Let’s start this off by acknowledging that in the world of modern football, there is nary a manager that isn’t in a hot seat. Results matter more than ever — thanks 24-hour news cycle — and any changes in management must produce results immediately. If they don’t, cutting your losses and moving on is the norm. It’s very much a world of “what have you done for me lately”.
So when a club does stick with a manager who isn’t consistently meeting expectations, his seat tends to burn hotter than the rest. Like an ant under a child’s magnifying glass, it sears from the focused heat of a thousand media pundits over analyzing every decision the manager occupying it does or doesn’t make. Fair or unfair, that’s the nature of the job.
Of course, certain jobs bring more pressure than others.
The seats of those attempting to guide one of Europe’s mega clubs — your Bayerns, Real Madrids or Barcelonas — are obviously permanently scorching. Expectations there are so high, even the mere thought of failure can crank up the heat on the man in charge. While the allure of leading one of the big boys is strong, the burns that can be suffered in the process can be severe. Anyone brave (foolish?) enough to take one of those jobs knows that going in. You don’t agree to take the job at Madrid and expect leniency from the fans, media, board and general public as you try to bed in your system. At the biggest of clubs, as Ricky Bobby’s father famously said, “If you’re not first, you’re last”.
Even hotter than the seats at the elite clubs, however, are those of the managers at clubs who were formerly big clubs.
Despite the rich histories many of Europe’s famous sides hold, not all of them have had the ability to forever stay at the top. Some of those big clubs have stumbled and recovered — think Manchester United — and others have never fully recovered. Sometimes they’re a victim of the leagues they play in, like an Ajax or Celtic. The Milan sides have suffered from local economic turn downs. And still others, well, they’ve done it to themselves.
The problem with all of that? While it might be easy to identify the outside factors that contributed to those previously big clubs’ falls from grace… their fans usually don’t care.
For the supporters of clubs in these positions, it’s glory or nothing else. Once you’ve tasted the sweet nectar of success, there’s no going back.
Every season where those previous heights aren’t scaled, the mount and heap further pressure on the club and the manager. And even when they do show signs of progress, there are still hurdles to overcome. There’s the obvious problem of still being measured against the massive achievements of those sides from the past. But there’s also the problem of the supporters taking those signs of progress and blowing them way out of proportion. As soon as things appear to get better, they expect the previous glories to be delivered immediately and forever more.
But thanks to those previously mentioned handicaps — economic, cultural or otherwise — the chances of actually returning the club to its previous heights is often impossible. Or at least really, really hard.
As such, the managers stuck trying to be the Sherpa guiding those troubled clubs back to the promised land bear the brunt of those pressures.
This, unfortunately, is the position that Brendan Rodgers currently finds himself in at Liverpool.
The Reds are undoubtedly still a big club, but not in the way that they used to be. They still have Anfield and the Kop, they still have a massive worldwide following, and they still are viewed as a big club. But things on the field? They’re far different.
Though they nearly missed out on the league title two seasons ago, Liverpool aren’t exactly a team that are viewed as favorites in every match any longer. As clubs like United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal have been able to maintain or improve their regular league finishes, the Merseysiders have slipped into upper-midtable purgatory with the likes of Everton and Tottenham. The epic comeback in Istanbul to lift the Champions League trophy happened over 10 years ago, and the previous four times they’ve lifted the cup are now over 30 years ago. And that twentieth league title, they’ve been saying “THIS IS THE YEAR!” for nearly a quarter century now.
Yet despite not being able to spend money like or attract the same type of player as a Bayern Munich or Manchester City or Barcelona, the desire of the fans to see Liverpool rake in the same type of trophies still burns as bright as ever.
Rodgers, who was promised and given the rare luxury of time to build his own squad, has mostly seesawed back and forth between meeting and failing to meet those lofty expectations. Yet whether or not the responsiblity for those successes and failures rests fully on the man in Liverpool’s particularly hot seat is still open for debate.
At times, Brendan Rodgers has seemed as if he’s been living up to his prodigious days at Swansea. He was able to partially tame the beast that was Luis Suárez, and get the most of an underachieving Daniel Sturridge. He cleaned house upon his arrival on Merseyside, ditching the likes of expensive signings like Andy Carroll at huge loses to employ a more attractive playing style. And he’s made some tactical switches that at times have been perfectly executed to correct some ills, such as switching to three at the back last year.
But there have also been times where Rodgers has looked completely out of his depth. His constant fidgeting with the formation has made it tough for the team to develop any sort of cohesive understanding or defined style. The team’s record against their direct competitors for silverware hasn’t exactly been sterling during his time in charge either. And some of his work in the transfer market — especially with Benteke’s arrival this past summer — seems to run contradictory to his own preferred playing styles.
Being truthful, given Liverpool’s financial outlays compared to the other top four rivals over the course of Rodgers’ spell in charge at Liverpool, the club are finishing roughly where they should.
Unfortunately for Rodgers though, the club’s own supporters and ownership won’t see that as an acceptable outcome.
So with the seat beneath him increasingly searing his buns, banners calling for his ouster being dragged over Anfield, #RodgersOut hashtags trending on Twitter, and rumors swirling in the back pages of the papers and the internet, all Rodgers can do is hope to finally find a winning formula and turn those occasional swings of good fortune into sustained momentum.