When it makes its worst league start since 1962-63, scrounging for just one point out of nine, your club is in crisis.
When the new manager is under fire three games into the season, your club is in crisis.
John Henry’s open letter to Liverpool fans published on the club’s official website on Monday was jarringly defensive. Chiefly, he addressed the club’s failure to add a much-needed striker – expected to be U.S. national teamer Clint Dempsey – after it loaned Andy Carroll, who was a poor fit for new manager Brendan Rodgers’ system.
“I am as disappointed as anyone connected with Liverpool Football Club that we were unable to add further to our strike-force in this summer transfer window,” said his letter. “We were unable to conclude acceptable deals.”
Henry added that key players were retained and signed to contract extensions and that “no one should doubt our commitment to the club”, only serving to confirm that there are indeed doubts.
But after watching Kenny Dalglish fritter away $135 million on players who have mostly proved busts, Henry understandably kept Rodgers to a $40 million expenditure, which he spent on winger Fabio Borini and playmaker Joe Allen. But he sent a signal too, reaffirmed in his letter.
“This is a work in process,” he wrote. “It will take time for Brendan to instill his philosophy into the squad and build exactly what he needs for the long term. Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years. We will invest to succeed. But we will not mortgage the future with risky spending.”
The underlying message in Henry’s letter was: “We have rebuilding to do. It will take time. Chill out.” In refusing to paper over the cracks with a few extra pickups and conceding that there are structural flaws to be addressed, Henry seems keenly aware of what his club needs.
There is no other choice but to be patient. There’s no point in firing a manager for the third time since wresting control of the club in October 2010. In Rodgers, the Reds have the right manager this time around. One who demonstrated an ability to play dominant football with Swansea. One who is equipped to tear down before he builds. Not one who insists on Englishness, like Roy Hodgson, in a league that has long since stopped adhering to the kick-and-rush archetype. Not one who is still living in the ‘80s, like Dalglish, and whose approach is predicated on his memory of what Liverpool once was, rather than what it needs to be to win in the latter-day Premier League.
Rodgers will modernize, rolling back the roll-back that occurred under his two predecessors, who demolished the attractive and modern – not to mention domestically and internationally competitive – side Rafa Benitez built. He will strip the house down to the studs and start over. It’s a necessary evil, as the Liverpool of the last two seasons is clearly no longer capable of competing. The foundations are rotten. There’s no sense in giving the house a fresh coat of paint and new carpet by signing some expensive veterans.
It will all come crashing down again. Rodgers will need time. To permanently clear out the British players brought in by Hodgson and Dalglish who suited their outdated notions of the game – Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Stuart Downing, Jordan Henderson. To teach a squad that was preached the virtues of a stodgy 4-4-2 for the last two seasons to play a fluid, high-pressing, possession-oriented 4-3-3.
It will hurt, and it will get ugly. There will be setbacks like on Sunday, when Liverpool resoundingly outplayed Arsenal, espousing the above values, but couldn’t create chances and lost 2-0. But it needs to be done. If Liverpool ever wants to be competitive again, it needs to reset.
That means its fans will have to tolerate a rocky season or two. Or, if they prefer, they can pressure the club into bailing out of the Rodgers experiment, lobby for someone who will retain the status quo and face a lifetime of rocky seasons.
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