Somebody famous once said that “history is written by the victors” and this quotation is one that remains relevant throughout history and particularly in the sporting environment. It is particularly relevant at the moment for one of English football’s most successful clubs that is currently in the middle of a dire run of form.
The 2013/14 season with all of its goals, great on-and-off-the-ball movement, excellent crisp passing and comedic defending is but a distant memory.
When Luis Suarez announced his departure to Barcelona shortly after the World Cup, many observers and fans alike were quick to point out that Liverpool would not find life as rosy without the talismanic South American. And rightly so – Suarez brought so much more than glorious goals and amazing assists to this Liverpool team – he brought a work-rate and intensity to every game that opposing defenders found almost impossible to deal with. And more importantly, Suarez brought a desire and hunger (ha!) to win at all costs that would rival that of Michael Jordan. So, the new season was bound to be very different from that last almost season.
Brendan Rodgers and the Liverpool scouting team were faced with a massive problem – that of trying to replace an irreplaceable world-class talent with other players. They were also attempting to lure world-class players to a club that no longer carries the same gravitas that it once used to. Liverpool fans may talk long and loud about their 18 league titles (last one in 1990) or their 5 European Cup trophies (that night in Istanbul!) but the fact remains that outside of Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez, the club has failed to attract any world class players in their prime to Anfield. I would even argue that Xabi Alonso was not a world class player at the time he signed for Liverpool. Rivals Manchester United, without the lure of Champions League football, managed to bring in Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcoa which illaustrates the lure of a brand and a great manager. Liverpool were faced with a post-Gareth Bale Spurs situation – lots of money to spend and nobody to buy. So, out went Suarez and in came a bunch of average replacement players to fill the gap.
World class players can make the difference between winning a league or a Champions League final, and they have that uncanny ability to make a difference even when they are not playing at their best, and they are also able to produce this ability on a consistent basis. Other players may not be able to make such a difference but given the right motivation and the right team ethic, so-called average players may be able to play better as a team and produce better-than-average results. Teams such as Swansea over the last couple of season, Everton under Roberto Martinez in the 2013/14 season and Southampton under Pochettino last season and Ronald Koeman so far this season, have shown that it is possible to play great football and to get results with the right attitude.
Which brings me to the current Liverpool situation.
The attitude in the current team stinks. It stinks of an utter lack of confidence that has infiltrated the entire team. This lack of confidence is the exact opposite of the swagger that was displayed as recently as the start of the year. The attitude manifests itself in many ways – a lack of communication where two defenders jump for the same header and clash heads in Benny Hill style. A lack of rhythm and tentative and slow passing. A lack of mobility and movement among team members all over the pitch. The continuous use of a formation that was designed around a world class striker that does not seem to suit the present personnel. Fifty-fifty challenges that always seem to be won by the opposition. And a clearly out-of-form club captain who seems to be untouchable.
When players believe in a manager, believe in the manager’s tactics and formation choices it clearly shows on the pitch. It shows in the body language of the players as they run onto the pitch, it shows in the quality and pace of their passing to each other, it shows in the off-the-ball movement where players make runs for each and work back in defence. It shows in players challenging for, and winning, fifty-fifty challenges.
I’ve never been a fan of sacking managers when certain results are not going the right way. I also believe that Brendan Rodgers has the skills and the talent to turn the situation around, but I also think that he needs to start doing something different. There is that age-old analogy about the definition of insanity – doing things the same way and expecting a different result. This, to me, seems to be where Rodgers is at the moment. Perhaps he has been hanging around Arsene Wenger a bit too much – Wenger is the grand master of doing the same things and expecting different results.
If Rodgers is hoping to remain as Liverpool manager, he’s going to have to invoke a bit of the spirit of Apple and “think different”.