Niranjan Kuppan & Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan
Andy S Grove, Intel’s former CEO, writes in his award winning book Only the Paranoid Survive that “The Person who is the star of the previous era is often the last one to adopt to change, the last one to yield to logic of a strategic inflection point, and tends to fall harder than most”.
A strategic inflection point, he goes on to describe, is “a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end”.
It is fair to say that football clubs, these days, can be looked up on as businesses – ones that thrive on investment, by virtue of which trophies and fans are won. Most football clubs have built their successes based on their past, historical times during which the breath of a club was stronger than its bank balance.
The bank balance of a club, today, plays as much a role in its success as it has always done in a sport like Formula One. Catheram and Marusia, for instance, struggle because they aren’t financially as sound as some of their other competitors, and the entire cycle is influenced as a result of that. If money can buy success these days, it is important to have the right people who put the money in to good use.
Football isn’t very dis-similar. With a plethora of investors throwing their currencies on clubs across Europe, clubs are increasingly becoming aware of the need to spend big, and more importantly, spend wise. Gone are those days where one could point fingers at the likes of Manchester City, or Chelsea, or PSG. Their argument would be simple – they’ve invested the money a lot more wisely than some of the other ‘big’ clubs.
This brings me back to what Andy S Grove stresses, repeatedly, in his book. When a business achieves success, the investment comes in. The leader of the organization is expected to put the money in to good use assessing the business circumstances – market needs, competition, future trends and so on and so forth.
There’s an interesting analogy that leaders use – that a great leader would have a microscope in one eye, and a telescope in the other. Try it and I’ll be surprised if you don’t get a headache. What this means is: a leader is aware of the short term goals that the business needs to achieve, yet aware of the long term vision for the organization.
In footballing terms, a long term vision could be to improve the standards of a club’s academy thereby nurturing players who would become first team regulars in the long run. Or investing in young talent, through the help of a scouting system, from outside the club before their market value exponentially rises. This would save a lot of costs in the long run because the primary needs are being served by the organization from within.
A short term vision, on the other hand, would be taking the necessary measures to ensure that for the following season, the resources are intact to match the club’s success over the previous year, if not out-perform. These could be players who fill in to address a void due to the loss of a key resource, or coaches that provide valuable back-room addition to improve on aspects where there were noticeable deficiencies.
Let me get to the point. Liverpool FC find themselves at the helm of an inflexion point. The success that the 2013-14 season had bought the club, instead of leap-frogging a desire to reach higher standards, has sent the club on a roller coaster ride, in reverse gear.
I am not seeking an opportunity to blamestorm here, I am a fan, and I will always ride through the highs and lows of the Liverpool family. What bemuses me, though, is a set of aberrant errors made by, understandably, a manager at the start of his career – very young by footballing standards.
So let us begin with the long term vision. Liverpool’s academy has historically been a renowned one that has seen its graduates, to quote a few from the contemporary era, like Owen, Fowler, Gerrard, Carragher and Sterling, albeit through different circumstances, rise to great heights in the footballing circles. There is sufficient evidence to support the fact that the yesteryear managers of Liverpool FC, even until the likes of Houllier and Benitez had a strong team marshalling the academy to churn our first team material graduates.
Although the academy can’t be faulted for its deficiencies, it is clear that Rodger’s inclination towards not using them points our fingers towards two possible explanations: one, that the support system that once existed through the likes of ex-Liverpool players, Steve Heighway and Phil Thompson for instance, has robbed the academy of the passion that otherwise would’ve been driven through men who knew the club best.
The other explanation could be his own reluctance, for reasons he knows best. We aren’t qualified to comment on this, nevertheless, this will rob Rodgers off one of a characteristic that could have otherwise backed him during these turbulent times. Every football fan derives great pleasure from seeing their academy graduates being tested on the biggest arena – regardless of whether they succeed or fail.
There’s still hope on players like Flanagan, Ibe, Wisdom and Rossiter who will be expected by the fans to feature in greater prominence in the seasons ahead. This does not deter fans from questioning some of Rodger’s decisions to invest in the transfer market, heavily, on players who are similar to those graduating from the academy with promise. Joao Carlos Tiexiera and Suso are examples of creative, attacking talent who could have been nurtured, instead of investing for similar roles heavily in the transfer market.
This brings us to the short term vision. Given the ascent to Champions league football, and fuelled ambitions that called for the Premier League title after over two decades worth of wait, there were two concerns that the club had to address: lack of squad depth, and replacing arguably the best player of the Premier League over the course of the 2013-14 season.
Metaphorically, Steven Gerrard may be the engine of the team, but the team wouldn’t have run had it not been for Suarez and his extraordinary feats. It would be unfair to question Rodgers tactics of investing heavily around other positions – yes, the squad did need the depth but not without replacing the engine. It hardly matters if an aeroplane has a new landing gear – the engine needs to be new, if not newly overhauled.
Blame it on Liverpool’s recent branding as a second tier footballing city, Rodgers’ experience, rather the lack of it, as a manager of a top football club or the reluctance to spend big on a particular player, the summer transfer window of Liverpool FC resembled that of Spurs last season. Failure to learn from Tottenham’s debacle of trying to replace Bale with an extra team bus had fuelled comparisons sooner than say, at the end of the season.
Rodgers would wish he could eat his words from last year when he’d, arrogantly so, stated that any team that had spent over a 100 million should be competing for the title. He finds himself sailing the same boat, raising more questions than answers to the ever-demanding audience of the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger, despite his record of signing young talents, invested in experienced players who could deliver from day one – over the last few years, names like Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud resonate with this theme.
Rodgers, on the other hand, barring an unwanted Balotelli, and Lallana, cannot claim to have signed ‘first team material’. This would beg the question as to why Liverpool were unable to sign a ‘marquee player’ this summer to take over Suarez’s mantle. Whether you blame it on Rodgers ambition, rather the lack of it, or the brand value Liverpool carries today, the manager is answerable.
To sum it up, Rodgers’ failings over the last few months is indicative of a ship that is about to hit an iceberg. What is clear now is that the iceberg is visible, the question is: who is going to steer the ship away from an impending disaster?
Onwards and upwards.