Liverpool's trigger-happy owners misfire

Oct 11, 2015, 08:46 IST | Dileep Premachandran

The owners will need to accept that their strategy of transfers-by-committee simply has not worked

"I want to go back to the owners," said Thierry Henry, the Arsenal legend, assessing the sacking of Brendan Rodgers on Sky Sports. "It seems to me like they don't really like football. It seems to me like they're kind of using the Liverpool brand.

Also read: Jurgen Klopp agrees to be Liverpool's new manager

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

"Listen, I have massive respect for Liverpool. The club is a brilliant club, but I'll go back to what Jamie (Carragher, who played for Liverpool between 1996 and 2013) said. It's not a big team any more. Those owners right now are using the Liverpool brand, and I don't think it's on for the fans and anyone that loves Liverpool."

Henry spoke for thousands of fans left perplexed by the decision to dismiss a manager less than two months into the season. If Rodgers had been sacked in the summer, after an underwhelming sixth-place finish and an abysmal display in the FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa, there would have been no disquiet. Instead, he, and the management committee, were trusted with another huge transfer kitty. It's far too early to pass judgment on acquisitions like Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings, who scored in the 1-1 draw at Everton.

Rodgers leaves with Liverpool three points behind the fourth-place team, Crystal Palace. They have lost the same number of games (two) as Arsenal and Manchester United, and only half as many as Chelsea, the defending champions who are in 16thplace. They are also unbeaten after two games in the Europa League, though last week's pallid home draw against Sion of Switzerland undoubtedly hastened Rodgers' departure.

Eight games into his fourth season in charge (1989-90), Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United were just clear of the relegation places and already 10 points behind Liverpool. Had United's owners been so trigger-happy, the history of modern football might have been very different. As Rodgers discovered, patience is not a virtue in 2015.

A cross-section of fans are beside themselves with excitement at Jurgen Klopp, the hipsters' favourite coach, taking over. For that feel-good appointment to work, the owners will need to accept that their strategy of transfers-by-committee simply has not worked. Klopp, who won two Bundesliga titles in seven seasons at Borussia Dortmund, will not sit back and rubberstamp someone else's choices. But that he was preferred to Carlo Ancelotti, the only man apart from Liverpool's Bob Paisley to win the European Cup/Champions League thrice, says something about his reputation in the world game. Whatever else Liverpool might be the rest of the season, they will definitely not be boring

Liverpool may have had a disastrous season in 2014-15, in the wake of Luis Suarez leaving for Barcelona, but the side that nearly won the title in 2013-14 was as good as any that Anfield had seen in many a year, scoring 101 goals over the 38 games. After a largely wretched 15 months since that near miss, it's been tempting for some to give all the credit to Suarez and other players, and too little to Rodgers.

How many managers could cope with the loss of four of three of their leading players in the space of 12 months? Suarez left, Raheem Sterling agitated to follow, and Gerrard went into decline before crossing the Atlantic. Gerrard's imminent departure also created huge problems in terms of selection. Had Rodgers been ruthless and left him on the bench, there would have been a near-revolt on the terraces. When he did play, Liverpool's midfield was often anaemic and pedestrian.

Ultimately though, the transfer failures sealed his fate. Nuri Sahin came and went without even registering, Mario Balotelli scored one vital goal and did little else, while Dejan Lovren resembled an accident waiting to happen rather than a defensive organiser worth more than 20 million pounds. The 15 signings since Suarez left have accounted for 28 goals, three fewer than he scored in his farewell season.

Rodgers' inability to settle on a defensive method presents his successor with the first challenge. Even in his golden season, Liverpool shipped 50 goals – unacceptable for any team contending forhonours. Klopp's Dortmund teams were renowned for their pace, movement and slick passing. It's often overlooked just how superbly drilled they were in defence. In the two title-winning seasons, they let in just 22 and 25 goals over 34 games. Liverpool, where they still venerate the 1978-79 team that conceded just 16 (42-game season), need to rebuild at the back, and quickly, if this season isn't to be another washout.

Ancelotti already has a Premier League title, with Chelsea (2009-10), while Klopp never made any secret of his desire to manage in England. The owners need to give him carte blanche. As Henry, who played at Anfield enough times, knows, the club isn't a brand. It's one of the game's greatest institutions.

Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief

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