Early Doors

Liverpool taking a bold gamble

Early Doors

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A talented young manager, with no playing experience to speak of, is employed by one of the world's biggest clubs with an apparent remit to transform the team's culture and style, to effect lasting change and construct a new identity. But nine months later he is sacked, his burgeoning reputation tarnished in the process.

When Andre Villas-Boas left Chelsea in March, recriminations swirling around him after a turbulent spell in charge, Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers was reported to be a possible contender to step into the void at Stamford Bridge. His response was as emphatic as it was pointed.

"I am trying to build my career and not destroy it," he said.

The unspoken fear was that a move to such a prominent club, and working under such a ruthless owner, could swallow a 39-year-old manager with one season of top-flight experience - and halt a once promising career in its tracks. Certainly, the way Villas-Boas was chewed up and spat out by Chelsea would have been a salutatory warning to any ambitious young manager.

But on Wednesday, Rodgers felt sufficiently emboldened to agree to become Liverpool's next manager, and embrace all the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes with the role.

Early Doors argued yesterday that Rodgers was too inexperienced for a club like Liverpool. Rather incredibly, John Henry didn't heed the warnings of an anonymous, semi-lucid and on occasion semi-literate blog and appointed him anyway.

But having done so, and having entrusted Rodgers with the huge task of restoring Liverpool to greatness and building a new side in his own image, it is critical that Fenway Sports Group afford the new manager the time he needs to do just that.

Clearly Henry is no Abramovich - and Rodgers obviously felt far more comfortable at the thought of working under the watchful eye of FSG at Melwood than the ominous gaze of the Russian and his entourage at Cobham - but when tricky times arrive, when results inevitably dry up for a spell, when fans still rooted in past glories start moaning and there are murmurs about Rodgers's suitability for the role, they must hold their nerve and show patience.

Rodgers needs time and space to operate; the task they are asking of the new man is a huge one.

Rightly lauded for the style with which his Swansea team played, Rodgers was fortunate at the Welsh club to be able to build from a solid base of attractive, passing football established by Roberto Martinez and then embellished by Paulo Sousa. Last season that manifested itself fully as Swansea were bettered by only Barcelona and Bayern Munich in terms of pass completion percentage across Europe's top five leagues.

The terrain awaiting him at Anfield is rather different. In Liverpool he inherits a side shorn of any subtlety or grace, aside from the brilliant Luis Suarez. A team that scored only 47 goals last season and produced a succession of impotent performances.

The patient, precise passing of Leon Britton personified Swansea under Rodgers, yet at Liverpool he will marshal a midfield that, boasting Charlie Adam and Steven Gerrard in its ranks, has seen more Hollywood balls than Heidi Fleiss.

If he is to mould Adam into Xavi then it will be via a lengthy process of evolution and not an overnight transformation. Changing a team's philosophy - a team with star names, some of whom are nearing the end of their careers - is fraught with pitfalls. A glance at how Villas-Boas had to scale back his ambitions when finding how unreceptive Chelsea's senior players were demonstrates that amply.

But this may well be the task that FSG now want him to perform. Like the rest of us, it appears they have been seduced by Swansea's stylish football over the past 12 months.

People often drew flattering comparisons between Pep Guardiola's Barcelona and Rodgers's 'Swanselona', yet as he moves to Liverpool a more suitable comparison may be Luis Enrique's appointment at Roma last season, as the Italian club sought to import Barca's approach wholesale, without success. He resigned before the season was out.

ED is not suggesting Liverpool's manager will do the same, yet the example, and that of Villas-Boas, highlights the difficulties involved when introducing a new conception of football to a team that ultimately may not be ready for it.

You cannot help but admire the courage of FSG to take such a step, but they must show the determination to see it through if the revolution is slower than expected, if players prove resistant to the new man's methods, or, as they did with Roy Hodgson, overly-sentimental supporters decide early on that he is not the right man and start demanding the return of a former hero. Rafa Benitez, who loomed over the recruitment process, seems a likely candidate.

After all, it is not just the reputation of Rodgers at stake here.

When arriving at the club Liverpool's American owners had Roy Hodgson foisted upon them. They then bowed to the wishes of the vocal Liverpool public by replacing him with Dalglish. As such, the appointment of Rodgers is the first that FSG have really made of their own volition.

It is a bold decision. If it succeeds, they and their manager will be hailed as visionaries. If it does not, they will both be depicted as being firmly out of their depth.

It is a gamble, without question, for both parties. FSG are all-in, and how their nerve holds during the difficult times may well define how this brave enterprise ultimately unfolds.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I don't think Swansea are going to be too pleased. They lost Roberto to us and they were none too happy about that and now they have lost Brendan so I imagine they will be even more unhappy right now." - Dave Whelan continues in his role as official spokesman for English football when mulling over Swansea's likely reaction to the departure of Rodgers.

FOREIGN VIEW: "My initial thought is to bring Drogba to the club. He is a very good player and we will welcome him here ... I very much hope that Drogba can join us." Shanghai Shenhua's new coach Sergio Batista makes his pitch to sign the unattached Didier Drogba this summer.

COMING UP: We have Paul Parker's reaction to Frank Lampard's thigh scan, the Euroscout casts his eye over one of Netherlands' young stars and our Euro 2012 country profiles continue with Croatia. In terms of football tonight, we have the games between Germany and Israel and France and Serbia covered live for your enjoyment.

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