Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers will bring out the best in Mario Balotelli

By Steven Beacom

Brendan Rodgers is the man to bring the best out of Mario Balotelli and will continue to move Liverpool forward, according to Anfield legend Robbie Fowler.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Fowler lavished praise on Carnlough native Rodgers for 'galvanising everyone at the club', insisting that last season's sparkling performances, which almost took the Reds to the Premier League title, can be repeated this term.

Fowler, who scored 183 goals in two spells at Liverpool, returned to the club last year at the behest of Rodgers to offer advice to kids at the Merseyside outfit's Academy and since then has become an official ambassador with the club.

He is in a strong position to see the work going on under 41-year-old Ulsterman Rodgers, who took over as manager in the summer of 2012 and has looked to make Liverpool a force again playing a dynamic brand of football.

So far so good on that front with Liverpool rising from a seventh place finish in the league in his first season to runners-up last time following an exhilarating title race, eventually won by Manchester City.

Back in the Champions League this season, there is pressure on Liverpool to repeat the heroics of the previous campaign and they have to do it without the inspirational Luis Suarez, now with Barcelona, though they do have colourful and controversial Italian forward Balotelli to keep things interesting at Anfield.

Former England striker Fowler was impressed by Balotelli's debut in the 3-0 victory at Spurs 10 days ago and is confident he will flourish at Liverpool under the astute leadership of Rodgers.

"If you look at Mario's performance against Tottenham I think he is already buying into what Brendan is doing at Liverpool," said Fowler, preparing for tonight's movie premiere in his home city of One Night in Istanbul, in which he has a small role.

"For a player who was at the club for three days before the Tottenham game and one that had just trained twice, I thought he was brilliant. He worked hard and showed great ability. I haven't seen him work as hard as that for every team he's played for but his display at White Hart Lane bodes well for the future.

"I do believe if any manager can get the best out of Mario it is Brendan because of his man management skills.

"You can guarantee that he'll put an arm around him or do whatever is necessary and in turn Mario will deliver for Brendan.

"I have played under some great managers who tactically were superb and man management wise were brilliant and Brendan ticks those boxes.

"His man management is as good as I've seen and he has real tactical awareness with his ability to change things in games to benefit the team. He's suited perfectly to being Liverpool manager and is taking us in the right direction.

"Everyone is talking about the club for the right reasons again and he has us playing the right way, the way we, as Liverpool fans, want and expect.

"I truly believe he has galvanised everyone in and around the club. It is a special time to be involved at Liverpool, be that as a player or a fan, and so much of that is down to what Brendan has done. I can see us getting better and better under him.

"Brendan has given the players the confidence to believe that they can take on anyone. They go out on the pitch giving so much because they know the manager is backing them. From what I can see the players are 120% behind Brendan and what he is doing at the club."

As for the current campaign, which has started with wins over Southampton and Spurs and defeat to City, with Aston Villa to come at Anfield on Saturday night, Fowler said: "This season I've heard a lot of pundits saying Liverpool won't do as well, but I think Liverpool answered questions that have been raised with their brilliant performance at Tottenham.

"The reaction at Spurs after losing to City was great and as good a performance as I've seen by any team this season."

Apart from another crack at the Premier League, Champions League excitement is growing. After an absence of five years, Liverpool are back in the tournament next Tuesday at Anfield against Ludogorets Razgrad from Bulgaria.

In October and November there will be two mouthwatering group matches with holders Real Madrid when the 10-time winners meet England's most successful club on the continent, boasting five European Cup triumphs.

Fowler says a return to the biggest club competition of them all should hold no fears.

"Liverpool over the years have been synonymous with the Champions League. It is going to be unreal having big European nights back at Anfield," he said.

"We are in a group with the current champions Real Madrid and to me that's great because I'm one of those people who wants to play against the best teams. It gives you an opportunity to show your mettle in games like that.

"I've no doubts that whenever teams come to Anfield on Champions League nights with the floodlights on and the atmosphere that will be generated they will be afraid."

Even Real Madrid?

Fowler stated: "I'm not sure a lot of their players would have witnessed what they will witness when they come to Anfield. Their players will obviously have played in bigger stadiums but that night the passion inside the ground will be incredible and the atmosphere will be unbelievable."

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