It got a little buried in the avalanche of memes and jokes which quite rightly flooded the internet in the aftermath of Liverpool’s heaviest ever Premier League defeat on Sunday, but there was one image which summed up exactly where the Reds are right now.
It was a simple one, it was just made up of text and it didn’t even feature a Photoshopped image of Steven Gerrard falling over.
‘The Brendan Rodgers Table’ showed a top 10 made up of the last three seasons – the campaigns Rodgers has been at Anfield for – with Liverpool’s finishes of seventh, second and sixth combining to leave them in fifth, 16 points behind fourth-placed Manchester United and two ahead of Tottenham in sixth.
For a club with the fifth highest wage bill, the sixth biggest ground capacity and a matchday income which is half of what they bring in at United and Arsenal (according to a Daily Mail report in March) then that is probably about right. But fifth isn’t fourth, the Europa League isn’t the Champions League and fans aren’t going to settle for second best. Or indeed for fifth best. Or sixth, as it turned out.
Rodgers isn’t either, of course, but that is where he finds his Liverpool side today, having failed to reach any of the targets set for him in the summer by owners whose own level of investment has essentially set the bar this high.
That alone doesn’t mean that the Liverpool manager should be sacked, but the fact that there is an increasing belief that he can take the team no further certainly should do.
It sounds somewhat ridiculous to say given that no Liverpool team has been crowned champions of England for 25 years now, but if Rodgers was going to have a long, successful time of it at Anfield he really needed to win the Premier League title when the opportunity so remarkably presented itself to him last year. Everything since then has had a tinge of sadness to it, the look of a junkie desperately chasing that one amazing high they couldn’t quite believe they got in the first place.
Does that make Rodgers a victim of success? Kind of, but that description doesn’t quite seem apt for the first Reds boss since Phil Taylor (1956-59, and the man who preceded Bill Shankly) not to win a trophy in his first three seasons at Liverpool. Of course there was also Roy Hodgson, but his time in charge only lasted six months and no-one really wants to talk about that, do they?
That they have been was a testament to just how bad things got in the 6-1 defeat at Stoke on Sunday, though.
The Liverpool Echo deemed the loss worse than anything that the current England manager’s drab teams served up back in those gloomy relegation zone days in 2010 when the only light emitted came from the shine of Christian Poulsen’s blond hair, and when the local press start openly questioning the manager on Merseyside the end isn’t normally too far off.
Is this it for Rodgers, then? He’s likely to find that out in performance review meetings in the next week – something he has prepared for by doing the equivalent of relieving himself in his boss’s coffee cup ever since the oh-so damaging FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa which might serve as his last stand.
If he is to go then there are many who won’t miss him.
The Northern Irishman’s mannerisms, philosophising and outwardly confident demeanour have rubbed plenty up the wrong way, but it is easy to forget that he is a young manager who had had just one season of top-flight football as the main man at Swansea when he moved to Anfield in 2012. What has been perceived as arrogance or self-aggrandising might actually be a defence mechanism. Given the displays of full-backs Emre Can and Alberto Moreno in the first half at Stoke, his critics would say it’s about time he had one.
What’s also easy to forget is that Rodgers got Liverpool playing their best football of the Premier League era for three months last year, winning 11 matches in a row and scoring 38 goals with a team in which Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling produced some of the best football of their careers.
With Sturridge recovering from an operation it’s looking probable that the Reds will start next season without any of that quartet, with Rodgers perhaps making it five out of five.
If he does depart he’ll do so to plenty of those memes and jokes, and the belief that whilst he might have taken this current, ‘average’ version of Liverpool to just where the modern game dictates they should be, that that just wasn’t enough.
And that the lowliness of the lows outweighed any high he could achieve.
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