There has been much uncharacteristically ebullient musing from your scribbler of late on the topic of Liverpool's gratifyingly positive form and the team's genuine chances of attaining something truly remarkable at the end of the campaign. As a socially conscious person, and chronic fretter, I fear I may be a small contributing voice to a kind of mass hysteria which may not end well, so allow me to redress the balance somewhat. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are still favourites to win the title ahead of our beloved Redmen. Squad depth secured by endless wealth and experience of successful league run-ins are the logical reasons why this is so.
Liverpool's chances are real and the team and supporters believe in those chances but, as ever, there has been an emergence of the worrying extremism that seems particularly prevalent amongst the footballing community. No good will come of such unfettered reactionary thinking. Brendan Rodgers has morphed, in the estimation of some less temperate types, from a snake-oil selling charlatan who spoofed his way to the helm of the Good Ship Liverpool to a visionary tactician, every bit the equal of Pep Guardiola and ready to assume his place in the pantheon of LFC greats. As with most things in life, this kind of wild oscillation between extremes is not healthy. The truth, as ever, is a predictably prosaic mixture of the good and the bad.
Brendan Rodgers did have some spectacular missteps as he started his Anfield tenure. By the same token, he was badly hamstrung by transfer policy and the silly financial and PR decisions of those above him. The Northern Irishman does like to talk and is prone to garrulousness. He did overplay his side's chances in the first four or five months of his time at the club and seemed to always give the critics plenty to work with as they cruelly pegged him as some kind of over-eager Brentian buffoon.
However, Rodgers is also the most eloquent and engaging speaker the club have had in the manager's seat in years; decades, perhaps. He is an innovative thinker and a passionate student of the game. He has shed that damaging naivety which snide hacks loved to sneer at and emerged as a savvy media operator, with a firm handle on the Liverpool tradition of downplaying expectations, whilst never sounding anything but positive. Irrespective of what the last nine games bring, Rodgers has evolved into an excellent manager and will continue to grow into the role. He is not a lucky chancer promoted above his pay grade, nor is he Shankly incarnate. Balance, friends, is key here.
Similarly, when we come to the burning issue of assessing the current side's potential for success this year, only the most morose of naysayers would dismiss the chances of a nineteenth title whilst only a happy fool, drunk on the joy of victory would suggest that Liverpool are favourites to finish in top spot. As earlier mentioned, the wealth and experience of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal logically place them ahead of the Redmen in the reckoning but in this season when Manchester United have been Hodged by David Moyes and big-spending Tottenham Hotspur fail to show the "gut" demanded by their sartorially challenged manager, it is forgivable for fans of the Anfield men to dream a little bigger than they have in the past.
In a manner that reflects the poise and easy authority that he now brings to the job, Brendan Rodgers addressed the thorny issue of money without making his own club sound like inferior victims. His mastery of the press before the United game was joyful to behold as was the way he's dealt with excitable television journalists, eager to milk some soundbites from every interview. When speaking about wealth, Rodgers acknowledges that other clubs have more but intimates that his own side may have a surfeit of a something that cannot be purchased - heart and belief.
"Clubs spend a billion quid and it does not guarantee anything," he averred. "We will be in the market for good and top players, but there is more to it than that. Once you put your ideas in place and once the players start to crack it, then we will have success. Money can’t buy that. It is about coaching and man-management and dealing with people. Having a great staff. Finding a cause for the players to fight for. All of that comes into it and that is something we have done in the period I have been here."
If Liverpool's players are to remain buoyant and believe in their chances then they must buy fully into the ideas and values espoused by the manager and his staff. Only this week, Steven Gerrard, a hard man to please, spoke of how Rodgers was the best man-manager he'd had over his career -- quite the accolade. The 41 year old coach is fond of using evocative language and whilst some cringed at his references to heavy shirts and the like, it is clear that all his talk about fighting and causes has had a clear impact. The tenacious pugnacity of his players on the park is a tangible signifier of that bellicose spirit he has engendered amongst them.
"The players believe in it and the work has got them the rewards," said the Antrim man of his methodology. "You know when you’re employed by Liverpool it is not to sit in seventh. You have to be up there and try to be the best. I’m not surprised by it. It’s a bit earlier that what I thought, maybe a year earlier, but I am not surprised. The money is great and we will be in the market to compete, but what is important is still having a vision of how you want the club to progress."
Trying to be the best, competing in the market, having a vision of progression -- Brendan Rodgers still says the right things, still talks the talk. This season, however, the manager and his players are walking the walk. That'll do for me.