Off the Mark: Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers has to be named Manager of the Year, whatever happens now
The man with a plan is often a difficult man to take to, so engrossed and devoted to his own ideas as to frequently border on arrogance.
When that plan goes wrong the man is often left looking foolish, too obsessed with himself that he can’t see the bigger picture, stuck in a rut, one-dimensional.
It takes great strength, then, to persevere with that plan, to see it through to the end and to both adapt and improve upon it. In the Liverpool renaissance being masterminded by Brendan Rodgers, that is exactly what we are seeing now.
In his first year at Anfield it was easy to mock the Northern Irishman, to bring up quotes from his past when he was a younger coach, more naïve, perhaps covering up for his lack of experience and knowledge in a certain area by spouting a buzz-word or a phrase straight out of a managerial handbook.
When Liverpool were losing home and away to West Brom, at home to Aston Villa, away to Stoke and Southampton, at Oldham in the FA Cup it was easy to quote these words back at Rodgers, to make fun of him and to dress him up as some kind of egotist with a mistaken belief in his own importance. The first four letters of his first name are the same as the first four letters of the surname of a Ricky Gervais character too, and people noticed.
Yet despite all of that, and despite the setbacks which still ensure that really only one of the four transfer windows he’s presided over at Liverpool have been successful ones, look where he is now.
Rodgers has almost certainly guided the Reds to a top four finish this season, something that even the most optimistic of Liverpool supporters only dared to dream of in August, and it could yet get even better than that.
It is right that Rodgers’ side are still only considered as third favourites for the Premier League title behind the enormous strength of Chelsea and Manchester City’s squads and ahead of an Arsenal side who are about to enter some difficult fixtures, but even being there is a staggering enough achievement in itself.
Had you told those same Liverpool fans in August that this is where their team would be, and more importantly that the likes of Jon Flanagan, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson would be playing starring roles within it, then you’d have been laughed out of Merseyside.
Less than a year ago Flanagan’s career seemed to have irreparably stalled. He’d picked up a serious injury and when Liverpool tried to farm him out on loan they were getting the brush off from League One clubs. He came in from the cold to start a match at Arsenal in November and plenty of fans groaned.
Sterling’s rapid rise in the first half of last season, when he was played more out of necessity than anything else, had ground to a halt. He put in an extremely nervy display at right wing-back against Crystal Palace in October and didn’t play again for two months. When he did at Hull he was awful. He’s been utterly fantastic ever since.
Henderson’s transformation has perhaps been the most staggering. From being a big money flop he has evolved to become one of the first names on the teamsheet behind the obvious ones. Actually, he probably is now one of the obvious ones. At Old Trafford on Sunday he bossed the midfield in a 3-0 win. Sterling was playing intelligently in the No. 10 role, Flanagan was tackling anything that moved.
Make no mistake, all of this is down to Rodgers.
The manager himself has had to learn from his mistakes and adapt and improve.
In September he made the bizarre choice to field four recognised centre-backs at home to Southampton and a defeat followed. The three-man defence should have been dispensed with earlier than at half-time in the Arsenal loss in November. Hull away in December was probably the club’s worst display of the season, whilst as recently as Aston Villa at home in January – probably Liverpool’s last bad game – he got his midfield shape wrong and had to bring on Lucas Leiva at half-time.
Yet he’ll have learned from all of that, and it will have made him a better manager.
Whatever happens to Liverpool between now and the middle of May, he deserves to be recognised for that improvement with the Manager of the Year award.
Who knows, it might not be the only trophy he’s seen lifting soon.
Moyes has to go before more damage is done
It’s staggering that there are people claiming that tonight’s Champions League result against Olympiakos could make-or-break David Moyes’ Manchester United career. What difference should it make?
Even if they scrape through United are destined to lose to the first decent side they come up against, with the thought of what a Bayern Munich or a Barcelona could do to Moyes’ rudderless, confidence-free team barely worth thinking about for the club’s supporters.
Whether it’s now or in the summer Moyes needs to go in order for United to try and re-establish themselves amongst the elite of the modern game, and whatever happens tonight should have no bearing on that.
Hammers worth a punt to nail United
The Manchester United misery goes on, and ensures that this weekend’s trip to West Ham is far from a simple one.
Andy Carroll scored at Stoke last weekend and he is just the type of forward who can make things difficult for the visitors’ dodgy defence.