Back a few years ago, as Brendan Rodgers’s profile was growing at Swansea City, one British broadcaster would always use a clip of the Irishman coaching young players when having to do a story on him. Some at the broadcaster claim they were subsequently asked by people purporting to act on Rodgers’s behalf to use modern clips, with senior players.
It is a little anecdote that brings together two defining strands of Rodgers’s career, and why the debate about his Liverpool job right now is so intense.
On the one side, there is the pure football coach who has come through the ranks, and who still greatly impresses a so many of his peers with his ideas and innovation. On the other side, there is that oh-so-conspicuous media image, and how it almost seems to push any debate to the extremes.
Rodgers does play his part in distorting that debate himself, it must be said, especially when he starts actually speaking about himself.
Some of his comments after the 3-2 win over Aston Villa brought a certain amount of agreement but a lot more confusion and outright derision. As excellently put by Richard Jolly, Rodgers seemed to be trying to argue that he has improved even if his team has got worse.
“I am the same guy who nearly won us the league, but better,” the Liverpool manager said. “I think I have shown in the early stages of my management – without being arrogant – that with a talented group of players I can compete at the top end of the league. I know how to manage top players. If you give me the tools, I’ll do the work.
“All the good work gets forgotten. That’s how it works. It seems the focus has not been on what’s gone on and what we’ve been missing, but more about getting me out of the club. That’s sad.”
It’s difficult not to think that the way Rodgers speaks actually helps the good work get forgotten. Some of his comments become so memorable for the wrong reasons that they begin to obscure many of his right calls. In that sense, despite the way it was put, Rodgers is partially correct.
It really shouldn’t be forgotten that he pulled off a genuinely excellent managerial feat just a year ago. By all modern measures, a club of Liverpool’s resources going so close to the title should have been close to impossible, especially since they finished ahead of three super-clubs in Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. That is more than benefitting from one of those teams having a bad season.
It is also more than just Luis Suarez, even if the striker’s sensational form was the main factor in Liverpool finishing second. That level of performance didn’t happen in a vacuum.
Rodgers saw what Suarez was capable of and found a formation that maximised the effect of that, while also maximising the rest of the team. There was a brilliant cohesion. The intensity and phenomenal pressing that was so impressive in the eviscerations of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester United was not just applied by Suarez. The whole team waded in.
That is fundamentally good management.
That is also what Rodgers is so badly struggling to recreate now.
It may well prove something about modern management, especially since Rodgers is still at that vanguard of young manager-coaches along with counterparts like Roberto Martinez.
It does seem that, in order for a club to defy economic realities in the way Liverpool did in 2014, you do need a different way of looking at things, some genuine innovation.
The wonder, however, is how long-lasting that can be. This is also what makes Rodgers’s media image more relevant than just superficial concerns about how he looks and sounds.
The impression given at Liverpool right now is that, while his initial ideas where enough to wow everyone into a higher level of performance for those first two seasons, they weren’t quite enough to carry him through to now. It is almost as if the effect of that has worn off - with that obviously accentuated by the emotional impact of 2013-14 as well as the loss of Suarez - and he is now struggling with other aspects of management, like the psychology to arrest a slide or bring an appropriate response from his players. He is not the only such coach this has happened to. With Rodgers, though, it's hard not to think that so many of his public comments feed into this process.
Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s still so early in the season, and it’s still only a year since Suarez left.
That is what makes this such a compelling case. How it plays out will be telling.
The image left could be important.
Read more from Miguel Delaney