Brendan Rodgers: Shades of Shankly

by Nick Balchin

As Brendan Rodgers entered Anfield last month many fans were understandably underwhelmed at the appointment. This relatively inexperienced 39-year old was stepping into the berth where men such as Kenny Dalglish, Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly once stood, and he would have a lot to prove if he was to live up to the legendary status of some of the club’s managerial alumni.

So far Rodgers has impressed with his straight talking and forward thinking approach which has echoes of the man behind the modern day Liverpool – Shankly.

Rodgers clearly understands the task at hand and is not willing to belittle it on order to ease any pressure, something Roy Hodgson found was unfavourable amongst Kopites. He knows the history of the club just as anybody does and he has spoken of his keenness to emulate the successes of past managers at the club, setting himself an unenviable task.

Whilst at Swansea City, Rodgers gained many plaudits for his footballing philosophy, encouraging fluid short passing which even led to players such as Leon Britton having a higher passing accuracy percentage than Barcelona’s Xavi.

The Northern Irishman has a footballing brain and has studied the game for many years developing his techniques studying Barcelona as well as learning under Jose Mourinho. Similarly to Shankly he has a strong belief in himself and his methods; a stubbornness that can sometimes prove fatal although the rewards can be considerably great.

Shankly was an advocate of the ‘pass and move’ game that Liverpool became synonymous for, with one particular training routine ‘Sweat Box’ being used to try and improve players short passing and touch. Bob Paisley took over from Shankly and effectively perfected what Shankly had been building winning 21 trophies in nine seasons in charge.

With Kenny Dalglish back at the helm many expected a return to the Liverpool ‘of old’ although at times the side seemed unsure how to break opponents down and would overt to the long ball approach more reminiscent of Stoke City than Liverpool of the 70′s and 80′s.

The club eventually finished the 2011-12 season in 8th place with their lowest goalscoring tally of the Premier League era so far.

Rodgers is stumbling into a club very much in a turbulent period as they struggle to hang on to their place as one of Europe’s elite clubs. They have not qualified for the Champions League for three season’s in a row and are still recovering from an ultimately crippling period under the ownership of American’s Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Similarly, Shankly entered Liverpool during a tough period and the club were far from the force they were soon to become. Anfield was crumbling down and the side were languishing in the old Second division. Within three years the Scot had achieved promotion to the First division and two years on won the First division. Whether Rodgers will achieve such success so soon is yet to be seen but it would certainly place his name firmly in Liverpool folklore.

The Northern Irishman’s unveiling as Reds boss gave him a first test to adhere himself to the media and fans, he managed to succeed in doing this as he spoke eloquently showing a clear vision for where he wants to take the club. He spoke of the work ethic he is keen to reinstall at the club, something Socialist Shankly was a keen advocate of.

In a recent press conference when quizzed about transfer speculation Rodgers was candid with his responses and eventually made sure the media knew what his position would be stating that he would not be discussing specific moves for players in or out of the club as it just isn’t his way, it also happens to not be the ‘Liverpool way’, the Northern Irishman is certainly fitting in fast.

Rodgers’ latest move was to bring back the oldest surviving ‘This Is Anfield’ sign, something that was brought in by Shankly to intimidate opposition players as well as remind Liverpool players who they were playing for. Some reports even suggest the club may bring back red nets at Anfield. This is obviously not Rodgers plan to take the club forward, it is instead a way to try and solidify the club’s links with their rich history.

Some may mock some Kopites for living in the past and will find Rodgers decision to try and rekindle the club’s links with their past strange although Rodgers knows the club has a right to feel proud of it’s history and if it can learn from what successful teams of the past have achieved then they may be able to recreate some glories as they head into the club’s future.

As Rodgers looks to move forward with his Anfield revolution he has already managed install a sense of confidence amongst many fans. Of course such confidence is easily lost after a poor performance or two and the tactician will know that a lot of work must be done so that he is able to lead the club to success; the one commodity he needs most whilst at the club (apart from funds) is now time. The club have managed to fall into the trap of the modern game as they embark on a fourth season in a row with a different manager at the helm, and even if the side do get off to a slow start a belief in this new regime is paramount to the future of the club.

Rome was not built in a day and Shankly certainly did not build Liverpool Football Club in a day. He was given time to implement his philosophy at the club and tweak the side so to reach it’s potential, he entered the club and it was never the same since. Rodgers certainly won’t be as radical but he will certainly put his own print on the club if he is given long enough. Sadly, that is still a big ‘if’ for the time being.

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