Nearing the end of his second season in charge at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers has largely banished any doubts fans might once have had about the decision to place the club's future in the hands of a young and relatively inexperienced manager. There have been stumbles along the way as he continues to grow into the role, but after years of Liverpool treading water at best, the upward trajectory the club has been on under Rodgers is plain to see.
There is still room for Rodgers to improve, and an almost certain return to the Champions League next season will test his tactical nous and challenge a resistance to squad rotation. There will be further stumbles; occasions when his gambles don't pay off quite so well as they have this season; times his decisions will rightly be called into question. Few, though, will doubt he's the right man for the job—or at least that he can grow into being the right man for it.
And just as Rodgers has grown as a manager, so too does he see success as a manager as involving building a sustainable club that promotes the growth and development of its own players. As often as not so far, Liverpool's youth players seem to have been given a chance out of necessity as much as out of any inherent desire the manager has to promote young talent. Rodgers, though, insists that a vibrant and productive academy will always be key to his approach.
"For any any club, there’s no point in having a youth system and an academy system in place if you’re not going to look from within" he said. "For me and how I work, it’s also part of my definition of success. Some people will purely base it on trophies—and that is ultimately of course what you are judged on. But for me, when I retire from football I want to be able to look back and see that not only have I won trophies but I’ve developed a football club.
"That’s something that’s very important in my work. Other managers may be different and might just be about purely winning trophies, but for me success isn’t just picking up the trophy at the end of the season. It’s also about the football club, giving the value to young players, and seeing them develop."
The kind of success Raheem Sterling has had under Rodgers, his two seasons as a first team player at the club running parallel to the manager's, is key to Liverpool's chances of competing with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in the coming years. It's the kind of academy success story Rodgers is keen to make a cornerstone of the sustainable club he's looking to build. Just as important, though, could be Rodgers' ability to polish promising talent that hasn't quite made it elsewhere.
Sterling has been an academy success story, but helping Daniel Sturridge to become the player everyone thought he could be when Chelsea first stole him away from Manchester City's academy does just as much to speak to Rodgers' focus on developing players, youth or otherwise. Meanwhile, the entire squad appears to have fully bought into his developing vision of exciting, attacking football, and the results this season speak for themselves.
"We've gone from a team that was looking to implement a style of football—high-energy, high-tempo attacking—and become one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch," he said. "But we want to have success run alongside that, and success for us is to get back into the Champions League. Now, over the next 18 months, we want to really be challenging with our squad on the trophy front, both in terms of the Premier League and other trophies.
"This first 18 months has been about implementing and introducing a lot of ideas, and hopefully people area really starting to see it bearing fruit. The next 18 months is about developing on that and enhancing that."