OPINION | By Merseyside correspondent Cam Downes
Brendan Rodgers’ three seasons as Liverpool manager can be roughly chrystallised as followed: par, above-par and below-par.
Could he be sacked on the back of the campaign that has failed to live up to the expectations created by the against-the-odds title challenge and fantasy football of 2013-14?
There is certainly that possibility, or why else would Liverpool’s American owners be exploring alternative managerial candidates. A meeting has taken place with Jurgen Klopp and contact has been made with Rafael Benitez.
Is sacking Rodgers the answer? Only if Fenway Sports Group believe the northern Irishman could have done more with the resources at his disposal during his three years, particularly in a season that will end on Sunday and be followed by a dash to Boston to meet his bosses.
Just because FSG have compiled a back-up plan does not mean they will execute it. The owners are keeping their options open, which is entirely their right, and probably quite sensible if they do not hear what they want from Rodgers next week.
But to lay the blame entirely at Rodgers’ door for Liverpool’s underwhelming third season is ludicrous.
Yes, his reputation as a big-match failure has increased following the semi-final defeats and the poor showings, Manchester City apart, against the big guns (although that has not bothered Arsenal’s owners over the last half decade).
Yes, Rodgers has become the first Anfield incumbent since the 1950s not to win a trophy in his first three years at the club.
And, yes the season has ended miserably with limp performances and depressing defeats against Hull City and Crystal Palace.
The team is paying the price for the lack of ambition from the owners, and the disastrous recruitment of last summer. The two are not mutually exclusive.
It is still something of a mystery as to what the £70 million-plus Luis Suarez money has been spent on. Not entirely on the £117m spent on new players last summer. Much of that money came from new commercial deals and broadcasting cash generated by the Premier League’s monster television deal and Liverpool’s second-placed finish last season.
Lest it be forgotten, no club received more than the £97.5m banked by the Merseysiders from the Premier League’s distribution of TV funds.
Analysis of Liverpool’s recently-published accounts for the 2013-14 season show they posted a £0.9million pre-tax profit. For the current campaign, the profit could rise to over £50m, given the Suarez sale and the return of the Champions League gravy train.
Liverpool are in decent financial nick. FSG have overhauled the club’s finances following the debt-ridden final years of the Tom Hicks and George Gillett regime and invested in players while avoiding the pitfalls of Financial Fair Play (although that seems as if it will not be too much of a problem in the future).
Yet there are serious doubts as to the ambition of FSG. Knowing the club are in line for a £50m profit this season, why was the money not provided for a proper striker to replace Suarez in the final weeks of last summer’s transfer window? Why did Rodgers end up gambling on Balotelli, a punt that has hopelessly backfired? Why are Liverpool shopping solely in the second tier of the transfer window while avoiding marquee players who want marquee wages?
Rodgers has not been aided by the Liverpool ‘transfer committee’, of which he is one of six members and which is answerable to Boston-based executives. Of the seven permanent signings of last summer, only Emre Can has consistently flourished and increased his market value. The others have been either mediocre or massive let-downs.
Assuming there is collective responsibility for the signings Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana, or the likes of Mamadou Sakho and Iago Aspas before them, blaming Rodgers for all Liverpool’s ills is patently unfair. He has made a more than reasonable fist of the hands he has been dealt.
Assuming Klopp or Benitez can ride to the rescue and turn Liverpool into a consistent title challenger and trophy accumulator is to ignore the real issues.
Both have impressive CVs, and both are available this summer, but Borussia Dortmund are seventh in the Bundesliga and 33 points adrift of champions Bayern Munich, and Napoli are losing their battle to clinch third spot in Serie A and a Champions League place.
Liverpool need a reality check. Fingers of blame should be pointed not just at the Mellwood training ground, but towards Boston.