Monday 19 March 2018

Brendan Rodgers now voice of his generation of managers

Liverpool boss winning over the cynics through his gravitas and devotion to possession football

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

Henry Winter

Rewind a year and Brendan Rodgers endured some belittling for his "new-age" management, his aphorisms seeing him depicted as the David Brent of the dugout.

Not now. People now see the substance to Rodgers' style, his subtle and successful man-management of Luis Suarez, his expert coaching of Jordan Henderson, his belief in youth seen in Jon Flanagan's prominence and the exhilarating nature of Liverpool's football. It is time to reappraise Rodgers and praise him.

Sayings that most annoyed listeners elicit a different reaction now that Rodgers' managerial principles manifest themselves fully in players pushing for significant honours. When Rodgers remarked that he "started coaching for one reason and that was to make a difference for people, not just as footballers but as human beings'' there were gasps.


It sounded rather grandiose from a coach whose main achievement had been only a promotion with Swansea City. Now it makes sense, capturing Rodgers' ability to mould characters as well as players. He has turned Suarez from a toxic asset into a valued commodity respected even by rival fans.

Liverpool's No 7 may transgress again but all around have noted the Uruguayan's maturing, his desire to channel that edgy hunger properly. Through explanation and encouragement, Rodgers assists that change.

Quietly, Rodgers also challenges Suarez to become part of English footballing history, for breaking goalscoring records, not codes of conduct.

When Rodgers observed that "we play with 11 men while other teams play with 10 men and a goalkeeper" it sounded arrogant. Now those words encapsulate his footballing philosophy, a way of playing in keeping with Liverpool's pass-and-move tradition, and bringing the best out of Suarez.

It is not all Suarez by the way. During Suarez's suspension, Daniel Sturridge was voted Premier League Player of the Month for August while Rodgers scooped the managerial award. Liverpool currently deliver without the injured Sturridge and Steven Gerrard. Rodgers simply tweaks his team or brings in well-prepared understudies to maintain the momentum. They know what he wants.

A careful plan is being put into operation at Anfield. Rodgers buys those such as Philippe Coutinho who suit his obsession with possession, inflicting on opponents "death by football". There were doubts whether the slight Brazilian would cope with the physicality of the Premier League. Coutinho looks at home now. Rodgers chose well. Joe Allen begins to justify the £15m outlay.

Liverpool's manager has made mistakes, and concerns remain over Fabio Borini and Iago Aspas while Nuri Sahin's loan did not work out. Rodgers is fortunate to have good owners in John W Henry and Tom Werner.

As well as the flowing football, Rodgers' players perform with a strong work ethic, the type instilled in him by his late father, who had him painting and decorating at a young age. "My father would work from dawn to dusk to ensure his young family had everything and I think you can see his philosophies in my team,'' Rodgers said during his time at Swansea.

He sees the club as a family. The team spirit engendered by Rodgers was demonstrated when Suarez squared the ball for Raheem Sterling to score against Cardiff City and the youngster immediately running to thank him.

Still those early maxims of Rodgers need revisiting. Bemusement followed his pronouncement that "the problem with being a manager is it's like trying to build an aircraft while it's flying''.

Rodgers is different. He is no Big Sam. Addressing the media, Rodgers is one of the most tactile managers I have met. He has always been quotable but now people appreciate the content properly. Discussing how he likes to train players, Rodgers once said: "You train dogs. I like to educate players." Cue some hilarity. But he does educate players. Ask Henderson.

When Rodgers arrived at Melwood last year, the new manager sat down with the struggling midfielder. "We had conversations on what I needed to do to improve my game,'' recalls Henderson. They also talked about whether the player should try a new start at Fulham. "I don't want to go,'' Henderson told Rodgers. "I want to fight for my place.'' Impressed, Rodgers replied that if Henderson listened, learnt and improved, he would give him a chance. "He helped me, always talking to me,'' adds Henderson, now an integral part of the team.

Rodgers has put behind him that unfortunate documentary 'Being: Liverpool'. He came over slightly oddly in the programme, leading to the Brent comparison.

Still only 40, Rodgers has acquired some gravitas. Now that his team are the talk of the town, Rodgers sounds increasingly like a spokesman for a managerial generation, addressing major issues. His words carry increasing weight. He berates the negative coaching that can inhibit English talent.

Rodgers spoke powerfully in support of Malky Mackay. Rodgers spoke for all in football when calling to account Cardiff's owner, Vincent Tan, as "a business guy who knows absolutely nothing about football".

The leaders of the Football Association and Premier League would earn respect if they echoed Rodgers' stance. He was embraced by an emotional, grateful Mackay after Saturday's game at Anfield. Mackay will not forget that backing.

Rodgers is rising up to become a heavyweight of the managerial game. Harry Redknapp so respects him that he was going to ask Rodgers to help with the coaching at Euro 2012 if Redknapp got the England job. Jose Mourinho lauds his protege.

Watford fans may disagree, following his sudden departure from Vicarage Road, but Rodgers is a man of principle. When Swansea defeated his old Reading side in the Championship play-off at Wembley in 2011, Rodgers was quick to console Brian McDermott and John Madejski. Rodgers' handling of this year's Hillsborough developments and tributes further reflected his dignity, enhancing his reputation even more. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport