 million if they stay up, which seems very likely right now. Whether or not they try to decrease the fee is a different matter, but bottom line is that he probably will not return.

All of these moves would free up funds for Liverpool FC to use next summer, some moves more than others. With all of this in mind, should these moves occur and Rodgers is given the usual £30,000,000-plus to spend next season, the club will be a lot more flexible with who it can buy than it was in the last few seasons. This is rather exceptional when you consider the fact that LFC is a club currently in its third year without Champions League football, going on a fourth (but hey, there’s got a shot at that, right? No? Okay then).

If Rodgers uses the funds that he is given wisely, injecting the necessary experience into the squad that would go in conjunction with the young core he currently has in place, LFC can make a serious push at 4th place next season. But he needs to improve the squad next summer, and he has to start getting results on the pitch. If he doesn’t use the money wisely and signs the wrong players, then Liverpool FC is going to be resigned to mid-table mediocrity for the next five years.

As much as I love Suarez and truly believe that he loves Liverpool, he is a ticking time-bomb, much like Torres was. He will probably leave after next season if improvement isn’t clearly visible. While we’ll get a huge sum for him as a result of that transfer, his presence is something that LFC won’t be able to replace. There are more who can and will leave after next season as well. Pepe Reina could also leave if things don’t improve, and if he doesn’t, he’ll still be going on 32 years old at the end of next season.

All of the aforementioned moves are based around the fact that Liverpool FC, a club that prides itself on and sells itself to players and fans around the world as being one of the biggest and most successful clubs in Europe, has been out of Europe’s top competition for the last three seasons, going on four. If LFC fail to make the Champions League in 2013-14, it will mean half a decade out of the Champions League. It doesn’t matter how big a club you are, how many trophies you’ve won or how big a stadium you aspire to have: if you’re out of the Champions League for five seasons, it is something that very, very few clubs can successfully recover from.

That is why the summer of 2013 is so important. LFC need to build this squad up and start showing improvement when it comes to results in the Premier League. If LFC fail to do that next season, when the wage bill will be at a very low point and the club will be incredibly flexible with how much it can spend on players, they’ll will be set back irreparably as a result. Liverpool FC is not in as terrible a shape right now as some fans will lead you to believe. But results have to start coming next season, or LFC is gonna feel the consequences of it for years to come.

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny

The Curious Case of Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers is in a peculiar position at Liverpool FC. Aside from the fact that he’s replacing the Liverpudlian Jesus, has to evaluate a strange mix of players bought by three different managers over the past five years, and represents the final buck between LFC fading into mid-table obscurity till the end of time, he has to accomplish another monumental task that 95% of incoming managers either don’t have or simply don’t take on. He has to instill his very specific footballing philosophy at the club with no time to lose.

Rodgers’ philosophy is so specific, so systematic, that he’s now faced with the challenge of forcing it upon his players. Whereas most new managers—while coming in with their own plans on how their side will play—will usually take the players at hand and adapt to them, Rodgers is handcuffed to a degree. The men who’ve run Chelsea the past decade are the best examples of managers altering their tactics to the players at hand. Because of their willing flexibility (and Abramovich’s pockets), Chelsea has been competitive, finishing either first or second in the League seven times since 2004. Only when a manager has come in and tried to overhaul the team from top to bottom and control players has Chelsea finished poorly, as Andre Villas-Boas and Frank Lampard can attest. But failing to make an imprint has led to Chelsea managers being sacked on an almost yearly basis.

Every manager has their own overarching philosophy on how the game should be played, and plenty of tactics to use game-to-game (in Rafa’s case, a notebook of tactics). Mourinho likes to keep the game tight defensively and then strike on the counter. Wenger employs a neat possession side that generates the easiest of chances down the middle of the penalty box. Guardiola unleashed the most perfect form of Tiki-Taka and with the best false 9 ever put on this planet in Lionel Messi. Much has been made of Brendan Rodgers’ own version of Tiki-Taka (This article and this article from EPLIndex.com explains how he’ll operate at LFC).

There are a million different ways to play counter-attacking football—there’s only one Tiki-Taka, altered here and there to mesh the strengths of the players together. Rodgers will still have to rewire his players brains to conform to his passing patterns and movements. Liverpool’s players have never played in a system like this before, and they’re all essentially starting from ground zero. Like AVB, Rodgers will stamp his brand onto the club immediately. Doing anything else would be selling himself short. It takes time for a side to come together under any manager, but Rodgers is a man who will need more time if he’s to seize total control over the club.

Aside from the keeper, the back four, two midfield slots (Gerrard and Lucas), and one attacker (Suarez), nobody knows how the team will look come opening day. That leaves three crucial spots either in midfield or in attack that have to be decided upon and employed to a wide range of players (Henderson, Carroll, Adam, Downing, Shelvey, possibly Maxi, Cole, or Aquilani, and maybe even Sterling). In that mixture, there’s a true #9 (Carroll), an English-style winger (Downing), a modern winger (Sterling), a fake Xabi Alonso (Adam), two idealistic #10s (Cole and Aquilani), a midfielder of some trade (Henderson), and a Maxi. How those players will fit into Rodgers’ system is only known to Rodgers himself. He’s handcuffed with the squad he has—a squad that doesn’t look much like a Tiki-Taka one at present state.

If Rodgers is afforded enough patience by LFC (there will be lots of growing pains), the club will resemble Barcelona in style and execution one day at every level. Check out this video of the Barcelona U-11s:

While they don’t have a transcendent player like Messi to break down defenses down the middle (these kids are 11 years old, mind you), they play exactly how a Barcelona side would. Lots of passing triangles, intelligent off the ball movement, and a total stranglehold on the game. These kids could beat the best American high school sides. It takes years and years for an organization to be that well drilled from the 1st team all the way down to the U-11s. Give Rodgers that time, even through the darkest of results, and he will achieve that. Patience is the name of the game for Rodgers’ sides, and it’ll be the hot-button word for LFC fans the world over this year. Patience.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49