Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson uttered those famous words; “my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch,” the Anfield club have gone through numerous managers. However, little success has followed, aside from that night in Istanbul and a few cups. Some have been more successful than others (see Rafa Benitez) but none has embodied the true spirit of the club, or managed in a style like Brendan Rodgers has.
Since taking charge in 2012 the Northern Irishman has revolutionized the club, taking them from 8th in the Premier League to the cusp of winning the league last season – all done with a scintillating style of attacking football reminiscent of those great teams of the 80s.
Rodger’s ability to man manage his players has played a key part in Liverpool’s rise, and is arguably vital to managing a football team in the modern game. Gone are the days managers would tear into their players for every wayward pass. With the vast amounts of money flowing into the game priorities are now different. Ferguson himself has admitted he had to modify his approach in his latter years. Gone was the infamous hairdryer, with an arm around the shoulder and some encouraging words his new approach. Rodgers has done this – and more.
When Luis Suarez attempted to push through a move to Arsenal last summer Rodgers refused to budge, saying at the time that “there will never be any player or person bigger than the club.” Commendable, but it is what he did with Suarez after that deserves the plaudits. He took a player that was disillusioned with life at Liverpool and made him feel part of the team. Initially made to train on his own, he then welcomed him back into the fold. A balance was found between caring for both the forward’s and the club’s needs – Suarez could go, but he would have to play out one more year with Liverpool before he did. This worked perfectly as Suarez led the charge towards the top of the league, before being sold for a massive profit to Barcelona. The money gained from this transfer allowed Rodgers to flesh out a squad that was severely lacking in numbers last season.
Club captain and legend Steven Gerrard has nothing but positive words to say about his manager, telling BBC Sport in March that “his one-on-one management is the best I’ve known.” This from a man who has played under managers as successful as Kenny Dalglish, Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson. Rodgers has added at least another two years on Gerrard’s career after converting him into a deep-lying midfielder, where the emphasis is on careful passing rather than running around the pitch.
Gerrard also says that when playing under Rodgers “you go out feeling full of confidence and belief,” and this is no more evident than with Daniel Sturridge. When he arrived at Liverpool Sturridge was bereft of confidence, having been pushed out to the wings at Chelsea. Rodger’s showed faith in Sturridge as soon as he arrived, putting him up front and literally telling him to “do his thing.” It worked, and Sturridge has more than paid off his manager’s faith in him.
His work with Raheem Sterling has also been very effective. Sterling was getting into a fair bit of trouble at a young age but when he arrived at the club Rodgers pulled him aside, telling him he had talent and not to waste it. He put a lot of belief in the young man but did not hesitate to drop him towards the end of his first season in charge, fearing the over exposure was affecting him adversely. This proved to be an astute move, as Sterling formed a deadly trio with Suarez and Sturridge the following season that resulted in him going to the World Cup. When Sterling scored against Norwich in April the first thing he did was run to celebrate with his manager – a show of the bond he has struck up with him. This is not exclusive to Sterling, with several other players choosing to celebrate with Rodgers after scoring. By showing faith in his players they have returned it by actually playing for their manager, rather than just their wages.
Rodger’s biggest task yet is that of maverick Italian Mario Balotelli. He had been on the market all summer yet no manager was willing to take him on, which is the reason Liverpool got him for a positive snip at £16 million. Rodgers makes a point of instilling work ethic and focus into his players, and Balotelli is no different. During his first week of training Rodgers wanted his new striker to help out at the back on set-pieces. Balotelli replied to him that that was not something he did. Rodgers told him that he would now. Explaining his rationale in an interview the Liverpool manager said he wished to “treat him like an adult, with responsibility.” Players tend to respond to that. This is the polar opposite to the approach Roberto Mancini took with Balotelli, where he was treated like a child, and frequently told to grow up. The result? He was shipped off to Milan halfway through an underwhelming season, after nearly setting his house on fire.
There’s more to Rodgers than just his man management skills though. He displays flexibility in his tactics, as well as a willingness to embrace new ideas – his use of psychiatrist Steve Peters last season was credited by his players as a masterstroke. Almost every player in Liverpool’s squad this season has improved in some way under Rodgers, be it mentally, tactically or physically, and if the team continues to progress at the rate it has been Liverpool will be a team to be feared.
He is a manager that remembers the simple things, like remembering your name and greeting people with a smile. Liverpool were going through troubled times until his appointment – in the boardroom and on the pitch – yet he steadied the ship and has helped to unite the club. His approach should be congratulated, as no one exemplifies modern management quite like Brendan Rogers.