Kristian Walsh: Q & A – Rodgers, Sterling, Henderson and next season

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The Premier League season is drawing to a close and with it comes controversy amongst Liverpool fans. Brendan Rodgers’ position as manager has been questioned, the future of Raheem Sterling is uncertain and disappointment over decisions made by the transfer committee is being voiced. 

This week, the Sterling saga continued but Liverpool’s players celebrated the positives from this season at the Player Awards on Tuesday evening. Steven Gerrard’s Anfield career has finally come to an end also.

I spoke to Kristian Walsh, reporter from the Liverpool Echo, to discuss his thoughts on some of Liverpool’s most pressing issues.

QA Walsh

Q: Brendan Rodgers claimed Liverpool’s season was ‘on par.’ What’s your comment on the success of this season at LFC?

Walsh: “You can see where he’s coming from – fifth in terms of wage bill, for example – but not sure how that really stacks up in reality. When Brendan Rodgers came to the club he was expected to bring Champions League football in three years. He did that – a year early – but finds himself out of it at the end of those three years. So it’s a tricky one to gauge and what you believe probably depends on whether you want him to continue managing the club.
“There were three things he had to do this season, really. Get Liverpool out of the group stage of this season’s Champions League, qualify for next season or win a trophy. One would have been sufficient enough; it ended up as zero.

“The two cup semi-finals are damaging, in a way. The games against Chelsea showed how good they can be but just lacked a little bit of nous and experience. The FA Cup semi at Wembley was an atrocity. I always think cup competitions shouldn’t be too important when assessing a season given how fortuitous cup draws may or may not be – a team could draw Chelsea away in both – but to get so close against Villa and fail to capitalise was very poor.
“However, there are also mitigating circumstances which have been discussed plenty of times. I’d say below par but his words aren’t as ridiculous as made out.”

Q: Do you think the negative media attention towards Sterling is justified?

Walsh: “I think there’s a sense of disappointment with regards to how the whole affair has been played out. I’m not sure whether the negativity is towards Sterling or his chief advisor, Aidy Ward. For me, Sterling is a grown man – albeit still in the formative stages of his football career – and not everything can be laid at the feet of the people advising him.

“It’s justified to a degree. Liverpool have built him into what he is today and the moment he looks ready to kick on, he agitates for a move away. But then, he’s a young lad who left QPR aged 15 for a good offer elsewhere. Should this surprise anyone? If Steven Gerrard’s departure is a reminder of anything, it’s how rare someone like him in football is, in terms of ‘loyalty’.
“I don’t think Sterling is the only guilty party in this either. So criticise him but look towards others too.”

Q: Do you think Rodgers’ position at Anfield is safe?

Walsh: “Barring a complete change of heart from FSG, Rodgers will be at the club next season. I wouldn’t like to speculate on what happens beyond that point, because I don’t know. He will be under pressure from supporters, if nothing else, to deliver top four and a trophy.”

Q: How do you think the departure of Steven Gerrard will affect the LFC squad?

Walsh: “That’s a tough one. They will undoubtedly miss what he has brought to this club for 17 years. He was a phenom at Liverpool. Even this season, in a reduced role and with plenty of moving around the field throughout, he’s one of the (far too small) cluster of players who could turn the game. Just because he didn’t do it as frequently as before doesn’t mean he didn’t have the ability to do it.
“And then there is the influence he has off the field, the advice he passes on in training, the example he sets to the younger players every day he goes into Melwood.
“However, he’s 34, and turns 35 next week. There is no doubt Rodgers sees his midfield containing youth, energy and 90 minutes of running. Now, more than ever, may be the time to jump in feet-first and deal with life without him. The day was always going to come, and maybe this is the right time to embrace it. He’ll be missed – and there’s a lot that isn’t seen which will be missed more than anything – but at the same time, let’s see what the next generation can do.”

Q: Do you think Jordan Henderson is ready to step up as captain? 

Walsh: “I don’t really think there’s another choice right now. He’s the obvious selection and I’m delighted for him – it shows how hard work pays off. It’s easy to talk about his running and endeavour but he’s added more goals, assists and chances created to his game this season.
“He’s certainly a captain in the traditional sense. I don’t think a game goes by without him shouting at the referee or an opponent. His death stare to Diego Costa showed he’s willing to get stuck in. Is that forced or false? Does it really matter anyway?
“Might as well throw in that the captain wears the armband, calls heads or tails and exchanges the pennant in European games – but when the whistle goes, there should be a number of captains on the field. There’s a cliche for you!”

Q: If you were Rodgers, what changes would you make this summer to improve the squad for next season?

Walsh: “Goals, goals, goals. For me, Liverpool need two top strikers, with Sturridge a welcome bonus and Origi as the back-up. I can see the sense in Ings but it is ultimately a gamble on Sturridge’s fitness more than anything.
“Full-backs are pretty important given there may only be one true first-teamer in the squad – Moreno – at the start of next season. But then, that shouldn’t be a priority financially, for me.  Of course 2013-14 had Sturridge and Suarez up front but the full-backs were functional rather than flashy. A decent goalkeeper to challenge Mignolet too, I guess. Not much, then!”

Q: What players do you think will step-up next season?

Walsh: “I have high hopes for Cameron Brannagan. I’ve covered a fair bit of Under-21s action in recent months and he looks like the modern midfielder. May need a bit of ‘beefing up’ but seems to create time and space for himself at that level. Also from the U-21s, I think Ojo could be anything he wants to be.
“Ibe is the obvious shout to make the step up once more but I’m struggling to see how Markovic has a season as disappointing as this one. I was on tour in America last season and watched him train. He looked a different player to the inconsistent one at Anfield. Obviously acclimatising and being in and out of the team didn’t help him either. I expect more from him next season.
“Keep an eye out for Trent Arnold, too.”

Q: What is your reaction to the winners of the Players Awards?

Walsh: “Coutinho almost won the lot and that’s pretty hard to argue against, isn’t it? He’s been brilliant in 2015. Liverpool must continue building a platform upon which he can perform.”
Follow Kristian on twitter @Kristian_Walsh for more updates and news on Liverpool FC.
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