Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas And The Infallibility Of The Revolutionary Manger

Richard Heathcote - Getty Images

By making "bold managerial appointments", Liverpool and Tottenham have put themselves under a lot of pressure and relieved it from their revolutionary managers.

The summer just gone was marked by managerial changes. Six Premier League -- Brendan Rodgers, Paul Lambert, Chris Hughton, Steve Clarke, Michael Laudrup and Andre Villas-Boas -- managers started the season in new jobs. There are, broadly, two ways to view a managerial appointment: revolution or evolution. And, again broadly, this depends on the reason for the vacancy arising in the first place.

We can categorise, for example, Clarke and Laudrup (and, probably, Hughton) as appointments designed to, roughly, continue the successful work of their predecessors. The appointments of Rodgers and Villas-Boas (and Lambert, though less dramatically, given what he has replaced), on the other hand, are aimed at reform. In the former cases, West Bromwich Albion and SwanseaCity were replacing resigning managers; in the latter, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur were replacing sacked managers. Hence, I submit, the difference in recruitment objectives and, as a result, managerial expectation.

Now, ostensibly, it would appear that Clarke et al have the easier jobs. I have written before that Rodgers "had it easy" at Swansea because of Roberto Martinez’s work there before him and, relatedly, that Villas-Boas could not legitimately be expected to reform Chelsea in a season. I probably stand by this point, but with the caveat that the reforming manager is under much less pressure than the preserver of the status quo. His career doesn't depend on it.

If this sounds counter-intuitive (as it does to me), then brief discussion of this season’s two big Reform Acts should bear it out.

By way of preamble to this discussion, it is necessary to ask that media narratives be, as much as possible, ignored. Although the current AVB-narrative is that he is "winning people over", this will change -- possibly tomorrow after Tottenham visit Old Trafford, where they haven’t won since 1989. The English Press just plain doesn’t like him. Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, is A Football Man and, thus, popular. I’ll try and leave that aside and "stick to the facts".

The basic facts are these: After a defeat, two draws and two victories in the league, AVB has made a creditable start and Tottenham are just a point behind rivals Arsenal. Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, has overseen Liverpool’s worst opening to a league season in 103 years; Liverpool are in the relegation zone, and are eight points behind rivals Everton. Objectively, then, AVB has started well and Rodgers badly.

The question this raises, though, is does objectivity matter? When evaluating these managers, is it really the facts that we are concerned with?

I don’t think that it is. Whereas the preserver, again let’s use Clarke, is concerned the facts are all that matter. In this case we have the precedent of last season. Clarke’s West Brom is Roy Hodgson’s West Brom with one (major) variable altered. As a result, we have a tangible and objective standard -- 10th place, 47 points, 45 goals, etc. -- against which Clarke’s WBA can be measured. Neither Liverpool nor Tottenham, intent on revolution, provides such handy criteria.

The best evidence for this is the quite incredible fact that 103 years worth of previous standards are being written off as irrelevant standards against which to assess Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool. I am not, necessarily, suggesting that this is wrong, merely that it must equates to a liberation from pressure: had Clarke overseen West Brom’s worst start in a century (one can only imagine how bad that would have had to have been) it is certain that he would be feeling a lot more heat just now than Rodgers is.

Admittedly, by threatening to instruct his players to dive Rodgers is not exactly behaving like a sinecure. But then he is an especially interesting case since he seems to have managed, by way of word and action, to confer his reputation as a revolutionary largely on himself (he was, as noted above, very much an evolution man at Swansea).

Jonathan Wilson provided a slew of facts and figures in the Guardian yesterday providing context to Liverpool’s slow start, but my overriding impression (his too, I think) was that the numbers have little relevance. Pass/tackle/shots-on-target statistics will not decide whether Brendan Rodgers ‘succeeds’ at Liverpool or not. In fact it is quite possible, I think, that results won’t even do this. Because he is a manager defined by "philosophy"; as a reformer, Rodgers always has recourse to the intangibles of football in his defence. Should he be sacked by Liverpool down the line (and I hope this doesn’t happen, I like Rodgers) it will not be him who has failed but "the project".

He is the figurehead of a wider movement and if that movement fails then responsibility is collective. This is not the case for the evolutionary manager whose collective is already known to be sound and it brings us back to AVB. There is, ultimately, no better proof of the infallibility of the revolutionary manager than the Tottenham boss. If Clarke were to be sacked by West Brom, he would have failed. He would be bounced back into relative obscurity as somebody’s number two. Sacked by Chelsea, Villas-Boas "did not fail" but "was failed" and bounced into the Tottenham job.

Liverpool and Tottenham have had divergent fortunes so far under their revolutionary managers. They have also had divergent tests: apart from Newcastle United, Tottenham have yet to play a side from last season’s European places, Liverpool have played each of last season’s top three. That, though, is about to change. Next, Liverpool have very winnable games against Norwich (away), Stoke (home) and Reading (home) while Tottenham face Manchester United (away), Aston Villa (home) and Chelsea (home). For Rodgers and for Villas-Boas, then, the nature of the challenge is about to change: Rodgers has to show that it was the hard fixtures that meant his side has struggled, Villas-Boas that it wasn’t the easy fixtures that meant his side hasn’t.

At the end of it all though, given these managers’ pre-approved revolutionary credentials, neither rising to nor failing these tests will particularly affect their relative statuses or their future careers. Pressure? What pressure?

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