Fan discontent at Liverpool got a new voice today at Anfield, though the dissent that hovered in the sky above Anfield hardly reflected a unanimous view. Prior to today’s kickoff between the Reds and visiting Queens Park Rangers, a plane pulling the banner ‘Rodgers Out – Rafa In’ flew over the stadium, calling for current manager Brendan Rodgers to be replaced by former boss Rafa Benítez.
Liverpool is in the midst of a minor collapse, one that has only been overshadowed by Newcastle United’s eight straight losses. The Reds’ swoon has been more stubble, having picked up only four points in its last five games. Before the slump, Liverpool was within two points of fourth. Now, seven points adrift the league’s final Champions League spot, the Reds are closer to seventh than fourth.
The response has been renewed debate about Rodgers’s performance, though at least one prominent Liverpool fan, former defender and Sky Sports’ commentator Jamie Carragher disagreed with the plane’s assessment.
There are two debates here: should Rodgers keep his job, and, if not, should Liverpool turn to Benítez, who has put off signing a contract extension with Napoli of Italy’s Serie A. Unless you are Benítez or the type of fan that would fly a crop-duster over a venue, the answers are probably unclear. Rodgers, in his third season at Anfield, is coming off a second place finish last season, though this year has seen him fail to find answers for the departure of top-scorer Luis Suárez and the wane of veteran Steven Gerrard. Benítez, who won a UEFA Champions League at Anfield but eventually lost the team’s habitual top four spot, has jumped from Inter Milan to Chelsea to Napoli in the interim, with each stop producing mixed results.
There is a strong contingent of Liverpool fans who romanticize the club’s time under Benítez, which probably says more for the team’s struggles under Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Rodgers than it does Benítez’s qualities. If Benítez’s last days at Anfield tell us anything, it’s that a return to glory under the Spaniard is anything but assured. Nostalgia and the memories of Liverpool often overshadow Benítez’s contributions to the Reds’ current state.
But when we’re talking about somebody spending money to fly protest banners over sporting venues, a consistent argument is probably asking too much. As our own recent incident of aerial protest at MLS Cup showed, passion tends to win out over substance in this genre. And as was the case with those bold promotion-relegation advocates, it would be a mistake to assume one plane’s message reflects a predominant view.