Brendan Rodgers putting pen to paper on a new four-year contract at Liverpool will not go down as one of the most surprising moves of the summer, but for the club's supporters it was certainly most welcome news.
The Northern Irishman fully deserves this new contract as what he did with Liverpool last season was nothing short of incredible. The club was just one win away from what would have arguably been the greatest accomplishment in their entire history. When you consider what an illustrious history that is, it shows just how close Liverpool were to what would have been a monumental - and most unexpected - achievement.
Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once famously said: "If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing." For a long time that was Liverpool's mantra, but times change and "Shanks" wasn't up against the unlimited wealth of Manchester City and Chelsea. Furthermore, back then, second didn't get you in the European Cup or bring tens of millions of pounds into the club's coffers. Relatively speaking, though, for many years second was "nothing" and, had Liverpool been regularly winning titles in recent years, then it still would be.
Rodgers given transfer assurances
- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says he was told by the club's owners he will be able to make "top quality" signings this summer before he committed his future to Anfield.
- Rodgers, who steered Liverpool to a second-place Premier League finish with a brand of attacking football, signed a new deal - believed to take him through to 2018 - on Monday.
- The 41-year-old said it was important to have a frank discussion with the club's American owners about their ambitions first as he aims to boost his squad.
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It's all about context, though, isn't it? Liverpool have not been winning titles; they've rarely even been in position to challenge for them. In the four seasons prior to the last one the Reds had finished no higher than sixth.
In 2012-13 they were seventh, so from that lowly position to second place is most certainly not "nothing," especially as it guaranteed a return to the Champions League. Finishing second may not constitute "success" as such, but it was still an accomplishment of great note given the starting point.
Nobody expected Liverpool to challenge for the title last season (many scoffed at their hopes of finishing in the top four). Yet challenge they did, right up until the final day. There were many reasons why they fared so well last season, but the outstanding job the manager did tops the list.
When Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group took the decision to appoint the inexperienced Rodgers to succeed club legend Kenny Dalglish, one of the biggest factors in its decision was his ability to improve players. Rodgers had a reputation as a great coach, a forward thinker who specialises in working with young players.
While some other clubs throughout appear to be paying scant regard to UEFA's FFP regulations, owner John W. Henry has been outspoken in his support of it. Indeed, it was the introduction of UEFA's financial regulations that made Liverpool such an attractive purchase for FSG.
They did not want a coach who was going to hand them a shopping list containing a list of multi-million pound superstars; they wanted one who could improve the players already at the club and who relied on his coaching skills rather than a chequebook. It is beginning to look like they struck gold with Rodgers, as what Liverpool did last season happened despite their transfer dealings, not because of them.
Of course striker Luis Suarez was the catalyst for it; his 31 Premier League goals led the way, but the Uruguayan brings far more to his team than just goals. While it would be stretching things somewhat to credit Rodgers with the stunning impact made by Suarez last season, he has unquestionably played a part in it.
In the two seasons since Rodgers made him the focal point of his side, Suarez has scored 61 goals in all competitions. The player deserves the bulk of the credit for that obviously, but he wasn't scoring that many goals prior to the arrival of Rodgers. In fact, while his talent was never in question, many Kopites saw Suarez as a support striker rather than "the main man." More of a Peter Beardsley than a John Aldridge, if you like. Under Rodgers, Suarez has been Beardsley and Aldridge with a bit of John Barnes thrown in for good measure. He does it all, but he doesn't do it on his own any more.
Daniel Sturridge has been a revelation since he walked through the door at Liverpool. The quickest player in the club's history to reach 20 goals, he's managed an impressive 35 goals from just 49 games. Until he linked up with Rodgers, however, Sturridge was little more than unfilled potential, and his career looked like it was in danger of passing him by.
He was 23 years of age when he arrived at Liverpool, but aside from a loan spell under Owen Coyle at Bolton, he'd never been a regular starter, and nobody other than Coyle had trusted him to be their centre forward.
Rodgers put that trust in Sturridge and he has been rewarded with interest. The player is happier than he's ever been and has gone from Chelsea sub to England's World Cup squad. Alongside him in Brazil will be team-mates Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, two more players who have benefitted greatly from the coaching and man-management of Rodgers. Again, the players deserve every credit for how they have performed, but Rodgers has undoubtedly helped them massively.
He puts his players in the best situation to succeed. They benefit from his expertise on the coaching field but he's also worked wonders with the confidence of his players. Sterling and Henderson have both endured difficult periods in their Liverpool careers but have come out stronger for it. Jon Flanagan is another; he began the season as Liverpool's fourth-choice right back and ended it on standby for Roy Hodgson's squad for Brazil.
Liverpool have made huge strides in a very short space of time under Rodgers. The side he inherited had scored a paltry 47 Premier League goals. Two years later they managed 101.
Of course it hasn't been perfect and too many goals have been shipped at the other end. If you are expecting a perfect product after just two years then you're going to be disappointed, even if you have someone from afar bankrolling it. Most managers "build from the back" when they take over a new club; Rodgers has done the reverse and prioritised scoring goals over everything else.
In theory, he's done the most difficult part. He now needs to address the defensive issues if he is to build on the excellent start he's made to his managerial career. To do that he'll have to do a lot of work on the training field as well as in the transfer market. New personnel alone won't solve defensive issues, but they will surely help.
There is only one area in which I am yet to be convinced by Rodgers, and that's in the transfer market. In fairness to the newly-crowned LMA Manager of the Year, it's difficult to judge him in that area as he is being helped (or hindered depending on your point of view) by FSG's much-vaunted "transfer committee."
Liverpool's performance in the past two transfer windows has not matched their form on the pitch, which makes last season's accomplishments all the more remarkable. You simply cannot sustain that, however, and for Liverpool to progress further they will need to up their game considerably in the transfer market. That either means giving Rodgers more of a say in which players are recruited, or having those who are being paid to find the right players start doing their job as well as the manager has done his.
Rodgers has done a hugely impressive job to date, but Liverpool need to keep moving forward now as their rivals certainly will not stand still. The Reds were brilliant last season, but they still have a long way to go and the really hard work starts now - a point Rodgers will no doubt be making to his players on their first day back in pre-season.
This article originally appeared on ESPN FC.