Brendan Rodgers’s Carroll-conundrum

Brendan Rodgers needs to tread carefully. Despite learning part of his trade under the most media-savvy coach of all in Jose Mourinho, he has taken a few overly hasty steps in his handling of the Andy Carroll affair that could yet come back to haunt him. His recent about-face regarding Carroll’s utility to his plans (“he can fit into how I want to play…I’m certainly not wishing to push him out of the door”) has come off as indecision from a man who only last week implied that Carroll had no place in his tactical vision for Liverpool and would be better off seeking a loan route out of the club.

It is all very well for Rodgers to wish to stamp his authority on Liverpool early on by demonstrating firm commitment to his cherished 4-3-3 and acting decisively regarding the club’s most contentious player, but if Carroll cannot be moved on to everyone’s satisfaction and Liverpool fail to make a winning start, Rodgers’s unnecessary granting of the impression upon the public that there is an unsolvable problem between him and Carroll will be held up as the reason for his failure. Every occasion on which Carroll comes off the bench, fails to perform on the pitch, or doesn’t even make the squad, will haunt Liverpool’s team and Rodgers for as long as it needs them to adapt to a radically new system in 4-3-3 and start silencing critics with results. Doubt is easier and faster to spread than faith, and it would be catastrophic for Rodgers if the fans or players began forming opinions of him based on the media’s negative portrayal of his problems with Carroll. That would translate to a critical reluctance on the part of the players to help inculcate the 4-3-3, and the longer that takes, the more chance the swell of criticism would grow and the potentially exciting things Rodgers could offer Liverpool could be buried under their £35 million problem. Carroll does not look like a person who makes things easy for those who stand up to him, and after Rodgers’s ill-advised comments, his continued presence at Liverpool could overshadow everything he seeks to build at his new club.

Andre Villas-Boas’s travails at Chelsea serve as a useful reminder to Rodgers of the pitfalls of being a young manager at a club with history and an inclination for snap judgements. As a young manager seeking to implement a drastically new system, he needed players on his side and results to go his way for belief to grow and conformity to follow. Instead, Chelsea had an indifferent first half of the season and his falling out with Frank Lampard and other senior players became more of an issue than the good work he had to offer. Rodgers needs to avoid the same impulsiveness on all fronts of his management approach if he is to bring longevity and change to Liverpool.