Brendan Rodgers is ready for Liverpool challenge
Published 01/06/2012 | 08:00
“My ethos is to attack and play creative football with tactical discipline. I guess the philosophy is to play with style and steel.”
That's what Brendan Rodgers told me during an interview a couple of days before he was due to manage for the first time in the Premier League.
It was a Saturday afternoon last August when my mobile phone rang.
“Hello, is that Steven? This is Brendan Rodgers,” came the voice on the other end of the line.
To be honest I was a little taken aback. The Swansea City press officer told me that Brendan said he would call, but facing a trip to big spending Manchester City on Monday night, I contented myself that the man from Carnlough might just be a little bit busy preparing his team for a mighty challenge.
Rodgers was busy alright, but he still made time to make that call, as he promised he would.
Since then, I've met and interviewed the County Antrim native several times.
I've been fortunate in this job to talk to some sporting greats, but few have impressed like Brendan. Chat with the 39-year-old and you genuinely come away feeling better for it.
I like him. It would be hard not to. Liverpool Football Club haven't just got themselves a good manager on a three year contract, they have got a good man.
He's an engaging, highly intelligent, fun, challenging, unpretentious guy.
He's also a worker, willing to put the hours in to be successful — a trait he puts down to his late parents.
Like many an Ulsterman he sure can talk, but he also listens, wanting to learn. Like a sponge, he soaks up information.
The quality I most admire in him though is that he has the courage of his own convictions.
He showed that in his talks with the owners of Liverpool by winning his first battle as boss. They wanted to employ a Sporting Director alongside Brendan, but he will manage the club on his own terms.
You could also see his self belief in the way Swansea played last season.
After gaining promotion to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs, the Welsh side were tipped by just about everybody to be relegated.
Some even questioned whether the Swans would reach double figures in terms of points after City hammered them 4-0 in that opening fixture.
Rodgers was told that Swansea's pass and move football wouldn't work for a newly promoted side and that each week they would get thumped by bigger, stronger, better teams.
Brendan trusted himself, his style of play and his players and boy was he rewarded.
As the final game of the campaign finished, ironically with a 1-0 win over Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool, Brendan's boys were lauded as one of the stories of the season with their easy on the eye tactics helping them finish an incredible 11th place in the table.
They played Tottenham and Chelsea off the park and were unlucky to only draw those games, defeated Arsenal in a thriller and best of all deservedly beat eventual champions Manchester City, avenging that 4-0 loss.
Rodgers was winning new friends all over the planet, not least in Boston, the base of the Fenway Sports Group, who own Liverpool FC.
Once they sacked Dalglish after a shocking eighth place finish in the league — winning the Carling Cup and reaching the FA Cup final mattered little to big boss John Henry — Rodgers became a genuine candidate for the vacant post.
Initially he turned down an approach to talk to the Merseyside club not wanting to be involved in some sort of Kop Idol audition.
Many ruled him out after that.
As I've written for the past fortnight though Brendan never said no to becoming Liverpool boss, merely no to becoming involved in that type of process.
As revealed in this newspaper on Monday, when Liverpool returned to Rodgers making him their first choice, the goalposts shifted.
While loving his life at the Liberty Stadium, Carnlough's favourite son couldn't turn Liverpool down.
The Reds, for all their ills on and off the pitch in recent times, remain one of the great sporting institutions around the world with a huge fanbase.
He knows his football history, does Rodgers, and all about Liverpool's glorious past and the pressure that puts on anyone taking charge, even someone like Dalglish, the ultimate Kop hero.
Brendan, though, won't be put off by that.
“I always say don't run away from the challenge. Run towards the challenge and face it,” he once told me.
There's no doubt that he faces a massive challenge now but he's been here before, after injury caused his early retirement from playing, fighting back with Swansea when managerial spells with Reading and Watford didn't work out and, toughest of all, coming to terms with the death of his parents.
Brendan wants his teams to “play with style and steel”. Hardly surprising given that he possesses those qualities in abundance.
Last season too many Liverpool players had neither, letting themselves and the side down — from Luis Suarez with the Patrice Evra racism affair to goalkeeper Pepe Reina's regular mistakes.
Then there were the new recruits Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing who all flopped.
I've heard it suggested that Rodgers won't be big enough or experienced enough to handle these players and a club the size of Liverpool.
Are you kidding me?
For starters he was born for a test like this and secondly, while he is a nice guy, he can also be ruthless and will deliver home truths if necessary.
First though his aim will be to get the players onside, fill them with confidence and tell them to play without the fear evident at many Anfield matches last term.
Communication with his players will be a key issue for the Spanish and Italian speaking Ulsterman.
Expect Liverpool's home record to improve dramatically in the 2012-2013 campaign — Swansea were superb at the Liberty Stadium under Rodgers — and don't be surprised if a few shrewd signings are made in the summer.
Also he will be involved from top to bottom of the club, keeping in constant touch with gifted youngsters at the Academy.
Brendan has been handed a three year deal. He'll need that time and more I suspect to make the modern Liverpool into the club he feels it should be.
I hope Kopites, upset at Dalglish's departure and Rafa Benitez not being appointed boss, give him that time.
I've backed Brendan to be the boss since Kenny left believing that the boy from Carnlough will be a big hit on Merseyside.
He was the Prince of Wales at Swansea. Now he's set to become the King of the Kop.