Saturday 14 December 2019

Right man at helm to steer Reds clear of choppy waters

He may have stood over as many league defeats in 12 games this season as he experienced in 38 last term. But he still convinces me. REUTERS/Phil Noble
He may have stood over as many league defeats in 12 games this season as he experienced in 38 last term. But he still convinces me. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Ian Rush

Brendan Rodgers remains the right man for the job - the one to guide Liverpool out of this period of indifference and back to a good place.

He may have stood over as many league defeats in 12 games this season as he experienced in 38 last term. But he still convinces me.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have seen him work. I've stood on the training field at Melwood and watched his thorough, detailed sessions.

I have listened to his soft Ulster voice, quietly explaining the plans he has to his players.

And I have seen those players listen to every word, grasping the points he has made.

I have also seen Basel move two points clear of his Liverpool side with one match remaining in their Champions League group.

SUCCESSFUL

And I have seen the Premier League table. Twelfth. Liverpool Football Club, one of the best-supported clubs in the world, one of the most successful clubs in the game's history. And we're twelfth.

Yet I'm convinced a corner will be turned. I don't just see twelfth position. I see that the team in fourth, Manchester United, are just five points ahead.

From experience, I know the table can change very quickly. And why do I think Brendan Rodgers is the man who can implement that change?

It is because of what I saw last season, the wins, the goals, the weeks from February 8 through to April 20 when Liverpool played eleven Premier League games and won all eleven.

I remember the Wednesday in March when Sunderland came to Anfield. The details of the match are nowhere as vivid as the memory of watching the faces of those supporters who lined the streets next to Anfield two hours before kick-off, waving these huge Liverpool flags, chanting their songs.

And when the team bus squirmed its way past them, I just knew. I knew Liverpool would win that night. I knew the momentum would carry them forward. And I knew Brendan Rodgers had made his players believe.

This was eight months ago. So what has changed? Luis Suarez has gone, Daniel Sturridge is injured.

Men who scored 52 League goals between them last season are unavailable. Tell me that isn't painful to a side?

So this season is like year one of Rodgers' reign. Year one was about building, year two about winning. Year three is a rebuild.

It will come good. A repeat of 2013-14 can occur. It could even happen in the next month when Liverpool face Stoke, Basel, Sunderland and Arsenal at home, with trips to Leicester and Manchester United sandwiched in between.

They tell me it's a pivotal time in our season and I believe them. Then they say that Brendan is under pressure and I laugh.

The club support him. As do the fans. The players respect, and play, for him. They hear older pros in the dressing room, men like Kolo Toure, who at 33 has won everything there is to win, and they hear him compare Brendan with Arsene Wenger.

"I see Wenger in him because of his intelligence," said Toure.

"Like Arsene, he is always there on the training field. He is trying to improve things."

But Rodgers' problem is that last year he improved things too much. Liverpool, having finished seventh, eighth, sixth and seventh in their previous four seasons, ended up second last season. They overachieved.

Now they are down the table and the scrutiny is intense. And yet perception and reality have yet to collide.

Last year Liverpool escaped injuries. This term they are plagued by them.

MOMENTUM

Last year, they gathered momentum and went on a run that only Chelsea could stop. This season we are waiting for that run to start. Could today be the day?

If it was any other team bar Stoke and any other manager bar Mark Hughes, I would categorically say yes. We were strike partners for Wales for years and when I think back to all those Welsh games I remember a man who sacrificed his ego and his health to do a job for us all.

One game in particular sticks in my head, a 1-0 victory over Italy in Brescia, six days before they travelled to Euro 88.

That was at the end of my year with Juventus, a year when I'd copped a fair amount of stick.

Mark put himself about that day like never before. They kicked him. They spat at him. They tugged his shirt. They hit him with elbows, fists, everything.

And he just took it and got on with the game, laying on the winner for me.

And when I see the teams he has managed, I always see that honesty. I never see his team quit.

I see the Mark Hughes of 1988 in Brescia in a bit of all his players.

Liverpool face that today. Will it be easy? No. Nothing ever is when Mark Hughes is your opponent.

But today could be the day Liverpool's season turns.

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