Brendan Rodgers has questioned whether Stewart Downing has the necessary “fight” for a Liverpool team that he believes can qualify for the Champions League.
By Andy Hunter
The England international has been a major disappointment at Anfield since his £20m arrival from Aston Villa 14 months ago and his fortunes have deteriorated since Rodgers replaced Kenny Dalglish as manager. Downing has seen 17-year-old Raheem Sterling and summer signing Fabio Borini preferred ahead of him this season, and Rodgers has suggested the 28-year-old may have to reinvent himself as a left-back to enhance his prospects at Liverpool.
Rodgers did not disguise his frustration with Downing during the Europa League game against Young Boys in Berne last week. Now, after the winger again failed to impress in the Capital One Cup win over West Bromwich Albion in midweek, the Liverpool manager has suggested he may consider offers for Downing in January unless the player’s commitment improves.
“Stewart is a good guy and a good lad who came here for an awful lot of money,” said Rodgers, who is likely to be without Borini at Norwich Cityon Saturday due to an ankle injury. “It hasn’t quite worked out for him as he would want it. The big challenge for him now is that commitment to the cause to fight, because he has the qualities. He has a wonderful left foot but what is important is that it is more than talent. Talent alone is not enough. You have to work hard, you have to fight for the shirt. We have seen that in a number of the young players and if you don’t do that then longer-term you won’t be here. It is as simple as that really.”
The Liverpool manager’s threat also applies to José Enrique, who made an encouraging start to his Anfield career after a £6m move from Newcastle United but has struggled since the turn of the year.
Rodgers added: “What is important is that you have good communication. I don’t waste my time waiting until January to tell both players what I know now. So they know in relation to the demands of what we want and certainly what it is going to take for us to succeed and for them to fit into the dynamics of the group.
“We are coaches, not magicians. For me football players are no different to plumbers, joiners or bricklayers. They are self-employed and us as medics, coaches and managers are the tools that help them to be better. We will give them everything to help them to be better, but if they don’t want to show that self-motivation, and if you haven’t got that desire and hunger to succeed, then it can be very difficult for you. The communication I will keep private between Stewart and I, but he is under no illusions that he has to fight.”
Liverpool have yet to win in the Premier League under Rodgers but, after a testing run of fixtures, the Northern Irishman denies the trip to Carrow Road represents a fresh start for his side. He also claimed that a top four finish is not beyond Liverpool providing they keep in touch with the leading pack until the transfer window reopens in January.
Rodgers said: “My job started the day I walked into the club. There is no doubt it was a difficult batch of fixtures to start with and our three home games were always going to be difficult. But there are 99 points to play for. I believe that 70-plus points will allow you to arrive in the top four. So that gives us 68 points that we need over the remaining games. We can maybe have 10 games with problems.
“There’s absolutely no doubt it’s going to be a monumental achievement for that [Champions League qualification] to happen but in my working life my mentality – and I’m selling that to the players– is that it is what we have to work towards. You aim to win the league and if you can’t do that then you aim to finish as high as you possibly can. Get through to January and we will get better over the second half of the season as well.”
Rodgers, who may have Daniel Agger available at Norwich despite the defender being carried off with a knee injury against Manchester United on Sunday, has confirmed Liverpool are looking to extend Suso’s contract. The Spanish midfielder is the final year of his deal.