Liverpool's 2013-2014 report card
With the dust now settled on the 2013-2014 Premier League season, I thought I would take a moment and write up a report card of sorts to score this most exciting of seasons.
Overall performance: A+
Even a casual observer would have to give Brendan Rogers's Liverpool squad the highest score regarding their league performance. Coming in second place, runners up for the title - that was not truly decided until the last game - when the previous season they were in 7th place can only be described as a massive victory. Though their cup performances were lackluster to say the least, their early dismissal from those competitions - whether by design or chance - enabled Liverpool to focus solely on the league. Leading the league for many weeks and faltering at the end against Chelsea, and Crystal Palace, while heartbreaking should still be seen as a monumental step in the right direction. At the beginning of the season many pundits favored Liverpool to barely make it into the fifth spot, with a Europa league berth. Given the extremely limited squad size, failings in the transfer market (more on that later) and youth peppered throughout the team, the pundits appeared to be on target. Who could have imagined at the beginning of the season that come the season's end, Liverpool would be challenging for its first title in over twenty-four years.
Public Image: A
Public image fiascoes of recent years have seen the once lustrous image of England's most successful club tarnished. Between the hostile removal of Gillet and Hicks, the tumultuous Hodgson era, Dalglish's spending frenzy on overpriced english talent, and the series of Suarez saga's, Rogers took over a club on the descent.
Even when he first took the helm, Rogers's propensity for over-communicating in press conferences gave him the air of a project-management techno-babble evangelist . One could almost anticipate the next buzzword that would be thrown out with each subsequent sentence. Words like Synergy, Utilization, Focus, Alignment and others came out in an awkward flood of words more suited to a consultant's power point presentation or Bank CEO speech than a manager's press conference.
However, Rogers appears to have righted the ship. While Suarez continued to embarrass, first with his biting of Branislav Ivanovich, and then his summer affair courting Real Madrid, Rogers maintained a professional public image. His message was consistent through one escapade after another: The team was paramount, no one was bigger than the team.
Be it Suarez's public media courtship of Arsenal or Real Madrid, Wenger's ridiculous 40,001 pound bid, Sturridge's petulance at getting withdrawn against Everton and subsequent public display of childishness, the Mourhino/Wenger/Pellegrini war of animal metaphors and specialist in failure remarks, or even the now infamous 'Gerrard slip' against Chelsea, Rogers maintained professional cool, answering questions clearly, firmly and always with a focus on the team. He avoided most of the major pitfalls that the media lay before managers these days, always hungry for an embarrassing soundbite to throw at opposition management.
Suarez Saga: A
Liverpool did well in handling the ongoing summer Suarez saga. The only reason I feel they do not deserve an A+ is because of the rumored ambiguity regarding his contract's release clause. Too often Liverpool have seemed to be confused by the workings of European football, and the issue around the mysterious 40 million pound release clause, whether it existed or not - if it meant that 40 million required the team to notify Suarez or were forced to sell him - made Liverpool look like rookies in a deadly cutthroat world. Too much of this has gone on in recent years under FSG ownership with transfers failing due to bad paperwork, late dealings or whatever.
But this time Liverpool took a hard line stance and refused to sell the player they had stood beside for so long. I will not get into the morality of the above clause, who is right and who is wrong, nor will I try to define loyalty. It's too confusing for us mere mortals to comprehend. But clearly refusing to sell Suarez while he was serving his punishment for biting Ivanovich was the right decision.
His 31 goals, 2 player of the year awards certainly prove that.
This is by far the area that needs the most adjustment and attention, the most immediate improvements. Dalglish is credited (or discredited) with a horrible transfer record, having signed Downing, Cole (Joe, not Ashley), Carroll and Charlie Adam for big money contracts with big payouts to acquire their services. Henderson was purchased with a big price tag as well and seemed destined for pastures new up until this season, when he established himself as all around workhorse and central figure in Liverpool's midfield. While Dalglish is credited with having acquired Suarez, rumor has it that was more of a Hodgson deal orchestrated by the now England manager during the twilight days of his regime.
However FSG as a whole has a bad record in the transfer market, and Rogers has not done the best job he could have during his tenure as manager. It's impossible to determine exactly how much blame the Manager should shoulder given the mysterious 'transfer committee'. How much influence and power truly resides with the Manager is unclear, but one thing that is clear is that Rogers - like it or not- will shoulder the public image blame when transfers are unsuccessful.
Borini, Assaidi, Sakho, Toure, Cissokho, Moses, Aspas, Alberto, Illori have all failed to impress. While some, like Sakho, appear to have potential, others like Aspas, Alberto and Illori have failed to make any sort of impact on the first team at all. Cissokho, whose early showings were utterly abysmal, managed to improve, delivering workmanlike performances later in the season but was so glaringly deficient as a complete full back it's hard to imagine any scout worth his pay would have considered him ready - even on loan - to perform in the most difficult league in the world.
Carragher's departure at the end of the last season was felt more acutely than even the staunchest of Carrager fans could have anticipated. While his skills had diminished in recent seasons as his increase in grappling with players would indicate, his leadership, command of the field and knowledge of the ebb and flow of the game only improved. It is true he could not outpace most of the striker in the league anymore, or overpower the Carrolls of the league, his ability to see the game often had him in the right place at the right time BEFORE the time was necessary therefore removing the need to react to the game, and instead anticipating where he should be, what he should be doing. His leadership especially was sorely lacking this year, as time after time the defense looked confused and startled by a sudden turn of events on the pitch, unable to adjust, unclear how to perform. Gone were his shouted orders in a near hysterical falsetto, and the massive amount of goals shipped demonstrate that.
Toure had all the leadership abilities of Carragher, without the clout, consistency and reputation. Had Toure not made several horrible mistakes resulting in goals, I could have seen him being a stop gap measure, but alas it was not so.
Borini has impressed on loan at Sunderland, and I think he might be worth granting another run in the team. Assaidi should be sold to stoke for soda money.
Sturridge and Coutinho appear to be the biggest successes of the Rogers era, yet again it's difficult to know who is responsible and should take credit for their purchases. Was it Rogers's deft eye that found them, or the number crunching back-room transfer staff.
Allen and Mignolet have been moderately successful. Mignolet has been a solid option at the back, and looks to be improving and should be given time to settle in. Rogers and the committee's hands were forced when Riena's father came out talking about how his son was pining for a return to his beloved Barcelona. A keeper had to be bought, and Mignolet fit the profile of a first team regular younger keeper. While Begovic might have been better, Mignolet worked and has done well. Allen has grown and been impressive in his showings in the squad, coupling the workmanlike attitude of Henderson, with some of the flair and possession skill of Coutinho and the vision and accuracy of Gerrard. I think long term it could be Allen who takes over filling the skippers shoes (if only on the pitch and not the armband) in the future.
But improvements must be made in transfers, and they must be successful this summer. If Rogers is to firmly establish himself into Liverpool lore, then he must perform better - or force the transfer committee to perform better - at acquiring talent. While he may not have had the vast sums of money to work with of the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea or even United, one only has to look at the excellent record of Roberto Martinez (who was once rumored to be a candidate for the position now held by Rogers) to see a Manager doing well on a shoestring budget. While Rogers has spent money to the tune of over 20 million pounds on both Joe Allen and Sahko, those players have not lived up to expectations or at least their purchase prices.
In conclusion this has been an incredibly exciting season. Thrilling, pulse cranking and heart breaking all at the same time. Liverpool over performed and exceeded expectations.
I am already excited to see what next season brings.