- The Rodgers files: The view from Swansea
Written by Gareth Roberts Wednesday, 18 July 2012 20:37
BRENDAN RODGERS. What does the name mean to you? What pre-conceived ideas do you have about him? What about his age, his experience, his 'Britishness'? What's he won? Why him? Can he attract players? What does he know about Europe? It's all swirling around your head and influencing your opinion but ask yourself this: How often have you watched a Brendan Rodgers managed side play football? A handful of times maybe, at most? Exactly. So, we asked some people who HAVE watched the man in action - Football Correspondent at Media Wales (Western Mail, Wales on Sunday and South Wales Echo) CHRIS WATHAN and editor of Swansea fanzine A Touch Far Vetched (www.atfv.net
), NIGEL DAVIES.
First off, what's the general mood among Swansea fans - sad to see Brendan Rodgers go?
Chris Wathan: Disappointed, obviously. This is the third young manager 'poached' from Swansea in four years so clearly there is a frustration at not only losing the man in the job but also the uncertainty about the future that comes with it. There are supporters who are hurting and angry at his decision to go, but at the same time there is a very large percentage who recognise the incredible job he did at the Liberty and the fact he delivered Premier League football to Wales.
Nigel Davies: I was absolutely crestfallen to see Rodgers leave; the last two years with him in charge have been incredible! However, with the success we have enjoyed and the attention paid to our style of football it was only a matter of time before he was poached from us by someone higher up the food chain and, to be fair to him, he never hid the fact that he would take a top job if it came along.
Are you surprised he has gone to Liverpool, and how do you think he'll do?
CW: Yes and no. Surprised in so much he wasn't an obvious candidate for Liverpool, especially when so many so-called big names with big reputations were being touted to replace Dalglish. That said, having seen his attributes up close he is a very good fit for what Liverpool need right now. He is a manager with huge, huge potential and a wonderful enthusiasm that rubs off on all around him. Furthermore, he has the ability to deliver exactly what Liverpool need - good football, getting the best out of players and, most importantly, a real belief and vision in how to achieve it. Given time and support from inside Anfield and from the fans, he can do it.
ND: Initially it was a surprise to me that he took the Liverpool job but as the situation has developed it kind of makes more sense. As the rumours built about him leaving for Anfield I consoled myself with the fact he had total control at Swansea City and would therefore not agree to work under a Director of Football at Liverpool. And that proved to be the case...what I didn’t factor in is the supreme confidence and forceful personality Rodgers has and it appears he’s already won his first battle with the Liverpool hierarchy, forcing them to abandon any notion of a Director of Football-type structure above him. I think everyone can see that Liverpool is the “fallen giant” of English football and I believe Rodgers sees the job as an exciting challenge and one that he feels capable of rising to; that’s the unswerving self belief of the man.
How quickly did he have an affect at Swansea when he arrived in 2010?
CW: Immediately. Although the ideals of how to play the game were in place when he arrived, he won the respect of the players within a matter of weeks and that doesn't come from just saying the right things. He is a top class coach as much as a manager and players reacted accordingly. It didn't take long for performances and results to reflect this.
ND: Things weren’t right at Swansea City when he arrived after a curious period under Paulo Sousa. True, we’d been up there challenging for the Championship play-offs again but the football was sterile and things seemed to be drifting and decaying on the playing side. Rodgers came in and changed all of that and it didn’t take long for the results to start coming alongside the cultured football. But...Rodgers inherited a squad of players already primed to play his way. That’s where he went wrong at Reading, trying to implement his style too quickly on a group of players that weren’t used to his possession football game plan. I’m sure Liverpool have enough players able to quickly adapt to what Rodgers wants but he’s still going to need time to get it right.
Some people say he is taking a lot of credit for the foundations laid by Roberto Martinez - agree/disagree?
CW: I wouldn't say he is taking credit, although he will admit he was able to build on what went before him. Martinez got the ball rolling in terms of the style of play and that helped when he came in as a core group of players were familiar with the approach and therefore receptive to his ideas. Perhaps more importantly, the fans had been educated to the style that doesn't always see performances rewarded with results. The teething problems were out of the way perhaps. The supporters knew that if they stick to their guns and not urge for a long ball and hit and hope even if it's 0-0 with ten minutes to go, then the side will win more often than not. Liverpool fans might have to get used to that, knowing they could really benefit if the team and manager are allowed to find their feet.
ND: Personally I think that’s a load of cobblers! It’s true that Rodgers carried on the work already started by Martinez, but he took that work and subsequently the football club, to a whole new level. The Martinez side at Championship level was fairly toothless and was all too often opened up at the back, and his Wigan sides over the last three years have been exactly the same. Rodgers took the best traits out of his two predecessors’ work – Martinez’s passing game and Sousa’s mean defence – and married them together with a few refinements to produce the Swansea side you see today. Personally, I think it is massively disparaging to Brendan Rodgers to intimate that his success with Swansea City is down to Roberto Martinez’s efforts.
Would you say he can spot a player?
CW: Yes. There was a recruitment policy in place at Swansea that involved a head scout working closely with the chairman, but Rodgers did have a big hand in getting some key men in - Graham, Sinclair, Sigurdsson and Fabio Borini who was a reserve at Chelsea at the time but is now off to the Euros with Italy. Perhaps more importantly, he quickly identified who can and who can't work in his style and system and will be happy to push those on who he has faith in. Joe Allen and Neil Taylor are two youngsters who thrived under him after he gave them their wings.
ND: That’s a difficult question to answer, to be honest with you. Most of the successful signings Rodgers made have come about through working with these players previously – the likes of Scott Sinclair and Gylfi Sigurdsson. He’s had one or two blips transfer-wise, but then what manager hasn’t? When you boil it down though, he made two critical signings that paid massive dividends – Fabio Borini to help us over the line in the Championship and Sigurdsson to help us stay in the Premier League. I’ll tell you now though; he won’t rush in to make any signing until he is totally sure that the player in question has the right attitude to go with his ability. Liverpool fans will need to be patient where signing players are concerned – but then, after the sums of money that your club has squandered on average players with a poor attitude, that won’t be a bad thing at all!
What did he get wrong at Swansea - what are his faults? There must be something...
CW: Very little. People could point to a lack of plan B, but the stubbornness to stick to the possession game was probably more of a strength. There were some signings that didn't work as well as would have been liked but they tended to be a reflection of a need for Swansea to gain a greater strength in depth this season and the budget restrictions. I know some will feel that there must be more, but when you win promotion in your first full season and then manage mid-table when everyone outside of South Wales had predicted a bottom-placed finish then it's hard to find criticism.
ND: My own personal gripe was that it took him too long in both of the seasons he was with us to bring in an orthodox creative midfielder. He also had too much of a soft spot for Scott Sinclair, refusing to leave him out on the basis that he believed no matter how poor Scott was playing, he was always capable of scoring a goal.
How does he cope with the media?
CW: Brilliantly, as I think many have already seen. His communication skills are top class, with players, press and punters. He tries to get a feel of the community which was important at Swansea and will be important on Merseyside. As for press alone, his enthusiasm is infectious and it is often hard not to get excited by him when he talks. He is very open and makes time for all although he will be aware it won't be as easy to win people over if the results don't come.
ND: Brilliantly! He treats the media with respect, always polite and helpful to journalists and is never, ever anything other than dignified in front of the cameras. The total opposite in fact to the bitter and antagonistic style of King Kenny...
Does he make players better - does he get the most out of them?
CW: Yes. He says his natural environment is the training ground and he really earns that respect from players there to get responses. It's hard to think of a player who has not made strides under him and those unwilling to open themselves up don't last very long: he does have a ruthless streak.
ND: I think every single Swansea City player has improved and flourished under the coaching of Rodgers. He takes a full part in the coaching sessions and he makes training enjoyable as well as strenuous. Liverpool have some exciting young players who will benefit enormously from Rodgers' training methods.
Swansea's passing style is well documented but is Rodgers flexible with his tactics? Does he have a plan B?
CW: As mentioned above, there is a tinkering of tactics in terms of positioning and how high the team press but the style if not the system remains the same. It will be interesting to see if he jumps in with both feet, but I don't think he'll compromise. After all, what he's done so far has got him to this position. And don't be confused into thinking it's about passing and passing only, the work-rate needed to play that way means there will be a high-tempo pressing game to force the turnovers.
ND: Rodgers won't compromise his passing style for anything or anyone - don't expect a Plan B because Rodgers believes in Plan A so much. It can be frustrating at times...when you're a goal down with 89 minutes on the clock you don't want to see your back four stroking it about in leisurely fashion! It's also fair to say that the Swans struggled against more physical teams that excel in closing down and bullying their opposition; it's easy to set out to do that but most teams weren't good enough at it and so could never get the ball off us. But sides like Everton and Stoke were able to knock us out of our stride and bully us out of the game - it was at times like that we were crying out for a change of tactics...but it never came. Rodgers is all about "if you keep possession of the football your opposition can't score against you" and the Swans were good enough to pull that off more often than not. With even better players like, ooh Barcelona have, then Plan A will be all that's needed.
What was his relationship like with the players and fans at Swansea?
CW: The fans loved him, hence the hurt right now. And as for the players, most have said he's the best they've ever worked under. Luke Moore best summed it up last year; Moore was a big thing when he first broke through at Villa and seemed to have lost his way. He mentioned he wished he'd come to Swansea with Rodgers when he was 18 because things might have worked out differently. He has that impact. And for those quick to say 'that's fine for players of Swansea's standard' don't forget he is still held in high regard by a lot of the Chelsea players he worked with. It was there Rodgers said he was convinced of his ability to work with the best players because of the "comfort" he felt.
ND: Players and fans idolised Rodgers in equal measure. Players like Scott Sinclair and Gylfi Sigurdsson came to Swansea City because Rodgers was there and his man-management is legendary. And Liverpool fans would have seen for themselves how much the Swans fans thought of Rodgers when confronted by 10,000 Elvis Presleys at the Liberty on the last day of last season!
Finally, Wenger called Swansea's football under Rodgers 'brave but not adventurous'. Fair?
CW: Seemed adventurous enough when Swansea put three past Arsenal last year! Brave is right because he will ask every player, from Reina out, to get on the ball and be comfortable in whatever position. Swansea have often played from their own box, even under pressure, and got rewards despite the risks. Sometimes, teams setting out with a low block make it hard to break them down and Rodgers will ask his side to be patient - and the fans will have to be patient with them. But he is a manager who wants offensive and creative football and it is hard to think of a game at Swansea where it seemed as if he had set his side out for a draw. There was a disbelief that some sections of rival fans and even pundits claimed Swansea could be boring on the ball, but watching other sides chase shadows while the team controls the pace of the game before springing the trap was a joy. Enjoy the ride!
ND: That was a statement made by a bitter old man after his Arsenal side had been not only beaten but played off the park at the Liberty - don't listen to the senile old fool!
This article first appeared in issue 14 of Well Red