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Brendan Rodgers' stunning Liverpool odyssey is a real eye-opener


Real deal: Brendan Rodgers has worked hard to reach the top

Real deal: Brendan Rodgers has worked hard to reach the top

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Real deal: Brendan Rodgers has worked hard to reach the top

Ten years ago Brendan Rodgers was the youth team coach at Chelsea. Tonight the Carnlough native will take charge of Liverpool against Real Madrid in the group stages of the Champions League.

It may not be the most important fixture of his football career, but it is the most glamorous and high profile to date.

This is the 10-time star-studded European Champions and holders of the trophy, complete with the great Cristiano Ronaldo, going head to head with Brendan's boys in an encounter eagerly awaited across the globe. The 41-year-old from County Antrim sure has come a long way.

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti says he wants to make time to hear the Kop anthem You'll Never Walk Alone ahead of this evening's Anfield showdown.

Prior to kick-off Rodgers should also take a moment to reflect how far he has travelled in the last decade to reach this point.

From coaching at Chelsea to managing at Watford, Reading and Swansea, who he guided into the Premier League, all the way to being a key figure in a contest between two of sport's most iconic institutions.

It's been a remarkable rise from relative obscurity to big-time football which owes much to the work ethic, ability, desire and ambition of Rodgers.

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It was Jose Mourinho, in his first spell at Chelsea, who appointed Rodgers, then the Academy Director at Reading, to take control of the kids at Stamford Bridge. Within a couple of years Rodgers was coaching the reserves and helping out with the senior squad.

The Ulsterman relied on his own footballing beliefs and personality to get his message across, but trips to Spain to study coaching methods also proved a major influence.

As a kid playing youth internationals with Northern Ireland, Rodgers faced Spain and was struck by how well their youngsters could keep the ball and ours couldn't.

It was a lesson that stayed with this student of the game.

When injury curtailed his playing career at an early age, he moved into coaching... his mind becoming a sponge for tactics, formations, styles and the Spanish language.

He travelled to watch how clubs like Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia trained and played, determined to learn.

Last season the pupil became the master as the Reds blitzed opponents with their pressing, possession, pace and penetration. It almost took a side who had finished eighth and seventh in previous seasons to the title.

While dejected to miss out to Manchester City on the final day, there was the consolation of Champions League football coming back to Anfield and the spine tingling noise that swirls around the famous stadium on nights like this. When Liverpool host mega clubs like Madrid, it becomes an occasion.

The trick for the players - and managers - is not to get caught up in the atmosphere.

That's what happened to Madrid on their last visit to Merseyside five years ago and they ended up losing 4-0!

The Real of 2014, with Ronaldo, are a vastly superior side.

Far from being fearful of facing the ex-Manchester United ace and Madrid's other superstars though, Rodgers will embrace the challenge, knowing that, as his career path shows, anything is possible in football.

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