Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool achievements just awesome

He's the man: Brendan Rodgers has turned Liverpool into a formidable outfit again

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is an inspirational figure to everyone involved in football in Northern Ireland.

So says international team boss Michael O'Neill, who has watched and admired the incredible progress of the County Antrim man since they were both teenagers going to school in Ballymena.

Rodgers is currently the toast of Kopites for the remarkable job he has done since becoming Kenny Dalglish's successor in the summer of 2012.

The Carnlough native took over a team which finished eighth in the Premier League and are now challenging for the title, and doing it in a manner that has thrilled Liverpool supporters and neutrals alike.

Victory over Sunderland on Wednesday moved the Reds into second place in the table, just one point behind Chelsea and two clear of Manchester City, who have two games in hand.

This has been achieved with a much smaller budget and much smaller squad compared to the big spending Blues brothers. Rodgers gives credit to the players for making the Liverpool fans dream about a first championship since 1990, but without his personality, vision and drive it would not have happened.

The 41-year-old will tell you they still have many miles to travel to get to where he wants them to be but, without question, the astute Ulsterman has brought Liverpool Football Club a long way in a short space of time.

O'Neill believes what Rodgers is doing is not just beneficial to the Anfield outfit, but can provide an important boost to the game in Northern Ireland too.

"Like myself Brendan went to school in Ballymena. He's a little bit younger than me but I've known him since way back," said 44-year-old O'Neill.

"All these years on what he is doing at Liverpool is fantastic. The way his team is playing is absolutely awesome. Liverpool are the team to watch at the moment and they are up there challenging teams with more resources.

"To see Brendan operating at that level and going toe-to-toe with Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger is fantastic.

"He had some problems to deal with at the start of the season with the Luis Suarez situation regarding his future at Liverpool, but Brendan stuck to his guns in what could not have been an easy situation and the player stayed.

"What he has now is players hitting top form like Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, who have all progressed under him. He's obviously done a lot of work with Steven Gerrard as well.

"It's interesting hearing Brendan speak about Gerrard who wanted to be coached in relation to self improvement and that to me is one of Brendan's biggest strengths. It's that ability to get players to recognise they need improvement.

"What he is achieving at a huge club like Liverpool is great for Northern Ireland because it is putting us on the map and the way he has done it is very impressive.

"I know there is this obsession with foreign coaches, but to me a good coach is a good coach no matter where he is from and what Brendan has done is show everyone there is no reason why people from Northern Ireland can't aspire to have a successful career in big time football, be it coaching, management or as players.

"He's inspirational to anyone involved in football in Northern Ireland from grass roots level to the international scene the way he is shining at elite level.

"I think it gives everyone in Northern Ireland a boost to see one of our own do so well on such a big stage. It's like when people see Jonny Evans doing well with Manchester United. We all get a lift by that," added O'Neill, who might ask the former Swansea boss for a few tips on how to stop Suarez before a friendly with Uruguay in May.

Having known Rodgers for years and seen his development, O'Neill offers this insight into how he has reached such heady heights.

"I remember being on loan at Reading as a player and Brendan was working in the Community Programme coaching kids," recalls O'Neill.

"He didn't have a major playing background but he dedicated himself to coaching from the age of 20. It shows you where you can go, especially in the modern game, if you are prepared to work at it and be intelligent enough and creative enough.

"What Brendan has done very well is to maximise the breaks he's had.

"He's shown that if you have the desire and the ability to learn, which Brendan definitely has because he is constantly striving to find new ways of doing things, you can get to the top."

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