Rodgers puts youth at the centre of his Liverpool plan
Change is afoot at Anfield. While there has been much excitement since the encouraging performance against Manchester City, one does well to remember that Liverpool started last season playing attractive football as well, only for a lack of goals to doom their league campaign to mediocrity. Change was required, and this is why Brendan Rodgers is there now.
John Henry and Tom Werner have charged Rodgers with the significant task of changing the culture of the club. For that, he needs time, patience and luck, but perhaps more importantly a clear plan, and an iron will to see it through. Time will tell whether it works or not, but the good news for Liverpool is that Rodgers seems to have that template.
The 180-page dossier Rodgers handed to Henry and Werner at the start of the season has been written about at length, and will no doubt turn into a stick with which to beat him if things go south. However, one of the key elements of that dossier was a focus on youth.
Rodgers said: “The vision is simple – to win the most trophies we can. That’s the bigger picture. The second is to play attractive, attacking football, and the third is to bring through as many of the young players as we possibly can.”
By selecting Raheem Sterling for his first league start against the champions last weekend, Rodgers showed that he wasn’t merely talking in the abstract. While Mike Calvin was quite right to preach caution about Sterling’s selection, it demonstrated a commitment to a plan.
He is not being an idealist in this sense. He is not trying to recreate the perennial ‘stars of tomorrow’ philosophy of Arsène Wenger. In fact, Rodgers recognises that if a club is to change, the easiest way to do it is through youth. Youngsters are more malleable, more open to new ideas than older players who are more set in their ways, more resistant to change, something André Villas-Boas discovered to his cost at Chelsea last season. As Rodgers says, youngsters will “run through a barbed wire fence for you”.
It’s also a pragmatic choice that in some ways has been forced upon Rodgers. He freely admits that, partly thanks to the great spending spree of 2011, he has little money available, but what money he does have has gone on youth – new arrivals Oussama Assaidi, Nuri Sahin, Joe Allen and Fabio Borini are 24, 23, 22 and 21 respectively. Beyond that, he must make use of what resources he has available. As well as Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey’s reputation continues to grow, one hopes Martin Kelly will have a season clear of injuries, and, dare his name be mentioned, even Jordan Henderson is only 22.
These are young players who have yet to be significantly influenced, are yet to have strong footballing ideas planted in their heads and are thus theoretically prime candidates for Rodgers to mould into his own image.
It has become common to draw comparisons between Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox, but it may not have been a coincidence that just this past weekend, Henry and Werner’s baseball giants ‘pressed the reset button’, by getting rid of their three highest-paid players and biggest names in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, in order to save money (some $260m over the next few years) to build for the future.
“We are not who we want to be right now,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “We feel like our best teams, in the past and moving forward, will be ones that are where we can integrate young players into the team.”
Liverpool are looking to do a similar thing, looking to shift their high-earners in order to use the financial freedom to build towards Rodgers’ ideal. Liverpool are not who they want to be right now, and like the Red Sox they are trying to change it.
The faith in youth plan might succeed, it might fail, it might end up somewhere in the middle, but at present Rodgers knows this is the best and most sensible course to take.
You can read more of Nick’s excellent insight on Football365, the brilliant football website he is the deputy editor of.
Follow Nick Miller on Twitter @NickMillerF365
Follow Life’s A Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesapitch
Watch Liverpol live on BT Vision:
Liverpool v Hearts, 7.30pm, 30 August, ESPN
Liverpool v Arsenal, 1pm, 2 September, Sky Sports 1
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it