The Challenges Facing the Next LFC Manager

The Challenges Facing the Next LFC Manager
May 28, 2012 Paul Tomkins

Whether or not FSG get right the decision on the next Liverpool manager – only time will be the judge of that – I’m pretty sure that a thorough process will have been undertaken, even if it wasn’t completely exhaustive. Some top names rejected the chance to join a club in flux, and other top names, for whatever reason, weren’t approached.

With an average finishing position of 7th over the past three seasons, FSG clearly felt it was time to be bold and implement their original plan, even if many fans are struggling to get in tune with their ideas. It certainly didn’t work with what they inherited, and it didn’t quite work with what the fans had asked for.

Even if fans don’t agree with the decision to part with Kenny, at least it was swift once the season ended. Previous managerial appointments have taken place between mid-June (Houllier and Benítez), and the start of July (Hodgson).

I like what I’ve heard about the proposed new structure of the football side of things, but of course, it’s who fills those positions that will make all the difference.

My understanding, based on reading between the lines, is that the Director of Football role will now be more like baseball’s General Manager (the most important role, according to those who follow the sport), as is also the case with certain European football clubs, with a Technical Director helping ensure a clarity of vision across all levels of the club. (Gareth Roberts has written an astute piece on Liverpool following the Lyon model.)

In such a system, the manager – who become more like a head coach, but with some say in transfers – is given a lot of support, and not left to run things on his own. He picks the team and determines the tactics – which is why a manager with a strong tactical vision is being sought – but isn’t able to radically alter the playing staff on a whim.

The idea of such an approach is that, as well as sharing the load, it will limit mistakes made due to human error (akin to the purpose of a co-pilot and navigator on a commercial jet). Problems arise if the men in this ‘team above the team’ don’t agree on a single vision, have personality clashes, or make half-baked compromises to satisfy one another.

Liverpool want to tap into the benefit of (intelligent) crowds; but must avoid groupthink. It may mean choosing against a single visionary leader – the style we are accustomed to, ever since the days of Shankly – because of the risks associated with it turning out to be the wrong vision (as seen a few times since, most notably with Souness and Hodgson).

The smart money (as well as Dave Whelan’s) appeared to be on Roberto Martinez as manager. (Whelan does so much talking in the media he should have his own chat show; clearly he has an agenda, and shouldn’t necessarily be trusted.) Now there’s talk of Martinez ruling himself out via a press conference.

Other reports suggest that John Henry will fly to England to meet at least two further candidates. (Who are FSG talking to? Look here.)

But if Dave Whelan is right, this will not be the Martinez of Wigan, because he will have more money and much better players (Ever since Martinez arrived, Wigan have operated at a loss in the transfer market, having given previous managers more money). Similarly, it wouldn’t be the Brendan Rodgers of Swansea. After all, Liverpool didn’t inherit the Bill Shankly of Workington and Huddersfield.

Should the new manager be one of Martinez or Rodgers, he’d have to deal with a different kind of pressure, of course, but if things start off well, he’ll have a far larger crowd behind him and his team. (If the start is poor … well, more on that later.)

As I’ve noted before, Martinez’s approach is much more progressive than that of Roy Hodgson – whose percentage football is better for minnows but less ‘up-scalable’ – so I don’t see the comparison as valid. But Martinez still has a hell of a lot to prove.

My sense is that Martinez may possess the ability to do just that, but without knowing him personally, or having watched Wigan regularly, I can’t say for sure.

At just 38, he has already achieved more than most managers his age, having restructured and resurrected Swansea – taking charge at the age of 33 and leading them to the League One title, and leaving a year later having almost taken them into the play-offs at his first attempt; and, more recently, has kept Wigan in the Premier League despite diminishing funds. His recent tactical switch to 3-4-3 was inspired, but of course, none of this screams “future Liverpool manager”.

However, some of the most successful bosses in history have come from ‘nowhere’ to lead bigger clubs to success, including the aforementioned Shankly, Rafa Benítez (when appointed at Valencia), Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho (pre-Porto he’d only managed União de Leiria, bar a brief 11-game stint at Benfica, which itself was his first ever managerial role), and Kenny Dalglish, in 1985.

Jurgen Klopp, who I’d love to see as our manager, got the Dortmund job based on getting lowly Mainz 05 promoted to the Bundesliga, into the Uefa Cup, and then relegated, and could not get them back up again. Yet at Dortmund he has created a thrilling side, and won back-to-back titles with breathless football.

Every case is different, and it’s about a transferable approach and mentality, and finding the correct club with the right support network. So I don’t think it has to be based on past success, but future promise; so long as that promise is correctly identified.

Andre Villas-Boas has the necessary tactical ability, but other question marks remain, and most reports now suggest that he’s been ruled out. (But this is like the hokey-cokey in terms of the candidates’ supposed interest, and the club’s interest in them.)

Brendan Rodgers, if he returns to the running, is like Martinez and Villas Boas, in that he’s in his 30s, deeply analytical in his approach and in favour of passing football.

Swansea’s style has perhaps been overplayed, given that their incredible possession stats involve a lot of deep recycling, but as with Martinez, the tactics may prove more potent when upscaled. The main difference is that at Liverpool (at home especially), if you pass the ball around in deep areas, the opposition will be delighted; it’s passing in the final third that counts – but better players can help you do that.

Whoever gets the job, as well as discovering a number of benefits, will have a few obstacles to overcome. Here are a few that I can foresee:

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