Rodgers: One Year On

Michael Dodge

With yesterday's revelations about the manner of Pepe Reina's departure having polarised opinion on Brendan Rodgers once more, it's time to take an honest look at how people have been assessing the manager. One year into his tenure, what changes are evident?

These days, the people who rule the internet -- you know they are important because they Caps Lock all the malodorous effluent that spills from their heat-oppressed brains -- have decreed that the modern fan must be an extremist. The only true way to show one's validity as a football supporter is to adopt an entrenched and utterly one-eyed position at either end of the broad opinion spectrum.

There's no room for balanced analysis, objective thought or even circumspection. That type of superfluous carry-on is seized upon by both sides as ample evidence of affiliation with the enemy or, ironically, weakness of mind. A recent piece I wrote, which contained an observation on how Brendan Rodgers has evolved over his year in charge of Liverpool, was enough to bring the rage-contorted Twitter berserkers out from both camps.

Having lurched heroically through as much of my turgid lumpen prose as they could endure, -- a paragraph or two, in most cases -- these intrepid radicals, from the pro and anti-Rodgers camps, latched onto some sequence of words which definitively proved, to them at least, that my writing was either a hatchet-job or an apologia.

It is with no little trepidation that I embark upon today's effort, in the wake of yesterday's events. Pepe Reina's letter to Liverpool's followers proved to be immensely divisive, with fans split over whether his words were a touch self-serving and disingenuous or heartfelt and honest. Few entertained the possibility that there might be traces of both. However, the biggest schism amongst the faithful was reserved for the perception of the manager.

Since he replaced my own idol, Kenny Dalglish, at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers has indeed walked alone through vast swathes of the fan-base. For some, he was just a corporate puppet, a company man fronting the latest parasitical ownership. For others, Rodgers was a windbag, full of hubris and with little to justify his lofty position as leader of the greatest club in English football history.

Some, less inclined towards cynicism and less damaged by the vacuum of joy and fun in recent years, saw the Northern Irishman as the great hope; a 'Shankly in-the-making,' was how one particularly effusive commentator put it at the time, much to the chagrin of the cringing majority. The young manager's own bold and optimistic pronouncements carried his advocates and himself on a wave of optimism and hope whilst expertly, some might say cynically, evoking the spirit of the past. Rodgers is never shy of a microphone, and this has proven to be at least as damaging to him as it has been beneficial.

We need no recent history lesson at this juncture. Suffice it to say that the season started disastrously and ended with some definite traces of hope and optimism. Over the course of that turbulent campaign, Rodgers was faced with the dreadful under-performance of his big signings, a sequence of damaging squad injuries, press ridicule, a catastrophic scandal and the censure of Liverpool fans, albeit not within the ground on match day. He emerged from this trauma a changed man, but nowhere near as changed as many would like.

In the early days the Liverpool manager was lauded for his openness with the media and his desire to communicate. Soon, as results went awry, fans began to be irritated by the never-ending stream of positivity, seeing it as dishonest. Liverpool fans have had enough dishonesty to last a lifetime and the merest hint of spin, well-intentioned or otherwise, was enough to finish Rodgers in some eyes. He became known, unfairly, as a peddler of guff.

There was ample evidence of a much-chastened Brendan Rodgers as the last campaign entered it's final third. The stark realities of league position had deflated the balloon of optimism somewhat, and predictions of Champions League football were replaced by the more level-headed, if uninspiring, one-game-at-a-time type of stuff. Whist there is never any danger of Rodgers becoming Hodgsonian in his lowering of expectations, he would appear to have learned a valuable lesson.

The Northern Irishman's stock also rose on the back of the clever purchases of Daniel Sturridge and the sublimely gifted Philippe Coutinho. Those two additions made a massive difference to the team, as attacking options increased, offensive fluidity developed and goals flowed. Say what you will, but results change everything and the intensity of the rage towards the manager was definitely dialled down immensely from that point on.

On the back of a remarkably successful pre-season tour, a handful of comparatively exciting signings and with a summer of saying exactly the right things about Luis Suarez and his flirtations with all comers, it finally appeared as though the man from Carnlough was winning back some of those who had been quick to judge and quicker to deride. The tenuous nature of that comparative popularity was soon exposed, however, when the Reina story broke.

Disillusioned with what they read about the treatment of an Anfield favourite, the hordes were quick to focus the entirety of their rage on Rodgers. There was little in the way of rational analysis of what might have led to the situation or the intricate machinations required to organise such a loan move. The people wanted a bad guy. Step forward, Brendan. The manager was variously and contradictorily depicted as an inept buffoon and a Machiavellian villain. It didn't really matter. Logic was not a concern. On Twitter last night, people with these utterly opposing views made friends, unified by their disdain for Rodgers. It was all his fault.

It's important at this point, that as one who is trumpeting the importance of dispassionate analysis over biased agenda-driven assessment, I offer a clear argument, lest I need to remove wood splinters from my backside. In February, I wrote my first piece for The Liverpool Offside. In it, is clear the frustration that I and so many others felt with our overly verbose manager and his reign to that point. There is also a plea to the more extreme commentators to temper their emotions somewhat.

I felt at the time that there were some really positive and inspiring things about Brendan Rodgers. I still feel that. I was wary of certain aspects of his character. I still am. I wanted to take a chance on this man to lead Liverpool Football Club into a potentially successful future. I still do.

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