The dust is beginning to settle of the departure of Brendan Rodgers from the Anfield dugout. The Northern Irishman’s time at Liverpool was a rollercoaster ride of almost unimaginable highs and several alarming low points – but what was the driving force behind Rodgers getting the boot?
It would be naive to attribute his downfall on the recent departure of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City and even more so to think letting Steven Gerrard leave for LA put the final nail in Rodgers’ coffin.
In fact, his handling of the Raheem Sterling situation was actually one of the better pieces of man management served up by the former reds boss. Rodgers was honest with the player and the fans but it came down to the fact Sterling has no affiliation with the Merseyside club.
There is no doubting Sterling’s talent and potential but a fee in the region of £50m for an unproven and sulky footballer was good business for a player who was never going to stay at the club.
The handling of the Steven Gerrard situation, however, was completely misread by Rodgers on several occasions. Liverpool should have offered the skipper a new contract during the summer of 2014 but Rodgers felt, despite Gerrard having one of the best seasons of his career, the time wasn’t right and let the situation linger on.
There should have been a title parade in Liverpool that summer but THAT game against Chelsea will haunt Gerrard, Rodgers and anyone who owns a Liverpool shirt for a long, long time. The slip by the Liverpool captain handed the match to Chelsea but Rodgers approach that day was just as much to blame. “I sensed an over-confidence in Brendan’s team talks. We played into Chelsea’s hands. I feared it then and I know it now.” Gerrard said in his recent book.
That summer saw Luis Suarez leave the club for Barcelona while Gerrard was still waiting for a new contract offer. Meanwhile, Rodgers spent the Suarez money on, well, a load of dross and they started the season with a hangover from the previous.
To make matters worse, the manager was changing his tactics more often than Sterling changed his hairstyle, but the moment he really lost the plot was on 4th November 2014 when he played a weakened team at the Bernabeu in the Champions League.
Leaving Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, and Philippe Coutinho on the bench for that game was unforgivable. That was the moment Gerrard knew, in his mind, he would be leaving the club at the end of the season and Rodgers, well, had lost his.
The following months continued in the same trajectory. Gerrard announced his decision to leave the club and Sterling said the same as the season ended in a 6-1 battering at Stoke that should have seen Rodgers sacked on the spot.
By the time this season kicked off, the boss seemed to be in full meltdown. The club had no recognisable playing style and the tactics changed twice, sometimes three times during the match as Rodgers had the air of a desperate man about him. He was trying different combinations of players, positions and formations in the hope something would pay off. It didn’t.
The Liverpool manager’s job is probably one of the hardest in football – the expectations are sky high and the resources are considerably lower. Recent managers have tended to have one good crack at the title before they end up losing the plot, going bonkers and eventually falling on their sword.
Gerard Houllier followed up his cup treble by finishing in second place in 2001-02 but failed to kick on from there and eventually walked, while Rafael Benitez lost it after his famous “facts” rant at Ferguson in 2008-09 as his side faded in the title run-in to United.
So the departure of Rodgers had an inevitable feel about it. But it wasn’t Sterling, Gerrard or even Suarez leaving the club that cost him his job. It was the simple fact that he came up short when it mattered. His record against the top clubs was terrible and he never won a trophy in the three full seasons he was there.
Rodgers is a honourable man and a very good manager – he almost etched his name into Liverpool folklore but his inexperience and naivety cost him when it mattered most.