This is something of a make or break season for Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Even a man with his levels of self-confidence must realize that he could find himself out of a job if Liverpool has another season like the previous one. For all the various moving pieces involved in a successful soccer team, the buck ultimately stops at the manager. If a team with trophy-winning ambitions repeatedly fails to win any trophies, heads usually roll.
At the top end of this business, managers are judged first and foremost on what they win. This season may not only determine whether Rodgers keeps his job, but it may also decide what people think of Rodgers’ quality as a manager. For many, this season is when we get an answer to the question that has been hanging quietly in the air for a while now:
Is Brendan Rodgers actually any good?
The case for
Obviously, there’s little question as to whether or not he’s “good.” He was named Manager of the Year only two years ago, and he’s just started his fourth season as manager of one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Jose Mourinho may be an insufferable sexist dickhead, but he knows a thing or two about coaching. During the Portuguese’s first stint at Stamford Bridge, he appointed Rodgers as head youth coach, and eventually as reserve team manager.
Rodgers’ career took off from there, and just a few years later, his Swansea team was earning widespread acclaim for a stylish, “Barcelona-lite” approach. His appointment at Liverpool in 2012 was hailed as ambitious and forward-thinking. Even now, there are those who think that he has the ability to go on to even bigger things.
Whatever his shortcomings, you don’t get to be in his position by being completely rubbish at your job. So yes, he’s “good.” But is he really good—as good as he thinks he is, as good as Liverpool should aspire to, as good as we’ve been led to believe?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The case against
Part of what draws criticism to Rodgers is his mouth. Or rather, the daft things that come out of it. The only thing that he seems to enjoy more than spouting MBA student-level faux-philosophical gobbledygook at press conferences is his interminable self-aggrandizement. When listening to Rodgers speak—particularly when Liverpool is enjoying a good run of form—it’s glaringly obvious that he’s not shy about giving himself credit. Last December, when Rodgers turned Liverpool’s season around after switching to a 3-4-3 formation, he moaned that he wasn’t getting his due plaudits because he wasn’t a “foreign coach.”
Or maybe he would’ve gotten more credit if it didn’t take him four months into the season to figure it out. Furthermore, no less a manager than renowned tactical genius Steve Bruce had been playing 3-4-3 all season. And if his egotism wasn’t grating enough, he also tries so hard to demonstrate his cleverness that half the time it’s impossible to figure out exactly what the fuck he’s even talking about.
A note about being full of feces
On the other hand, what top level manager isn’t full of shit? There’s enough combined hot air in Arsène Wenger, Jose Mourinho, and Louis van Gaal to melt a polar ice cap. To be able to manage the volatile egos of supremely talented young millionaire athletes requires the possession of a massive ego oneself. And lord knows that motivational claptrap is rife at the top end of the business world, so it’s not totally strange to see it employed in sports.
So is Brendan up his own ass? Sure he is—but that may not be such a bad thing.
Let’s talk transfers
Another frequent criticism of Rodgers concerns his player recruitment. Let me tell you a secret: Rodgers’ record in the transfer market at Liverpool is not very impressive. Or, more accurately, his record his fucking abysmal. Outside of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, the reactions to Rodgers’ other signings at Anfield are either a shrug, a cringe, or a burst of uncontrollable laughter.
A few weeks ago, Liverpool completed its sixth signing of the summer. Christian Benteke—the former Aston Villa man who had that one good season that one time—joined for $51 million. He completes a new-look attack with Danny Ings and Divock Origi. In midfield, James Milner joins the Welsh Xavi and notorious hardman Jordan Henderson to complete the midfield trident of competence and functionality.
Unless further signings are made, Liverpool will play this season with a spine of Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren, Henderson, and Benteke. That core should easily secure a top 10 finish, barring injuries, but it’s a highly unlikely that the Premier League’s top four will be looking over their shoulders. Decent, but hardly a core worthy of a supposedly top drawer manager at a supposedly top drawer soccer ball club.
To be fair to Rodgers, part of the reason that he appears to be rebuilding his team on an annual basis is that his best and most influential player has been sold in each of the last two summers. Earlier this summer, Raheem Sterling did what all of us would do in his position and traded jobs for more money and a better chance at success. A year earlier, unapologetic racist and habitual man-biter Luis Suárez did the same. Instead of getting the chance to build around these players, Rodgers has been forced to replace them and then adjust his team’s approach to suit. A case can be made that he is actually doing a commendable job given the circumstances.
Here’s our broad, sweeping conclusion
It should also be remembered that when Rodgers can get his teams to play to their potential, it is usually a sight to behold. In its inaugural premier league season, Rodgers’ Swansea team played a slick, highly technical brand of soccer. Rodgers’ Liverpool team of two seasons ago ultimately fell short in its title chase, but it was by some distance the most dynamic and entertaining team in the league.
Which one is the real Brendan Rodgers? The innovative coach who produced the well-drilled Swansea team of 2011 and the fearsome Liverpool team of 2013? Or the excuse-making charlatan that oversaw the shambles of Liverpool’s first half of last season?
For most, their impressions of Rodgers lie at either of those two extremes. But the truth may be that he’s a little bit of both.
(Just kidding. He’s shit.)