, All Blue Daze analyses how Brendan Rodgers has turned the club’s fortunes around..
On June 1st 2012, Brendan Rodgers was appointed manager of Liverpool Football Club. Appointed to take over from Reds legend Kenny Dalglish, the 39-year-old was charged by the owners, Fenway Sports, with the unenviable task of reviving the ailing club – first by qualifying for the Champions’ League and then by becoming English champions for the first time since 1990.
Dalglish had secured the League Cup and lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, but the club’s Premier League position still saw them 25 points adrift of champions Manchester United – and that simply wasn’t good enough.
At that time, Rodgers was manager of Swansea City and regarded as one of the very brightest up-and-coming managers in English football. He had joined Swansea two years previously and, in his first season, had led them via the play-offs to promotion into the Premier League for the first time. The Northern Irishman then consolidated the Swans’ status by finishing a highly creditable eleventh, playing his own particular brand of possession football.
In February 2012 he signed a new three-and-a-half year contract, with astute chairman Huw Jenkins aware of the increasing value of his young coach.
“Every top four or five jobs that come up, there’s no doubt Brendan is going to be linked to it,” said Jenkins. “That’s not going to change now. It’s probably going to increase, not fade.”
The chairman’s prediction was correct, but the subsequent contract at least assured Swansea of a good compensation package when the approach came from Anfield.
Although still a relatively young manager, Rodgers had an ethos about how his teams should play and took his possession-obsession tactics with him to Liverpool. Setting the new pattern into a club with the stature of the Reds wasn’t particularly easy. Yet, to his great credit, Rodgers quickly adapted his methods to suit his playing staff.
Although his first season saw Liverpool finish seventh, one place higher than Dalglish’s final return, the pattern was set. The new coach was seen to be developing not only a new playing style, but also bringing through a crop of youngsters to supplement the established team.
Nor was Rodgers shy of making tough decisions that might be unpopular. Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina had been linked with a move out of Anfield. Rodgers revealed the player’s agent had told him that a bid from Reina’s original club Barcelona was likely. Rodgers then went out and secured Sunderland and Belgium ‘keeper Simon Mignolet. The Catalan interest never materialised, and Reina was shipped out to Napoli on loan.
At least that’s the official version. Other versions suggest Rodgers wanted to move the shot-stopper on and sign a replacement. Reports have since suggested a rift between the two that Rodgers swiftly moved to resolve by loaning Reina out. The Spaniard had been a popular figure among the Anfield faithful but, after only one season, the new manager had secured sufficient prestige at the club that fans accepted the decision without protest.
Rodgers was also tested by the infamous Luis Suarez ‘bite’ scandal. This erupted around the Uruguay star last April, when he decided to try and take a chunk out of the forearm of teak-tough Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a league game at Anfield.
The ensuing imbroglio plunged the club into crisis but, throughout, Rodgers was adamant Suarez wouldn’t be sold. He saw the under-fire striker’s talent and wanted to preserve it despite, what seemed to many at the time, the cost of the club’s reputation.
However, Rodgers was resolute and backed the player whom many considered unredeemable, as the incident followed on the back of the Patrice Evra racial abuse affair.
Similar determination was displayed in the summer when a number of clubs, particularly Arsenal, sought to use any disenchantment with Liverpool’s progress and their lack of Champions’ League football to try and prise Suarez away.
Yet Rodgers’ grip and will were iron-like, even to the extent of denying a release clause existed in the player’s contract – although carefully using certain words – which later appeared to be real.
Was Suarez simply not interested in joining Arsenal or had Rodgers persuaded the player to give him another year to prove all the Uruguayan’s aspirations could be achieved at Anfield? Either way, Suarez stayed, and signed a new contract. Everything was set for the start of Rodgers’ second season in charge. It was time to deliver.
Many fans thought the opening weeks would be a trying time as the Reds waited for the six remaining games of Suarez’ ten-match ban to be served. It didn’t turn out that way. In what did turn out to be a stroke of genius, Rodgers persuaded Chelsea to sell them young England striker Daniel Sturridge in January 2013 for just £12million.
The west London club are apparently locked into a ‘love unto death’ embrace with Fernando Torres that, twelve months later, looks like a decision based on the level of logic that drives the Flat Earth Society. Not that any of that was a problem for Rodgers and Liverpool. Sturridge went to Anfield – and began to prove his potential.
This season, Sturridge has stepped up to the plate, and netted the winning goals in three successive 1-0 victories, including against old rivals Manchester United, as the Reds got off to a flying start. A draw at Swansea, followed by an uncharacteristic home defeat to Southampton, halted their stride, but they quickly picked up the momentum again.
With the return of Suarez, his triumvirate with Sturridge and youth product Raheem Sterling started to take shape. Liverpool have flourished since the trio have developed into one of the most dynamic and potent attacking forces in the Premier League.
It’s not only this team development that has led the club to become such a resurgent force. Rodgers has also demonstrated an ability to radically adapt tactics and formations during a game to address particular issues, an approach that previously seemed the exclusive purview of managers such as Jose Mourinho.
When Aston Villa visited Anfield, Paul Lambert had set up his team to exploit a lack of pace in Liverpool’s line-up. His team dominated many of the early exchanges, looking likely to claim an unlikely victory as they raced into a two-goal lead.
However, Rodgers recognised the problem and restructured his side. A goal just before half-time brought the game back into the Reds’ grasp, and a second-half equaliser snatched a point that never really looked on before the reorganisation took place.
It would be wrong to say that Rodgers’ Liverpool team are now the finished article. Defeats this season at Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea perhaps illustrate this, as a ‘case-hardening’ process is still probably needed.
Much of what Rodgers has done is about bringing young players through and the maturing of these elements of his squad will take a season or two, but the plan seems ahead of schedule. Rodgers has concentrated hard on saying his team isn’t a title contender, and the target for this campaign is to break into the top four.
Yet last Sunday’s outstanding 3-0 victory, after a Gerrard-inspired Reds rocked up at Old Trafford and flattened a below-par United, shows the title race is within their remit.
Back in 2012 when Rodgers was appointed, the Liverpool hierarchy probably had a timescale in mind in which to turn the club back into contenders. It’s unlikely they had envisaged this would be achieved inside two seasons – but now Rodgers has guided the club to the very cusp. The ‘Reds Revival’, led by Brendan Rodgers, is very much on.
Has Rodgers now proven himself as Britain’s best current manager? Can Liverpool end their league title drought this season? And is the SAS now the best striker partnership in world football?
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