LONDON – The noose is tightening round the neck of Brendan Rodgers. How long the Boston-based Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool, will stay loyal to its manager remains to be seen, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to put up a valid argument that Rodgers can take Liverpool forward.
The problem for John W. Henry, the Liverpool owner, is that once the fans turn on a manager, it is a long road back — a journey that is rarely completed. In a recent poll 87 percent believed Rodgers should go.
Social media has become the new barometer for supporters’ feelings while the boos than rang out at Anfield as Liverpool beat Carlisle United of League Two on penalties in the League Cup told their own story. The Liverpool fans were too embarrassed to celebrate victory.
Liverpool’s struggles are nothing new because taking into account the dismal end to last season the Reds have won only 16 points from their past 15 Premier League games which is almost relegation form.
The club has spent £300 million on 31 players in Rodgers’ three years as Liverpool manager. While Rodgers is only one member of the player recruitment panel, he knows the buck stops with him as only a handful of the recent arrivals can be classed as successful — a dreadful return.
Rodgers’ back-room staff paid the price for what most consider was the manager’s incompetence as they were fired and a new coaching team brought in during the summer. Liverpool goes into Saturday’s game against Aston Villa in 13th place and though ditching its manager so early in the season seems unlikely, defeat by a side that has an impressive record at Anfield would increase the pressure on Rodgers to an almost untenable level.
It is becoming more a question of when rather than if FSG pulls the trigger as Rodgers continues to walk a tightrope. When he arrived in 2012, Rodgers spoke about delivering attacking football, but after the side had failed to score more than one goal in 19 of the last 21 matches the manager had to admit it had lost its identity
In 18 months Liverpool has gone from being within a whisker of winning the Premier League to a mid-table side with Rodgers struggling to find his best team, tactics and formation. Liverpool denied it had contacted Carlo Ancelotti, who is available after leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season. The Italian has been a success wherever he has worked, but would not come cheaply, he would want his own coaching staff and most of all would ask himself whether Liverpool can once again become a real power in England and Europe.
If the Reds are to qualify for the Champions League, let alone win it, the process will not be a quick fix.
Rodgers is not the only Premier League manager facing the firing squad. Newcastle United’s Steve McClaren has the permanent look of someone who has run out of answers. Every news conference is Groundhog Day. “We were poor defensively, didn’t create enough chances . . . we’ll keep working to put it right.”
What else can you say when your side is abject, naive, lacking guts and pretty well everything and even loses at home to the reserve side of Championship club Sheffield Wednesday?
Football writers who cover Newcastle have almost run out of ways to criticize a club and a team that one fan website described as “diabolical, deplorable, dreadful, shocking, pitiful, pathetic, embarrassing, unbelievable, dismal, feeble, useless, awful, appalling, abysmal, shameful, astonishing, staggering, atrocious, inexcusable” after the League Cup loss. Message received and understood.
Upon the final whistle McClaren sent his players back to applaud and thank the fans who responded with boos after the side had managed just one shot on target against the Owls.
The Magpies have two points from six games and only Sunderland is below them in the table. They have scored three goals in the league this season, the lowest by any side in English senior football. Papiss Cisse, nominally second striker in a team which has scored only 14 goals in their last 21 league games, barely seems interested. Moussa Sissoko is way off form, while new signing Aleksander Mitrovic has been noticeable only for his yellow and red cards.
Newcastle spent £50 million in the summer to bring in the likes of Florian Thauvin, Chancel Mbemba, Gini Wijnaldum and Mitrovic. Thauvin, who cost £13 million from Marseille, turns up for games wearing a tuxedo which was not even funny the first time.
Despite its serial failures, Newcastle still averages around 50,000 each home game which underlines the fanaticism for football in the area, even for such an underachieving club. A new season, but the same old story. New players, but no improvement. For Newcastle, a new manager but the same failings — it has won four games during 2015 and one of those was against Northampton.
There is a losing mentality at Newcastle and McClaren’s recent form does not inspire confidence. He arrived at St. James’ Park on the crest of a slump from Derby, which seemed certain to win promotion last season yet somehow managed to blow it — McClaren has won just three of his last 21 games with both clubs.
Newcastle hosts a revitalized Chelsea on Saturday and he said: “I have told the players, ‘You can’t feel sorry for yourselves, you have to come out on Saturday and be a fighter or a victim’. It is one or the other and we can only have fighters out there now.
“We have the quality, but we are not producing it. It is hard to put your finger on why, but we have to find it. Whatever I say will never be enough to vindicate the performance and the result. The only thing we can do is to prepare for Chelsea.”
When he was appointed, McClaren said he wanted his side to be judged after 10 Premier League games. Six of those have gone without a hint that good or even average times are just round the corner.
After Chelsea, Newcastle plays Manchester City which would be eight down and two to go before judgement day.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5