By Greg StobartWhen Brendan Rodgers accepted the job of Liverpool manager in the summer, he was under no illusions as to the size of the task before him to get the club back in the Champions League.
Around his office at the Reds’ Melwood training ground hang photos of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and the great title-winning sides of the past. That history both defines the club and defines the expectation for Rodgers’ reign on Merseyside.
The Northern Irishman has brought a fresh approach after replacing Kenny Dalglish on a three-year contract, looking to build a young squad focused on short, passing football in the same image of the side he managed at Swansea.
Yet Rodgers may need more time from Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, than even he realised to get the club back to the top. Sitting 11th in the Premier League after 15 games so far this season, this is clearly a transitional campaign as the 39-year-old looks to implement his blueprint.
The fact is, however, that Liverpool are currently mid-table fodder when, traditionally, they are regarded as one of the two biggest, most successful clubs in the country.
Goal.com revealed on Friday that Manchester United have made an enquiry for Raheem Sterling as the young winger continues to stall over signing a new contract at Anfield.
What does it say about Liverpool in 2012 that their greatest rivals could even consider pinching one of the best young talents in the country? At 17, Sterling has the world at his feet, but he is now asking himself whether his career will best be served at Liverpool.
With his pace, skill, trickery and intelligence, Sterling embodies FSG’s model of a youthful squad made up of the best young players from across the world, on reasonable wages to comply with Uefa’s financial fair play regulations.
Rodgers has tried to pressurise Sterling into signing a new deal by saying the player would be “very foolish” not to agree new terms having so far rejected the offers made by Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre.
But that tactic has backfired, and Rodgers now needs to find another way to convince Sterling to commit to the club.
Perhaps the January transfer window will provide that opportunity after a disastrous summer in which the American owners failed to back their manager in the transfer market.
The absolute priority will be to sign a striker, with the Reds having scored just 19 league goals this season, their major problem an inability to convert the numerous chance created.
After a summer spending binge in 2011, the funds available to Rodgers will be limited as Liverpool try to compete on and off the pitch with the likes of United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
It is not an impossible job, but Rodgers has plenty on his plate, especially as he will face a challenge to keep star striker Luis Suarez at Anfield if Liverpool miss out on the top four.
Good coaching, clever tactics and nurturing of youngsters look to be the three main pillars around which Rodgers will build Liverpool. Losing Sterling, however, would reflect just how far the club has fallen from greatness, and just how much Rodgers must do to turn it around.