June 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Recruiting for a Philosophy

Brendan Rodgers wasted no time setting out his stall, “There are some big talented players here but there is no doubt that to get the team to play how I want to play I’ll need to bring in other players,”.

While taking care to mention that the club already possesses some great talent, he left no uncertainty that the current playing personel represented a squad put together with a different mindset, ”No question. To play the offensive, attacking football we did at Swansea we had to make changes in terms of recruitment. In terms of the core group here there is some brilliant talent. What we will need to do is make a number of adjustments and bring in players for key positions that will allow us to play that way. You are looking at certain individual players and the principle of your game is based on your players. I don’t think it is a total rebuild.”

In truth, the current Liverpool roster was assembled through the combined and contrasting visions of Dalglish, Hodgson and Benitez, though Hodgson’s recruitment was decidedly myopic, and Benitez often signed players he didn’t really want: Aquilani, Keane, Gonzalez, Dossena, Riera and Babel all examples of players he liked less after seeing them up close.

Under Dalglish, the play was characterised by an attacking mindset which resulted in a glut of chances being created, but lacking the control and discipline typical of Benitez’ reign. The squad, having being strewn of all remnants of Roy Hodgson’s brief stint other than Joe Cole, is laden with artefacts from both Liverpool legends’ reigns. Singings still remaining from the ‘Rafalution’ are Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Lucas, Kuyt, Maxi, Aqulani and Reina, of whom Rodgers has already articulated his appreciation, perhaps mindful the Spaniard might feel it is time for a change,  ”I really like Pepe Reina, he’s came through at Barcelona so he will know straight away the identity of this way I would like to bring in and the principles of the game.”

Glen Johnson was another he earmarked as ideal for the way he wants to play, noting that: “Defensively… you’ve got Glen Johnson who can be the world’s best right back, he can bomb, he can run… I know Glen from my time before [at Chelsea].”

Of the inheritance left to him by Kenny Dalglish, Luis Suarez is the obvious asset, but as young players, it’s conceivable Rodgers will see both Henderson and Carroll as players who can be moulded into his vision.

Defensively, Liverpool are particularly strong, with a possible future defensive quartet of Flanagan, Kelly, Coates and Robinson proving cover for Johnson, Skrtel, Agger and Enrique. Of the senior players, only Enrique is yet to prove himself as a top-class player, and Jamie Carragher is still around to offer experience, tenacity and organisation if called upon.

In midfield – where Rodgers preference is for a triangle of three, whether as a 1-2 or a 2-1 – Gerrard, Henderson and particularly Lucas are all players the new manager will be happy to work with. Adam, Downing and Spearing might not fare so well. Though both suited to different elements of his playing philosophy, Kuyt (pressing) and Maxi (passing) may well be moved on in favour of players who will be around to take part in Liverpool’s future, while Cole – who Rodgers knows from his time at Chelsea – and Aquilani could earn reprieves.

Attack is where Rodgers may need to make the biggest changes. Rodgers preference of for three in attack, with two quick players who can beat defenders either side of a central forward. For Uruguay, Suarez starts from in a wide  position, jinking his way towards the box from unusual angles. Off the ball he is ideal for the way Rodgers likes to play, harassing defenders and preying on any mistake his pressure forces them into.

As a fan of Alan Shearer, it’s not inconceivable that Rodgers will see Carroll as at least a player worth hanging onto. The big Geordie prefers the ball played to his feet and is a better ‘footballer’ than he’s given credit for, but it wasn’t totally unheard of for crosses to be played into the box from wide areas.

Raheem Sterling is a more natural fit to Rodgers’ style, and we can expect him to feature as the season progresses.

With Reina, Johnson, Agger, Lucas and Suarez all ideally suited to his philosophy, and Skrtel, Gerrard, Henderson and Carroll all either good enough or young enough to adapt, the obvious areas to strengthen are left-back and the wide attacking positions. Another defensive midfielder and a striker or even two to compete with Carroll are also likely to join before the season begins.

Early speculation is that Rodgers will hijack Swansea’s move for Gylfi Sigurðsson, but with the huge mutual respect between himself, Huw Jenkins and the Swansea City fans, such a move is unlikely, while Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie is a combative but cultured midfielder Rodgers rates highly, and has all the attributes to fit his system.

The twelve month embargo on Liverpool buying players from Swansea rules out moves for Joe Allen or Scott Sinclair – although if another club made an offer presumably we could too – but both could become targets in time.

For now, expect any purchases to posses the qualities Rodgers says he looks for in a player, “The first one’s technique […] to play this way you need to have a real strong technical base […] you need to love to have the ball at your feet.”

The “ability to think” and “the ability to learn”, are also prerequisites, suggesting he will target young, intelligent and skilful players.

“Believe it or not,” he says, “there’s players who are happy to not have the ball.”

For Liverpool fans who considered Roy Hodgson an anti-football impostor, the words of his philosophical nemesis ought to be cathartic.

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