Give Him Time and Rodgers Will Be Liverpool's New Shankly



Brendan Rodgers is not a normal British football manager.

For starters, he doesn't condescend people like Alex Ferguson does, nor does he fly off the handle at reporters like Kenny Dalglish. He doesn't rely on pre-match motivational speak, he doesn't wheel and deal, and to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t personally profit from player transfers. Moreover, he certainly doesn't champion the auld English virtues of two banks of four and knocking it up to the big man (which is proving to be something of a stumbling block for a certain Andy Carroll).

Many were skeptical when Rodgers was appointed - apparently he's too young, too inexperienced, unproven at the highest level. But I have had the privilege of observing him up close, and a more impressive coach, gentleman and genuine football man you could not wish to meet. He is the ideal custodian of Liverpool’s fortunes.

Like Bill Shankly 53 years before him, Rodgers has arrived at Anfield with Liverpool at a crossroads. At times under Kenny Dalglish last season, the Reds were a shadow of the team they should be. Poor performances were borne out of an inconsistent message, exacerbated by an inherent nervousness, and a tendency to pass the buck.

The Reds are currently crying out for an identity that'll spark a new era of success. And Rodgers, like the great Shankly, possesses the tools and the courage to provide exactly that.

The comparisons don’t stop there: Shankly wrote in his autobiography that he had long prepared himself "for the day when I would become a football manager”. He had absorbed many coaching systems while still a player, analysing the best and worst methods of the day and merging them into his own trailblazing gospel.

Rodgers, too, is a scholar of the game. He is not a straight Mourinho disciple, as has been suggested by lazy journalists in the past. Instead, he’s spent two decades immersing himself in the methods of the great and the good from across Europe, and moulded them into his own interpretations, and his own distinct style.  

When most Premier League managers are sunning themselves on a yacht off the coast of Barbados during their summer break, Rodgers is using his off-time to educate himself: visiting the Spanish national team's training camp, or the Ajax academy - not scouting players, but observing their coaching methods. He has also undertaken expeditions to France, Portugal, Italy and Germany in recent years. He is devoted to being the best football manager he can be, and that means accepting that other football cultures sometimes do things better. How utterly refreshing.

"I've learned lessons from everyone I've worked with, both good and bad," he told me over a cup of tea. "I was incredibly fortunate to work with Mourinho and Scolari, in particular, and I always make a conscious effort to take things on board. I will never stop learning and improving as a coach."

Back in April, I was lucky enough to be granted an audience with Brendan Rodgers, when I presented him with a manager of the year award on behalf of a well-known men's magazine. I got up at 4am that morning and drove the 600-mile round trip from my home in Brighton to Neath in South Wales, where Swansea train, for what was essentially a ten minute job - meet him, grab a quick cheesy photo of him holding the award, and get back on the road. Not the most rewarding day's work, on paper, but I was willing to get out of bed at silly-o'clock for on the off chance I'd get to see exactly what goes down on the Swansea training ground.

I was transfixed by the way Swansea played for much of last season. The way they took to the big boy's league with such gusto; such uninhibited poise and purpose. They were bold, brave, a breath of fresh air - and I was fascinated to check out the coaching work that went into their creation. 

That morning in late Spring, I was granted a behind-the-scenes pass. Arriving earlier than scheduled on purpose, I introduced myself to Rodgers in the car park, and in turn he invited me inside the gates and down to the pitchside to watch them train.

What I discovered was buzz, innovation and unity. Rodgers, 39, is a unique talent. A footballing idealist, a life coach, a purveyor of equality within his ranks, and the curator of what he calls a football fusion: essentially a modern style of football that marries the necessary traditions of the English game with the methods he's learned on his travels.

The result, as seen in Exhibit Swansea over the course of the last two years, is entertainment. It's skill, movement, patience, athleticism, tactical nous, uninhibited mindsets and an utter commitment to the principles of keeping the ball. And winning the right way.

Against a backdrop of fervent expectation at Anfield this term, there is immediate pressure on the Northern Irishman, not least after his baptism of fire on the opening day at West Brom. But Rome wasn't built in a day.

In Rodgers, The Kop finally has its modern day Shankly: a charismatic innovator with a distinct ideology, and one who gets the very best out of his troops. He might take time to implement his methods, but will, given carte blanche, raise the fortunes of this great club with a similar effect to that of the late, great man half a century ago. 

For Brendan Rodgers is not a normal British football manager. And that can only mean good things for the supporters of Liverpool Football Club.

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