The worry is that if he cannot implement the style effectively, it will not be total football but total failure.
After witnessing Spain rip apart Italy this past weekend, there would have been none happier than the new Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers. His coaching philosophy has been developed through the adoration of the style of play of Barcelona and Spain, which has been modelled on the Dutch style of play developed under Michels and Cryuff. Spain showed the world the modern version of totalfootball in the final and I wonder if this is what Liverpool fans will have in store this coming season.
The departure of Dalglish was inevitable, results on the pitch and PR disasters off it, were not what Fenway Sports Group expected when they bought the club in October 2010. FSG have a plan which involves Liverpool playing in the Champions League and in so doing, will be used as a marketing machine for investors and sponsors such as Warrior and Chartered Standard. Image and perception is everything for Americans and Dalglish was not portraying Liverpool very well. He simply had to go.
After a long and drawn out affair, with movement across the Atlantic, John Henry decided that Brendan Rogers was the man to take Liverpool forward. As with any managerial appointment there is certain element of risk involved and with Rogers that is somewhat heightened by the style of play of which Rogers will expect Liverpool to play.
Last season Swansea were a real revelation in terms of their style of play, they were composed and confident with the ball and outplayed sides like Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea for fun. Rogers love of the Barcelona style of play consisting of high pressing and possession football was at times the best thing seen in the Premier League. It was not like Blackpool’s high octane attacking football which was simply chaos, Swansea were tactically sound and showed understanding.
Yet Swansea's style was not done overnight, Rogers came in for Sousa who inherited the side from Martinez, meaning that Swansea, since 2007 had been developed in the Spanish style of play. When Rogers took over in July 2010, he was not working from scratch, he merely took the side further from the foundations already in place. Are Liverpool capable of adopting this style of play?
Liverpool on the decline
Liverpool is a side which has been a steady decline since 2009, mainly for financial reasons. The past three seasons have not been easy; from almost winning the league in 2009, Benitez finished seventh with Liverpool the following year, there simply were too many issues off the pitch. Hodgson destroyed the soul of the club yet it was FSG who reinvigorated and galvanised the fans and players. The departure of Hicks and Gillett has enabled the fans and club to believe in a brighter future again.
Dalglish was given the caretaker role to guide Liverpool back in line and with the addition of Luis Suarez, Liverpool played some excellent football. Even last season Dalglish and Clarke got Liverpool playing well, yet the biggest factor in winning games is scoring goals and Liverpool simply did not finish off teams well enough. Too many dropped points, too many under performing players and issues off the pitch meant that even a League Cup win could not keep Kenny in the job. And rightly so, Liverpool needed a modern manager who can take Liverpool back up to the top of English football.
Is the new man good enough?
Is Rogers the man to do this? Educated under the stewardship of Mourinho when at Chelsea, Rogers has developed his methods and shown them to be successful. The question is, can Rogers impart his style and tactic well enough and quick enough to enable him time to develop the side? Is it better for Rogers to continue with the 4-2-3-1 formation which provided good performances last season, or will he alter the style to suit his own 4-3-3.
It seems that perhaps this formations resemble each other, yet there are differences to the formations. How high does he want his wingers to play, will he want Suarez as a 10 coming from deep or playing closer to the 9? What about Gerrard, is he better playing deeper as seen for England this summer? I would argue yes. A 4-2-3-1 will suit Liverpool and Rogers best, he needs to use a formation known to the players and simply motivate and give the side confidence to play at their best. Easier said than done though.
If Rogers tries to do too much too soon, expect failure. Villas-Boas tried it last year at Chelsea, and Rogers will need to get Carragher, Gerrard and Reina on board if he is to succeed. Carragher will accept a bit part, yet Gerrard will seek to play if fit, Rogers would do well to use him in a holding role for the season. I believe this is where Gerrard must play if he wishes to continue and prolong his career and after seeing Pirlo first hand run the show from that position against England, Gerrard must feel he could do a similar role.
With the return of the essential Lucas to partner him, Liverpool have the potential for a strong midfield to retain and recycle possession effectively. Rogers will need Gerrard to shorten his passes and achieve higher pass completion rates if he wants Liverpool to replicate Swansea, as Leon Britton and Joe Allen were testament to last year.
In all fairness to Liverpool, they have a strong defence and quality keeper. Rogers will aim to work on the side playing out regularly from the back and having a high defensive line when the ball is the opposition half. In Reina he has a ball playing goal keeper, which was his reasoning for buying Vorm, so playing out from the back will not be an issue and he is fortunate to have attacking full backs in Enrique and Johnson which will allow his side to build out and play down the wings.
Problems in attack
The issue comes in attacking areas. Rogers knows that he will be expected to bring flair and creativity to this Liverpool side, who at times last year played with fluidity and craft, yet too often were too rigid and predictable. At this time there is only one player which possesses these key skills in abundance and that is Luis Suarez. With reports of Juve interested and with him apparently unsure of his future, Rogers biggest task will be to keep him at Anfield.
If he leaves, the Rogers has a near impossible task of taking Liverpool into the top four. With him, they have a genuine chance. Suarez caused many problems off the pitch last season, yet one cannot fault his application and quality on the pitch. His movement, energy, vision and skill made him one of the most frightening forwards in the league last year, yet his biggest problem was finishing. If Rogers can keep hold of him then expect more goals next year, he made all the right movements, got into all the right positions, yet at times just couldn’t get the finish needed. For a player of his quality, this will not happen this year.
The British contingent
Yet what of those around him? Rogers has a difficult task with players like Downing, Adam and Henderson. All three under performed last season and all three in my opinion are not good enough for Liverpool if they have serious ambitions of reaching the Champions League again. The British style of play of these players will struggle to adapt to a total football philosophy of Rogers and as seen last year, these players will restrict space, play predictable passes and fail to contribute to the attack regularly enough.
Can Rogers improve them? I think he can get more from Downing and Henderson, yet with Adam, I don’t see him fitting into the style of which Rogers will want, simply because he lacks mobility and is too wasteful in possession.
And that leaves Andy Carroll. Rogers has a real player here if he can use Carroll better than Dalglish did. Under Dalglish, Carroll was used as a classic target man, staying high and dealing with lofted passes from deep. It was a role that a player of his size in England is used to, yet which Rogers will not wish to implement. He will want incisive through balls on the floor for his striker to score from, just watch many of Danny Graham’s goals last season, and so he will expect Carroll to make smart movements and play on the floor. For me I have no doubts about Carroll’s ability to play this way, I think he is a fine player if used correctly and I believe Rogers is the man to get the best from him and importantly teach and educate him, remember he is only 23 years old.
Good foundations, more needed
Rogers has the foundations of a good side, one in which under performed last year, for various reasons, yet none other than for profligate play. If Rogers can convert those draws into wins and those chances into goals, he could seriously challenge for a top four spot. Yet there are issues which need to be addressed in order for Rogers to succeed.
FSG will need to fund the purchases of players in key positions. Although Coates has the potential of a great defender, Liverpool need a more experienced back up so that Carragher is not called upon. If Carragher plays more than a few minutes next season, it will spell trouble for Liverpool and Rogers.
Also the injury to Lucas affected the side very badly and the replacements of Adam, Henderson and Spearing are not good enough for a side with Liverpool’s aims. Nuri Sahin may be a player who could offer Liverpool something in terms of ball retention, yet it would seem Rogers would need to offload Charlie Adam before bringing in a better model. Seydou Keita has been touted as a ball winning midfielder and he may offer Liverpool something in terms of influence and experience which could aid players like Henderson. Do not discount a player like Moussa Dembele being targeted either, a player who has keenly impressed in his time at Fulham.
Yet the key needs to be in attack, Suarez is a necessity to retain and losing him will be a severe blow. Yet presuming he stays, Rogers need to bring in two or three attacking players to supplement Suarez and Carroll. Sigurdsson for me is not good enough for Liverpool and if Rogers has serious ambition. Reports of James Rodriquez have surfaced and a winger of his ability, speed and importantly Liverpool’s intent to sign top quality, will all be beneficial for Liverpool. Targets such as Schurrle may be possible due to the wages Liverpool can offer and he will surely offer more than Downing could. Yet a key player for Rogers and a realistic target is Clint Dempsey. He is a player of real class who is better than Fulham in all honesty, at 29 he would see a move to Liverpool as a major step in his career. And up front a player like Luuk De Jong would be an ideal signing for Liverpool’s strikeforce.
It is difficult however because Liverpool can offer very little for top quality players, rumours of Cavani coming to Anfield will be very expensive and although Napoli are only in the Europa League, can Liverpool afford £40million+ for a player like him? Liverpool cannot promise Champions League football and so they may need to alter their targets to suit their position, yet in doing this will they be able to compete with the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal for the top four?
Rogers has a difficult task because achieving a top four finish is not easy, the competition in the league is strong, outside of the Manchester clubs, there is a pocket of five sides which will pushing for Champions League football. Two into five doesn’t go and so there will be disappointed chairmen come the end of the year. Rogers may be afforded the luxury of a season to bed down his style and philosophy on this new group of players, yet FSG will expect to see progress being made.
Total football or total failure?
Rogers has inherited a decent side, yet one which has been on the decline in the past three seasons, of the £120 million spent by FSG so far there is relatively little to show for the outlay. More money will be needed to be spent this summer if Rogers is to have any chance of progressing the side up the table. His first task will be to make the right impression and persuade the players to buy into his style.
It is hard to argue with what he achieved at Swansea, yet he is now at one of the biggest clubs in world football and with that comes expectation and media attention, his every move and decision will be scrutinised and analysed. Much is expected of him from his board and the fans and Rogers will need a strong will and belief to win over the fans of Liverpool and bring the good times back. Personally, I think Rogers is a very good coach and he handled himself with authority and respect in the press conference, yet that is the easy part, how will he deal if he things go badly?
The key for Rogers is that he keeps Suarez and plays Gerrard the right way, then Liverpool have potential to get closer to that top four group. I am sure he would not have taken the job if he wasn’t promised investment, remember, FSG are putting their investment onto his shoulders and so they expect a good return.
It will be a fascinating season ahead to see how well Rogers does. I cannot see him deviate from his style of which he professes and believes in so much and so expect him to play the Barcelona way this year. Last season Villas-Boas attempted it and failed, Wenger has tried it and failed too.
It is no easy feat and so if he succeeds then he has done a great job. The worry is that if he cannot implement the style effectively, it will not be total football but total failure. The hope is that FSG are patient and allow their new man time to develop his way.