Klopp not the cure

Klopp not the cure
PHOTO: AFP

When an over-eager Brendan Rodgers arrived for his job interview in 2012, all bright-eyed and polished teeth, it was a match made in Moneyball heaven.

He arrived at Anfield not with a bulging trophy cabinet or an illustrious resume, but with a 180-page dossier.

Rodgers was a studious technocrat.

He was just what the American owners were looking for.

In stark contrast to Kenny Dalglish's archaic guff about "the Liverpool way", a quaint notion lost on the Bostonian businessmen, Rodgers had a head for figures.

He was a modern man of science, of numbers, of calculations and profit projections. He was everything the American owners needed to make their Moneyball philosophy succeed and nothing Liverpool wanted.

Rodgers is gone, but the philosophy remains. And the wooing of Juergen Klopp softens the alarm bells, but does not silence them.

His remarkable track record at Borussia Dortmund obviously appeals to John W Henry and Tom Werner. He made youth development the cornerstone of his recruitment policy, partly because it was idealistic, but mostly out of necessity.

He raised them, nurtured them and sold a couple on for profit. Pragmatism forced him to champion the Moneyball approach.

He was effectively auditioning for the Liverpool job without knowing it.

But Klopp isn't a cure. He represents an obvious upgrade on Rodgers, who was a major architect of his own downfall but the German's appointment would pander to the entrenched problem without fixing it.

After recently celebrating five years running their Anfield fiefdom, the Fenway Sports Group number crunchers still believe in the infallibility of math, rather than the unpredictable, incalculable beauty of sporting spontaneity.

Despite the rhetoric, they still see economic digits rather than footballers. Dalglish, for all his faults, recognised Luis Suarez for what he was, an impudent genius steeped in "the Liverpool way".

But the Uruguayan's paymasters always saw a profit margin, the very embodiment of Moneyball's principles. Get them early. Get them cheap. Enhance their talent. Maximise their financial return. Sell them off. Start again.

It worked for their Boston Red Sox. Applied mathematics ended Boston's 86-year wait for the World Series, killing off "the curse of the Bambino". How hard could it be to break the curse of the Premier League? Imagine what the accountants could do at Anfield.

And they would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for that pesky Steven Gerrard slipping against Chelsea last year.

But the title near-miss was a smokescreen, built not on Moneyball but a maverick signed by an outdated predecessor.

Suarez allowed Rodgers, the American owners and their incongruous baseball philosophy to bask in his temporary spotlight.

When the striker left, the house of cards swiftly tumbled and Rodgers' successor needs a free hand to put the flimsy structure back together again.

Nothing has really worked at Anfield. Nothing.

Flawed

A deeply flawed transfer and selection policy from the beginning of the Fenway Sports Group's takeover has been mostly overshadowed.

Suarez's schizophrenic hero-and-villain routines, the tragicomic title collapse, the demise and departure of a local legend, a handful of pantomime performances and the inexhaustible supply of daft management-speak quotes from Rodgers drew attention away from an unworkable business model.

Liverpool are doomed to failure. The man in the dugout is window -dressing outside a crumbling house.

With more than a patronising whiff of intellectual snobbery, there was a sense that the owners, the transfer committee and Rodgers himself always believed they were the smartest men in any EPL room.

Never mind traditional existing transfer strategies, implemented by the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and even Arsene Wenger - managers who'd actually won stuff - baseball was going to bring Liverpool into the 21st Century.

Cumulative benefits were seen as more important than an immediate impact.

Rather than sign an established brand such as Alexis Sanchez or Diego Costa, they bought the likes of Lazar Markovic and Divock Origi, with an eye on long-term development and economic potential.

Rather than target like-for-like replacements for Suarez, Fernando Torres and Raheem Sterling, they frittered away the cash on half-baked prospects from untapped markets. Hardly any paid off.

With the transfer committee, the democratic process ensured everyone got what nobody wanted. Rodgers had a veto, but no control. There were ideas, endless ideas, but no direction.

Every season under FSG has been one of rebuilding, transition and starting over.

Rodgers went along with the baseball model and played the fall guy for its inevitable failure.

And unless his successor is allowed to follow his own path, listening to his coaching staff rather than the American number crunchers, he inherits a poisoned chalice.

Moneyball works in the movies, but not on Merseyside.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 06, 2015.
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