It was mid-February eight years ago when Liverpool’s players were trudging off the pitch at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s having been soundly beaten by their hosts.
It was the Reds’ second loss to the Midlanders that season, as a team featuring former Liverpool forward Emile Heskey and future Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant overran Rafael Benitez’s Reds to win 2-0.
Three months later, that beaten team would be European champions.
Back then, though, the defeat had placed the Reds on 43 points from 27 games of their Premier League season, a season skewed by Benitez’s mastery of Liverpool’s Champions League campaign alongside the relative ordinariness of their domestic fortunes.
Benitez was learning on the job in the most pressurised position possible, and whilst these days at Liverpool the thrilling, logic-defying runs in Europe’s premier competition have become a thing of the past, the Premier League inconsistency remains.
Now 27 games into his Liverpool league career, Brendan Rodgers has led his side to 39 points―four less than Benitez’s European champions.
Comparing the current Liverpool vintage to that 2005 team which boggled the minds of the even the greatest footballing figures is a thankless task of course, but whilst Rodgers hasn’t done anything yet in his Reds tenure that brings about comparisons to Benitez―although a stirring comeback against Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League in midweek would be a step in the right direction―perhaps the league situation he finds himself in can be seen as broadly similar.
The relentless positivity that is exuded by Rodgers in the face of even the greatest adversity―or, as it appeared recently, back-to-back 2-0 losses to West Bromwich Albion and Zenit―has seen him mocked in some quarters, but that approach cannot be discounted when considering just how he is perceived by Liverpool supporters.
The dour demeanour of Benitez’s successor, Roy Hodgson, didn’t lose him as many friends as his dour football did, but his approach certainly wasn’t helpful at a time when Liverpool needed to feel good about themselves.
Rodgers cannot be accused of that, and by and large he still maintains the support and crucially the allowance of time by the vast majority of the club’s fans.
There will always be negative reactions whenever Liverpool lose a game or perform poorly―there may even be negative reactions in the comments below this piece―but supporters know that a young manager and rookie football owners need time to implement their strategies.
Patience is key.
When the negatives occur and the frustration boils over, the criticism of Rodgers is often seized upon by those outside of the club who can raise a smile by painting the goings on in a poor light. If one fan wants Rodgers out, then apparently thousands do.
The truth is vastly different from that, and although there will certainly come a time when repeated mediocrity becomes too much to bear, that simply can’t happen now and was going on before Rodgers arrived anyway.
Regardless of that, if Liverpool ran out of patience with their manager―a man lauded and celebrated by Fenway Sports Group when they appointed him last summer―then where would they turn next?
Grappling with a transfer policy that appears to be fixated on the future is the manager’s biggest challenge currently, and after speaking of his desire to sign “men” in the summer (via the Daily Mail) then the forthcoming battle between Rodgers and his owners looks to be compelling viewing.
It is a battle that he is almost certain to be around to take on barring a drastic slump in the closing months of the season, and given that Rodgers’ squad certainly looks more talented from top to bottom than Benitez’s European champions did, maybe he can find inspiration from one of his predecessors, albeit without Champions League glory in his favour.
It is as a result of that glory that nobody cares how Liverpool did in the league in the 2004/05 season.
Rodgers doesn’t have that luxury, but he does deserve some of the patience that came with it.
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