Manager must deal with expectations
6 September ~ For Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers, the international break will be a welcome chance to draw breath. He has endured a hectic start to his Anfield career having been left stranded with a thin squad and only two strikers when the transfer window ended, suffering a first-day thumping at the hands of West Brom and contending with an owner who feels the need to explain himself. John Henry took the unusual step of writing an open letter to fans to set out his thoughts on the club's recent transfer activities and to offer some views on the future. One of the most striking parts of Henry's letter was his candid admission of early mistakes.
Media attention focused on the club's signings, but the biggest error Henry may have had in mind was left out of the final draft. The new owners seemed to have been reluctant to offer Kenny Dalglish a permanent contract in the spring of 2011 but I doubt they felt they had much choice in the matter.
The letter doesn't talk about that decision but what is clear is that the owners now intend to follow their own intuition. Much of the recent media comment has focussed on the failure to land Clint Dempsey and an apparent lack of trust in Rodgers' judgement.
The fact the club now has a Head of Analytics, Michael Edwards, is seen as an indicator that the owners are still keen on the "moneyball" methods they have used in the past. The way the press has it, the "Dempsey affair" is a challenge to Rodgers' desire for control over football matters; the implication is that he needs to assert himself.
Rodgers knew the situation on transfers when he signed up. The compromise that saw off the creation of a Director of Football was the establishment of a transfer committee of Rodgers, Edwards and two new recruits from Manchester City – who will not join until early 2013, probably after the transfer window has shut again.
If the owners are even more determined to trust their own judgment, Rodgers would be better off resisting the press calls to fight the issue and find ways of increasing his influence in the way transfer decisions get made. It will generate less column inches but is more likely to help him keep his job.
Perhaps the most pressing issue for Rodgers is how to deal with expectations. In his letter Henry focuses on the long term. He couldn't do anything else: Liverpool are likely to be well off the Champions League pace by Christmas, given the lack of depth and goalscorers in their squad.
Their realistic reference points are not the Manchester clubs and the London trio of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs; they are Fulham, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Norwich, along with Stoke and Everton. Rodgers must know that and will have to find a way of making the point without bringing huge criticism. His saving grace might be that for this year his bosses agree.
During the break a reflective Rodgers may spend his time working out how to relaunch his arrival in a week's time. It is Sunderland away followed by Manchester United at home when it all restarts. Use the time well, Brendan. Brian Simpson