January 11, 2015 at 9:18 am

The Return of the Philosophy


‘He built a team like Shankly did’. Just over six months ago this was the anthem Liverpool fans sang in praise of a young manager who had allowed them to dream once again. Half a season later, and even some of Rodgers’ most ardent backers back then can’t wait to see the back of him. How quickly things change in football.

It would be easy to label those fans fickle; part of a FIFA generation who expect everything now without any appreciation of the realities of how football really works. And there is a fragment of truth here. In the age of YouTube, FIFA and a modern version of football manager giving us access to a huge database of nailed-on superstars it is easy to wonder how we can sign so few world class players while spending so much.

I remember willing Liverpool to sign Rio Ferdinand, Sergio Aguero, and too many other young talents that turned out to be world beaters that I could possibly mention, and so I often think the people in charge of transfers – whether that be the manager of a committee – must be unfit for the job. But, truth be known, I also fantasized about us acquiring Nih Lamptey, Kieron Dyer (when he was very young) and Freddy Adu – who in fairness did turn out to be a quality, if not world class player in time.

The point is that we all remember the players we wanted our club to sign that went on to be great, but probably don’t hang on to the memory of the ones who never lived up to our expectations.

But even with this in mind, criticisms of Rodgers’ management this season have been valid. Thee league table doesn’t lie and neither do eyes that have told you that Dejan Lovren is far from a £20m defender.

Several prominent articles have been written recently lamenting Liverpool’s transfer dealings since Brendan Rodgers took charge, and while on the face of it there have been few nailed on success, it is worth remembering the state of the squad when Rodgers took over. It was a roster full of 7 out of 10s, ageing players and, crucially, very few quality young players with the potential to become world class. As precarious as things seem now, only the most committed pessimist could deny that, at the very worst, we now have a troop of footballers who if kept together could well become a formidable squad in five years time.

Without the riches of Man City, Chelsea of Man United we are forced to approach thing at a different angle. It’s almost impossible to overcome sides that can spend our whole budget in one window on a single player, but by accepting defeat in the present and looking ahead it might be possible to arrive at a competitive point at some time in the nearish future. This is clearly FSG’ aim, and why they appointed a football educator in Brendan Rodgers.

Last season gave us a taste of what it is like to compete at the very top, but the relative success we enjoyed last year was grounded in the frustrating season before. Many fans were angered by that 7th place finish, but in blooding Raheem Sterling and chiselling the rough edges on Jordan Henderson Rodgers laid the foundations for the title push the following year – a season in which Luis Suarez, apparently solely responsible for the second place finish last year was a Liverpool player.

We find ourselves back in a similar situation now. As in Rodgers first season, he is working with a youthful set of players, many of whom are still acclimating to his way of doing things. The loss of Suarez and a more hectic fixture list has, whether we like it or not, resulted in a kind of ‘reset’.

None of this is to apologise for Rodgers mistakes. For a long time the dissenting voices were ones mouthing the word ‘pragmatic’, calling on the young manager to give up his ideals and use the players at his disposal in a more reflexive manner. Yet this season, that has been his downfall. Many fans quite justifiably doubt Rodgers’ ability in identifying transfer targets, but Mario Balotelli is largely considered to be a committee pick, and it was Rodgers’ inclination to – at least in part- change the style of play to suit a less mobile forward that resulted in a poor start to the season.

Now, returning to his ideals, Rodgers has managed to bring back the attacking fluidity that made Liverpool a joy to watch last season, even if the goals are not yet as routine. The intense pressing, creativity and free-flowing movement that characterised Liverpool last season is slowly seeping back into the team, and with it the results have started to improve.

And all this without our best goals to minutes ration striker in the Premier League last season. Not Luis Suarez, but Daniel Sturridge – still a Liverpool player.

Brendan Rodgers has made mistakes this season, but last season many of the people who have lost all faith in him were praising his ability to learn from his naive missteps and adapt. I see people who were using words like ‘genius’ just eight months ago now calling for the players head, and as much as some of Rodgers decisions baffle me, this baffles me more, especially when coming from people who had it in for him until the title push.

Are you sure now that you were wrong in April last year when you thought Rodgers was a saviour? When it looked like we might win the league, did you hold your hands up having written him off before? Questioning your prior perceptions and updating your opinion is a good habit to get into, but not if it is always in retrospect. The key is to do it NOW. If you were wrong about Rodgers before, perhaps you are wrong again now, rather than your initial perception being validated?

A curious and revealing thing is that some of the people who shouted loudest about Rodgers’ brilliance are now some of his biggest detractors. I am no psychologist, but I’m aware of a psychologically phenomenon termed ‘splitting’. This is when a person, often as the result of trauma, can only see other people as all good or all bad – no in between. Without wanting to draw any equivalence between supporting a team and suffering genuine hardship, I can’t help but feel that something similar is going on. If you were one of us who hailed Rodgers a genius, it’s hard to back-pedal just a little to a more realistic assessment. Instead, we must erase that prior foolishness by labelling him a fraud. It was black and now it is white, except, football never is.

The truth is far more complex, and for that reason far more difficult to grasp, or, perhaps, accept. So I appeal to those of you especially who once believed that we had a young, intelligent, special manager to consider that all that may still be true, but that he is that the same time young, inexperienced and prone to mistakes, but, crucially, with the right philosophy in his armour.

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