Jason McAteer starting to see fruit of Brendan Rodger's groundwork at Anfield
Former Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer believes that Brendan Rodgers has taken the club a "big step in the right direction."
McAteer, who made over 100 appearances for the Merseyside team during a five–year spell, praised the influence the Carnlough man has had since becoming manager in June 2012.
He said: "I think his time in charge has been really good. Obviously when he came into the club he wanted to change a few things about.
"He inherited Kenny's team and it was a very dynamic in the way they were playing and he wanted to put his own philosophy, his own stamp on the style of play. There's a real emphasis on youth and I think this season will be the one we see his blueprint put into place."
McAteer, who recently admitted to beating depression, also said that Liverpool should be aiming high come the end of the season. The team have won their opening three league fixtures against Stoke, Aston Villa and Manchester United and are the only side with a 100% record after three games.
The standout performer of the season so far has been Daniel Sturridge, one of Rodgers' additions to the squad. The former Chelsea man has scored all three of Liverpool's league goals, and with each game ending 1–0, they have made the difference.
It means that Rodgers is the first Ulsterman to head the Premier League as manager since Pat Rice guided Arsenal to joint–top spot as caretaker manager in the mid 1990s, and ex–Republic of Ireland international McAteer (pictured) thinks the club can go further this time of asking.
"Champions League football is a must. You're always in for the trophies and I think Brendan will certainly learn from last year. We lost to Oldham in the FA Cup and if we had won that game, you could see us going all the way to the final but unfortunately we didn't and it was a big dent in what Brendan was trying and he's learned from that," he said.
"He played a strong team against Notts. County the other night and although they got it back to 2–2, Liverpool got the job done in the end. With no European football this season, Brendan should definitely be going for a domestic cup."
Rodgers was offered the Liverpool job just weeks after beating them 1–0 with former club Swansea on the last day of the 2011–12 season, a result which saw the Welsh side finish 11th in their first season in the Premier League. McAteer believes Rodgers has bought cleverly during his time as boss.
"I think the signings Brendan has brought in have been good. There's a bit of a gamble when you bring in potential that has to be fulfilled, like Daniel Sturridge. He had really good qualities, but he just needed to get a run in a first team and unfortunately he couldn't get that at Man City or Chelsea. Brendan's brought him in and you can see his desire to be the number one.
"Coutinho was a bit of an unknown because he was coming into England from Italian football. Although he played in plenty of games and had experience, there is still the unknown of whether he can handle the physical element of the Premier League week–in week–out but he has certainly lived up to that and we expect big things from him."
McAteer has spoken of the battles he faced after retiring from football in 2007. After moving on from Liverpool, he had spells at Blackburn and Sunderland before spending the last years of his career with Tranmere Rovers.
He said: "In football, you go into work and you've got 25 mates. You're in a big bubble, everything is done for you – you've got a great contract and a few bob in your back pocket and you don't envisage that it will ever come to an end. But then it comes to the end of the season and your contract runs out.
"The first weekend is great because you meet up with your mates, go on the ale and have a laugh. Then all of a sudden you come to the sixth weekend and the lads are back training. That's when you start missing it and that's when your problems begin.
"Your brain gets a little bit lost and you end up in a world of pain. With depression, it's not like a broken arm when you have a cast on and everyone can see it. It's like no one can see it."
Luckily for McAteer his mum is a qualified counsellor and recognised the signs. Three years later, he has beaten the illness and is urging other players to seek help..
"It was like I was a different person back then. I look back now and wonder how I got in that state, thankfully I'm better now. But other players can't hide away from the signs. You have to confront the issues and deal with them the right way."