January 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Rodgers’ Liverpool: Beyond the Ninety Minutes

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“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life.”

– Bill Shankly.

 

When Brendan Rodgers was appointed manager of Liverpool Football Club on June 1st 2012, many fans were still in shock at the sacking of Kenny Dalglish only two weeks earlier. While some embraced the Northern Irishman and his obvious potential, others remained in a blind state of rage, distress, and overall disgust at the sacking of their hero and club legend. Although Dalglish led Liverpool to their first major trophy in six years, the form shown by his Liverpool side in the second half of the season was nothing short of relegation standard. This was overlooked by many fans, simply choosing to ignore the fact that Liverpool lost eleven of nineteen league games played from January 3rd 2012 up until the final game of the season on May 13th, winning five and drawing three. Instead, they looked at the fact that Liverpool hit the woodwork 33 times, and theorised what could have been.

As if the removal of Dalglish couldn’t hurt anymore, names began filtering through as to who would be his successor. Jürgen Klopp, André Villas-Boas, Roberto Martínez, and Brendan Rodgers were mentioned, with sprinkles of Frank de Boer here and there. But, where was Rafael Benítez? Surely he would be in contention?

Nope. He wasn’t even in contention.

Fenway Sports Group wanted something different. They wanted a manager who could implement a plan over a long-period of time, that would breed sustainable success that would continue whether the manager changed or not.

That man, their man, was Brendan Rodgers.

Fast forward eighteen months and Liverpool went into the New Year surrounded by the league’s elite in the top four battle with Luis Suarez on the tip of everyone’s tongue as one of the best, if not the best, player in the world, and a squad oozing confidence, class, and dominance; a far cry from the state of the squad inherited by Rodgers at the end of Dalglish’s term.

But below the surface of a team with attacking artists scoring for fun and playing some of the best football to grace the canvas of Anfield, Brendan Rodgers is slowly constructing a project in his own vision: built around hard work, honour, and humility. This is constantly referred to as “The Liverpool Way”, instilled by the most important figure in the club’s history, Bill Shankly. Shankly’s outspoken beliefs not only about football, but society itself, were the backbone of the club, but they diminished over the years. Although Liverpool’s current manager may not share the exact thoughts and beliefs as Shankly, Rodgers career in football reflects the work he is putting into this Liverpool team, and what he expects from them in return; in his own way reinstating “The Liverpool Way”.

The current Liverpool squad is a mixture of flair, potential, and character. A blend of youth academy prospects and shrewd transfer signings (bar one or two *cough* Moses *cough* Cissokho) decorate Rodgers’ tactics board as he attempts to find the perfect formation to accommodate the players at his disposal. But amongst Rodgers’s squad, one would struggle to identify a player who could be labelled as having an “attitude”, or considered “troublesome”, in a training and work ethic sense. No doubt, Raheem Sterling has had his problems in the past, but as a young man he is slowly growing under the guidance of his manager who has stood by him and invested both in his potential as a footballer and in developing him as a person. Luis Suarez also falls into this category, but it seems Rodgers is helping to turn that around for the Uruguayan.

Most recently, Rodgers spoke of Jon Flanagan’s resurgence, having been forgotten by many Liverpool fans after failing to impress following his debut against Manchester City two years ago. Rodgers specifically mentions Flanagan’s attitude, and his commitment to bettering himself as a footballer through hard work and determination.

“He has worked incredibly hard, every day, and shown me he deserves a chance. That is why he is in the team…he has come back and shown the right attitude, has worked hard every single day, and he has earned his chance with the right approach.”

Rodgers believes in hard work, and if players show that then they will be rewarded on and off the pitch. Luis Suarez’s new contract is a prime example.

As Rodgers continued to praise Jon Flanagan, he specifically mentions the contract Jon was given at an age when he had not yet earned it; a situation which has ruined many young talents in England. Having had his own playing career cut short at the age of twenty, Rodgers has since gone on to manage youth and reserve teams before finding his way into first team management. His devotion to not only youth football, but football in general (having travelled Europe educating himself), is a testament to his own commitment and dedication to the sport he loves.

Rodgers wants his players to respect their job, and to recognise the opportunities they have not just a Liverpool player, but as a footballer. The chances millions wish they could have, chances Rodgers almost had. Having had his own career cut short through injury, coupled with his personal upbringing, Rodgers’s passion for coaching, football and developing players has been a key factor in his approach to the game, and encouragement of players to make the most of their potential and opportunities.

Amongst the vocabulary of Brendan Rodgers (which is, at times, a tad hyperbolic) one word is frequently mentioned by the Liverpool coach; humility. Rodgers appears to have drilled this into his players, as Shankly did, that the fans are everything to the club.

Shankly shared a special bond with the people of Liverpool, one which Rodgers or any other manager will never be able to replicate. A world of cameras, paparazzi and media scrutiny would never allow Brendan Rodgers the opportunity to play football on a Sunday with local youngsters, nor would many managers accept a modest wage in a modest house, such as Shankly did. What Shankly believed in, he lived.

But there are similarities in both the Scot’s methods and Rodgers’. The investment into the fans and community around Anfield is slowly becoming a true feature of the club once more.

£15 million French centre-back Mamadou Sakho has begun teaching French, as well as football, to children in a Liverpool school having been named as ambassador of the Liverpool FC Foundation. This off the field contribution to the area is a fantastic gesture from Sakho, who seems to be just as socially aware off the pitch as he is tactically on it.

Following his heroic display for France in the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine, Sakho held an interview with the Guardian newspaper. As the interview drew to a close, Sakho asked if he could mention one more thing about the French national team:

“I just want to say that the players in the squad represent everyone in France, the multicultural society of France…  The cultural mix of France is represented in that squad and we are determined to win the hearts of the fans by fighting really hard for the shirt. It is not a qualification just for 24 footballers in a squad but for the whole nation.”

Sakho’s specific reference to the multicultural backgrounds of the France squad and France as a nation at a time when Laurent Blanc is making controversial comments about women, and accused of racism, shows what real leadership is about: the respect for and inclusion of all people. Their identity is found within the French national team and their desire to succeed for their country next summer.

It is of no shock that Sakho was identified by the transfer committee at Liverpool. Regardless of his obvious talents, his leadership and personality is beginning to reflect a strong and admirable persona, similar to the experienced Ivorian Kolo Toure.

The players bought and sold by the club is not as simple as talent and ability with the ball at their feet. Stewart Downing, a player with talent but a weak mentality was sold to West Ham in the summer. Fabio Borini suffered a similar fate as he was sent out on loan to Sunderland in an attempt to rebuild his confidence. The most controversial sale came when Jonjo Shelvey departed the club for Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City.

Shelvey clearly has potential, and is beginning to show some of that again at Swansea, but it is his weak mentality that decided his future. Rash tackles (his infamous dismissal against Manchester United), senseless comments on twitter (saying it was easy for fans to sit in the stands and criticise players, and that picture), and his lack of focus on the pitch accumulated to a stronger argument for his talent to be moved on. Rodgers looks for players with the right mentality to play composed, highly technical and intelligent football, and Shelvey simply does not fit that bill. Rodgers’ appreciation of the fans that pay their money to watch Liverpool play, who he aims to entertain at Anfield with the attacking talents of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, should be cherished and respected. When reading Shelvey’s ignorant comment about football fans on twitter, there can be no surprise that he no longer wears the red of Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers is building something beyond a team of talented players. His coaching does not stop after ninety minutes on a Saturday afternoon, or following training at Melwood. Rodgers is coaching his players to appreciate their life, their peers, and the men and women who pay to watch them every week. He wants them to contribute to the club, to the community of Anfield, but to remember that they are no different to those around them.

Luis Suarez is undoubtedly the best footballer in England right now, and is playing in the same bracket as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but Brendan Rodgers and John Henry grounded Luis Suarez in the summer. A compilation of outbursts, tantrums, and ironic interviews with the media indicated a man desperate to get away from the club, having supported him through two controversies.

But Rodgers and FSG handled the situation immaculately, reminding Luis who he was, and that the people he has disrespected were number one, not him. The players he plays with, although maybe not as talented, contribute to the fact he is now lauded as the best player in England. Without the work and input of the collective unit, the individual profits are unattainable. And with his individual talents, coupled with desire and team spirit, he will achieve the success he deserves as a player, but he will not do it on his own.

Suarez now appears to be a changed figure, having captained the club in Steven Gerrard’s absence. And although he wins Man of the Match awards week in week out, he never fails to remember the work of his team mates. Having worn the captain’s armband he mentions in both post match interviews that Gerrard is the captain, not him. And in a fantastic performance against Cardiff where he netted a brace and assisted Raheem Sterling in between, Brendan Rodgers took special mention of Suarez’s actions as Daniel Agger, the club’s vice-captain made his entrance to the game.

“It shows you the team player that he is. I thought he showed great humility as well, when Daniel Agger came on the field, he brought the armband straight to him because he’s the vice-captain.”

This is a Liverpool side that is beginning to mould into the vision of Brendan Rodgers. Although Shankly implemented a much more obvious form of socialism into his team, Rodgers appears to be establishing his own. The players, the attitude, the spirit, and the ethic. On the pitch, Liverpool fans hope for success, admirable performances, and thrilling dominance from this Liverpool side. And so far, they have.

Bill Shankly was once asked what he disliked about football, to which he replied “The end of the season.” For the last four seasons, Liverpool fans found themselves begging for the very thing Shankly hated, so poor were our fortunes on the field.

But Brendan Rodgers has changed that, there is excitement amongst the fans, and from the outside it looks like there is excitement within the squad again.

But, off the green field of Anfield Road, and outside the gates of Melwood, Rodgers expects one thing above all from his players.

Humility.

 

This is a guest post by Ryan McTernan

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