Can Rodgers save Liverpool?Comment on this story
For 20 years, Brendan Rodgers has been preparing for the moment when he is appointed by one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Liverpool’s new manager is leading edge, one of Britain’s brightest young coaches with the confidence to match the qualifications.
This is his time, responding to the challenge of restoring the fading force of English football into a top-four team again.
At 39 he is all about forward thinking and flexibility, conveying top-class coaching habits that he has picked up on a fascinating journey all over the continent.
At Swansea he has created an eclectic mix of football, drawing gasps of admiration in the Barclays Premier League by adding a touch of European glamour to his progressive philosophy.
Soon Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Luis Suarez will be skimming the ball across the surface, feeding off his enthusiasm and enjoying the opportunity to express themselves. This will be the Anfield Way from now on, trading on Rodgers’ tactical acumen and taking the culture of passing and possession football to another level.
Rodgers will bring a new order to Anfield, handing out the training schedule and the orientation to his players at the start of each working week. He is expected to retain Steve Clarke, a coach with whom he worked at Chelsea before Rodgers was given his break by Watford.
There will be enhancements at Melwood, with an upgrade of the computer system Amisco, the European player performance indicator. Rodgers has a scaled-down version of the statistical service used on every player in Europe at Swansea, but Liverpool have a bigger budget and even bigger plans.
He is expected to recruit Chris Davies, his outstanding performance analyst at Swansea, as part of his technical team at Liverpool.
Davies belongs in the new, razor-sharp boot room, assessing the strengths of every member of the opposition and briefing Rodgers on their progress on a daily basis using the Amisco data.
Frank Lampard Snr acted as a consultant to Rodgers at Watford and Reading, a wise old head for the young coach to turn to for inspiration at times.
Lampard said: “Perhaps his biggest challenge will be the dressing room because there might be the odd battle to be won, but he can cope with that.
“There are big personalities in there – Gerrard, Suarez, Jamie Carragher – but Brendan has the charisma to handle them. They will be impressed with his coaching, no question. A coach might have to put on 300 sessions a year and I guarantee every one of Brendan’s will be target or goal specific.
“He is a master communicator, but he is also able to share a laugh and joke with his players and that is important. The serious side is his planning. As with all top coaches he is meticulous in preparation, but in a respectful way.
“He is studious, but he wants to pass on his creativity to his players and not burden them with books – that’s his job.”
Last season’s Carling Cup winners want Rodgers to convert possession into points and close the gap on Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the table.
Nine draws at home is not good enough for a team with 18 league titles and meant they fell short of a shot at the Champions League.
“Every coach in the world wants the chance to work at Champions League level,” said Rodgers.
“At 35 I became a manager three years before my target of 38. I’ve been successful in a short period of time and if I am fortunate enough I might get another opportunity.”
He is a modern-day manager, capable of coping in every match situation after watching the work of Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and briefly Guus Hiddink.
Mourinho was influential in his first appointment, phoning Watford chairman Graham Simpson in 2008 to press his claims for the post.
It helped get Rodgers the job, but the appointment by Liverpool is more to do with method than being Mourinho Mark II.
Rodgers spent time in Spain, watching coaching techniques at Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla before moving on to Holland to learn from legendary coach Rinus Michels. In an interview with me last year, Rodgers said: “I suppose I’m in a new breed of coaches coming through and the one thing I have is confidence in players. I had a timeline to be a good coach and nearly 20 years in the game at that level has given me that.
“People like Roy Keane, Gareth Southgate and Gary Neville all had unbelievable careers and they have done their coaching badges, but I didn’t have the playing career.
“I was brought up in a traditional 4-4-2, kick the ball up the pitch, but when I was a youth international with Northern Ireland we would play France, Spain and Switzerland and we would chase the ball. I wanted to play in their team, I liked the ideology. I educated myself by studying, watching and learning.
“I worked with top British managers, Champions League winners and World Cup winners. At Chelsea I worked with some of the top players in European football.
“When the curtain goes up and the light is shining on you, there is not a lot to protect you.”
Now he will have a new stage when Swansea, who last night confirmed he wants to take the job, agree a compensation package – set at £5million when he signed his current contract – with Fenway Sports Group.
Liverpool like his swagger, the confidence in Swansea’s performances in their first season in the Premier League and his articulate media interviews.
He has charmed John W Henry, convincing Liverpool’s owner that the dark days under Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish will soon be behind them.
Rodgers said: “Everyone knows their function within the team. I spent a lot of time in Spain and the Barcelona model was a great influence and inspiration. When I was at Chelsea, that was how my players would play – smothering the opposition when they have the ball.
“It is like an orchestra and if one of them isn’t doing it, you won’t hit the right note.”
Liverpool’s players will play along to Rodgers’ tune in a pattern of play that will be instantly recognisable across the Premier League.
He knows that success will be measured in terms of top-four finishes, but the statistics will always be the starting point for his team.
Rodgers demands 61 per cent possession from his team on average and will expect a significant improvement on Swansea’s 600 passes in each game.
In a typical La Liga match Barcelona make around 1,000 and Liverpool’s players will be expected to dominate their opponents by producing similar statistics.
“People use efforts on goal as an indicator, but the way we play enables us to have that number of chances,” added Rodgers.
“Barcelona validate their methods by success. Manchester United have a way, they play fantastic football and they win games.
“There’s no right or wrong way, but at a high level you have to win trophies.”
After 20 years of study, it is time for silverware. And statistics. *[email protected] – Daily Mail