LONDON: New manager Brendan Rodgers tried to say all the right things on Friday when he assured Liverpool’s fervent fans that he would dedicate his life to fighting for the club and its passing principles.
It was a confident start from a man who is facing a huge challenge in convincing the supporters and English soccer in general that he is the man to revive the fallen giants after one good season in the Premier League with Swansea City.
“Footballers are footballers. They want to learn and be educated and improve. That’s something I’ve done with all types of players,” said Rodgers, whose own playing career ended at the age of 20 due to a knee condition.
Having the Anfield crowd on side is a crucial part of the job as current England manager Roy Hodgson discovered in his own short-lived and unhappy time at Liverpool.
Kenny Dalglish, the sacked club great who Rodgers replaces, could never be faulted for his passion for a footballing institution and many fans were upset that he was let go last month despite a lowly eighth place Premier League finish.
Passion only goes so far, however, and Liverpool’s American owners are convinced Rodgers has other qualities needed to set the five times champions of Europe back on the road to success.
His appointment and the expected announcement of Norwich City’s Paul Lambert at Aston Villa – also American owned – may be seen as a sign that the tide has turned and young British coaching talent is again on the rise in the Premier League.
But what makes the 39-year-old Northern Irishman particularly attractive to his new employers is that he is in so many ways untypical of the British manager of Dalglish’s generation.
Liverpool chairman Tom Werner highlighted the new manager’s style of “attacking, relentless football” and spoke of him as a coach at the forefront of a new wave.
He talked of Rodgers’ talents as motivator and technician and his accomplishments at Swansea, a club with one of the smallest grounds in the Premier League who defied expectations of a swift return to the second division with some delightfully stylish performances last season.
But, most of all, Werner stressed that the new man saw the bigger picture. The fans want attractive football as well as results and Rodgers has form in that department.
“Brendan is attractive to us for more than what he achieved at Swansea,” Werner told a news conference.
“He’s an enormously intelligent man and his dedication to coaching and vision for improvement impressed us. He’s travelled all over Europe to study and learn the best techniques. He speaks Spanish as well as English and his track record has showed that he has used his knowledge to great effect.
“I think you all know that Jose Mourinho spotted Brendan at one point and brought him into his coaching staff at a time when Chelsea achieved two Premier League titles.”
Liverpool, once the dominant force in English football, have not won the championship since 1990 and have had to watch enviously as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and now Manchester City have outgunned them.
They finished the 2011-12 campaign 37 points behind champions Manchester City with their fewest win tally (14) in a top flight season since 1953-54.
While Swansea’s style had some fans fancifully comparing them to the brilliance of Barcelona, Rodgers will be expected to craft a side that will one day be the match of the Spaniards on the European stage.
It will take some time, as he acknowledged on Friday, and he faces a hard road ahead with big decisions to make on physical players like Andy Carroll and others more used to long passes than his brisk passing style.
Friday marked a new start however and, even if some fans might have hoped for a big name-foreign signing like Mourinho or outgoing Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, Rodgers will not be fazed by the big personalities and egos when he walks into the dressing room.
“My pathway as a young coach and manager has been different to most,” Rodgers said, reminding them of a past well beyond Swansea and south Wales.
“Even though I’m young, I’ve actually been coaching and working in football nearly 20 years. I had four and a half fantastic years at Chelsea where I had the experience of working with big players.”
Rodgers, fans and the board hope the new boss can follow in the footsteps of revered manager Bill Shankly, who set Liverpool on their way to greatness in the 1960s and 70s with an emphasis on passing football.
Shankly also famously said that football was much more important than a matter of life or death.
Rodgers faces a monumental task. -Reuters
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