By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) – Liverpool’s greatest manager Bill Shankly said winning the league title was the club’s “bread and butter” so it is a sad reflection that their only recent crumb of comfort is finishing runners-up 17 months ago.
On April 27 2014 Brendan Rodgers’ men were in touching distance of Liverpool’s first domestic league crown for 24 years, but they — and captain Steven Gerrard — slipped at the last and came second, two points behind Manchester City.
On Sunday, 42-year-old Northern Irishman Rodgers was sacked via a telephone call from Mike Gordon, the president of Fenway Sports Group, the club’s American owners.
It is fair to say it is not only standards on the pitch that have slipped at Liverpool since Shankly’s title-winning heyday and the closely-knit “boot room” of the 1960s and 1970s.
Rodgers, manager since May 2012, is the seventh man since Kenny Dalglish guided Liverpool to their 18th and last title in 1990, to fail to win the league following Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Dalglish himself, in an unhappy second stint, in the last 25 years.
Never before have the Merseyside club gone so long without being champions, a dry run unthinkable in their pomp when they were favourites year after year and usually delivered.
But with a team lacking the likes of departed Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, Gerrard and the routinely injured Daniel Sturridge, the driving forces of the 2013-14 side, the long, wait, does not look like ending in the foreseeable future.
The club now seem set to appoint Juergen Klopp, the former Borussia Dortmund coach, as their next manager, hoping he can repeat his title-winning success in the Bundesliga at Anfield.
There is unlikely to be an instant turnaround, however.
Liverpool started the season brightly with wins over Stoke City and Bournemouth but have won once in 90 minutes in nine matches since — their only other victory being in a penalty shootout against fourth-tier Carlisle United in the League Cup.
“If we are to replicate what we did two years ago, we will have to build something here again and that’s going to take time,” Rodgers said after his final game in charge — Sunday’s 1-1 draw in the Premier League at neighbours Everton.
“That is frustrating because the supporters of the club have watched us grow for a couple of years, nearly win the league and then lose the quality of players that we have lost.
“There are new players who have come in. That will take time (to settle), whether that is me or someone else in the job.”
Rodgers spent almost 300 million pounds ($454.32 million) on new signings but was often left facing a frustrating battle with the club’s “transfer committee” to get the men he really wanted.
Rodgers was a member of that committee, installed by Liverpool’s American owners, but many of the players who arrived failed to live up to expectations.
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote in his Daily Mail column that Rodgers had enough time to build a winning team and to take Liverpool back to the place they once occupied as giants in England and Europe.
“He was brought in to improve on Kenny Dalglish and despite one fantastic season… the harsh reality is that Liverpool have become a selling club who can’t offer regular Champions League football and have won one trophy in nine years,” he said.
Souness, who won the league five times and European Cup on three ooccasions with Liverpool as a player, added: “The teams that buy the finished article are Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City and what do they have in common? They win the Premier League.”
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)