News Declan Lynch

Saturday 20 September 2014

Spiritual leader of 553 million sees light

Brendan Rodgers has learned the great truth, that it's not about him, it's about the talent.

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers

BRENDAN Rodgers recently mentioned that there are 553 million Liverpool fans in the world, which sounds about right to me.

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Certainly it puts today's match against Manchester City into perspective – to call this Super Sunday seems like the most ludicrous understatement of the magnitude of this event, in which approximately one in 13 people on the planet will be supporting the home team alone.

There was a time when most of us would have viewed Brendan's figure of 553 million as another of those disturbing indicators that his vision was not informed by the most rigorous hold on reality. But seeing as how he was talking after Liverpool had just beaten Spurs 4-0 to go top of the Barclays Premier League with seven matches to go, we were now living in a different time, in which none of that mattered.

As one of the 553 million, I am acutely aware that Brendan's team has won nothing yet. But to be on top of the league at this late stage is wondrous in itself, and worthy of the deepest investigation by all who are concerned with the nature of man and management.

They're bringing Alex Ferguson to Harvard now, to tell them how he did it, and yet in an odd way there is not much to be learned from a man who is so singular, whose achievements are so monstrous. In a recent feature in the Times Educational Supplement, Ferguson spoke movingly about an old schoolteacher, a woman who had beaten the young Fergie with a belt on many occasions and who had, in fact, left that very belt to him in her will. He had placed the instrument of torture on the wall in his office, to remind him fondly of her, and all she had done for him. That was his Harvard, and it is hard to see how the Ivy League equivalent, even with all its resources, could ever compete.

Indeed, so elusive are the qualities of good management, it can seem completely ridiculous to be trying to teach them at all.

For example, Brendan Rodgers has shown a weakness for what sounds chillingly like corporate bullshit. For the 553 million of us who had suffered so much, to have to listen to the manager talking about "performance objectives", to hear him actually using the term "going forward" in our presence, was deeply upsetting.

And yes, everything that was said about Brendan's fondness for that drivel was true, and didn't stop being true just because he's got better, and the team has got better. Likewise, there is the minor distraction that he bought several players who turned out to be useless, that he wanted to sell Henderson and Skrtl, who have been excellent, that he had accepted that the great Suarez was going to leave, until the owner John Henry made a stand, and that he had apparently dallied over the signing of the exceptional Sturridge.

If you were being really brutal about it, you could present a caricature of Rodgers as a chronic bullshitter who wanted to bring in a load of bad lads and get rid of the good lads and who somehow ended up becoming the spiritual leader of 553 million people worldwide.

Except again, none of that matters because somewhere along the way he seems to have understood one of the higher truths of management, perhaps the highest of them all – that it is not about him, it's about the talent.

The good manager, essentially, is one who recognises the talent, and who then largely gets out of the way. Intriguingly, though he is perceived as a man who became successful by imposing his will on weaker men – which was everybody – Ferguson had a deep reverence for talent.

He managed Eric Cantona with such delicacy, it was almost as if he had entirely suppressed his own ego – which would take some suppressing, yet he did it, because he knew it was the only way to get what he wanted, to get Cantona to play for him.

Rodgers too had a set of "convictions" about how a Brendan Rodgers team should play, yet he has largely let go of that stuff, as he has realised the nature of the talent at his disposal, that his job is to send them out in roughly the right shape – and then to watch them do it.

Perhaps he just needed a certain amount of time to become fully confident in the abilities of those players, to release all that wildly positive energy of his for the greater good, not in the service of corporate twaddle.

He might even have noted some of the intelligent criticism which he received during his "David Brent" phase, and learned from it, which would be equally admirable.

If it sounds simple – just recognise the talent and then get out of the way – you'd wonder why such management is so rarely seen, in any organisation.

The David Brents with "their own ideas" are forever looking at Marty Whelan presenting Winning Streak and thinking that Marty Morrissey might do it better.

Even in matters of the utmost importance, such as the Champions League panel of Giles and Dunphy and Brady, they want to "mix it up a bit".

There are 553 million of them out there too, and only one Brendan Rodgers.

Sunday Independent

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