Steve McManaman backs Brendan Rodgers to get Liverpool back to Champions League
Former Liverpool great Steve McManaman believes Brendan Rodgers can inspire the Reds to qualify for the Champions League this season.
The Anfield outfit moved into second place in the Premier League at the weekend with a convincing 4-1 home victory over West Ham, leaving them five points behind table topping Arsenal.
The intention for the Merseyside outfit is to stay in the top four and earn a crack at the biggest tournament in club football next year for the first time since 2009.
Competition might be intense with the Gunners, Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United all vying for the riches that the Champions League can offer, but according to BT Sport pundit McManaman, Liverpool have every chance of making it thanks to the stability that Carnlough native Rodgers has brought to the club since taking charge in the summer of 2012.
"Before Brendan took the job there was a lot of talk about Liverpool on the front pages as well as the back," said McManaman, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph.
"There was in-house fighting at the club and I think Brendan has brought stability to Liverpool. He's taken it back to the old days when everything stayed private within the club and that's the way it should be.
"He is also concentrating on playing football the right way and concentrating on trying to bring new players in who can strengthen the club and more importantly he is climbing the league table from where they were last year.
"Liverpool finished seventh then, they are second at the moment and have been higher previously and are doing a lot better than they were last season.
"I think Brendan is doing an excellent job. It was a poor result earlier this month against Hull, but they bounced back well with home wins over Norwich and West Ham.
"At the beginning of the season I just wanted progress and for them to finish higher than they did last year. They started very well though and could be in the top two or three by Christmas. If that's the case halfway through the season they have got a really good chance of finishing in the Champions League slots."
As part of the Rodgers revolution at Anfield the County Antrim man has been keen to embrace the successful history of the club rather than run away from it.
To that end he has brought McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Rob Jones back to Liverpool to work with the youngsters as mentors at the Academy.
All three began their Anfield careers in the early 90s and quickly became favourites with the Kop. McManaman shone in the 1992 FA Cup final success against Sunderland and won the League Cup final on his own versus Bolton in 1995.
The ex-England ace, who left for Real Madrid in 1999, explained: "We've been brought in to help out with the under-18s and under-21s and to be around training sessions and give advice or help to the boys."
Since taking on his new role, McManaman, intelligent on and off the pitch and perhaps not always given the credit he deserved at Liverpool, has been impressed by Belfast youngster Ryan McLaughlin.
McManaman, now 41, said: "Ryan is doing really well. He's a lovely lad and is a credit to his family. I was over in Eindhoven with the under-21s recently and he was playing down the right hand side alongside another good young player Jordan Ibe.
"They linked up really well and were very dangerous. The pair of them were very speedy and communicated really well. The next night he was going back home for his girlfriend's prom I think and I was chatting to him about Belfast.
"Unfortunately he got a hamstring injury at the end of training recently which means he will be out of action for six to eight weeks."
McManaman himself has a close affinity to Northern Ireland. He has friends here and happy memories from starring in the Milk Cup as a 15-year-old schoolboy.
I remind him about scoring a hat-trick in the final for Liverpool in a 4-0 victory against Motherwell back in 1988.
"That was a long, long time ago, "he says, laughing.
"It was amazing for me to score a hat-trick in that final. I was only 15 and at the time it was probably the best moment of my life. It's a special tournament and great for young players to take part in.
"I have very fond memories of Northern Ireland. I've been over to Belfast numerous times and every time I go over I always enjoy it. It's a place very close to my heart."
Questions for Steve
Steven Beacom: You played in big tournaments for England. How do you think Roy Hodgson and his side will do in the 2014 World Cup finals?
Steve McManaman: I don't think they have much of a chance to be honest. I certainly don't think they'll win it but then I believe over in South America it will be difficult for any European team to do that. What I want to see from England is positive football. I don't mind them losing as long as they go down fighting, rather than going out with a whimper.
SB: What's your take on Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, having been a favourite at the Bernabeu yourself?
SM: When he first went over I felt he would need a month to show his true colours, because he didn't have a pre-season with them and wasn't fit when he signed. I always thought he was a superstar in the making, but just needed to get fit. He's scoring lots of goals now and I feel he'll get stronger and become a bigger and better player than he already is.
SB: How are you enjoy being a pundit for BT Sport?
SM: It's great. We've only been going for four months and hopefully the more we do and the more we learn, the shows will become better and better.
SB: And you've just won the rights to show Champions League games from 2015.
SM: It's been fantastic doing the Premier League but then to acquire exclusive rights for the Champions League and Europa League was incredible. We also have the FA Cup. It's credit to the bosses at BT Sport who went out and got the rights. It's a really exciting time for all of us at the station.
SB: With Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo firing on all cylinders, could Real win the Champions League?
SM: They have a good chance, though my concern is that they concede too many goals. Also Bayern Munich are in frightening form. They are the favourites for me.
What's up next?
The next Premier League matches on BT Sport are: Saturday December 14: Man City v Arsenal (12.45pm), Saturday December 21: Liverpool v Cardiff (12.45pm).