Rodgers rooted in foreign ideals
Something exotic in Liverpool manager's vision for fallen giants, writes Paul Wilson
The way Brendan Rodgers tells it, the offer to manage Liverpool was one he simply could not turn down. "Being manager of this club is a destination," he says.
"What is new about my appointment is a British manager getting a job like this. When I started in management I wanted to show that British managers can get teams to play the way continental teams do, but there's an emotional attachment here as well as the footballing challenge. My father and my grandfather were both Liverpool supporters. My mum and dad would have been proud to see me here but they both passed away recently so I'm representing them as well."
All the more surprising, then, that Rodgers did turn the job down. When Liverpool first got in touch, with what they saw as a shortlist but he described as a beauty parade, Rodgers said thanks but no thanks, he would be happier staying at Swansea. Surely, if destiny was calling, that was a bit of a risk?
"It was a gut feeling," he says. "I wasn't crying to leave Swansea, I loved every minute there, and I wasn't going to disrespect them by seeking a move if I was only one of several candidates. So I told Liverpool that, but I thought if they really wanted me they would come back."
And they did. Meaning that after almost 20 years as a coach -- injury curtailed Rodgers' playing career at the age of 20 -- his managerial rise has been meteoric. He got Swansea into the Premier League in his first full season, kept them there in some style, and will now commence his second season in the top flight behind Kenny Dalglish's old desk.
The Liverpool supporters were up in arms at suggestions Roberto Martinez might be offered the job, but next to Rodgers the Wigan manager is a Premier League veteran, even if he lacks one of the most significant items on the Ulsterman's CV, the experience of working with Jose Mourinho as an assistant at Chelsea and an ongoing relationship with the Real Madrid manager.
"We keep in contact on a weekly basis, but I'm very much my own man," Rodgers says. "What Jose gave me, apart from great confidence, was the opportunity to work with big players and satisfy myself that I could get my ideas across to them."
That should come in handy at Anfield, for Liverpool still have some big players, even though they are no longer in the Champions League bracket. When there was a big four, an elite of English clubs who made the Champions League every year, it was often suggested there was no way for young, ambitious homegrown managers to break in, and Rodgers' understandable pride at breaking down that barrier is slightly tempered by the consideration that Liverpool might not be such a big club any more.
Rodgers is under no illusions. "There used to be a top two, then a top four, and now you are looking at eight massive clubs," he says. "If you haven't got the resources of a Manchester City you have to try to do things in a different way, and I think we (Swansea) showed last season how you can be tactically different and prosper. The supporters here are world class, the best in the world, everyone knows that. But the team has maybe slipped a little, and that's why I've been brought in."
Rodgers cannot carry on in this vein for long -- he even stresses at one point that football is a simple game that should not be over-complicated -- without reminding his audience of Bill Shankly. "Don't even go there," he growls, as if already aware the comparison might be made. Shankly was unique, a one-off, a spectacular example of the right person being in the right place at the right time.
Rodgers may be all of those things too, but even if he is Shankly got there first. So when he comes out with lines like, "I don't want to train footballers, I want to educate them, training is for dogs", people are always going to wonder whether he has merely been influenced by the great man, or whether he is consciously imitating him. Rodgers has always been quotable -- he is Irish, after all -- but he seemed to have a few one-liners saved up for his first day at Liverpool. "Everyone wants to play like Barcelona but you quickly find out not everyone wants to work like Barcelona," for example.
Or, more Shanklyesque: "What I want to do is inspire the city, that's the overall mission. I want every Liverpool supporter worldwide to be proud of the club, and for us to be successful we have to make it the longest 90 minutes of an opponent's life when they come to Anfield. And not just the players either."
Well, we shall see. For the moment, Rodgers has confirmed that he would be interested in signing Gylfi Sigurdsson should he come on to the market -- ie not take up his option to complete a transfer from Hoffenheim to Swansea -- because, like most people, he could see from a distance that Liverpool could do with a few more goals. No Hulk or Eden Hazard yet, but as even the Americans at Anfield on Friday were keen to emphasise, this is just the start of a long-term process.
"I've been given an opportunity," Rodgers says. "For a number of years maybe Brendan Rodgers has not sounded as nice as someone from Spain or Italy, but ultimately it's about the quality of your work. I know the owners spoke to some managers in Europe, but in the end they went for a Northern Irishman."
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