Throughout most of his first season as Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers found himself the target of criticism that he was, perhaps, a little too enamored with himself. His tendency to speak in hyperbole didn't do him any favors, and neither did the Being: Liverpool series, which was perhaps single-handedly responsible for the dreadfully unoriginal "Brentan Rodgers" meme.
His evolution as a manager has quieted the nonsense to a dull roar, largely down to his expert handling of the media in what proved to be a turbulent first year and a half at the club. One of his strengths throughout, however, has been his willingness to stand up for his players when appropriate, and this week he found himself with the difficult task of responding to comments made by a now-retired manager whose self-interest dwarfs that of any other boss in the game aside from perhaps Jose Mourinho.
And, as he is increasingly wont to do, Rodgers played it perfectly. First, regarding the idea that loose lips sink ships. Or, more accurately, a sense of changing room cohesion and loyalty:
"Anyone who's been in football knows that whatever is said behind closed doors and in the changing room is something you wouldn't want to hear again. It's something that's vitally important. You want to know as a human being that you can speak openly and communication is honest, and hopefully wouldn't get repeated. You would like to think you would still have some old school values and ethics that whatever is said you take it on the chin and keep it behind closed doors and move on."
Well put. And yes, Steven Gerrard's not quite the player he once was, but the player he once was dwarfs nearly every other English midfielder in recent memory, yes?
"Everyone who's seen (the criticism of Steven Gerrard) would probably say it's more than harsh. I've watched Steven over many years and recognised he was a top player but it's only when you come in and work with the man and realise how professional he is on a daily basis that you understand his performance level. This is a guy who at 33 years of age who is a top, top player. He's a wonderful talent and I don't think anyone could argue."
Terrific. Sights now set on one of the club's younger midfielders, one whom this former manager's club was interested in before they settled for the frequently disappointing but wonderfully picture-worthy Phil Jones? Brendan Rodgers isn't having it:
"I'm not here to give coverage to his book. The one thing I was bitterly disappointed about were the comments about Jordan Henderson. I have to say I thought that was inappropriate. Having worked with him for over a season, he is a young lad who is just trying to improve. He comes in every single day, does his best to try to become a top player. When Kenny Dalglish signed Jordan, I thought it was a great signing. There was a reference to his running style and his gait but you go through all the medical tests when you sign for a club. They will have strengths and weaknesses when they arrive but they will improve. I'm sure somewhere along the line, if he into Jordan, he will apologise."
That's the class one would expect from a manager interested in the success of his players and his football club. Not, you know, someone who's interested in milking his popularity for all it's worth and placing all the attention firmly on himself by any means necessary, especially at the expense of others.