By Carl Thames
Being Liverpool’s manager is fraught with expectations. The owners expect wins and trophies, not to mention a return on their investment. The supporters go further, demanding the wins and a return to prominence in England and Europe. While no one can see into the mind of Brendan Rodgers, these two sets of expectations likely pale to those he has set for himself.
The management of these expectations will prove to be Rodgers’ most difficult task, at least in the short term. It is not so long ago that Liverpool went to three major cup finals in the span of three seasons, winning two. A second place finish in the league is even closer in the memory. All of this occurred two managers and one ownership before Rodgers, but those expectations remain. The hundred million pound outlay of 2011 by the current ownership regime ultimately did not produce enough of a return against the expectations to allow Kenny Dalglish to continue as manager, despite a pair of domestic cup final appearances with a league cup title.
It is early days of course, but so far Rodgers has done a commendable job at keeping the various forms of expectations under as much control as he can manage. The overall level of performance is increasing as the team comes to grips with the new style of play, a style that is a far cry from the Liverpool of Benitez, Hodgson, and Dalglish. While the team remains too reliant on one man to actually bang in the goals, the amount of chances generated per game bodes well for the long term.
Most interestingly, Rodgers has shown a willingness to bring up the youth brigade and let them loose in major matches. Raheem Sterling has gone from “oh man he’s gonna be good, just you wait” to first team regular in the blink of an eye. Andre Wisdom, Suso, and Jonjo Shelvey have all taken their chances in the first team and done well enough to cement a place in the squad. Managing the expectations for these youngsters will be critical for the long term success of Rodgers and his project, as for every successful player to come out of the ranks at any club are a score of maybes, should haves, and ought tos. For the first time in a while, there is less fear over the future of a Liverpool beyond Steven Gerrard than ever before.
Of course, now with all of this seeming to come together Rodgers has again had to manage the expectations, stating that bettering last year’s finish of 8th would be an achievement. His realism is a much needed breath of fresh air around Anfield after too many false dawns. The sun is not quite up yet for Liverpool but the darkness does appear to be losing its grip.