Saturday, 15 January 2011

Liverpool Need A Manager With Long Term Vision To Partner Comolli

It could be said that the choice of next manager is the biggest one Liverpool have faced since deciding to promote Joe Fagan rather than look outside the club. Even with the most optimistic will in the world Dalglish is not the man to provide long-term stability to the club, something desperately needed. NESV claim to be guided by the Moneyball principles which supposedly accounts for the Red Sox World Series triumphs in 2004 and 2007. Now John Henry and his associates should begin applying such ideas to football management. After a turbulent period under Benitez which saw the highs of winning the Champions League mixed with the lows of the Hicks and Gillett era, Liverpool need to reassess their short and long term aims as well as how they plan to make them a reality.

Ideally for Liverpool any successor should be young enough to establish himself and his ethos at the club over the course of a number of years. Liverpool of course have a blueprint as a club of how to play, something which has been linked to the sacking of Hodgson. Had the former Fulham manager played in a more pleasing style, the results might not have attracted the criticism that they did. It took Shankly, Ferguson and Wenger time to imprint their style onto their respective clubs. The best case scenario is that Liverpool hires someone in the mould of any of those three and what they achieved at their respective clubs. Furthermore, while this article looks specifically at Liverpool and their new manager, the process of hiring should be reviewed by all professional clubs.

The normal process for selecting a manager is the board gets together, discusses several suitable candidates and then a phone call later a new man is in charge. Many times potential managers never even get to meet the people who make the decision. There is very little in the way of a traditional job interview since it’s a concept alien to football but in no other walk of life would you expect to get hired otherwise. Liverpool have their caretaker in charge and so should invest enough time and research into the appointment that they know what direction each candidate wants to take the club in. Of course, the duh element is that every manager wants to take the club up the table, winning titles etc. But who do they plan to buy? What sort of financial backing would they expect and what do they feel they would be able to provide with various levels of funds available?

I’m not going to recommend that Liverpool hire any specific person precisely because I haven’t been privy to any discussions about what said candidate wants to do with the club. Would the focus be on width and pace or solid defending and building a base from which to attack? Does he prioritise youth or feel that a few big names need to be brought in? Rather than bringing in a manager and telling him how it will be, NESV could reach a common understanding of where the club is heading before anybody assumes control. As an example, Coyle and Klopp are two names that have been suggested to take Liverpool forward but they come from different footballing backgrounds and employ different styles. Where would Klopp strengthen as opposed to Coyle? Would it not make some sense for each man to present their vision to the board?

The situation is complicated slightly by Comolli whom fans will remember from his time at Spurs. Comolli was perceived as having rather a poor record by British fans who aren’t used to the ‘Director of football’ role that clubs like Lyon have employed so successfully, but as Kennett and Tomkins point out he did some rather good business for Spurs. Comolli will have significant influence over who arrives at Anfield but the manager will get his say as to where he wishes to strengthen and ideally with what type of player.

Liverpool’s squad is full of contradictions. They have some outstanding players (Reina, Gerrard, Torres) and capable supporting players such as Kuyt and Agger. Yet the first XI needs some strategic improvement and the squad is too thin compared to their top four rivals. Carragher and Gerrard will most likely need replacing within a few years given the physical nature of their games which takes its toll. Comolli will be looking specifically for young players to add to the Liverpool squad as he did with Spurs. The average age of all Comolli signings for Spurs was around 23. The squad doesn’t need overhaul but it does need clever and careful investment. Nobody can compete with Manchester City and Liverpool will also be fighting the financial disadvantage that not being in the Champions League creates.

If Liverpool get it right however and the new manager develops a strong working relationship with Comolli it would represent their best chance of returning to the Champions League and then the league title. Lyon were the famous case of Moneyball being employed and their record seven titles were achieved by Aulas and Lacombe despite a revolving door of managers including Perrin, Houllier and Puel (see Soccernomics or Swiss Ramble for more details on Lyon) but if Liverpool make a smart choice they could see a union between the success of Lyon and the stability provided by having a manager with long term control.

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