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Brendan Rodgers - Liverpool's Ulsterman takes over


In being officially unveiled on 1 June 2012 as the man to replace Kenny Dalglish as manager of team affairs at Liverpool Football Club, 39-year-old Ulsterman Brendan Rodgers became the club’s youngest appointee to that position since Graeme Souness arrived as a 37-year-old in 1991. On taking up his new post Rodgers, however, despite a growing reputation and a managerial apprenticeship earned at Watford, Reading and Swansea, did not possess the experience or abrasiveness of the Scot who had previously been chosen to replace the Liverpool legend 21 years earlier. Although seemingly settled and happy in south Wales, having steered Swansea into the Premier League as the Championship play-off winners in 2011, what he had achieved at Swansea and the way he had achieved it made him an inevitable target for bigger clubs. It was probably more a question of when rather than if this next move would happen. After initially turning down the opportunity to talk to Liverpool’s owners in the middle of May about the vacant manager’s position at Anfield, it seemed that Wigan boss Roberto Martinez had become the American owners’ new target. But only days after Martinez had met representatives of Fenway Sports Group in Florida, attention turned again to Rodgers, who felt unable to turn down a second request from Liverpool to discuss the prospect of taking over the chair vacated by Dalglish.

Rodgers did not take up football seriously until he had become a teenager. He was a youth player with Ballymena United in his home county of Antrim but only played a dozen or so matches as a senior there before moving to England to further his career with Reading, then in the Third Division of the Football League. Unfortunately, a genetic knee condition forced him to terminate any ambitions of becoming a professional footballer before he had even appeared in a first-team match for the Berkshire club. Putting aside his disappointment at not being able to play on a full-time basis, Rodgers worked hard at pursuing a career as a coach. He became Reading’s Academy manager at the young age of twenty-two. Soon after arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2004 José Mourinho offered him the opportunity to manage Chelsea’s Academy and he impressed enough to be offered the reserve team’s manager’s job in 2006. Born exactly ten years to the day before Rodgers, Mourinho saw other characteristics which mirrored his own. "I like everything in him," Mourinho said. "He is ambitious and does not see football very differently from myself. He is open, likes to learn and likes to communicate."

In 2008 Watford, then in the Championship division, gave Rodgers the chance to manager a first team. Arriving at a time when the Hertfordshire club had made a dreadful start to the season, Rodgers steered them to mid-table safety after they had been in the relegation-zone in January. Rodgers likes to think his teams reflect his father's work ethic. "I used to help dad paint and decorate to earn pocket money. He installed in me the value of a hard day's work. He believes that leads to success in whatever you do. He's right," he said. "He'd work from dawn to dusk to ensure his young family had everything. I think you can see his philosophies in my team."

Rodgers’ first English club were obviously monitoring the Irishman’s progress. When Steve Coppell stepped down after failing to take Reading back into the Premier League they had left at the end of the 2007/08 season, Rodgers was appointed to replace him. But it was not a happy return to the Madejski Stadium and shortly before the end of 2009 he was sacked by the Berkshire club. For six months he said he couldn’t even get an interview with a League 2 club but Swansea Chairman, Huw Jenkins, recognised the superb job he had done working with youngsters at Reading and Chelsea and appointed him to the post of Swansea manager in the summer of 2010.

In a sensational first season based in south Wales, Brendan Rodgers led the Swans into the promised land of the Premier League, although it took a dramatic play-off final victory against his old club Reading at Wembley to achieve this. Tipped by many to make an immediate return to the Championship, Swansea impressed throughout the season and finished in a comfortable eleventh place with their home form being particularly strong. Rodgers’ team also took four points out of six from Liverpool, who ultimately finished only three places and five points above them. This might have been a factor, although possibly not a major factor, in Liverpool’s American owners seeing Rodgers as a potential manager of their own club.

Rodgers revealed to the Daily Mail in 2011 the reason behind the playing style of his teams. “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," Rodgers told Daily Mail's Neil Ashton. "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."

Mister Rodgers’ lack of success or experience as a player need not necessarily be seen as a disadvantage because both Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benítez took the club to domestic and European honours despite very modest playing careers. Rodgers knows he has joined a special club and both he and his employers made all the right noises on the day his appointment was confirmed in front of the media circus that the new manager will have to get used to and which to be fair he has already some experience of with his other clubs.

Tom Werner, Liverpool’s Chairman emphasised that Rodgers will offer “relentless, attacking football” and was the owner’s first-choice and the only man offered the manager’s job. Rodgers, who is the first Ulsterman to manage Liverpool since John McKenna in 1892, is a visionary who has studied coaching techniques in Spain (Rodgers is fluent in Spanish) and Holland where he spent time with the legendary Rinus Michels. "My big dream is to be a highly successful football manager whose methods provide innovation for youth and senior footballers and coaches. I started coaching for one reason and that was to make a difference for people, not just as footballers but as human beings. I'm learning lessons all the time. My template for everything is organisation. With the ball you have to know the movement patterns, the rotation, the fluidity and positioning of the team. When we have the football everybody's a player. If you are better than your opponent with the ball you have a 79% chance of winning the game." He is very passionate about his new appointment. “I promise I'll fight for my life and for the people in this city, We might not be ready for the title now but the process begins today.”

Copyright - Chris Wood ([email protected]) - image from Liverpool FC via Getty Images.
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