Marsh and Pascoe the fall guys for Liverpool's underachievement
Brendan Rodgers may have kept his job -- for now at least -- but the staff room at Liverpool's Melwood Training Ground will still be without a couple of familiar faces next season. First-team coach Mike Marsh and assistant manager Colin Pascoe have both been relieved of their duties, leaving Rodgers in what looks to be an almost untenable looking position. While the decision has been reported as being "mutually agreed" by Rodgers, chairman Tom Werner and the club's principle owner John W. Henry, it's difficult to believe Rodgers could have been happy about it.
After all, it was the Northern Irishman who promoted Marsh from the Academy to his first-team coaching staff three summers ago after he impressed with his work on the club's preseason tour of the United States, while Pascoe is one of his closest friends as well as long-time assistant. It's therefore almost impossible to imagine Rodgers pushing for their dismissals. Indeed, some feel that it's surprising he didn't resign in protest, especially after the axing of his loyal number two Pascoe.
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These latest developments would certainly appear to be ownership-driven and Rodgers was presumably given a choice by Fenway Sports Group to either accept it and keep his job, or leave with his friends.
As soon as it was announced that, despite presiding over the most disappointing of seasons, Rodgers would stay, it was inevitable that there would be cosmetic changes lower down the food chain. The powers that be at Anfield knew that they couldn't just carry on with everything as it was and expect the club's increasingly disgruntled supporters to buy into it. They had to be seen to be doing something, and Marsh and Pascoe made convenient "fall guys" for the failings of others higher up.
Just for the sake of argument, though, let's say they were completely terrible at what they did. Exactly how much impact would that have made on Liverpool's season anyway?
Pascoe and Marsh had nothing to do with the absolute abomination of a transfer window last summer that looks to have set Liverpool back. They didn't pick the team or decide on the tactics throughout the season and they didn't make the substitutions. The Reds did not freeze against Aston Villa at Wembley because of how Marsh put the cones out in training that week and they did not concede six at Stoke because the players were dazzled by the glare off Pascoe's bare legs.
Those most responsible for Liverpool's under-achievement all remain in place while Marsh and Pascoe take the fall. Liverpool's engine appears to be broken yet their solution is to replace the wing mirrors.
If their "forensic review" of the season led the club's owners to conclude that inadequate coaching was the root cause of such severe underachievement, then the first person out of the door should surely have been Rodgers, as coaching is widely regarded as being his biggest strength. Some managers may be happy to delegate training sessions to their assistants and adopt more of an overseer's role, but that is definitely not the case with Rodgers, who is very much a hands-on coach. He is out there taking every session and he has always prided himself on his coaching skills. "You "train" dogs, I like to educate players," was one catchy early soundbite of his.
Yet by looking to replace his second and third in command, FSG are telling fans that Rodgers now needs help with coaching the players. Supporters are therefore entitled to ask; if he needs help with the one thing he's supposed to excel at, how on earth is he still in a job?
Many suspect it's just that the owners did not want to pay him off and it's becoming increasingly difficult to argue too much against that. Marsh was out of contract so letting him go didn't cost a penny, while Pascoe's severance pay certainly won't have put too much of a dent in the club coffers. Sacking Rodgers with three years remaining on his contract, however, would not have been cheap, and neither would hiring a proven replacement.
Another possible explanation is that with contract negotiations taking place with James Milner and Danny Ings (and presumably others who are not known publicly yet), the club didn't want to risk missing out on those targets by changing the manager. Would Milner have been so keen to move to Anfield if the club were in the process of looking for a new manager?
Perhaps FSG felt a little backed into a corner, but by removing his two most-trusted lieutenants they've left Rodgers in an incredibly vulnerable spot now, with fans expecting a high-profile assistant manager and perhaps the return of a popular former player too.
Names such as Pako Ayestaran, Rene Meulensteen, Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia among others have all been mooted as possible appointments, and the arrival of any one or more of those would present a big problem for Rodgers. He'd be in a no-win situation. If things went well next season it would no doubt be credited to the influence of the new coaches. If things went badly, he'd get all the blame and would pay with his job. In all probability he'd be replaced by one of the new appointments too, certainly on a caretaker basis at least.
Whoever Liverpool appoint will surely not be his decision anyway. Both Pascoe and Marsh were hired by Rodgers and if they were not up to the job, then his judgement therefore is questionable. Besides, if the idea of replacing the old guard was to bring in people who would challenge Rodgers and bring fresh ideas, he's hardly likely to target those type of individuals himself, especially as he's said in the recent past that, "I wouldn't go down that route." He could have changed his own mind on that of course, but more likely it's been changed for him.
It's easy for fans to call for the return of Ayestaran and/or Carragher, but unless the appointments are made by Rodgers, then how can it truly work? The owners could force a new assistant on Rodgers, but if he is unwilling to bend a little and listen to fresh ideas then it will all end in tears. There is also the risk that it undermines him even further in the eyes of players and supporters.
Liverpool have been down that particular road before when Roy Evans had Gerard Houllier forced on him as a "joint manager". Players sensed the disharmony and played one off against the other, and within months Evans was gone and Houllier was running the show on his own. If a high profile assistant is foisted onto Rodgers, the writing is surely on the wall for him, but equally if he is allowed to choose his own man then you'd have to wonder just what was the point in showing Pascoe the door?
Some managers want to surround themselves with the best. Others want to surround themselves with people who tell them they're the best. So far Rodgers has been very much the latter, but this summer he may have little choice but to find himself in the former category and ultimately it could make or break him.
It's a far from ideal situation for him, but it's one he chose to accept when he stood by and did nothing as his friends were shown the door.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.