at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
On Boxing Day 1986, Brendan Rodgers was a 13-year-old in Carnlough in Northern Ireland, a village from which he would travel to Old Trafford for trials from time to time.
On Boxing Day 1986, Alex Ferguson wasexperiencing his first Liverpool match as the manager of Manchester United. He was 44 and had been in the job for six weeks. United won 1-0, with Norman Whiteside scoring.
More than a quarter of a century later, Ferguson takes part in his 62nd competitive United-Liverpool game (as well as two Charity Shields).
For Rodgers, it is a second — and the first at Old Trafford.
Liverpool arrive on Sunday 21 points behind United, who are perched once again atop the league. It is a gulf more than a gap — only once since Ferguson joined United have Liverpool been this far behind them at this stage, in 1994 under Graeme Souness. Ferguson will know how Rodgers feels.
Rodgers, 40 this month, is in a comparable position to that which faced Ferguson back in 1986. Each man knows about wrestling with an epic club and finding it hard to bend. And while the greatest rivals prevail, the stress comes daily.
‘I can see a parallel between the two men, definitely,’ said Peter Davenport, who is now a school sports coach on his native Wirral and who, back in 1986, was a United striker.‘Fergie turned it around and that shows the strength of continuity, but he was given time to build. ‘It wasn’t just that he got United to learn to compete with Liverpool, who were dominant, he sustained it, then took it on.
‘But it wasn’t always upward. We finished second to Liverpool in 1988, in Fergie’s first full season. I left, but United then came 11th.
’If Ferguson’s second full season was tough, his third saw United finish 13th, five points above relegation.
It was May 1990, when Liverpool were champions of England for the 18th and last time. In May 1990, United had gone 23 years without the title; 2013 marks the same 23-year wait for Liverpool.But May 1990 also brought United the FA Cup, against Crystal Palace.
‘In 1990, United started winning trophies,’ added Davenport. ‘If Brendan Rodgers could win the FA Cup or something, then it would buy him time.‘Because that is a question: ifLiverpool have a dip, will he get time? Or do they panic and make a change? Liverpool have a long way to go — Everton are closer to United — and Brendan was left short on deadline day in August. He showed atSwansea what a good team he can build. I know they’ve signed Daniel Sturridge but Liverpool need three or four more.’
On Boxing Day 1986, it was Davenport’s shot saved by Bruce Grobbelaar. Whiteside followed it up. In an era when the old First Division had 22 clubs, incredibly this was the only away game United won all season.In coming 11th, United finished that season 30 points behind champions Everton.
Pre-Rodgers, Liverpoolfinished 37 points adrift of United and Manchester City in the Premier League last May.
Whiteside said of the Ferguson-Rodgers comparison: ‘It’s hypothetical. I don’t know enough about Brendan, but I’ve heard good reports. It’d be a shame if Liverpool didn’t give him a chance.‘I know it’s cut-throat, but I’ve been saying for a long time that a manager needs three years in a job: one year to inherit a team, one year to build a team and one year to get results. All this “57 days in a job”: it’s madness.
‘It’ll take Liverpool three years under Brendan Rodgers to get close. But that’s a hard one for supporters to hear.’The atmosphere in the modern boardroom, as well as the modern stands, has changed since the 1980s. Patience is barely mentioned, never mind cherished — ‘when Ferguson’s record in the early days, and after, prove that it should be’, as Whiteside added.
When Ferguson welcomes Rodgers on Sunday, he will be the seventh Liverpool manager that the wily Scot has met at Old Trafford — although Kenny Dalglish has fulfilled that role twice.Ferguson remains only the seventh United manager since the Second World War and the 71-year-old’s longevity is such that he has selected a player born in 1956 — Kevin Moran — against Liverpool as well as one born in 1992: Phil Jones.
Liverpool were also interested in signing Jones when, as a teenager, he was poised to leave Blackburn in the summer of 2011. In that transfer battle, there is another parallel Davenportmentioned.
‘Back then, United really wanted to compete with Liverpool in the market,’ Davenport said.‘Fergie was always upset about missing out on Peter Beardsley. He made sure he didn’t miss out on Gary Pallister at a time when Liverpool were looking for a ball-playing centre-half. ‘I know, because I was at Middlesbrough at the time and Fergie rang me to ask to put in a word! That was a major signing for United andprobably a big blow to Liverpool.
’Rodgers is said to be becoming more hands-on in the transfer dealings at Anfield and there have been recent signs of gelling — Liverpool have won five of their last seven League games. But if Sunday goes badly for the visitors, Rodgers knows where to point for a lesson in patience and club-building. – Daily Mail