Brendan Rodgers is under immense pressure at Liverpool and struggling to rouse performances from his players. An exit from the Champions League group stage is one Rodgers can survive, but should the club’s Premier League form continue to slide, the jury is out on his prospects of seeing out the season. A considerable number of Liverpool fans now believe Rodgers is out of his depth at Anfield and the Northern Irishman leaving players he lavished the cash on over the summer on the bench does not inspire confidence. It is too soon to say that Rodgers has the stench of Roy Hodgson-esque death, however there is a growing whiff around the club’s Melwood training ground.
Should Liverpool’s American owners hit the eject button for Rodgers, replacements are thin on the ground in mid-season and asking Kenny Dalglish, a man they sacked in 2012 to make way for the then-Swansea manager, to step in might be too much for the Reds powerbrokers to stomach. If Liverpool did have to go shopping for a new manager in mid-season, who could they choose? Inside Futbol look at a clutch of less obvious candidates who could realistically be available and willing to step into the Anfield hot seat.
Steve Nicol – Unattached
The former Liverpool defender is steeped in the club’s history and knows what it is to win at Anfield. Nicol would have a good rapport with Dalglish, who is now in the boardroom, while his relationship with Liverpool greats should ensure a lengthy honeymoon period with the media. The 52-year-old enjoyed a ten-season spell in charge of New England Revolution in the MLS, regularly overachieving with the unfashionable club and leading them to four MLS Cup finals in a span of six years, while the playoffs were consistently reached. Nicol would be used to working with American owners and is also completely untainted by Liverpool’s failures in recent years, having never held a post on the club’s coaching staff.
Clarence Seedorf – Unattached
A modern day AC Milan legend, Seedorf’s only coaching role to date saw him a victim of expectations at his former club. Appointed AC Milan boss in January, Seedorf inherited a struggling side still suffering under the weight of budget cuts and the mass release of experienced heads in the summer of 2012. Owner Silvio Berlusconi released established stars who were on the most lucrative contracts, with Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Seedorf himself, Mark van Bommel and Filippo Inzaghi all leaving; Andrea Pirlo had gone the year before. AC Milan continue to struggle, now under Inzaghi, while Seedorf looks for another opportunity. A playing career taking in spells at Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Inter, AC Milan and Botafogo makes Seedorf football royalty. The Dutchman won the Champions League with three different clubs and does not take prisoners. If Liverpool want to roll the dice on a legend and hope to have unearthed the next Pep Guardiola, they could do worse than give Seedorf a chance; and a proper one, unlike AC Milan.
Rafael Benitez – Current job: Napoli
No list of prospective Liverpool managers would be complete without including the man who really wants the job. Benitez, who led Liverpool to Champions League success in 2005 and to second place in 2008/09 before warring with Tom Hicks and George Gillett helped torpedo his reign, would walk over hot coals to take the job at Anfield. The Spaniard succeeded at Chelsea against all the odds (and the club’s fans), while he steered Napoli to the Coppa Italia and third place in Serie A last season. Benitez is probably the manager with the most decorated CV who Liverpool could attract mid-season and the Spaniard would relish the chance to pick up where he left off at Anfield. The family home still on Merseyside with his wife and children, Benitez is sure to be watching events at his adopted home closely. And, while it is easy to say never go back, it isn’t working out too badly for Jose Mourinho at present.
Eric Gerets – Current job: Al Jazira
The hard man to knock Liverpool’s overpaid prima donnas into shape? Gerets takes no prisoners and has enjoyed success at a number of clubs across different countries and continents. The Belgium legend, 86 caps for his country between 1975 and 1991, jumped to managerial prominence at former club PSV Eindhoven, who he led to two Dutch league titles. Spells in charge of Kaiserslautern, Wolfsburg, Galatasaray, Marseille and Al Hilal followed, Gerets steering Galatasaray to the Turkish title, while he remains well regarded at Marseille due to his no-nonsense approach and taking over a side sitting 19th after 13 games and finishing third, qualifying for the Champions League in the process. In his second and final season at Marseille, the south coast club finished second in Ligue 1, while Gerets was voted Best Coach in Ligue 1. In recent years the 60-year-old has managed in the Middle East, picking up lucrative pay days and enjoying success in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Lion, as Gerets is known, has also bossed Morocco. He offers the experience Rodgers lacks and a record of making sides more than the sum of their parts.
Slaven Bilic – Current job: Besiktas
The former Croatia coach has been angling for a job in the Premier League, but at present finds himself in Turkey with Besiktas. Bilic has an impact with the Black Eagles sitting top of the Super Lig at present and qualifying for the last 32 of the Europa League. The ex-defender most impressed in charge of Croatia, guiding the country to the finals of Euro 2008 at England’s expense, where they reached the quarter-finals. Although Croatia could not qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Bilic again led the side to a European Championship, in 2012, before standing down to take over at Lokomotiv Moscow. Russian football did not agree with Bilic and he was gone in 2013, taking charge of Besiktas last year. Familiar with English football through spells with West Ham and Everton, the 46-year-old has forged a reputation as a promising young manager. However, unlike Rodgers, he has considerable experience, gained across countries and also as an international boss at major finals.
Jorge Jesus – Current job: Benfica
If Liverpool overlook Benitez, Jesus is perhaps the next highest calibre manager they would have a chance of attracting mid-season. Jesus has put Benfica back on top of the Portuguese game, taking over in 2009 and instantly leading the Eagles to the Primeira Liga title, ending a title drought of five years, which for Benfica felt like a lifetime. The success has kept flowing for the experienced coach, with the league won again last season, along with the cup and the league cup. Benfica also reached the final of the Europa League, but saw the curse of Bela Guttmann again scuppering their hopes. The club’s run to the final however saw him easily outwit then-Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood tactically and at 60 years old Jesus would bring huge experience to the Liverpool job. However, the Portuguese has never worked outside his native country and collecting trophies with Benfica – eight since 2009 – is a different kettle of fish to doing it in England.
John Toshack – Current job: Wydad Casablanca
From the inexperience of Rodgers, the appointment of Toshack would represent a huge swing in the other direction. The 65-year-old has bags of experience and has bossed Real Madrid twice in a lengthy managerial career, winning La Liga. Toshack’s coaching career has also seen spells at Swansea, Sporting Lisbon, Real Sociedad, Deportivo La Coruna, Besiktas, Saint-Etienne, Catania, Real Murcia, Khazar Lankaran and Wydad Casablanca, along with time leading the national sides of Wales and Macedonia. Oddly, given he made his name at Liverpool between 1970 and 1978, Toshack has never managed the Reds, despite having been approached several times over the post. The Welshman, who would be perfectly at home flitting between English players and those from other nationalities in the Liverpool squad, could offer a short-term, 18-month fix for the Reds, stabilising the club, while providing a link to the past. And beyond then, a spot in the boardroom a la Dalglish, or a director of football role, could await.