AS he contemplated a job well done on his first day in charge at West Bromwich Albion, Steve Clarke pledged to toast victory with a well-earned glass of wine.
But the Liverpool supporters trudging towards the Hawthorns exit long before the final whistle was called on their team’s Saturday afternoon torment were probably wondering if Clarke had downed a whole bottle before delivering his post-match assessment.
“Liverpool are better than that – absolutely,” said the Scot. “They will challenge for a top-four place. I said that before and I stand by that.”
Clarke’s words appeared sincere enough. But having been part of the Kenny Dalglish regime that failed to address Liverpool’s ongoing Premier League freefall, it could easily have been an effort to help soften the blow for a dazed Brendan Rodgers.
Certainly, the former Anfield assistant manager will have recognised the failings that ensured the Rodgers era began with Liverpool’s worst opening day defeat in 75 years.
Missed chances. Slack defending. Anonymous performances. Unfortunate officiating. An inability to recover having gone behind.
New season, same old Liverpool. It’s like that last three months never happened.
There was even a missed penalty, although this time it was the Anfield outfit who benefited from a missed spot kick.
Not that it mattered, Rodgers’ men resoundingly beaten even without the need for West Brom to have been helped on their way by generous referee Phil Dowd.
Amid all the talk of imposing a new philosophy and restoring the near-mythical ‘Liverpool Way’, Rodgers has been at pains to point out such a transformation will take time, evidenced by an anecdote in which he struggled to contain his incredulity when one fan asked if the team could win the league this season.
Winning a game would be the first step. And should a wake-up call have really been necessary, it was belted out loud and clear at the Hawthorns.
While winning the hearts and minds of the fanbase has been at the forefront of Rodgers’ charm offensive this summer, it’s the more important battle of gaining the trust of his players in his methods that will be of greater concern.
On his arrival, Rodgers handed over a 180-page dossier to Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group mapping out the future path for the club.
Not exactly something you can skim read. And the speed in which those ideas are taken on board will be determined by the players at the Northern Irishman’s disposal and their willingness to embrace such change.
Rodgers has already brought in two men fully-versed in his methods, Fabio Borini and Saturday’s debutant, Joe Allen. But with no further money to spend, the Liverpool manager must be creative in the transfer market as the clock ticks down to the window slamming shut on Friday week. He can only hope Nuri Sahin wasn’t watching at the weekend.