He helped Liverpool come close to glory at the end of a season of wonder, yet there are many things Brendan Rodgers got wrong. Here are ten…
10) Persisting with Emre Can as a central defender (and trying him at right-back)
Emre Can is a very good central midfielder, but his reputation has been tarnished by Rodgers’ insistence on using him as his Mr Versatile in defence.
Can’s initial performances at centre-back were promising, but his ability to defend seems to have been eroded by Rodgers’ experiment with him at right-back. He now looks fragile and error-prone.
Having played for Germany’s Under-21 side in central midfield during the European Championships (and impressing in that position), coach Horst Hrubesch discussed his hopes for Can’s short-term future at Anfield.
“I’ve just been to Liverpool. There we were told that Emre will soon assume Gerrard’s role in midfield. Emre definitely has leadership qualities.”
Instead, Can continued to struggle in central defence, a square body crammed into a round dress before being told to be the belle of the ball. That’s a brutally unfair burden to place on a 21-year-old.
9) Leaving Steven Gerrard on the bench vs Manchester United
“On the morning of the game, I felt like a caged animal. As I warmed up on the afternoon last March, the United fans opened their throats.
“The anger in the caged animal grew and grew. United were swaggering, Anfield was very quiet. It was obvious I would come on at half-time. We had stood off United in the first half and made very few tackles. It went against everything built into my DNA. Tackling and collisions mattered against Manchester United.
“While we waited for the second half to start, I looked around Anfield, my ancient battleground, and did a last few warm-ups, rotating my torso from the hips, tugging at my shorts, impatient for the game to get under way.”
Call me a cynic, but I reckon that might be a section of Steven Gerrard’s autobiography where the ghostwriter took the pen.
Anyway, leaving Gerrard on the bench for his final ever Liverpool vs Manchester United fixture caused Rodgers’ captain to react in devastating fashion. It’s a point very easily made in hindsight, but should Liverpool’s big-game player not have been picked for such an occasion?
8) Playing Raheem Sterling at wing-back
The chances are that Sterling’s decision to leave Liverpool for more illustrious pastures was made long before the end of the season, but spending weeks in Rodgers’ wing-back purgatory must have rubber-stamped the call.
It was a grievance Sterling eventually went public with after a failure to dissuade his manager, claiming in that BBC interview that he had been “sacrificed to play in a more defensive position” and that he “trained every day to play up front”.
Rodgers’ response was cutting. “I don’t think there’s a great argument in that really,” he told the ECHO. “Every player will have a favourite position but every player will have to play where the team needs them. “I think Raheem will look to players like Steven Gerrard. He has played at full-back, he has played as a wing-back. Steven has never ever moaned.”
No Brendan, Raheem will look to Manchester City.
7) Letting Gerrard go
Liverpool has traditionally been a club where former players play a vital role, but the departure of Jamie Carragher meant Rodgers lost a useful defensive coaching tool. When Gerrard announced his decision to move to Los Angeles, the assumption was that his desire for regular first-team football and a new challenge had motivated the decision. In fact, that may not have been the case.
“What would have kept me at Liverpool into this season was the chance of shadowing Brendan Rodgers and his staff as well as playing. Those ideas were only mentioned to me after I had announced I was leaving.”
“I don’t know if I am going to be good enough to be a manager, or a No1, No2, No3 or No4. Liverpool replaced coaches Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh in the summer, so they were looking for a new No2 or No3, or No4. I would have been tailor-made to fill one of these roles as well as making myself available as a squad player. I could have been a good squad player, a good sub, as well as getting management experience that money can’t buy.”
How on earth did Rodgers manage to let such vital experience, as well as a bridge between coaches and players, slip through his grasp? Gerrard’s subsequent comments on Rodgers, blaming him for the title collapse, speak volumes.
6) Outcasting Lucas
Those with long memories will not have forgotten that Rodgers attempted to sell current captain Jordan Henderson to Fulham, but there is a more recent example of a central midfielder being frozen out at the club.
Amid widespread reports of a falling-out between player and manager, Lucas was on the verge of a loan move to Besiktas in August, until Rodgers pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute. Following days of training away from the first-team squad, the manager brought the only defensive midfielder in his squad back into the fold.
Despite insisting that he saw Lucas as his “linchpin”, it felt like the Brazilian was having to re-prove himself to Rodgers at regular intervals throughout his tenure. Most supporters remained all the more convinced of his ability.
5) Mario Balotelli
It was declared a “calculated risk” by Rodgers even at the player’s unveiling, but the signing of Balotelli was the manager aiming to succeed where Jose Mourinho and others had failed. This will show them.
“I am looking forward to working with him and helping him learn more, improve and progress as a player,” was the final message from Rodgers on Balotelli that day. Rodgers risked the balance of the squad on a personal crusade to make a striker realise his potential.
Having signed Balotelli, Rodgers then entirely misused him by consistently picking him as a lone striker. Not only did that decision predictably fail to come off, it also made the Italian himself look useless and attract criticism. In no mood to admit his own fault, Rodgers instead froze Balotelli out of the club.
“If it was my choice, I would always go with two strikers, it’s the way I like to play,” said Balotelli six weeks after joining Liverpool. That was no secret, so why did Rodgers spend £16m on another square peg?
4) Heaping praise on signings yet to prove themselves at Liverpool
“We took a player in who we believe will be world-class and we’ll get him next summer. He is a top player. He has everything – the speed, the profile and he can play now but our deal was that we couldn’t bring him in now” – On Divock Origi.
“He is a world-class talent and it is an area we need to strengthen” – On Mario Balotelli.
“He’s another Coutinho-type. A talented, very highly rated young player. He’s a big talent and one who can play now” – On Luis Alberto.
“He’s a goalscorer, he’s quick, dynamic, aggressive in his game and has a winning mentality. I feel these are the types of players that can come into Liverpool and keep our momentum moving forward” – On Iago Aspas.
“I wanted to try to protect the present and the future of the club. Centre-halves are so hard to find. You look at some teams and they have ageing centre-halves because it is a struggle to get a really good one. He is a young talent but who can be a big talent. He is 6′ 3”, super quick, power, can jump, and he just needs to adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League” – On Tiago Illori.
“He fits our style perfectly. He’s an exciting player who is very good in one-versus-one situations and I think he’s a player who will excite the crowd. I hope he’ll become a very good part of this club” – On Oussama Assaidi.
“He is a player whose profile will fit perfectly with the ideas of this group. His ability to control and dominate the ball is an important ingredient in our attempt to gain success on the field” – On Joe Allen.
“I’d anticipate that over the next two or three years he’ll really progress and I’m sure do very well for Liverpool. He fits the model of what we’re trying to do in building not only for now, but also for the future. He’s a big talent, 21 years of age, he scores goals, and his passion, focus and concentration is a very important part of his game – and a big part of what you want from a player” – On Fabio Borini.
Each one of those players has failed to impress at Liverpool, and any of them could have been included as their own entrant on this list. Either Rodgers is a poor judge of player, or his wild predictions of grandeur bordered on delusion. Rodgers became the boy who cried ‘this player will be world class’.
3) Being: Liverpool
It’s easy to forget just how mental a decision it was for Rodgers to agree to a film crew following his pre-season tour just a month after he had gained his biggest job in club management. To then allow that ‘warts and all’ programme to extend right through his debut season at Anfield was virtually unbelievable.
Just run through the episode names now: ‘Silver shovel’, ‘On the road’, ‘Anfield calling’, ‘To bleed red’ (we have a winner), ‘Walk on’ and ‘Red crusade’. It’s like parody had eaten itself and come full circle back to real life.
Mark Lawrenson was apoplectic. ‘If you are a new manager in that situation, you come in and you get your head down,’ he wrote in the Daily Mirror. ‘You get some results and then maybe after a year you might think: “If they come to me now I might have something to say.” But I’m sorry, I just think this show comes across as American schmalz. It’s totally ill-advised and some of the stuff that I have seen so far in the first three episodes is cringeworthy.’
Being: Liverpool (oh God, even that ridiculous colon makes me howl with laughter) may not have been Rodgers’ idea, but he delighted in being the centre of attention. Whether it be putting his arm round his “Welsh Xavi”, playing his envelope mind games or discussing the training of dogs, it was here that the first signs of Brendan as Brentan were established.
2) Team selection vs Real Madrid
It was the moment that we at Football365 thought he was done. Matthew Stanger (whatever happened to him?) was working that game, and I sat next to him in the office because I have nothing better to do. It felt as if all Rodgers had worked towards was being lost in the wind with each of the seven changes to his team.
Without the title, Champions League football was Liverpool’s reward. They hadn’t scraped qualification, but earned it through some of the most sumptuous football the Premier League had ever seen. Nights in the Bernabeu, fans felt, was where Liverpool belonged. Yet if this was Rodgers’ audition on the biggest stage he sent a note apologising for his absence, instead singing to himself in the shower.
Gerrard, Coutinho, Henderson and Sterling, all denied the chance to play on the biggest stage for Liverpool. Half-time reached without a shot on goal, all for the sake of Chelsea on the Saturday (a match they then also lost). The intention seemed like damage limitation; the consequences were a great deal more far-reaching.
1) Ignoring the defence
Rodgers invested in his defence, of that there is no doubt. Mamadou Sakho arrived for £18m, Tiago Illori for £7m, £20m on Dejan Lovren, £12m on Alberto Moreno, £12.5m on Nathaniel Clyne. Yet, and without sounding too much like him here, it’s not about the money you spend, but the time.
Rodgers’ famous quote was that “it is not difficult to coach to play defensive”, but the reality is that we never saw any evidence of that ease. Liverpool were continuously shambolic at the back throughout his reign.
Last season, Rodgers rejected the notion that Liverpool needed a defensive coach to assist him: “I wouldn’t go down that route. The bottom line is our team is based on balance and at times it’s been poor. There is a collective responsibility to defend better and that’s what we have to do. Over the last 18 months we have seen the developments of this team given coaching time. It’s really not rocket science.”
For such a supposedly simple solution, the lack of improvement in his defence ultimately cost Rodgers his job. Hint: If it isn’t rocket science, make sure you do it right.