Thursday 14 December 2017

Comment: Brendan Rodgers may end up the Liverpool fall guy but he has not acted alone

'I am not worried. Not at all. That is not being arrogant,' said Brendan Rodgers about the mounting pressure
'I am not worried. Not at all. That is not being arrogant,' said Brendan Rodgers about the mounting pressure

Michael Calvin

Malachy Rodgers was a hero to Brendan, the eldest of his five sons. He lived frugally and for his family. Though a painter and decorator by trade, he worked for 20 years as a maintenance man for a wealthy neighbour in the village of Carnlough in County Antrim.

Money was so tight, Brendan noticed his father instinctively switched off the engine so he could save petrol by coasting downhill when he drove him to football training in Belfast. He has never forgotten the look of quiet terror in his father’s eyes when his employer went on holiday without paying him.

“My father was dependent on being paid on a Friday by this guy who had a load of money, but who didn’t probably give a shit about him,” he recalls. “My poor dad was reliant on that cash to take me to football, to feed his family. That shaped me. I would never wait and rely on anyone else.”

Such self-reliance is essential in football management, and has never been more personally relevant. A Liverpool defeat in today’s Merseyside derby will leave Rodgers friendless; he will be fortunate to survive the subsequent international break.

The tenor of the inquest is already set. Somewhere on his journey, from coaching Reading’s under-10s to managing the most emotionally driven club in domestic football, the boy has been buried beneath the brand he felt obliged to create.

Liverpool's Dejan Lovren is dejected during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday August 29, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Liverpool. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

The enduring respect of his peers, who recognise him as an aspirational figure and an innovative tutor, offers little protection against the public’s reflexive ridicule of his sub-Shanklyesque whimsy and earnest, occasionally gauche, self-promotion.

His values are sound, and too easily overlooked. When we met for one of his last major on-the-record interviews before he began to limit media access, I sensed the contradictions of a man of depth whose time at Anfield will be defined by superficialities.

It was as if he was drawn too deeply into the emotional complexity of his job, in moulding naturally cynical, immoderately rich footballers while marrying his principles to the astringent culture which underpins the business strategy of his American employers.

Dressing rooms can be cold places, barred to dreamers when results turn. Players have a feral appreciation of weakness, and florid philosophies expressed on flip-charts in a manager’s office have a distinctly short shelf life when it is every man for himself.

Rodgers’ profile of his ideal player is instructive: “First and foremost he needs to have talent, the personality to play at a club with this pressure. He must have the capacity to learn. Mentally, he has got to be hungry. It’s to do with desire and ambition, no matter how much you earn. To meet the demands we set, the speed at which we ask players to play, you need to be technically strong.”

Scan Liverpool’s squad list. The club’s nebulous transfer committee has not done its job. No one discusses the employment prospects of its pivotal members, head of recruitment Dave Fallows, director of technical performance Michael Edwards and chief scout Barry Hunter. Perhaps they should do so, since £200m has largely been squandered.

Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho

Rodgers, bound by collective responsibility and a deeply-ingrained British belief in managerial authority, is culpable for sanctioning a move away from traditional scouting methods, which raised internally-expressed doubts  about the quality of such recruits as  Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and  Lazar Markovic. 

It is probable that a distillation of  Rodgers’ life work, a 180 page document entitled, One Vision, One Club, will soon require revision, whatever the result of today’s tribal scuffle at Goodison Park. A tipping point looks to have been reached, but it would be foolish to  write him off.

He studied languages because they extend his boundaries. It would be no surprise to see him fulfil a long term ambition to work in La Liga. International football would suit someone of his nature and experience; succeeding Roy Hodgson, another anguished Anfield alumnus, as England manager would have appropriate symmetry.

Malachy Rodgers did his job well. His eldest son is a credit to him, despite the vagaries of fate.  

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