The owners FSG may have to convince such as Pep Guardiola that the Anfield job is still one to covet
Dave Whelan’s rentaquote tendencies appear to have created the impression that Roberto Martínez is the frontrunner for the Liverpool job, though Fenway Sports Group are spreading their net wider than the Wigan manager – much wider. In fact any shortlist that contains Martínez and Brendan Rodgers, plus Jürgen Klopp, Didier Deschamps, André Villas-Boas, Fabio Capello and Pep Guardiola is not really a shortlist at all, more of a supermarket sweep of all Europe’s brightest young managers.
Correction – Capello may be bright but he is not young. The Italian is four years older than Kenny Dalglish, only five years younger than Sir Alex Ferguson and, given that Liverpool are understood to be looking for a manager with enough of his career ahead of him to invest a significant chunk of it in a major overhaul, the former England manager’s inclusion on the wish list is surely a red herring. Capello would be a better fit at Chelsea, where he knows half the players, could retune the squad with a couple of key changes and where managers last only a season or two anyway.
The rest of the Liverpool targets, even Guardiola, all fit the bill of young, talented types who could devote several years to a project that could potentially define their careers. It could be argued that anything Guardiola does after Barcelona would constitute a step down, though putting Liverpool back on their perch, to borrow a phrase of Ferguson’s, is an invitation that ought to excite any ambitious manager with a belief in his own ability. There are snags, of course; there always are when the best jobs become available.
The residual affection for Dalglish may prove a problem for any relatively untried young manager trying to step into his shoes and after the money that has already been spent there can be no certainty that the club’s American owners will provide the funding necessary to compete with Manchester City and the leading London clubs.
Yet with due respect to Dalglish Liverpool have just finished in their worst league position for 18 years and have been brutally described by Whelan, who appears to have an opinion on everything, as a club with no heart. The scope for improvement is obvious and, if you are a manager who has just led Swansea comfortably into mid-table at the first attempt, or delivered back-to-back Bundesliga titles within four years of your appointment at Borussia Dortmund, the chance to join up with one of Europe’s truly great clubs and write your name into Liverpool’s glorious history ought to be irresistible.
That is what the brochure will say, even if Rodgers has already ruled himself out. In reality you would be Liverpool’s fourth manager in four seasons, in charge of an expensively assembled team that finished 37 points behind the two Manchester sides, with only limited funds to rebuild and attempting to please an audience that, brought up to expect success, has proved impatient with anything that smacks of a small-club mentality or a departure from tradition.
Klopp in particular, in charge of a side regularly watched by 80,000 at the biggest stadium in Germany, may regard Anfield as a relatively puny field of dreams and the ongoing uncertainty over Liverpool’s new ground is just one more reason to view the FSG revolution with caution.
Dalglish never used to complain about Anfield because it was his spiritual home but, if Liverpool are talking about bringing in a coach from Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund, they are going to have to sell him the element of downscaling quite carefully. Anfield remains a grand old place to go to but even by English standards it is holding Liverpool back in terms of matching the revenue generated by the Emirates, the Etihad or Old Trafford, which was the reason the original owners sought foreign investment in the first place.
The present foreign owners do not seem able to make up their mind about whether to go for a value pick, in the form of a comparatively untried and inexpensive managerial candidate such as Martínez or Rodgers, or whether only proven title-winners need apply.
There is little logic to claiming Guardiola is the preferred choice but placing Rodgers on the same list and perhaps the Swansea manager has been quite clever in saying thanks but no thanks.
Equally, if you start out by letting it be known you are in the market for someone with title-winning experience, it seems odd to sound out Martínez, who for all his brightness and personability, is chiefly famous for avoiding relegation. Yet stick to the title-winning criterion and Villas-Boas heaves into view. Winning a title and the Europa League with Porto did not seem to prepare the Portuguese for life at Chelsea and, given his faltering start in England, a move to Liverpool would make even less sense.
Second-guessing FSG is quite difficult in view of their apparent inability to identify the exact type of manager they require, though assuming Guardiola remains out of reach, Klopp would perhaps be the most exciting appointment, if he would be willing to take on the challenge. Martínez does not lack a willingness to take on any challenge but for that to work either Liverpool would have to discover patience or results would have to go right from day one, not something that ever seemed to happen at Wigan.
The most obvious choice for Liverpool, however, has received hardly a mention. Alan Pardew’s season at Newcastle could have been a sequel to the Moneyball movie: excellent results on a limited budget achieved through inspired scouting and progressive management. No, Pardew has not won a title either but he made far more of the Andy Carroll revenue than Liverpool have made of Andy Carroll. That ought to count for something. In fact Liverpool fans would probably prefer FSG to talk to Newcastle’s chief scout rather than Martínez or Villas-Boas. If he could bring Papiss Cissé or Hatem Ben Arfa along with him, so much the better. Pardew may not have been a top manager 12 months ago but he is now. He is manager of the year, no less. The real question is whether Liverpool is still a top job.