By Dr Dave O’Brien
A remarkable season, orchestrated by a remarkable man. Brendan Rodgers may not have guided the reds to an unprecedented premier league title, but he gave Liverpool fans a season of dreams and songs to sing. Wonderful stuff. Rodgers is important because he’s clearly the right man to carry Liverpool to glory over the next few years. However, that’s not the only reason Brendan Rodgers matters.
Rodgers is important because his methods, approach and personality reflect some major shifts in British society. The story of Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool isn’t just the story of progress and potential in the Premier league. It’s the story of how British life moved from the world of the gifted amateur to the technical, qualified manager.
Over the course of the season lots was written and said about Rodgers’ management style and approach to the game. One interesting point has been how the media have interpreted Rodgers’ success. When Liverpool became clear title contenders, the sneering that surrounded the insights into his approach offered in Being Liverpool was replaced by praise for Liverpool’s achievements.
Rodgers is clearly a technically adept manager, as players and media commentators alike have commented on his tactical ability. Over the course of this season he also displayed a tactical pragmatism unlike that of Wenger or Mourinho, two of his rivals for the title. Rodgers was willing to experiment with formations, dropping them and tinkering as and when they failed or succeeded. He is, of course, credited with finding a new vision for Steven Gerrard in midfield. He has also been willing to discuss tactics and strategy in a detailed and open way with fans and media alike.
We could characterise Rodgers as an evolution of existing managerial trends, seeing him as one part Shanks, one part Clough, one part Pep and maybe even one part Allardyce (at least in his willingness to embrace new developments in player psychology). The most noticeable thing might be that Rodgers is part of a new generation of managers that have come through the new system of UEFA qualifications. The UEFA licence system gives clues to the much broader set of social changes of which Rodgers is a part.
So there’s a much bigger story going on here. It’s a story that goes far beyond Liverpool FC, football and sport. It’s a story about how British society has changed since the 1950s. It’s a story about how the people in charge in a whole variety of British organisations and institutions have a very different set of skills and ideas compared to those working even 30 years ago. It’s also a story about how the middle of British society has changed as well.
Social mobility has changed Britain since the 1950s, based on people having qualifications, being technically competent at the jobs they are doing. Its really obvious in lots of professions and trades, with the decline of apprenticeships and the rise of all sorts of standards, from the NVQ through to PhDs. Journalism is a good example of this, a career that seems to be about being a good writer and getting a break, but now is associated with having a Master’s degree in the subject. Football coaching reflects this too, as it has become codified with an associated set of qualifications. This is no bad thing, as the lack of coaching standards is something that is seen to have held back football in England as compared with other major European nations.
The impact of this social transformation operates at the level of individuals’ and communities’ sense of identity too. Sociologists describe a change in how people think of themselves in British society. They are much more savvy about using social scientific language to describe themselves, particularly the language of class. Moreover the mainstream middle class identity in the UK is no longer that of snobbish cultural superiority. Rather it has, as Mike Savage describes, ‘embraced a more earthy technical orientation’ based on themes of meritocracy and skill, rather than family background and class position.
None of this, of course, means that social class is no longer important. British political, cultural and social life is overrun with the public schooled elites dominant in the Victorian era. Moreover the ability of someone from outside these social elites to be successful is now under question. It’s also the case that social identities that don’t reflect the technical, the managerial, ways of thinking can be used to vilify people from outside the elites of British society. We can see this in the dislike that still exists about sport, football in particular, in some parts of middle class British culture.
This is part of the reason why the story of Brendan Rodgers matters. What is important is how thinking Rodgers in the wider context of social change in Britain can give clues as to what sort of society Britain has become and what he tells us about ourselves. So don’t worry next time you hear some corporate nonsense come out of the boss’ mouth, or you’re forced to read a bizarre statement of values from the finance department, or maybe even if find yourself calling the people you work with ‘the project’. You’re part of a much bigger change in British society that might just be what wins Liverpool a league and European cup double next season.