NEIL SCOTT had his doubts when the current Liverpool manager was appointed two years ago but now he’s a believer
THERE will be a time, and it won’t be too long coming, when they will make a film about Liverpool’s 2013/14 season. Some kind of fantasy action adventure thing, replete with unexpected twists, daring escapades, unlikely heroes and mean-faced villains. The Goonies with pyro.
They will assemble a glittering cast, carefully selected to reflect the unique character traits of the main participants.
- Daniel Craig *is* Steven Gerrard.
- Benicio Del Toro *is* Luis Suarez.
- Vin Diesel *is* Martin Skrtel.
- The tortured, howling figure from Munch’s The Scream, trapped in a landscape of eternal damnation, *is* David Moyes.
- The world’s sulkiest toddler *is* Jose Mourinho.
But what about Brendan Rodgers? Who can we get to fairly represent the Liverpool manager, to capture his persona, illustrate his growing assurance and replicate the journey both he and his team have been on since last summer? Because that’s sure-fire BAFTA material, right there.
Look at the narrative. Trace the story arc. Follow the character development.
From resented usurper to overreaching tyro to ideological devotee to spiritual leader. He’s come a long way in a short time. And it is to his eternal credit that he has achieved this transformation, and has effectively changed the perceptions of all but his most unreasonable detractors, while maintaining a dignity, a serenity even, that is absent from many of his peers.
It is no secret that I was initially a Rodgers sceptic. I doubted his credentials, questioned the transferability of his methods and inwardly cringed at some of his more contrived soundbites. I was far from convinced that he had the stature to manage a club of the magnitude and ambition of Liverpool.
There was another issue, though. And although it was an issue that, in effect, had nothing to do with Brendan Rodgers, it was inevitable that he would be caught in the after-blast. That goes with the territory when you’re asked to fill the boots of a legend, particularly when the boots in question have been brutally hacked from said legend’s feet.
Yes, I’m one of those head-in-the-sand, over-sentimental, backwards-looking dinosaurs who felt that the treatment of Kenny Dalglish in 2012 was a shameful chapter in this club’s history. And, without wishing to reopen old wounds, it’s a view I am happy to stand by. To me, as the FSG choice to take their franchise forward, Rodgers was guilty by association. He wasn’t about to be given an easy ride.
Welcome to Anfield, Brendan. Watch the door doesn’t hit your arse on the way out.
Given the different factions that made up our fanbase, the Dalglish loyalists, the Benitez fundamentalists and the infamous hardcore Hodgson ultras, it’s little short of a miracle that, in less than two years, Rodgers has managed to oversee what now appears to be a unified and uniquely committed support. For the first time in a decade our divisions seem behind us and the almost mystical bond between the manager, the club and its followers is on its way to full restoration. Forget, for a moment, the league table. That in itself is an almighty achievement.
We’ve all learned a lot over this past season. About our team. Our glorious, unpredictable, irrational team. About our players. Their strengths and weaknesses, their belief, their character. About ourselves and our capacity to grasp hope and follow a dream with unswerving conviction.
We’ve learned a lot about Brendan Rodgers, too. And he in turn has learned so much more.
One of the charges levelled against Rodgers during his first season was that we had been saddled with a manager who would, of necessity, be learning on the job. When you consider the alternative, this should perhaps have been less of a concern than it originally appeared.
Managers, like players, can never regard themselves as the finished article. The game provides a fluid stream of fresh scenarios and changing perspectives. There is a constant need to refine and renew, to challenge your own notions and develop your thinking. Rodgers, as much as anyone, is prepared to embrace this.
Of course, the basic ethos remains unchanged. Controlling the tempo, optimising the attacking threat, managing the game. But we have seen a growing flexibility in the means used to achieve these objectives, with the emphasis always coming back to the need to coax the maximum outcome from the available resources.
Three at the back. Midfield diamond. High pressing. Deep-lying playmaker. Interchanging front three. All employed at varying times. All reflecting Rodgers’ willingness to adapt to the demands of his role. And while it is fair to say that not every strategy has been an unqualified success, and questions remain as to his ability to balance attacking fervour with defensive solidity, the team’s results, on the whole, are a testament to the manager’s vision.
There is, of course, another thing that Rodgers has learned this season. Something that will, in the long run, prove to be an invaluable lesson. He’s learned exactly what it means to be a Liverpool manager. Note the wording. It’s important.
Anyone can be the manager of Liverpool. Roy Hodgson was the manager of Liverpool. He was never a Liverpool manager. There’s a distinction, however subtle. It’s not something that’s easy to define. It’s all about a feel for the club, an immersion in its history, an understanding of what it represents to its supporters, and an acknowledgement and appreciation of your position in its ongoing mythology. It’s why Mourinho could never be a Liverpool manager and it’s why Dalglish forever will be.
Brendan Rodgers is now a Liverpool manager. The supporters recognise this. He’s even got a half-decent song, at long last. Face it, as songs go, “There’s only one Brendan Rodgers” is but a short step from the ubiquitous ‘Sloop John B’ chant in terms of mind-numbing banality. If nothing else came out of last season, that alone was reason to rejoice.
More than anything, it’s a question of trust. As a city, we’re naturally suspicious of incomers, until such time as they prove themselves worthy of our respect. Week by week, match by match, Rodgers has earned our trust. He’s shown that he is committed to helping his team improve, both as players and as people. He’s demonstrated a willingness to allow youth to flourish. He’s cultivated a calmness before the media and a penchant for saying the right thing at the right time that would astound the Being Liverpool cynics. With the faith of the supporters firmly established, there’s no limit on what can be achieved. And that’s quite a prospect. Ask yourself, who would you swap him for? It’s a short list, isn’t it?
As he guided us through each of the season’s hurdles, continually finding the answers, moulding a team whose only thought was to score and to score again, winning, always winning, then winning some more, hope gave way to belief. Some spoke of destiny. This was our year. And now you’re gonna believe us… In truth, we were only ever one bad result away from the end of the dream. That we came so close, came within one result of the most astonishing triumph in our history, is testament to the giant strides made by Rodgers and his team.
Taken rationally, the achievements of this season were staggering. After the initial despair faded there was a general sense of jubilation, an unprecedented (for a team finishing second) outpouring of acclamation and gratitude. The city was bursting with it.
I found it hard to share in the celebrations. To me, the way the campaign ended was a crushing disappointment. Even now, footage of our run-in, the blitz of Arsenal, the dissection of United, the overcoming of City, invokes sadness, a pulling in the gut, more than exultation. Not because we might not get the chance again. I don’t buy that for a minute. But because we deserved it. We bloody deserved it.
What do you say when your heart’s in pieces?
Many didn’t like it but I understood what Alan Hansen meant when he deemed the season a failure. That’s the kind of unbending, winning-is-everything stance we need to return to.
If Brendan Rodgers is the man I think he is, he won’t be taken in by the celebrations. I think coming second will burn him up inside. I think it will eat away at him every day and every night. I think it will make him strive for improvement, strive for perfection and teach him to be uncompromising in his efforts to achieve this.
He’s come out of the shadows of his predecessors. The future is his. The future is red.
There’s only one man who should play Brendan Rodgers. And that’s Brendan Rodgers.
I think he’s ready.