WITH our new manager settling into life in the Anfield hot seat, Live4Liverpool takes a look at the initial impressions left by Brendan Rodgers and the background of his predecessors.
In the first part of our feature, we discuss the background to Rodgers’ appointment by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of his predecessors and also what they all have in common.
Gerard Houllier. Originally partnered with Roy Evans in a two-pronged management team, the former Technical Director of the 1998 World Cup winning France side was brought in to drag Liverpool into the twenty-first century.
Throughout the 1990s, the Reds had gained the infamous ‘Spice Boy’ reputation; whether this reputation was accurate or a misguided media-driven sound-byte (probably the latter), the former school teacher was considered the perfect figurehead to instil discipline, defensive fortitude and a European approach to player conditioning.
Houllier’s reign – with the benefit of hindsight – was a reasonably successful one. His most successful year came in 2001, when he steered a Liverpool side that crossed young English talent with steely continental tactics to an unprecedented treble.
In 2002, he guided Liverpool to a second place finish and within seven points of champions Arsenal. It was considered that Liverpool were on the cusp of prolonged success and that it was also a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ they would capture their nineteenth league title.
However, a disastrous summer of transfer activity in 2002, with signings such as Salif Diao, El-Hadji Diouf and Bruno Cheyrou, took the club backwards and Houllier would never recover. Although he was and still is popular with Liverpool fans, his teams were characterised by substance over style, where it was acceptable to sit back and defend a one goal lead whilst playing on the break.
He irritated many with his post-match interviews, often claiming that Liverpool ‘created a lot of chances’ when in fact they were awful. The writing was on the wall for Houllier when he criticised the fans for booing after a home defeat, claiming that they should do their job and support the team.
Rafael Benitez. Arguably Liverpool’s best manager since 1990, Rafa will forever hold a place in Scouse hearts and his own love for the club means that the former Valencia chief still owns a property in the area. His role in one of Liverpool’s greatest ever triumphs – the 2005 European Cup, the Miracle of Istanbul – was absolutely masterful.
Rafa’s well-oiled red machine was based on Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan model of the late eighties and was slightly better to watch than Houllier’s outfit. His 2009 side finished second, just four points behind Manchester United, losing only two league games and scoring 77 goals in the process – the kind of stats that are a far cry from Liverpool’s current record of three losses from seven league games.
Notwithstanding the horrendous and destabilising ownership saga that blighted the latter portion of his tenure, Rafa, alas, had glaring weaknesses. Player turnover was far too high and he oversaw an often expensive ‘revolving-door’ transfer policy which featured numerous departures and arrivals almost every summer.
His team selections and substitutions baffled Reds fans on an almost game-by-game basis and far from Shankly’s idea of football being a simple game, Benitez saw it as more of a chess match, where his gesticulations and constant barking of orders from the touchline promoted rigid function at the expense of fluent creativity.
Roy Hodgson. Let’s not even go there…
Kenny Dalglish. Nobody should underestimate the role that Kenny played in reconciling the club and its fans following FSG’s takeover, but in terms of league results, we can already consider the King’s return a failure. Although his team produced some mouth-watering football, he oversaw a disastrous league campaign and this can be explained to a large degree by his disastrous signings.
Andy Carroll (£35m), Stewart Downing (£20m) and Jordan Henderson (£16m) are all considered – at this moment in time at least – as expensive flops. This plundering of club resources (in fairness, it would seem that Damien Comolli negotiated the fees) was the leading factor behind his dismissal and Brendan Rodgers’ appointment.
Whether Dalglish – or Rafa for that matter – could have brought success with more time is another argument, but a futile one all the same.
All of the above managers – with the exception of Hodgson – have the following in common: all were heralded (at least in their early days) as the club’s saviour, and the managers who would, finally, return Liverpool to the summit of English football.
‘Allez, allez, Gerard Houllier’.
All chants that were sang with ferocious passion and an impregnable belief that each would be ‘the one’ to restore Liverpool to former glories. But all of the above failed to deliver a league title. This background is the reason why Liverpool fans should approach the exceptionally early days of the Brendan Rodgers era with caution.
Click here for the second part of our Brendan Rodgers feature.
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