Liverpool Focus - Rodgers looking more to experience at Anfield
"The biggest thing we need this summer is to bring in some men, some character that allows and supports the other men to see the games out," said Brendan Rodgers a couple of weeks ago, in what some would suggest was a thinly-veiled criticism of Liverpool’s controversial unwritten transfer rule, which places a high significance on recruiting players aged 24 or under.
Since the takeover by Fenway Sports Group, the Reds have spent lavishly on new purchases, including big-money moves for the likes of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing. It is perhaps the reported £20m Liverpool paid for the latter, who endured a miserable debut season at Anfield, which sparked a major rethink on transfer policy. That Rodgers has signed only young players following his own arrival on Merseyside is no coincidence.
It is not that Rodgers is against the idea of giving youngsters a chance - quite the opposite. Not only has the former Swansea boss been delighted with the impact of January signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, but the talented stars he has promoted to the senior squad - such as Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom - have also been regularly praised.
However, the manager has made no secret of his desire to see more experience added to the team. Rodgers is an impressive speaker, but in order to prove his point about the value of older players, he has coupled these words with significant action. The most obvious of his changes was to recall veteran defender Jamie Carragher to the starting line-up midway through January and the 35-year-old vice-captain has kept his place ever since.
In addition to this, the average age of Liverpool’s starting team has gradually increased over the course of the season. In October, the Reds faced fierce local rivals Everton with a team containing Wisdom (19), Suso (18) and Sterling (17) and an overall average age of 24.3. On Saturday, as the five-time European champions cruised to a comfortable 4-0 win over lowly Wigan Athletic - Liverpool’s first win at the DW Stadium since 2007 - not a single teenager was used by the visitors. Impressive Brazilian attacking midfielder Coutinho (20) was the youngest player to feature, with the average age now reaching almost 27.5.
Of course, the presence of Carragher has contributed to the rise in the average age, but that does not take away from that fact that Sterling, who has made 23 Premier League appearances this term, has not started a top-flight game since January and neither has Wisdom. Suso, too, has not started a league game since December. Sterling’s absence may be down to tiredness, but the overall picture suggests that Rodgers is now relying on his experienced stars to help Liverpool see the season out.
Recent results perhaps indicate that these changes are working, but the Reds’ frustrating inconsistency makes it impossible to predict whether the older players will help Liverpool to keep on winning. If they do, then Rodgers will head into the summer in a stronger position when meeting with the owners. Last summer, he persuaded John Henry and co to abandon their plans to employ a director of football. When it comes to his first anniversary as Liverpool manager, Rodgers may encourage the owners to drift slightly from their transfer policy - and that would represent a victory for the smooth talker.
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