Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Suarez bite row has made me a better manager, says Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and winger Raheem Sterling get their hands on the Milk Cup with tournament supremo Victor Leonard

Even back home in Northern Ireland, Brendan Rodgers couldn't escape the controversy surrounding Luis Suarez.

Since the Uruguayan sunk his teeth into Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic last month and the biter was bit with a 10-match suspension, the Liverpool manager has answered scores of questions about his number seven.

They kept on coming in Belfast yesterday with Rodgers at W5 in the Odyssey complex to make the draw for this year's Milk Cup competition.

True to form, he didn't shirk any. And, in keeping with his positive outlook, the 40-year-old from Carnlough revealed that some good will come out of what happened against Chelsea even though it was hard to swallow at the time.

"Dealing with the issue wasn't on any of the coaching courses I was ever on but you certainly come out of something like this a better manager," said Rodgers.

"My natural environment is on a football field, though when you are manager of an iconic club like Liverpool, it's more than coaching, it's a way of life and last week it was a testing time, but it makes you more experienced and helps you become better at your job."

Rodgers added: "It was a difficult period. Everyone knows that incident is not the type of example or the standard we want to set at Liverpool. Luis has accepted his punishment, as the club did, and he now serves his ban and we concentrate on the future."

The Reds didn't do too badly away to Newcastle at the weekend without the banned Suarez. That 6-0 victory was, according to Rodgers, the perfect response to all that had gone before.

He said: "After the shock of what happened in the Chelsea game, we had a few meetings with the players and the reality set in that we had to go out and win a football match and the focus was on the performance at Newcastle. We couldn't have done any more.

"People talk about not being able to score goals without Luis Suarez but we have played two games without Luis and scored nine goals and both games have been away from home. He's a remarkable player and fantastic talent but our team is based on the team. It's disappointing to lose him for so many games but we have other top players who will step up to the mark."

Rodgers will hope they do just that on Sunday at home to Everton.

He told me: "It'll be my first Merseyside derby at Anfield. We played at Goodison Park earlier in the season and the atmosphere was great. I'm expecting that and more on Sunday."

The Liverpool boss was accompanied by teenage sensation Raheem Sterling on his trip to Belfast.

Rodgers is a people person and loves interacting with fans, young and old, as he did yesterday with aplomb. The softly-spoken Sterling did himself no harm either with the polite way he dealt with posing for endless pictures and signing countless autographs after the draw.

Following such an explosive start to the season, the 18-year-old England winger has spent more time on the bench than the field of play lately, but it's clear his manager is expecting big things in the future from this kid, who admitted that he would loved to have played in the Milk Cup when he was younger!

With Brendan's first season at Anfield coming to a close, it's evident the former Watford, Reading and Swansea boss is determined to be on Merseyside long-term with a top four place his next goal.

"I've been fortunate to work at great clubs and now I'm at a club where I hope to be for a long time. It's not until you get inside Liverpool that you realise the sheer size of the club. It's a worldwide institution and you have a huge responsibility and that's something I have relished," said Rodgers, who first became a manager aged 35, three years ahead of his personal schedule.

"Where the club is at and where it has been before is two different places but you have to grow and build again and that's what we are looking to do. It's a big job, we have a lot of work to do but us Northern Irish people are up for the fight and at Liverpool we have to keep fighting."

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