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Brendan Rodgers has rebuilt Anfield's fear factor despite last-day heartbreak

By Kevin Garside

Bearded Austrians in dresses do not have a monopoly on masculine sensitivity. Love was at the heart of the piece yesterday, pinned to the page by Brendan Rodgers in his programme notes and flowing from the stands at the end of a campaign that saw Liverpool rediscover a sense of itself as a football club, and of what the team means to this community.

Liverpool did not expect to be in sniffing distance of the championship on the last day of the season. They were, but more than that, Rodgers has made supporting the team a thing of joy and pride once again. The brand of exciting, exotic football fashioned under the Northern Irishman has transformed the atmosphere. This is Anfield, a place to fear.

The defeat here a fortnight ago to Chelsea and the inexplicable draw at Crystal Palace drained much of the significance from the afternoon. You can't win them all, and after a run of 11 straight wins there was no apology required.

It would, of course, have met the demand of footballing romance were Liverpool to have won the title for the first time since 1990 in the year when the tragedy of Hillsborough moved to towards a just conclusion.

Football is a hard business. There is no guarantee that, after coming close this time, the trajectory of this season will continue its upward trend. Liverpool need look back only five years when Rafa Benitez took the club to within a point of the title against Manchester United but was unable to carry that momentum forward.

That proved the end of a cycle, not the beginning, the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid triggering the unravelling. The love that was once bestowed on Benitez is beginning to settle on Rodgers, as demonstrated by the response from the Kop, who called out his name during the lap of honour.

Rodgers has shown a remarkable empathy with the supporters, particularly over Hillsborough and the families of the 96. His delicate handling of that issue and his oft stated respect for the history of the institution he manages has created a warm glow around Anfield, ultimately re-inforced by the action on the pitch.

In a Shankly-like address, he said: "In many respects the defining feeling from this season has been an enduring love. It is the love from the supporters that has created the wave of feeling that has engulfed Liverpool.

"It has been the love of the game and our entertaining that has driven our players to defy the odds and compete for a title no-one gave them a hope of competing for. It's been the love of the Hillsborough families for the memories of their relatives that has inspired us and a nation."

The applause that greeted the arrival of the team coach was more like the welcome given to teams holding aloft trophies. The trick now is to find another gear next season.

And the key to that is not so much adding to his squad but holding on to his most important players. On and off the pitch Luis Suarez has sworn his allegiance to Anfield, but that might be tested were Madrid to lay down €100 million.

Rodgers can't worry about that. He is right to feed off the optimism he has helped to recreate and deserves to dream big. "This has been a wonderful campaign, we've scored 100 goals, had a remarkable season. Congratulations to Manchester City but we will be back.

"I came here because I knew the club had potential to get back where it should be. It's a privilege to manage this club. Next season we have the Champions League. We look forward to that. We play to win. The philosophy will not change next season. There is no fear here."

Belfast Telegraph


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