“WE want them to be the decision-makers, we want them to understand their role in the team. Suddenly they’re thinking players. I’m under no illusions that I have to win matches but for me the best way to do that is to have a team that is flexible, made of players who understand why we do what we do.”
You could be mistaken for thinking the above quote is from Brendan Rodgers ahead of a career-defining season. You’d be wrong. Those quotes are from Sean O’Driscoll when his Doncaster Rovers side was flying high in 2010.
I turned my phone on late last night to an outbreak of social media fume. Firstly, I can understand why.
Removing Colin Pascoe from the assistant manager role and not renewing the contract of first-team coach Mike Marsh was unexpected and the delay in announcing replacements, or any kind of vision for the future, resulted in a great amount of interest building. A knowledge gap was allowed to build, a vacuum filled by rumour, and for some that sparked excitement about who could be joining Rodgers’ coaching staff for the forthcoming campaign.
At face value, to many, the appointment of a 57-year-old No.2 whose CV reveals jobs at Bournemouth, Doncaster Rovers, Crawley Town, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and England Under 19s will be an underwhelming appointment. Many were hoping for an experienced assistant manager, one potentially with European experience; someone to get the juices flowing and potentially reinvigorate a manager who looked out of ideas and out of energy after that horrific 6-1 result at Stoke City in May.
Instead, Liverpool – or more specifically a recruitment team said to number Rodgers, the elusive Mike Gordon and Tom Werner — have appointed a coach who has no European or elite level experience, an up and down career in the Football League and until recently was coaching the cream of the country’s teenagers. A man who has had four jobs in five years, has a pretty poor YouTube clip doing the rounds and has mainly been a No.1.
On the other hand, it is clear Rodgers rates his new right-hand man, evidenced by his quote from 2013 regarding the man who has the job of filling Pascoe’s shorts: “We need to stop blaming the players,” Rodgers said then. “The players get the blame in this country. No, it is the coaching. The problem is that the guys who are ’that type’ of coach you never hear of them really. Look at Sean O’Driscoll. He is one of the best coaches I have ever come across. He is working at Bristol City. He has never had a chance in the top flight. His teams were expressive, had movement, they were technical, but he will probably never get a chance at a higher level.”
O’Driscoll also seems to be very much in tune with Rodgers’ much referenced “one club mentality”. Speaking to the Garibaldi Gazette website, he said: “We were trying to bring the club together, make the non-playing staff part of the process, to engage the squad more in the local community, to bring the U21s and youth team into the first team environment, all the things I think are important and would try to do at whatever football club I was managing at. We also wanted to develop an identifiable style of play to be synonymous with Forest from top to bottom.
“The only way a club is ever going to achieve success is if the manager and owners share the same vision for what they want for their club in the long-term.”
In the same interview O’Driscoll, who also praised the work of Steve Peters, will surely have ticked an FSG box when he said: “when I came to Bristol City I insisted on the head coach title as I think more and more clubs will go down the continental route of having directors of football working with head coaches, and if you’ve got the right relationship between the two I think it is the right way for clubs to run.”
Like everyone else I have no idea whether in time this appointment will be looked upon as a masterstroke or a missed opportunity. Only results and vibes from the club will dictate that. I would, however, like to try and add some balance to the reaction from Liverpool fans so far and perhaps put a different spin on why his appointment: a) may have been made and b) could help the manager and therefore the team.
It’s important in an assistant manager to strike a balance. You must have someone on your wavelength but who has the opposite qualities and a different personality so that your strengths and weaknesses dovetail.
It may only be superficial, but a cursory glance at past interviews with O’Driscoll reveals a man who shys away from the spotlight and is no fan of the media (“you’re in an industry which pounds you with negativity all the time”). The same can’t be said of Rodgers who has tried to use the media to mould his public profile. It’s also perhaps telling that O’Driscoll prides himself on questioning methods and ideas. In this interview he says: “I was a player for 15 years, I’ve done all my coaching badges, pro-licences and all that sort of thing and I’ve picked up bits from elsewhere but I’ve found that no-one these days asks ‘why we do it that way?’ All the sports that are innovative and forward thinking, like British cycling, have had people who have asked why do we do this and why do we train that way.”
It’s very difficult to head hunt and recruit the perfect assistant manager if time is tight. The fact that this appointment is being made now, at least in time for pre-season training, suggests to me it has not been lined up for months and months. The time to interview, get to know someone and get a real feel for them I don’t think has been available to Rodgers.
The aim, lest we forget, is for Liverpool to win football matches. While the assistant manager has a role to play with the squad I think with Rodgers in charge it could be overplayed.
Brendan is a tracksuit manager and his big passion is coaching. He’s never going to delegate the coaching principles and nor should he. If he was more of an emperor-type manager – like Alex Ferguson for example — there would be more pressure for a different type of assistant manager who would lead the coaching on the training field.
I believe the right assistant manager for Rodgers is one who will keep the players on their toes, strike the right balance with them and provide honest, loyal and trustworthy support and advice to the manager.
I argued on the Tuesday Review that it’s often forgotten that the assistant manager is not only present to try to get the best out of the players but also to get the manager at his peak. To ensure we have a 100 per cent enthused, creative, hungry Brendan.
I’m lucky that my own assistant manager is incredible at his job and one of his many great attributes is getting the best out of me. In times of trouble he digs me out of a hole as much as the players. I’m also fortunate that he is the opposite of me personality-wise but also incredibly honest and loyal. My head first-team coach is creative and brutally honest. We don’t always agree but that’s good. No one should want to be surrounded by yes men and it’s a dynamic that works really well for me.
We often say on the Tuesday Review that fans forget this is work, and work with very long hours spending a lot of time in each other’s pockets – as Driscoll himself has said in the past: “The responsibilities of, and demands, on a manager day-to-day have escalated massively in the 13 years I’ve been a manager. Your phone literally never stops ringing from 6am to midnight with agents, media and all the other stuff you have to look after at a club.”
It’s therefore vital Rodgers selects coaching staff that he feels are not only right for the job but also that will get the best out of him; that will challenge him but complement him; that he can trust.
The appointment shouldn’t be looked upon in isolation as it would appear the highly regarded Pepijn Lijnders will be stepping up from coaching the Under 16s at the academy to first team coach. Rodgers is also very close to the academy director Alex Ingelthorpe who I’ve heard very good things about from many in the game. This creates an interesting dynamic for Rodgers being surrounded by two very different people in O’Driscoll and Lijinders rather than Pascoe and Marsh.
It’s a great shame that the academy could be losing such a top coach, especially when you think of the upheaval there over the last 20 years. However, what a boost it must be to any young coach at Liverpool to see promotions from within. That should give an extra boost to the academy staff and they should all be striving to follow the route of the 32-year-old Dutchman.
On Driscoll, well let’s not pretend — it’s not the most exciting or exotic appointment at face value and I can understand the initial reaction of disappointment from many fans.
But I think we have to trust Brendan on this one. With limited time ahead of a huge season I can totally understand him wanting a more experienced guy who he rates and can trust working alongside him whilst adding a young, dynamic European coach to his backroom staff. Everything is on the line for Rodgers – he remains favourite with the bookies to be the first manager sacked next season — so he has to take calculated risks but he doesn’t need to make reckless ones.
If Rodgers thinks the new appointments will get the best out of him as a manager then right now that will do for me. Brendan Rodgers back at the top of his game could be the best new signing of the summer.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda/PA Images
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