Brendan Rodgers has agreed a deal with John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group to become Liverpool’s 21st manager in the club’s long and illustrious history. The 39-year-old Northern Irishman is now expected to sign a three-year contract with the Reds while his old club, Swansea City, will gain somewhere in the region of £5million in compensation for the loss of the highly rated young coach.
He comes to Anfield as the third youngest manager in the club’s history, somewhat ominously behind Graeme Souness who was 37 when he took over the reigns from Kenny Dalglish in 1991.
Now it appears that we have come full circle with the best and brightest young coach in the English game taking over from the very same legend after a poor 16 months in charge. Dalglish was shown the exit door by FSG in mid-May, following the season’s end, after a very poor run of form and results left the club in 8th position in the Premier League and some 37 points off first place.
Two days later, Rodgers, along with a host of other up-and-coming young managers, was approached by FSG with a view to being interviewed for the job as Dalglish’s successor - but turned the meeting down out of respect for Huw Jenkins and Swansea City.
However, having narrowed the field down over a two week period FSG moved swiftly and decisively and offered Rodgers the post on a full-time basis to the shock of much of the football world. Liverpool and FSG have signed a real gem of a manager and even at this early stage of his career, Rodgers appears to be the real deal.
Here we look at five reasons why signing the prodigious manager will mean success for Liverpool Football Club.
FSG will give Rodgers time
Brendan Rodgers will be given time by John Henry and FSG barring an unmitigated disaster.
Roy Hodgson was foisted upon them by Ian Ayre and Martin Broughton. Kenny Dalglish was foisted upon them by Liverpool’s fans. Now, FSG have chosen their man and because of that Rodgers will be given more time to turn things around than the previous two incumbents.
His main aim in his first season in charge will be to make progress. That does not necessarily mean that Liverpool must finish better than last season in the league and match last season’s cup success, but they must finish better as far as football is concerned. The Reds were going nowhere fast under Dalglish with no clear definitive style of play, no real philosophy and no real progress.
Rodgers will be given time to improve morale, relationships with the media and the team. His three-year contract gives him that mandate and the knowledge that FSG will back him during that time, unless the wheels come off completely – Andre Villas-Boas style.
Rodgers will re-structure the coaching set-up at Anfield
Rodgers is not only coming in to improve first team prospects at Liverpool, he is also coming in to help restructure the organization as a whole with a view to the entire club playing the same style throughout every age group.
In modern football, transfers are not done single-handedly as was the case under Kenny Dalglish. When Rodgers goes to buy players and when the club looks to bring players in, whatever the age, they will be done by consensus.
To do this, Liverpool FC will change the scouting set-up and bring in an experienced administrator to negotiate contracts and transfers.
Liverpool are simply too big a club to trust the present and future to just one man. Since 1991, Liverpool has gone through seven management changes. From Graham Souness’ traditional 4-4-2, to Roy Evans’ 3-5-2, to Gerard Houillier’s 4-4-1-1, to Rafael Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 formation and back to Roy Hodgson’s 4-4-2 before Kenny Dalglish’s need to change every week; each change in manager represents a new change and direction for the club.
Conventional wisdom in Britain has a new manager coming into a club and taking a season or so to assess his team before embarking on his own transfer strategy and bringing in his own players for his own system. And then—when that inevitably fails—in comes a new manager and the whole process starts again, and with it a huge amount of money spent.
At all of Europe’s major clubs—Great Britain excluded—the use of consensus is heavily utilised. Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter, Juventus, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United all takes their queue from having the same structure throughout. The main reason for this is to allow continuity at a club. It is the manager who decides on what style of play the club uses, what formation the club uses, and then that strategy is developed throughout the entire club.
Every team in the club, from underage to senior level, use the same formation and playing style; in that way, players fit in seamlessly as they move up the ranks. And then, finally, the manager—after deciding on these two key issues—goes out and brings in coaches who have to comply with these main areas.
What this brings to a club is continuity. Managers can then come and go, but the formation and players are seamless, and can be moved on to the next manager who will utilise them, hopefully in a better way than the last.
The chief scout and head administrator should be the one consistent piece in the jigsaw, so that information, knowledge, and structures remain in place for the long term and help ensure sustained success. That is the direction Liverpool should follow.
This set-up will allow Liverpool to plan for the future, use the same formation every season, create players to fit in, and then bring in a coach who can pinpoint key areas that need strengthening.
Ultimately, a good manager should be like a good referee as far as the rest of the club is concerned—making crucial decisions, not interfering unnecessarily, and going about his business quietly so that everything around him runs smoothly.
Brendan Rodgers is a coach before a manager
Despite being only 39-years-of-age, Brendan Rodgers has been a top class coach for the last 19 years.
His football career was ended in 1993 by injury when he was just 20, but Reading and Mark McGhee saw something in the young Irishman and offered him a coaching job with their youth set-up. He stayed with the Royals until 2004 when Steve Clarke was hugely influential in bringing him to Chelsea and under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.
Initially installed as youth team manager, Rodgers was then promoted by Mourinho to reserve team coach in 2006 where his reputation began to soar and it was no surprise to see him step into management with Watford in 2008.
In football there are two types of manager. The first is from the Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O’Neill school of thinking where they are expert psychologists with the ability and foresight to build teams while delegating the coaching of their teams to their assistants. The second type of manager is from the Giovani Trappatoni, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola school where they are involved intimately with coaching the first team.
Rodgers is from the latter.
He is meticulous in his preparation and his teams are incredibly well drilled and schooled. He will bring this approach with him to Liverpool and will offer an approach that will test Liverpool’s players to the zenith of their limits. They will be forced to improve or they will be forced to move on.
Getting the best out of undervalued players
Leon Britton is a small but skilful midfielder who has plied his trade in the lower reaches of English football for the last 10 years.
The 5″5′ 29-year-old could be forgiven for thinking that Premier League football had passed him by. He was signed by Harry Redknapp for West Ham in the Premier League, another manager with an eye for a good player, in 1998 but was then moved by Glenn Roeder in 2002 to Swansea with the Swans battling to stay in the football league.
It has taken him a decade but he made it back to the Premier League and Brendan Rodgers deserves huge credit for making little Britton one of the most effective central midfielders in the top flight last season. What he misses in strength he more than makes up for in guile, intelligence and work rate. And Britton is not the only one in Rodgers “island of misfit toys.”
Think Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer, Angel Rangel, Joe Allen and Danny Graham are all players that were bought for next to nothing and contributed towards the best footballing team in the Premier League last year.
Taking one step further, and this is where FSG will have paid most attention through their Moneyball approach, Danny Graham cost £3.5 million and scored 14 goals last term while Andy Carroll cost £35 million and scored just nine.
In short, Brendan Rodgers has the ability to spot players where others have overlooked. This will be a key ingredient for the club going forward as they do not have the ability to compete against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City in terms of transfer funds.
Make no mistake about it; Brendan Rodgers is one of the best students of the game around. He has worked wonders with Swansea over the past two seasons and has really built upon the foundation that Roberto Martinez left him with. He believes in the Pep Guardiola school of football rather than the Jose Mourinho learnings, and as such his teams always play possession based football and press while defending.
Simple eh? Not really.
The big secret to Barcelona’s and Swansea’s success over the last number of years is their goalkeepers, but not for the reason you may think.
Obviously, the keeper of any top club has to be of a certain class but what makes Victor Valdes and Michel Vorm so important for their clubs is not their skills between the posts – it is their skills with the ball at their feet. Having a ‘keeper who is not afraid to take responsibility on the ball and who is comfortable passing the ball short provides the base for everything that happens further up the pitch.
With the ‘keeper able to take the ball comfortably it immediately allows the two central defenders to break wide to provide angles for a pass while the two full backs push on and a deep lying midfielder drops even deeper to provide penetration for the ‘keeper.
This simple move provides the ‘keeper with three options for a short pass and if and when any of these players receive the ball they have further options as the full backs and deep midfielder now provide width for the centre half as a forward lying midfielder provides penetration. The very same diamond pattern is repeated all over the pitch meaning that every player will have three options for a short pass at the very least.
On further inspection, Rodgers’ chosen style of play also provides seven separate banks of players up the pitch rather than the traditional four or five.
While this gives his teams an attacking outlet and advantage, it also lends towards his teams defensive duties because every single zone of the pitch is covered and this immediately makes them harder to break down.
Speaking to the Guardian on the eve of Swansea’s 1-0 win over Liverpool on the last day of the season, Rodgers explained his attacking and defensive philosophies.
“I like teams to control and dominate the ball, so the players are hungry for the ball,” Rodgers said.
“A lot of our work is around the transition and getting the ball back very quickly. Because I believe if you give a bad player time, he can play.
“If you give a good player time, he can kill you. So our emphasis is based around our positioning both with and without the ball. And for us, when we press well, we pass well.”
Sage words but not every fan or manager has the patience to watch or coach such styles of play. In recent times Liverpool have always utilised a fast, direct style of play and Rodgers philosophy could not be any more different.
Liverpool legend Phil Boersma has his worries though.
“I was actually at the Swansea-Liverpool game at the end of the season,” he said “and I have to say that they do try to play a little bit like Barcelona and just keep possession. You have to have a lot of faith in your players to play that way, especially in the Premier League.
“Brendan is an up-and-coming manager but the $64,000 question is whether or not Liverpool fans would like that style of football that he plays.
“Unless things have changed over the years, Liverpool have always been a team – especially at Anfield – that like to get it forward fast and have plenty of attacking football.
“From what I saw at Swansea, they certainly don’t do that. I just think that the crowd just might turn on them if they play that type of football. It is not a strange way to play but in the Premier League it is not the brand of football that Liverpool would be used to.”
Liverpool FC can expect the same tactics Rodgers used at Swansea, but he must be given time by the fans and FSG and if he is they could be great again.