In the aftermath of Liverpool’s 2-2 draw on Tyneside last weekend the large contingent of Liverpool support will no doubt have left St James Park slightly underwhelmed at having only taken a point from a match in which the Reds really should have taken all three on offer.
Whilst the point sent Brendan Rodgers’ men back to the summit of the Premier league table, albeit for the briefest of periods, the Northern Irishman was found in somewhat philosophical mood when asked afterwards just how high his side can expect to finish.
“We finished seventh last season and, in terms of finance and everything else, that jump to the top end is massive,” said Rodgers. “But we’ll continue to fight to get there. We now have a real strong culture and supporters can see the direction we’re heading in”
He spoke words which would have rung true in the ears of those embarking on a journey back along the M1 to their native Merseyside. There is something to admire about Rodgers’ realism when he talks about the harsh practicalities which a climb back to the summit of English football necessarily entails. Liverpool fans won’t have heard a Liverpool manager cite financial inferiority as a reason for not winning the league for at least two generations but Rodger’s perspective is, if you excuse the pun, bang on the money.
Anyone who cared to listen to a Rodgers press conference in his debut season as Liverpool manager could be forgiven for thinking they’d just been to a seminar on modern-day coaching rather than the pre-requisite to a Premier League game in which headlines are supposed to be produced for the attending hacks. Talk of “False nines” and “technicians” whilst reeling off statistical chances of winning a game portrayed a man still finding his way in what was undoubtedly his first big job. But Rodgers is much more circumspect these days. He went on to say,
“In terms of the money we’ve spent it’s nowhere near the top four or five clubs but Liverpool is one of the world’s great football institutions and we’re here to compete. We need to reply on our coaching and bringing players in who are hungry to succeed. We’re respecting the values and ethics of the club.”
Culture. Values. Ethics. It’s these intangible assets Rodgers knows all too well that money can’t buy. Rodgers may not have a bottomless pit of cash which he can use to simply point and get any player he likes the look of but it’s obvious he is building something at Liverpool of even greater value. It’s the mentality of the current squad that is perhaps the key feature of this resurgent Liverpool side. It’s a young squad that has quietly fallen into a habit of picking up points consistently. The beauty of a lot of Rodgers’ signings is that they each have something to prove. Coutinho was at risk of becoming Inter Milan’s own version of Dani Pacheco at one point. Sturridge couldn’t get a game at Chelsea and if he wasn’t being loaned out he was playing fleetingly on the flanks. Toure was deemed a “has been” at City at the age of 32 whilst Sakho had gone from club captain and France’s next Lillian Thuram to mere benchwarmer at PSG under Ancelloti.
Rodgers might be window shopping at a different store to some of his rivals but signing hungry players with a point to prove appears to be working, a fact he was all too keen to point out after seeing his side draw against Newcastle
“From January this year, our points gained places us in the top three. Hopefully that’s an indication we’re moving along well.”
It’s well documented that owner John Henry is a proponent of the “Moneyball” strategy when it comes to buying players and in Brendan Rodgers he as a man at the helm with a vision to put that into practice. Rodgers has done exceptionally well to manage expectations since his arrival seventeen months ago and in that way has helped relieve the pressure normally reserved for those in the Anfield hot seat. Liverpool might still look to spend big in January to try and deliver the attacking player Rodgers craved so badly in the summer. But coming away from Tyneside last weekend he seemed more than content with the quiet, almost unnoticed progress made in these past ten months.