Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool Legacy Depends on Luis Suarez’s Future at Anfield

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(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

 

Just a few months ago, Liverpool fans were hurling vitriol Luis Suarez’s way for publicly expressing his desire to leave Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers was taking plaudits for the way he handled Suarez’s ultimate stay at Liverpool.

So for most Liverpool fans—and Rodgers himself, who has been full of praise about the quality, inventiveness and importance of the No. 7—Suarez’s fine current form is a welcome scenario and probably something that not many envisioned would still be taking place every week at Anfield.

Indeed, Suarez’s latest magician’s act on Saturday, with a thrilling hat trick against West Bromwich Albion, reaffirmed his fast rise as Liverpool hero again, and with six goals in just four league games, he’s quickly propelling himself up the league scorers’ chart, despite having had a delayed start due to his suspension.

Brendan Rodgers said after the match that he substituted his star striker—for that is what Suarez is, despite the continued protestations of top scorer Daniel Sturridge—so he could get an ovation from the supporters, according to ESPN, and continued his recent claims that Suarez is “better off” at Liverpool, after the public flirtations with Arsenal this summer.

And the way things are shaping up, Brendan Rodgers’ reign at Anfield—he’s almost halfway into his initial three-year contract—will be dependent on Suarez’s future at the club.

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The present form of the team has a lot to do with Rodgers’ current status in the eyes of Liverpool fans, and the present formation has a lot to do with that.

After several rounds of chopping and changing, and a few performances that delivered three points despite not playing in the fluid way we know his team could, Rodgers has, for now, settled on a variation of a 3-5-2 formation. (B/R’s Karl Matchett has more on the newly flipped midfield triangle and its importance in Liverpool’s most convincing display of the season.)

As Jamie Carragher pointed out in an absorbing analysis on Sky Sports, this 3-5-2 system allows Liverpool to play two of the league’s most devastating and in-form strikers up front and lets Sturridge and Suarez (now termed “SAS”) get right in the throats of opposing defenders.

And as soon as Suarez returned to the team, his form was too unstoppable to make him droppable, which was the reason Rodgers arrived at this formation in the first place. That Glen Johnson and Philippe Coutinho, on paper perfect fits for such a formation, were injured at the time were of no concern to Rodgers: SAS was simply too mouthwatering a prospect to not implement ahead of a fully fit squad.

We’ll leave the discussion of Coutinho’s role in a 1-2 midfield to a later time (and to get things started, check out Matchett’s article linked earlier in this piece), but SAS are so crucial to Liverpool’s successes this season that it’s nearly impossible to envision a starting XI at Anfield without the pair up front (except, of course, if injury strikes).

All’s well and good—and Liverpool are only third in the league table because of goal difference—but suddenly, just a few months after the possibility of weaning themselves off Suarez’s consistently distracting PR disasters, the club find themselves ever more dependent on the maverick Uruguayan forward.

Because, as has been made so apparent across all channels, it’s Suarez’s movement and unpredictability that allow Sturridge to go at defenders and do his own damage (and vice versa). It’s Suarez’s sheer presence that compels opponents to direct their attentions toward him and allows Sturridge to flourish. It’s Suarez’s partnership and telepathic understanding with Sturridge that allows the latter to continue his meteoric development and maturation into a world-class striker.

And it’s only just the beginning.

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The key, however, is that the early stages of such a promising partnership coincide with a defining season in Rodgers’ reign and in Liverpool’s short-term and medium-term future as a Premier League club.

It’s been well-documented that Liverpool need to return to the Champions League, and that this season is almost the perfect opportunity for them to achieve it, with the unpredictability of rival teams around them.

It’s also been well-documented that Liverpool needed Suarez all along to actually achieve their long-standing goal of getting back into the Premier League top four. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that they need Suarez to lead the line as one half of SAS to take them to the Promised Land.

But they also need Champions League football to secure Suarez’s long-term future at Liverpool Football Club. A player of his stature and ability could easily make a bigger and more instant impact at, say, Real Madrid than a certain world-record signing from north London.

Suffice it to say that Brendan Rodgers knows this. So while he adopted his hard-line stance in accordance with his bosses at Fenway Sports Group in the summer on Luis Suarez’s rumored departure, he’s turned his attentions to praising Suarez to the hilt since his return to first-team action.

Of course, Suarez’s excellent form and seemingly improved behavior on the pitch have helped things massively, but Rodgers’ Anfield legacy rests largely on Suarez’s future at the club. He finds himself in that curious dichotomy that he and Liverpool need Suarez more than he needs them, and keeping him in the summer only intensified such a one-way relationship.

Fail to qualify for the Champions League, and Luis Suarez may well leave for pastures new. And Rodgers would have to rebuild his side with just one half of SAS, starting nearly from scratch and competing against a formidable set of opponents in the Premier League for signings of Suarez’s influence and caliber.

By then, Rodgers would only have one year left on his contract. And Liverpool’s plans to return to the best club competition in the world will have been delayed yet again.

If he succeeds in bringing Champions League football back to Anfield, however, a Luis Suarez hungry to prove himself at that level with Liverpool could be just the start of a very beautiful symbiotic synergy with Rodgers in the position to fully harness it. If.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and other Premier League-related matters.

English Football Weekly: Week 9 Recap; Fergie’s Book; Grassroots Football

EPL Week 9 Recap: Suarez’s Hattrick, Torres’ Revival, Hart’s Blunder

Player of the weekend? Luis Suarez, without a doubt. Liverpool faced a West Brom team in good form and who had won their last three fixtures against the Reds, expecting a rough ride, but their “flipped midfield triangle” (in Rodgers jargon) worked a treat against the visitors. And with a trademark nutmeg and finish, a header Andy Carroll would’ve been proud of, and a predatory finish from a precise Steven Gerrard free kick, Suarez delivered a striker’s masterclass at Anfield on Saturday to blow the Baggies away. Daniel Sturridge’s fourth wasn’t too shabby either.

The original Liverpool striking hero is doing pretty well too. Fernando Torres has upped his game at Chelsea this season under strong competition from Samuel Eto’o (but not Demba Ba) and continued his resurgence with an all-action display against Manchester City. Sure, he delivered a now-trademark close-range miss, but he made up for it with an excellent turn of pace and strength to dispose of Gael Clichy to set up Andre Schurrle’s goal, and capitalized on City’s defensive mix-up to continue Jose Mourinho’s excellent record at Stamford Bridge.

But we also need to talk about Joe Hart. Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago that he was earmarked as the next best keeper in the world? It’s been an alarming drop in form in the past year or so, but never with as big an implication as now. Because last year City coasted to a runners-up place, and now Hart has continually dropped precious points this season, making him one of City’s biggest liabilities on the pitch. Which won’t help Manuel Pellegrini in what’s been a challenging first season in a club with the highest of expectations. January needs to come sharpish.

There was also Sunderland’s thrilling Tyne-Wear derby win over Newcastle on Sunday, in which Fabio Borini, on loan from Liverpool, scored an outstanding long-range strike to seal the points in Gus Poyet’s first home game with the Black Cats, who have quadrupled their points total for the season with the win. Southampton and Everton continued their excellent starts to the season with a pair of 2-0 wins, taking them to fifth and sixth in the table, in the process establishing themselves as strong challengers for the European places. A thrilling few months to come.

 

Fergie reminisces about a time gone by

A few months after Sir Alex Ferguson departed Old Trafford with the fondest adulations and fresh memories of all the right things he’s done in his 26 years as Manchester United boss, he comes out with a book that has it all—but will only be remembered for the wounds he’s opened up again, the fights he’s decided to pick even after retirement, and the dressing room secrets he wasn’t supposed to spill.

As a man management and motivator, Ferguson rarely got things wrong. He kept the spotlight firmly on himself and manipulated the media (and his rivals) to an extent that he enjoyed near totalitarian domination (and admiration) from everyone in football. To be sure, there’s plenty of the managerial insights in his autobiography that will be interesting add-ons to the interviews he’s done as a subject for publications focusing on management and success.

The cynical, petty and no-holds-barred side also shines through. We’d always looked forward to the relevations behind David Beckham and Roy Keane’s departure from Old Trafford, but never did we expect so much dirt to be aired. We’d always expected barbs at old rivals Liverpool and Rafa Benitez, but never did we think he’d call Steven Gerrard “not a top, top player.”

But in describing his managerial philosophy—that no one should be bigger than the manager at a football club, and once any player violated that rule, he was moved on—Ferguson also writes about an era that is fast slipping away. With the exception of Arsene Wenger, who enjoys near-total control at Arsenal, English football is moving into the 21st century of corporatism, with brands, reputations, marketing, profits and spectacle in mind.

The Manchester United after him was always going to be markedly different, whether David Moyes became the next manager or not. In time, Ferguson’s book may be seen as a time capsule of an obsolete style of football management.

 

England’s grassroots football needs more than just facilities

Last week, it was announced that the Premier League, UK government and Football Association committed £102m to improving grassroots football facilities, which, in light of the recent opening of St. George’s Park and the increased emphasis on youth development and organized football, was encouraging news to all involved in English football.

Whether this means the end of pick-up football in a neighboring park with shirts as goalposts is still up in the air—though I’d surely lament the loss of organic football centered on just having fun—but with the advent of organized football coaching for kids up and down the country, and all across the world, this is the next wave of grassroots football finally arriving on English shores.

But what England really needs is more than just facilities. They already have arguably the best in the world on that front, but it’s not translating into on-field successes. We’ll leave the debate on whether a strong Premier League and a strong English national team are mutually exclusive for later, but to really inspire a generation of outstanding young footballers, there needs to be a revamp in coaching, club academies and footballing culture across all levels.

It means youth coaches—the most important in a young footballer’s journey to the top—need to focus less on winning games and more on team play, passing, movement and flair. It means that kids need to be encouraged to take risks and try new moves. It means that kids need to have the right platforms and competitions to play in during their rise through the ranks. This could lead to a remodeling of the reserve system to inject, say, an Arsenal B in League One (though the U21 Premier League has been a major upgrade over the defunct reserve system), but should definitely lead to a cultural reformation that prizes improvisation, technique and creativity over the clichéd “heart and guts” that the English are now stereotyped for.

The coaching and the culture are at the center of grassroots football, not facilities. Brazil grew generation after generation of World Cup winners on the streets, not fancy million-pound youth academies.

 

This piece was part of my weekly column on SWOL.co, where I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League and domestic cup action, related talking points and news surrounding English football at large.