Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Steven Beacom: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers blazing a trail for Northern Ireland

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 01: Brendan Rodgers is unveiled as the new Liverpool FC manager at a press conference at Anfield on June 01, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 01: Brendan Rodgers is unveiled as the new Liverpool FC manager at a press conference at Anfield on June 01, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
Brendan Rodgers is unveiled as the new Liverpool FC manager at a press conference at Anfield on June 01, 2012

Liverpool's new manager Brendan Rodgers made no bones about it. Asked to outline his targets he didn't come off with the usual blarney about taking one game or step at a time.

The straight talking Carnlough man told the truth, not afraid to reveal his lofty ambitions for fear of failing.

Earning plaudits at the time for his management of Swansea City in the Premier League, Rodgers admitted his aims were high.

As the 39-year-old spoke, with the same Ulster accent he left home with as a teenager, I sensed that with his self-belief, work ethic and charisma there was every chance that his dreams could come true.

“I want to be the best I possibly can,” said Brendan.

“My big dream is to be a highly successful football manager whose methods provide innovation for youth and senior footballers and coaches. I started coaching for one reason and that was to make a difference for people, not just as footballers, but as human beings.”

The ultimate for Rodgers then is to be a trailblazer — a man whose methods make a difference for generations to come in the same way as say legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels.

I guess Pep Guardiola, who recently left the manager's role at Barcelona, and greatly admired by Rodgers, is the most recent example.

Once upon a time, of course, Liverpool, like the Catalan giants, were the most feared team in Europe.

Even allowing for his superb coaching ability, Rodgers would need a lot longer than the three-year deal he has been handed by Liverpool owners to make the Reds kings of the continent again.

There's no doubt though that, by 2015, the Ulsterman will want the club heading in that direction.

Champions League football is what Fenway Sports Group (FSG) are demanding and it will be up to Brendan to provide it.

It's a little too much for him to make Liverpool into a top four side next season, especially when Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea are going to significantly strengthen squads that finished well above the Anfield outfit last term, but getting closer to the title chasers and Europe's most prestigious competition is a must.

In Brendan's second season on Merseyside the top four ought to come into sharper focus.

Having persuaded owners FSG that he can handle this huge challenge on his own and not need a Director of Football to hold his hand, Rodgers has shown, just as he has throughout his life, that he will do things at Anfield his way.

It's an incredible tale, all the more remarkable because as Brendan says: “When I was young I loved football but I never actually had the chance to play it at any level until I was 13 when I went to St Patrick's College in Ballymena.”

Thank goodness for St Patrick's College and Brendan's late parents Christina and Malachy, who gave their son — the oldest of five brothers — their blessing to leave home at 16 and try his hand as a footballer with Reading.

That may not have worked out but his coaching career sure has, despite a few hiccups along the road.

There is still a touch of amazement at where Rodgers has ended up, but believe it because Brendan does.

And, as he says, he enjoys blazing a trail.

It's a trail that is inspirational to anyone involved with football in Northern Ireland, confirming that anything is possible.

Here is a bloke from the village of Carnlough who is now taking charge of one of the world's greatest sporting institutions.

In the past we've had Ulstermen managing big clubs, but this is the most high profile job of all for someone from Northern Ireland — even bigger than when Martin O'Neill became Celtic's boss.

Over the past 20 years Martin led the way in managerial terms across the water for our wee country.

Take a look at Scotland now and you have Neil Lennon at Parkhead, Kenny Shiels at Kilmarnock and Steve Lomas at St Johnstone, all three having just completed hugely successful seasons.

Brendan's elevation to Liverpool will provide hope in the hearts of many more of our own aspiring to reach the top. It's the old 'if he can do it, so can I' scenario.

That's the way children playing golf all over the province are thinking because of the heroic deeds of Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Ditto young rugby players thanks to Ulster's brilliant run to the Heineken Cup final.

And in a couple of months time we'll have athletes returning home with medals from the London Olympics motivating youngsters to leave their Xboxes behind and go for gold.

This week Brendan Rodgers didn't just become manager of Liverpool Football Club, he became one of the most important and influential standard bearers for Northern Ireland.

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