By Craig Rimmer.
“ONE Brendan Rodgers.”
“There’s only one Brendan Rodgers.”
“One Brendan Rodgers.”
The tune rang out from the away end at Saint Mary’s. Jubilant Liverpool fans indulging in their team’s comprehensive 0-3 away victory over Southampton. A win which allowed them to dream with that little bit more justification.
It isn’t the most original of chants. No doubt we can do much better. In fact, we will have little choice come May if Rodgers were to achieve the previously unthinkable and return a long lost friend to the Anfield trophy cabinet.
But, its very existence speaks volumes. It’s a lyric which has been echoed with ever increasing frequency since the turn of the year. A chant which was barely audible during Rodgers first season in charge, but one which penetrated the scepticism to get an airing as Liverpool made an impressive start to the new season. It is now being heard ever more audibly in away ends up and down the country, as the winning brand of attacking football which Brendan Rodgers’ Reds have been advocating has been taken to a whole new level
What it represents is a vindication. An acceptance of Rodgers – now deemed worthy enough to be honoured by the travelling Kop – as the present and future of Liverpool FC. It’s an honour which is far harder to come by these days – just ask Daniel Sturridge – yet it still barely justifies the progress that the Northen Irishman has achieved on Merseyside during the past 18 months.
There has been no shortage of praise for the genius of Luis Suarez, the goals of Daniel Sturridge, the endurance of Steven Gerrard, or the effervescence of Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling.
Yet, not enough praise has so far been reserved for the man who has orchestrated such a dramatic transformation in the perceptions of what Liverpool can achieve this season and beyond.
The man himself is no stranger to the concept of proving doubters wrong. Something which he has spoken of in the past: “When I was coming through, there were plenty of people who were very negative, who said we couldn’t work this way in this country,” Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo.
His methods would face further scepticism on arrival at Anfield, from a fanbase understandably cautious and sceptical that he could make the step up from Swansea and impose his methods while under constant pressure to win football matches.
“But if you believe in it enough, you continue to push the boundaries and continue to get your players to believe in it,” Rodgers continued.
He was talking about philosophies. His own philosophy on coaching. A philosophy we are told he has abided by throughout his coaching career.
However, rather than a philosophy of unwavering loyalty to a certain, idealistic way of playing the game, as many people interpreted when Rodgers arrived at the club, the said philosophy was actually one of psychological conditioning, the man-management of players, and basic coaching principles. All factors which have been central to the development of a certain style of football. A brave type of football. And, more significantly, a winning type of football.
The Rodgers philosophy is not tactically or structurally exclusive but fluid and able to adapt to changing formations, players and circumstances.
It has been perfectly illustrated in the constant evolution from a possession-dominated 4-3-3 to an explosive, high-pressing, counter-attacking 4-1-2-3, via 3-5-2, 4-4-2 and everything in between.
It’s a tactical flexibility which encourages me to believe that Rodgers would be able to adapt his approach to the demands of European football, and to tightening up a leaky defence once he has the right personnel to do so.
Rodgers seems to have grown personally during the past season and a half, as much as Liverpool have as a team. An ability to learn, digest and adapt which has been hugely impressive and has predicated Liverpool’s on going and unconstrained march up the league table.
We are discussing a young manager who, before joining the club, had only one year’s experience of managing within the high pressured environ of the Premier League, and that with a newly-promoted club, whose aspirations do not bare comparison with those of his current employers, even during exceptionally lean times.
Rodgers is a coach in the purest definition. If a manager or coach can be best distinguished by their ability to improve players under their tutelage, or maximise the potential of the individual and the collective, then Rodgers would be near the top of the class; certainly within this country and quite possibly Europe-wide.
Take a run through Liverpool’s squad and tick off the number of players who have made a marked improvement to their game or their overall contribution to the team under Rodgers. Let’s just say it would be a much easier task to identify those who haven’t.
Jordan Henderson is the case in point. Almost certainly the player who best mirrors the development of Brendan Rodgers’ Reds.
Henderson’s long-term Liverpool future was all but written off last season. After a difficult start to his Anfield career, Rodgers had been ready to offload the player to Fulham, but gave Henderson the chance to stay and fight for his place. Henderson was rewarded for his commitment and dedication. Since then, under Rodgers’ coaching, what was once a rough-diamond of a midfielder has developed into an integral cog in the Liverpool midfield.
It is that commitment to coaching the best out of individuals and out of the squad as a collective which is probably Rodgers most impressive attribute as a manager. The players with whom he is currently working are, for the most part, the same group of players who he inherited.
Rodgers has a knack of developing a player to achieve their potential. That is particularly applicable to young players, an area where the manager has obviously benefited from many years of working on the development of youngsters in the academies of both Chelsea and Reading.
There is evidently plenty of young talent on Liverpool’s books, largely owing to considerable investment in youth development first implemented under Rafa Benitez. But, it’s questionable whether players such as Raheem Sterling, Jon Flanagan and Jordan Ibe, amongst others, would have been allowed the opportunity to develop as first-team players under another manager, as they have under Rodgers.
More importantly, the manager has made following Liverpool a hell of a lot of fun again. Come to think of it, it’s probably as much fun as it has ever been, at least in my lifetime. Each match is eagerly anticipated. Each weekend feels like a party, a celebration.
It’s a far call from where we were even 12 months ago. Then, we were virtually conditioned to mediocrity and shortcomings after successive seasons of the same. Now, we can genuinely dream again. Dream of a return to Champions League football. Dream of competing for the title. Dream of actually having something to play for come March!
And for that alone Brendan Rodgers’ Reds must be worthy of a song all of their own dedication.
Images: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda