THE date is 1st June 2012 and Brendan Rodgers has just been officially announced as Kenny Dalglish’s replacement.
My gut reaction is one of apprehension and relief.
While I preferred Rodgers to Martinez, neither of the two front-runners for the post would have been my first choice to get the top job.
My inclination was to go for an experienced and successful manager such as Louis van Gaal, who’s CV and managerial statistics are nothing but impressive.
However, after a few good sound bites from Rodgers’ mouth I started to be swayed and was slowly convincing myself that the board had made a good choice. This was a man who instead of being drawn into confrontation with the media was happy to embrace their presence and more importantly, make positive headlines for LFC.
Now I am not a man who loves a media love-in, far from it. I find it boring, self-aggrandising and pathetic but that does not mean I’m so myopic that I can’t appreciate the benefits that it can offer. For one thing, it can help to limit the damage when problems outside of tactics and team selection escalate.
While Rafa and Kenny won the respect of fans by placing the value of Liverpool FC and the opinions of the fans ahead of anything else, it was the inability to manage off-field distractions that was the making of their downfall.
Rafa embarked on a political campaign rallying against the owners and using the support of fans to reinforce his position. However, this tumultuous campaign led to off-field distractions and draining newspaper headlines. Benitez made two huge mistakes; firstly he tried to take on the board, the very same board that had the power to dismiss him, and secondly; he underestimated the effect off-field problems had on results. His actions kept Liverpool in the news for all the wrong reasons and as the protests against the owners reached their climax and the turmoil off the pitch heightened, the results faltered. I do not agree with the argument that off-field problems don’t affect performances on the pitch. Just look at what happened to Tottenham during Harry Redknapp’s turbulent period last season; a strong campaign derailed so badly it cost Ol’ Harry his job.
So while Benitez tried to engender a campaign against the owners with the fans, he was making a rod for his own back. He contributed to the off-field distraction which in turn affected results, the same results that he needed in his favour to both keep his job and aid his campaign for more backing from the owners.
Dalglish on the other hand had to contend with the racism ordeal following Suarez and Evra’s verbal car crash and failed the test by a long way. The T-shirts damaged the club’s reputation while the inability to accept the FA’s decision just intensified the scrutiny on the club just as they had to contend with the prospect of losing their best player for 8 games. Once again, while the off-field distraction and negative publicity rumbled on, the results faltered. Rather than look to keep the matter in house and move on, Dalglish took the misguided step of railing against the criticism of the player and kept the matter rolling on for weeks and weeks. Of course, the story was always going to be big news but rather than attempt to pour cold water on the matter, Dalglish stoked the fire and in doing so burnt the club. To make matters worse, while Liverpool’s form stuttered Dalglish did his media rapport no good by offering short, sharp interviews.
But there is a time and place for this attitude and in the modern era of football, where everything is on camera, it is important to have a sense of how you are being portrayed. Indeed, the football manager’s job is far more political than it previously was and PR rules in this on-demand, interview-a-minute world. A manager should know that when a media storm is brewing, it is neither the time nor the place for a reckless disregard of the perception of himself and by extension the club.
Enter Brendan Rodgers, the media man, the fabled one. Now was the opportunity for Liverpool to garner media support with regular interviews and great lines from the boss to keep everything falling into place, and some nice football to throw in to boot. My mind was made up. Liverpool had got the right man.
Or so I thought.
The handling of the Carroll debacle, and it can now be called a debacle, has hampered that vision of Brendan Rodgers. From stating that Carroll was available to go out on loan, to stating that he could not go out on loan but could be sold, to stating that Carroll will not move unless the price is right. Rodgers made a huge error. Not only did he make himself look slightly foolish by having to contradict himself on a weekly basis but he also created an unnecessary off-field distraction.
The ‘will he? Won’t he?’ story looks set to continue throughout the transfer window and we can only be glad that the Olympics have been around to minimise the focus on this.
Now one might suggest that an off-field distraction during the summer can’t hamper results and that point is conceded but consider if Carroll is not sold. Every week, the press conferences will be dominated by Andy Carroll questions, ‘why did you keep him if you weren’t going to play him?’ and ‘why did you undermine his position at the club, if you were going to play him?’ or ‘has the summer affected Carroll’s confidence and is that why he didn’t score/play/run for Prime Minister?’ – the questions are endless.
Rodgers must learn quickly and if he can keep the off field distractions to a minimum, keep the media in his corner and quietly go about his business maybe, just maybe the club can have a surprising season.