Everything in life is relative to what it’s measured against and when it comes to football, this is more apparent than in any other sport. Whilst success for some is maintaining the status quo, to others that is the epitome of failure. Progress has become a dirty word uttered in a seductive tone to lure doubters into bed, patience is the anthithesis of achievement and the modern football fan is a confusing concoction of contradiction, misconception and arrogance.
As Liverpool Football Club searches for a new direction under a new management structure, a glance at Twitter exposes why it has become so difficult to measure success and quantify achievement. For some, the past season for Liverpool has represented progress (there’s that dirty word again); 8th place in the Premier League is offset by reaching two cup finals and winning one. For others, the league form was simply unacceptable. Finishing so far behind fourth placed team Tottenham and watching Newcastle United outperform the team whilst spending less money to do so is hard to stomach.
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, your argument will seem correct to you. That is the problem with modern day football. Whilst some hark back to the old days of patience and perseverance, of calm and intelligent planning, others subscribe to the microwave-style instant success achieved by clubs such as Chelsea. There is nothing wrong with either method. Whilst some deride Chelsea for spending their way to the top, the simple truth is their recent successes have served to justify their methods. This does not mean that the Chelsea way is the best way for every club seeking to hotshot itself straight to the top, owners of football clubs have to carefully consider the best method to achieve their goals with their club.
We have heard numerous whispers about the structure Fenway Sports Group, the owners of Liverpool, are attempting to put together at the club. A technical director is speculated as well as an administrative director, all whilst the search for a new permanent manager is carried out. This has caused a lot of debate amongst Liverpool fans and served to cause some to look at Fenway Sports Group suspiciously. Sacking a club legend will always cause unease amongst a fan base and when the club legend is one that has given so much to the club as Kenny Dalglish has given to Liverpool, it’s understandable that some find it very difficult to accept.
But Liverpool is a football club in need of change. It’s a football club that has, for too long, been weighed down by the romance of its history and achievements; its legacy has fastly become a straightjacket. “The Liverpool Way” is a statement that is often brandished about when anything happening internally within Liverpool is brought into the public forum however this only serves to preserve a notion that has been lost. There are demands within modern football that do not sit well with some who look back longingly to the past but modernisation is essential to survival.
Whilst Liverpool cannot compete with the financial muscle of Manchester City and Chelsea, it can use the tools at its disposal to level the playing fields as much as possible. The increase in commercial income is one element of that but another important element is setting up a modern managerial structure that allows the club to maximise the knowledge and connections of important individuals within the football world. The role of a technical director/director of football is something that is always seen with negative connotations in England however it’s essential to fluidly running a football club. Whilst managers will come and go, technical directors work towards maintaining a constant direction for the club. This allows a football club to be more flexible as a manager leaving does not have the drastic effect it can normally have.
We have all seen certain managers leave football clubs and the club struggle to recover. Whilst the managers own skills and abilities should be appreciated, a great deal of this is due to the control and influence given to some managers at some clubs. This leads to a situation where losing a manager does not only mean losing the guy coaching your players, but also the guy who has formulated the plans for the season(s) ahead. Having intelligent and knowledgeable people working above the manager helps to negate this to some extent; clubs with a proper structure are able to transition from one manager to the next whilst maximising their potential for continued success.
This is where we come to the problem that is Rafael Benitez. The campaign to bring him back to the club has reached a disturbing level with some supporters setting up a website to urge FSG to “talktorafa”. I freely admit to not being a Benitez fan. But that does not play a part in me suggesting that Benitez is not the right fit of manager for the structure FSG are apparently attempting to put together. Benitez is a polarising character, politically savvy with a cult like following. The link between a technical director and a manager is important as the two spend most of their time together debating important decisions. The last thing FSG needs at a point where the future of the club is at stake, is the possibility of seeing a structure they have put together failing because of a personality clash.
This does not mean FSG require a “yes” man. Simply put, Liverpool needs a manager who understands the structure he is working within and is fully committed to that. Benitez’s history has proven him to be a manager who likes to control a lot of elements at a football club including the academy and that is something that would fall under the remit of the technical director and whomever he appoints specifically for that role.
I have my personal preference as to who I believe the next Liverpool manager should be. However, that is not important. What is important is whoever is appointed to the role deserves to be fully supported by the board, the management structure and the fans in order for the club to transition into a new era. Liverpool football club needs to lose its corner shop mentality or spend the next 10 years struggling to catch the likes of Spurs and Newcastle, let alone the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal.