HomeEditors' PicksBrendan Rodgers: The almost great Liverpool manager

Brendan Rodgers: The almost great Liverpool manager

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Brendan Rodgers has deficiencies as a manager but he is a real talker and that is a massive asset in a job interview.

Rodgers nailed his job interview at Liverpool and sold a vision to the club’s principal owner John W. Henry and chairman Tom Werner that mesmerised them. His 180-page manifesto entitled ‘One Vision, One Club’ laid out his plans for Liverpool and how he would revive the fortunes of the club.

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Then then-Swansea City manager mapped out the blueprint he had for the Merseyside giants that just finished eight at the end of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign.

Brendan Rodgers spoke about the culture he would want at Liverpool and promised to deliver attacking football.

Henry and Werner were wowed by the then 39-year-old manager’s vision and were convinced Rodgers was the man despite their interest in Roberto Martinez. They were even prepared to ditch their plan of bringing in a director of football to lure Rodgers to Anfield.

Brendan Rodgers never received the complete control he wanted at Liverpool

The Norther Irishman made it clear that he didn’t want to work under such a system and wanted complete control over the football side of things.

Brendan Rodgers repeatedly sought assurances from the club hierarchy over not having a director of football over him before agreeing to become the Liverpool manager. He said:

“I wanted to make sure that I would be in charge of football matters. I know what makes me work well and that wouldn’t have been a model I would have succeeded in.

“Its absolute madness if you are the manager of the club and someone else tells you to have that player. It doesn’t work.”

Brendan Rodgers never actually had the complete control over Liverpool that he craved for. The initial victory over not having a director of football over him was made redundant soon. The Liverpool owners set up a transfer committee – the term the club would go on to regret.

The Liverpool manager was part of the team that had FSG president Mike Gordon, chief executive Ian Ayre, director of technical performance Michael Edwards, head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter.

The club hierarchy felt that it would provide checks and balances and ensure too much power doesn’t rest on any one individual at Liverpool. But what it did was completely different, at least during Rodgers’ reign.

The transfer committee became a constant source of friction between Rodgers and the owners and throughout his reign, it never sat with him well. It was an uneasy truce from the start and neither Brendan Rodgers nor the club hierarchy got what they wanted out of the set-up.

Liverpool never signed a player that Rodgers didn’t want but he was left frustrated by a process where he had to convince that his target met the requirements of his squad’s needs.

Brendan Rodgers was at the time blocked from signing his first-choice targets. He wanted Ashley Williams and Ryan Bertrand but got Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno.

There was a real issue with trust between him and the rest of the committee and it only got worse over the course of his three-and-a-half-years at Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers’ almost forced Jordan Henderson out of the club in his first summer at Liverpool

The Liverpool football club of 2012 is a galaxy apart from the reigning Premier League and world champions. In the three previous seasons, they had finished seventh, sixth and eighth.

Brendan Rodgers’ appointment did divide opinion on Merseyside as he was replacing a club legend in Kenny Dalglish and didn’t have a CV laden with trophies. He was only 39 and had just three-and-a-half seasons of managerial experience behind him.

Liverpool fans were not overly impressed and some wanted their Champions League-winning manager Rafael Benitez back at the club. However, Rodgers made an impression with the way he spoke and that won him hearts amongst the fanbase. He said at his unveiling:

“I genuinely think that Liverpool is the heartland of football. I promise I’ll fight for my life and for the people in this city.” Rodgers vowed to make a trip to Anfield “the longest 90 minutes of an opponent’s life”.

The soundbites kept rolling. “You train dogs, I like to educate players”, “Every player I see as my own son”, “My world has been about creating rather than waiting”, “You can live without water for many days, but you can’t live for a second without hope”.

Brendan Rodgers also impressed the Liverpool squad with his hands-on approach and innovative sessions. However, in his first summer, he had the difficult task of off-loading high earners like Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani, Craig Bellamy and Charlie Adam.

The owners also made it clear that significant fees won’t be spent on players above the age of 24 and he was given a transfer budget of £20m apart from whatever he could raise from sales.

His signings were more or less disastrous in the first summer. Fabio Borini turned out to be a £10.4m flop, scoring just three goals for the club.

Rodgers pushed Liverpool to trigger Joe Allen’s £15m buyout clause. The former Swansea man wasn’t helped by the fact that his manager termed him ‘Welsh Xavi’.

But the six-part fly-on-the-wall documentary with Fox Soccer really put Brendan Rodgers under the scanner for no fault of his. In one of the episodes, he was filmed speaking at a team meeting before the season started.

“I think there’s three players who will let us down this year — the cause, the fight, everything – and I have written them down already in these three envelopes. Make sure you are not in one of the envelopes.”

Other than the fact that it looked cringe-worthy on screen, it wasn’t original as well. It was a psychological play out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s playbook.

Rodgers sent Andy Carroll on loan to West Ham thinking it would free up funds for a striker. He wanted Fulham’s Clint Dempsey but Liverpool refused to pay £6m for a 29-year-old.

He told Jordan Henderson that he would be allowed to join Fulham in a swap deal. The midfielder refused to leave and vowed to prove Rodgers wrong.

Dempsey joined Tottenham and to Brendan Rodgers’ utter disgust, Liverpool failed to sign a striker. Fabio Borini broke his foot and the Liverpool manager was left with one fit striker in Luis Suarez.

Half-way through his first season, Liverpool sat tenth in the league table. Nuri Sahin’s loan was cut short with the midfielder blaming his lack of impact on Rodgers playing him out of position. Joe Cole was also offloaded from the club’s wage bill.

Brendan Rodgers got a new striker in Daniel Sturridge in January for £12m and the transfer committee also pushed for the signing of Philippe Coutinho, who arrived from Inter Milan for £8.5m.

The mid-season signings helped Liverpool propel to a seventh-place finish with 61 points.

The first season saw him launch the career of a young Raheem Sterling. Luis Suarez became the first Liverpool striker since Fernando Torres in 2008 to reach the 30-goal mark. However, the Uruguayan was slapped with a ten-game ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in April.

At the end of the season, Jamie Carragher retired and Rodgers backed out of his initial promise to find a role for the defender in his backroom staff.

The 2013-14 season: The whitened teeth, the scintillating football, the slip and Brendan Rodgers, the nearly man

Brendan Rodgers approached his second season at Liverpool in a very different manner. He’d had his teeth whitened, he lost weight and he even got a tailor in to adjust his wrack of suits in Melwood.

The critics took potshots at him for a perceived sign of vanity but Rodgers was determined to take better care of his health and appearance at Liverpool. He was regularly spotted running around the streets of West Derby, close to the club’s training base.

The summer of 2013 was also far from easy for Liverpool in the transfer market. Diego Costa and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rejected big-money moves to Anfield. The Reds were not a massive draw seven years back.

Luis Suarez tried to engineer a move away from Liverpool and join Arsenal, who infamously tabled a bid of £40m plus £1m, under the wrong assumption, that it would trigger a release clause. Moreover, it led to Liverpool owner John W. Henry tweeted the following.

Liverpool refused to sell him and Suarez publicly accused Brendan Rodgers of going back on his the promise of allowing him to leave.

The Uruguayan was banished from the squad and it eventually took club captain Steven Gerrard to diffuse the tension between the star striker and the manager. Suarez later said:

“Steven told me ‘I promise that if you stay this year you’re going to take off and next year you’ll go to Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid or whichever one you want, but stay this year because you won’t be better off at Arsenal’.

“His words convinced me in that moment. They came from a person who cared for me. They were words from a true captain.”

The arrivals of Kolo Toure (free transfer), Iago Aspas (£7m), Luis Alberto (£6.8m), Simon Mignolet (£9m) and Mamadou Sakho (£15m) — coupled with loan deals for Aly Cissokho and Victor Moses — was not seen as a sign of a club trying to get back to the top.

Liverpool also sold Stewart Downing after Brendan Rodgers was assured that the winger won’t be allowed to leave. Despite all that, Rodgers masterminded the unlikeliest of title challenges at Anfield that season.

There is an attempt to write revisionist history around Liverpool’s 2013-14 season, stating that the title challenge was down to Luis Suarez’s brilliance. It is often overlooked that Rodgers found a playing system that got the best out of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who scored 55 goals between them.

Steven Gerrard also found a new lease of life as a deep-lying playmaker in the twilight of his career. Young players such as Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho blossomed under the Northern Irishman’s tutelage at Anfield.

Brendan Rodgers even found a way to get the best out of Martin Skrtel and Jon Flanagan, players who very few believed were good enough to play for the Merseyside giants.

Arsenal arrived as league leaders to Anfield and were 4-0 down within 20 minutes, begging for mercy. Tottenham were smashed 5-0 at White Hart Lane, Manchester United were thrashed 3-0 at Old Trafford and Manchester City were beaten 3-2 in a thriller at Anfield.

Brendan Rodgers’ name was chanted incessantly as attacking masterclasses papered over defensive vulnerability.

A run of 11 wins on the trot put Rodgers and his Liverpool side on the brink of immortality. Seven points from their last three games would have made him the man to end Liverpool’s wait for a league title since 1990. He was that close to enjoying the cult-like following Jurgen Klopp enjoys on Merseyside.

But the cruel hand of fate conspired and Steven Gerrard slipped and Chelsea’s Demba Ba made him pay.

Rodgers received criticism for his gung-ho approach on a day where a point would have meant that the title race remained in Liverpool’s hands. Even Gerrard had a go at his former manager in his autobiography and said:

“I sensed an over-confidence in Brendan’s team talks. We played into Chelsea’s hands.”

However, the cold truth was that Liverpool side knew only one way to play and didn’t have the squad to mix their style of football. The capitulation at Crystal Palace after leading 3-0 ended it all but the damage was done against Chelsea.

That Liverpool side are often accused of giving up under the heat of the title race but they won 12 of their last 14 games. It is astonishing that they even came close to winning the league after shipping 50 goals.

Brendan Rodgers thumped his chest in front of the Kop at the end of the season and roared:

“Yes, we can make the final step. We won’t go into next season with doubts.”

The 2014-15 season: Mario Balotelli, the massive drop off and that defeat at Stoke on the final day of the season

Brendan Rodgers went into the summer confident of building on his near-miss. Early in May, he was named the Manager of the Season and by the end of the month, he signed a new four-year contract with Liverpool.

Rodgers was spotted in Brazil during the World Cup, looking suntanned and relaxed. He had travelled to the South American nation with Ian Ayr, knowing fully well that Luis Suarez wanted to join Barcelona. The trip was meant for convincing the Uruguayan’s replacement to move to Anfield.

Unfortunate, Arsenal Wenger wanted the same man – Alexis Sanchez – and the Frenchman followed the Chilean in four Brazilian cities, setting up multiple meetings with the attacker’s representatives.

By the time Brendan Rodgers and Ian Ayre managed to get their interest known to Sanchez, Wenger had him convinced to move to Arsenal with a prospect of living a life in London.

Rodgers was brilliant in identifying Suarez’s qualities and building a team around him. The Uruguayan was fueled by his desire to leave Liverpool and that pushed him to greater heights at Anfield.

It would have been close to impossible to replace Suarez but by the start of next season, Liverpool had not replaced him at all in ant shape or form. Brendan Rodgers guaranteed the press on being probed on interest in Mario Balotelli during Liverpool’s pre-season tour that the Italian would not be coming to Anfield.

Cut to three weeks later, Balotelli was holding up the Liverpool shirt outside the front doors of Melwood. At best, it seemed he misled the press but at the worst, Rodgers looked like some who didn’t have control over the club signing players. In reality, he had bigger targets in mind.

Brendan Rodgers asked Liverpool to assess the possibility of signing Karim Benzema from Real Madrid, Napoli’s Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao from Monaco.

He was also keen on QPR’s Loic Remy and Swansea’s Wilfried Bony but the latter’s wage demands spooked Liverpool. In the end, Rodgers got desperate and was open to either Samuel Eto’o or Mario Balotelli.

The former Barcelona and Inter forward’s age worked against him and Liverpool eventually opted for Balotelli.

Brendan Rodgers said after signing the Italian:

“I think we have done a really smart piece of business here. This transfer represents outstanding value for the club.”

He got one thing right about Balotelli, the striker was cheap. There are suggestions that Rodgers really thought that he could turn the Italian’s career around after getting the best out of another complicated character in Luis Suarez.

Liverpool had played twice and lost once by the time Balotelli arrived. A 3-0 victory over Tottenham propelled dreams but it came before two successive defeats, at home to Aston Villa then more convincingly, at West Ham.

Steven Gerrard later claimed that the lack of movement in the forward line made his job in midfield. Balotelli was nowhere close to the kind of options Suarez provided upfront for the Liverpool midfield.

If Suarez symbolized the Liverpool under Rodgers before the summer of 2014, Balotelli summed up everything wrong about the team after.

By the winter, some of the Liverpool squad were shocked to find that Balotelli was still not aware of the names of some of his team-mates.

The Italian’s reckoning came in a Champions League defeat at Basel. Brendan Rodgers decided not to drop him despite knowing that the striker stayed up late the previous night. Rodgers was desperate to prove that his side prettier football and it ended up in an embarrassing defeat.

Gerrard termed Liverpool too soft after the game and he later revealed that game against Basel proved that Balotelli was incapable of lifting the team like Suarez. Balotelli was unmanageable and it was becoming abundantly clear to everyone in the club.

Liverpool were seventh by the time they faced Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Champions League. Following a 3-0 defeat, the Liverpool manager was scene introducing himself in Spanish to a journalist from the AS newspaper.

It was again perceived as Brendan Rodgers trying too hard to impress someone who just didn’t matter. He also rested his best players from the glamorous European fixture, citing the importance of the Chelsea game, which they also lost.

Gerrard had made his mind up about leaving Liverpool and by the time next summer arrived, Raheem Sterling was campaigning for a move to Manchester City.

Just five months earlier, Rodgers almost took them to the brink of winning the league but question marks over his future were growing ever louder. However, it seems the tide was turning and between December 2014 and March 2015, 12 wins hoisted the Reds back into Champions League contention.

Second-placed Manchester City were four points away by the time Manchester United arrived at Anfield. Brendan Rodgers confidently roared that he has turned their season around and touted his tactical tweaks that led to better results.

However, Liverpool just won two of their last eight league games after the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Anfield, a run which also saw them losing the FA Cup semi-final to Aston Villa.

Having finished second in 2013-14, Liverpool would end up in sixth in 2014-15 despite spending more than £100 million. A year earlier, when Tottenham had spent a similar amount but also finished sixth, Brendan Rodgers had suggested that for such an outlay, “you’d expect to be challenging for the league”.

The soundbite came back to haunt him in a campaign which ended in a 6-1 defeat at Stoke City — Liverpool’s heaviest defeat since losing 7-2 to Spurs in 1963. It was Steven Gerrard’s last game in their colours and Raheem Sterling was dropped to the bench after he refused to sign a new contract.

Brendan Rodgers’ endgame at Liverpool

The Liverpool hierarchy were not happy with Brendan Rodgers in the background. His relationship with Steven Gerrard deteriorated and the former midfielder’s decision to move to the MLS was partly fueled by the manager’s apparent lack of appetite to keep him.

His relationship with Michael Edwards also hit new lows. The now sporting director led the transfer committee. He wanted to sign Roberto Firmino and Rodgers was keen on Christian Benteke from Aston Villa. Liverpool signed both in an unhealthy compromise.

Given Firmino’s role in helping Liverpool win the Champions League and the Premier League, history has sided with Edwards on this one.

Brendan Rodgers survived the end of the season reviewing and promised to carry out changes to his coaching staff. After first-team coach Mike Marsh was sacked, Rodgers abandoned his assistant Colin Pascoe, who was told about his departure while he was away on holiday.

At the end of September, Liverpool beat Villa but that came after a five-game winless run, which had only been ended earlier that week by a penalty shoot-out victory over League Two side Carlisle United (even though Liverpool were more or less at full-strength).

The October international break was on the horizon and a few days before the Merseyside Derby, Liverpool met Jurgen Klopp for the first time in New York.

Brendan Rodgers’ fate was sealed following a 1-1 draw and on the short drive back to Melwood, he was asked by Mike Gordon to meet Ian Ayre in his office before he went home.

It was in the then Liverpool chief executive’s office Rodgers was told that he would no longer be the manager. His time at the club ended with them sitting 10th in the league table, two spots below where they had finished when he presented the ‘One Vision, One Club’ manifesto to the owners.

Also Read: Sir Alex Ferguson: The Aberdeen legend who broke the Old Firm grip on Scottish football

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