Why Brendan Rodgers Deserves To Be Recognised As A Top-Class Manager
An emotional Steven Gerrard composes himself. He wipes away a tear and looks at his teammates with intent. "We do not let this f****** slip. We go again!" the Liverpool captain screams. "Listen. Listen. This is gone. We go to Norwich. Exactly the same. We go again. Come on!"
The date is Sunday April 13. We are nearing the end of the 2013/14 season and Liverpool's homegrown hero helps secure a crucial 3-2 win against Premier League title rivals Manchester City - a tenth straight victory in the club's quest for a first top-flight trophy since 1990. Is this Liverpool's year?
Fans were starting to believe, especially after their next league game: an important three points at Carrow Road.
Brendan Rodgers' men extended their lead at the top to five points against Norwich but a week later, in one of the most famous capitulations in football history, his side went from the brink of history to ultimate failure after a devastating turn of events against title rivals Chelsea, who capitalised on an unfortunate slip from their often-reliable captain.
Demba Ba pounced and the rest is history. It was an incident the former Liverpool captain would later describe as "the worst day of my life."
Jose Mourinho's side would sprinkle salt into the wounds by scoring a second in injury time. The title race was over, Manchester City lifted the title and 18 months after being a Gerrard's slip away from Premier League glory, Rodgers was relieved of his duties. Sacked.
Five years after that season-defining slip, a failure to help Liverpool win their first league title in decades remains a defining moment for Brendan Rodgers: the football manager.
It does, however, appear that people are slowly starting to appreciate his work after more recent spells with Celtic and Leicester City, where he has established a clear philosophy of attractive and fast-paced football, churning out positive results on a regular basis, but why does this established British manager struggle to gain the admiration he deserves?
It wasn't always like this for the Carnlough-born coach.
Shortly after hanging up his boots, Rodgers was highly respected after he studied a number of different coaching methods in Spain.
Premier League champions Chelsea decided to take a chance on the rookie manager after Jose Mourinho, who was advised by assistant Steve Clarke to sign the former Reading defender, thought he was perfectly suited to a role as the club's head youth coach.
Rodgers, who credits Mourinho for instilling his immaculate preparations and command of small details, was making a name for himself after spending four successful years at Stamford Bridge.
In 2008, he left Stamford Bridge to kick start a senior management career at Watford, where he helped them climb from the depths of the Championship relegation zone to a mid-table finish. Further spells in the Championship would follow with Reading and Swansea respectively.
But his biggest break in football arrived when Liverpool came knocking in 2012.
He was 38-years-old at the time and quite rightly, many raised concerns over a lack of experience at the top. That soon disappeared once Rodgers implemented his attacking, creative style of play to a previously depleted side struggling for inspiration on the pitch.
Those in the dressing were impressed by his approach.
"He manages every single player. He knows we have different characters in the dressing room." Steven Gerrard told Sky Sports in 2014 after the club achieved a second place finish in the Premier League.
"His one-on-one management is the best I have known. He makes you go out on to the pitch feeling a million dollars, full of confidence and belief. When you play for Liverpool you have to accept pressure, take it on the chin and perform, but when you have a manager who is making you feel good and who is not scared of giving you a good one-to-one telling off as well he has the perfect ingredients."
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In terms of his impact inside Liverpool's dressing room, the positive results were there for all to see. Relationships between players were stronger than ever, especially throughout the 2013/14 campaign, where the likes of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling shared an almost telepathic bond.
But despite results on the pitch, many started to become frustrated by Rodgers' hit and miss transfer recruitment policy.
He spent £292 million in his three years in charge of the club, with notable 'flop' buys including Dejan Lovren, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno. Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling also left Anfield for pastures new, and to replace those two key figures was an almost impossible task for Rodgers, who eventually opted to sign Mario Balotelli at the end of the 2014 summer window.
Liverpool, as many predicted, would struggle to recapture their previous form. Despite spending over £100 million in the transfer window. The club finished sixth in the 2014/15 season, a substantial 25 points behind eventual champions Chelsea. It all came in full circle.
In the space of 18 months, Brendan had taken one of the biggest teams in England from the brink of history to mid-table mediocrity and predictably, after winning just four of 11 games in all competitions at the start of the 2015/16 campaign, the club would decide to sack their manager.
Liverpool's parting statement from John W Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Mike Gordon hit then nail on the head.
"All of us have experienced some wonderful moments with Brendan as manager and we are confident he will enjoy a long career in the game. Ambition and winning are at the heart of what we want to bring to Liverpool and we believe this change gives us the best opportunity to deliver it."
Henry and co. were right. Rodgers remains on the path to a long and successful career in the game, and many Celtic fans will begrudgingly agree. The Northern Irish manager rebuilt his reputation by leading The Hoops to consecutive Scottish domestic titles, and once again applied an exciting, attacking style of football while nurturing talents like Kieran Tierney and Moussa Dembele.
During his spell in Scotland, however, he knew, deep down, that he still had something to prove in England - and he saw potential in the vacant Leicester job.
"We were on a journey of great success over these last years [at Celtic], but when the opportunity came to talk to Leicester and I was able to analyse it, it allowed me to think I'd probably achieved and taken Celtic as far as I could at this moment," he admitted.
The 46-year-old penned a £5 million a year deal with The Foxes, returning to England's top-flight with great intentions. On his arrival at the King Power, Rodgers pointed towards a "young and very dynamic" squad with "huge potential."
Rodgers clearly did his homework on the former Premier League champions.
"The foundations are in place for us to grow and achieve many things." he told Leicester City's website. "Hopefully, with my experiences, and the talent of the players in our squad, we can be successful together."
Seven games into the Premier League season and Rodgers has instilled a winning mentality among a group of players who were bereft of confidence and belief under previous manager Claude Puel.
The Foxes have adopted a creative approach to great effect, using James Maddison and Youri Tielemens in more attacking positions. Jamie Vardy is also bang in form. The 32-year-old, who struggled for form in spells last season, is showing signs of his former self of late, scoring five times in his opening seven Premier League games.
Of course, attacking players are benefitting massively from Rodgers' preferred style of play, especially the previously mentioned Maddison, who has created more chances in the top-flight than any other player in the league since last season, but the likes of Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans have improved in defensive areas during the opening stages of the campaign.
Rodgers likes his team to be meticulously organised and creative, a perfect analogy for Leicester City at this stage of the season.
The Foxes currently sit in third place after four wins in seven and fans have every right to be excited by their current form, especially with such a talented and driven manager at the helm .