Liverpool, like all of us around this time every four years, have a habit of getting more than a little distracted by the World Cup.
But whilst we’re all out there pinning up wall charts, plotting a team’s route to the final and in some cases revisiting our youth by collecting the official tournament stickers, the Reds have made far more damaging decisions in the recent past, perhaps taking their eye off the domestic ball and looking at the global one.
In 1998, just four days after France won their own World Cup in Paris, Frenchman Gerard Houllier was appointed as Liverpool’s joint-manager in a bizarre experiment alongside Roy Evans.
Of course Houllier would go on to prove to be a very good appointment for the Reds, but the partnership with Evans was to last just four months and proved to be a messy and undignified ending for the former boss, who was ushered out of the back door after a long career at Anfield.
Four years later, and with Liverpool looking to build on a position of strength after finishing second in the Premier League (sound familiar?), Houllier signed Salif Diao, Bruno Cheyrou and, most damagingly of all, El-Hadji Diouf for £10 million from Lens. The Senegalese had been preferred to Nicolas Anelka, and an ignominious Reds career began.
The curse continued post-Germany 2006 as initial contact was made with Tom Hicks and George Gillett before their damaging, almost fatal takeover was rubber-stamped in February 2007.
Fast forward four years, and a day before the first quarter-final at South Africa 2010 the Reds confirmed the appointment of their new manager, an Englishman with vast experience who had been working towards this job all his life. Six months later—around six weeks of which had been spent in the relegation zone—Roy Hodgson was sacked.
So the World Cup and Liverpool don’t tend to go hand-in-hand, and that’s why it is vitally important to get this summer’s business right, especially after the unexpected progress of the previous 10 months.
Brendan Rodgers’ new contract—which was confirmed by the club on Monday—is the first step towards achieving that harmony with the biggest tournament on earth, and whilst for many it may look as though it was a mere formality, it will symbolise to those outside the club that the Reds are committed to being the great entertainers that they were in the last campaign.
With Champions League football secured, the manager committing his long-term future to the club and Luis Suarez reportedly on board for at least another season (Daily Mail), there is no reason for the Reds to fear a post-Brazil 2014 hangover this time. Indeed, it should be just the opposite.
With Rodgers’ contract details ironed out, the Northern Irishman has claimed that now is the time the Reds need to push on and add to what is still a very thin squad (Liverpool Echo), and he won’t find any arguments there.
New players are being linked to the club daily, and you suspect that it is the pre-World Cup weeks and those during the tournament which are going to prove crucial.
Liverpool fans may already be targeting going one better and actually winning the league title next season, but it will be just as important to keep an eye on the teams that finished below them in the table. Of those that came outside of the top four, Manchester United have a new manager who won’t be able to start his job until after the World Cup, uncertainty once more reigns at Tottenham and Everton face tough transfer decisions over how to replace their effective loan players.
Rodgers’ new deal and the possibilities it brings allows the Reds to steal a march on those three clubs, but crucially he’ll need to have a good transfer window—something he’s really only had once in the four available to him since his appointment two years ago, the window in January 2013 when Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho were brought in for a combined cost of around £20.5 million.
The World Cup won’t help in this window, but at least now he’s sorted his own deal out the manager can press ahead with establishing ones for others.
Because there remains a huge air of positivity around the Reds regardless of how their title chase ended, and the last thing they need now is a Diouf or Hodgson-sized mistake to ruin another World Cup summer.