Rodgers: The meeting of philosphies.
Here we are again. Another new dawn for a club which has had more new dawns than Jupiter. And once again, opinion is polarised. Not many of us can claim to have held Rodgers on a long term wishlist of potential leaders. A few of us have admired him from afar for his uncontested success at Swansea. Many more have been obliged to revise his history for some potential insight into what is to be expected. Already there are those who have decided he has not the credentials to succeed here. A closer look suggests he has every possible opportunity.
In the 1990s, Rodgers abandoned an unfulfilled playing career to embark on a personal crusade of education and self improvement. Some ex-players fill the void of broken dreams with self indulgence, self abuse and self-pity. Rodgers filled the void with a thirst for knowledge and usurped his disappointment with conviction.
Rodgers carried the memories of the great Brazilian sides around with him. Yet he found himself schooled in the curriculum of prosaic football that characterised British football education in the 80s. Tiki-taka must therefore have seemed an idyll-hard coded in another language both culturally and semantically. So his first task was to learn Spanish in order that he could communicate with those great masters of the beautiful game. Off Rodgers went on an odyssesy of pure footballing elucidation around the training grounds of Spain and Holland where the doctrines of high pressing, intelligent movement and ball distribution have been written and perfected over the decades. Zonal pressure, possession control, intelligence, movement. Continental traits maybe, but from Shankly to Rafa they found sanctuary in Liverpool too.
Rodgers' approach then clearly encompasses the technical obsession he developed on the continent. But it also encompasses hard work, preparation, fitness and determination. One of the most indicative quotes: “When I first came in I said to the players, we will push ourselves in every element of training, so it's reflective of the real game, so I don't have to go on about intensity all the time because that is an obligation”
If this is not the kind of man we want at Liverpool then it's hard to determine what is. The detractors will be sharpening their knives though. How can a man who’s greatest achievement is finishing 10th in the league be good enough for a club for whom Champions League qualification is considered mandatory. Surely we need a proven medal winner. Arsene Wenger, Josep Guardiola, even Jurgen Klopp. None had managed the best clubs in the best leagues before. The reason they were chosen to make the step up was their approach, their philosophy, their character. These were the things they had in common. These are the things that Rodgers preaches.
Others seek to undermine Rodgers’ association with figures such as Jose Mourinho. It didn’t work for Brian Kidd they say. Carlos Quieroz was a failure and club and international level. And fair enough, not many clubs will be clammering for Mike Phelan any time soon. But Rodgers has been more than a sidekick to an irascible Scottish autocrat. His self education and refusal to betray his principles are testament to a strength of character not seen in Ferguson’s litany of failed protégés.
The failed spell at Reading is cause for caution though there is mitigation in the lack of time he was allowed to impose his methods. If we can begin to asses Rodgers by his actions and words then it is axiomatic that it will take time for his methods to sink in. Rodgers seeks to instill a football ideology.
Such dogmas do not begin with a chalkboard half an hour before kick off and they do not end with a chummy slap on the back on the back at full time. There are months of graft, practice, communication and coaching ahead. If it is to succeed Rodgers requires co-operation from every individual at the club. He will surely find his new players more receptive. He is taking over from a man cut from similar cloth after all.
This will doubtless be the biggest test though. For all Kenny’s genius, one criticism is that his team at times seemed to lack identity, which raises questions about whether certain players in the current squad possess the intelligence and adaptability of such an approach. Rodger’s will quickly need to assess these traits amongst his new players.
We cannot know if or how this will work out. More experienced managers have been undermined by this club before. Just ask Rafa. Others, such as Roy Hodgson never came equipped to succeed in the first place. You will doubtless hear from the usual suspects in the press that Rodgers may befall a similar fate, that fans will turn on him if success is not instantaneous. If these lazy journalists bothered to look beyond their own loyalties they would see tangible justification for the short shrift Hodgson experienced. Credit to Roy, he installed a football philosophy quicker than any of his predecessors. It was an ethos of negativity and retrogression which succeeded in uniting fans and players in their feelings of isolation and dismay. Make no mistake, Rodgers is a different class of man and a different class of manager.
Critics have condemned FSG for carrying out their managerial search in public although it is hard to find real evidence for this. There has been a perpetual thirst for knowledge fuelled only by speculation on Twitter and occasional journalistic insight. The greatest source of information was Comical Dave Whelan, a man most people last saw telling the world there was no American troops in Baghdad. In the end, the job was offered to a man who most people had written out of the running 2 weeks earlier. Privacy and professionalism are hallmarks of The Liverpool Way so at times it seemed they could do no right for doing wrong.
Nevertheless there is work for them to do in this new order. When they arrived they promised to engage with fans yet they have allowed this relationship to deteriorate, including the communication with HJC. The stadium issue is one which threatens Liverpool's long term stability and again there is a sense of inertia and waning trust. Broken promises do not justify prolonged patience around here.
In the aftermath of Kenny’s sacking I wrote that FSG, a group of men who know nothing, sacked a man who knew everything. I stand by that principle but I recognise that FSG must stand by theirs. Many of us believe that tradition and history and culture define not just our past but also must determine our future. FSG appeared to lack sentimentality in favour of a more radical, modern, target driven approach. Rodgers suits the vision they set out when they took over. Yet he meets many of the criteria many of us want from our manager. If Brendan Rodgers is the meeting point of two radically different schools of thought then it may just result in a glorious, happy coincidence.