Since his arrival at Liverpool Football Club, there has been a very peculiar resistance to Brendan Rodgers that this scribbler has found hard to fathom. Most right-thinking and fair-minded fans have been firmly behind the Carnlough man from the moment of his appointment, reasoning that he was a well intentioned and bright young coach, whose methodologies would be, in many ways, the antithesis of the old-school approach of Kenny Dalglish and the turgid Hodgeball of the current England manager. Even those of us who idolised the Scot above all others could see that there was an admirable sincerity in the character of his replacement.
Rodgers, however, has never enjoyed the backing of certain factions of the support base. For some, the dismissal of the greatest figure in modern club history was too much to take and anyone who followed him would be doomed to disdain. Others, upon hearing the new man's loquacious earnestness in the media, thought him a charlatan and all-too-readily bought into the gleefully insidious media narrative that he was a Brent-like spoofer, a snake oil salesman who would destroy the club with his posturing and pretensions. None of these people were being even remotely fair.
As his maiden campaign began, Rodgers was beset by a perfect storm of misadventures and calamities, from the hideous ineptitude of the transfer window which left him short-staffed to the crippling injuries which rendered a thin squad threadbare. Indeed, before a ball had even been kicked in anger, the ill-conceived Being: Liverpool had damaged the credibility of the young coach in a way that is only now ceasing to hurt him reputationally. Envelopes, portraits and schoolmasterly admonitions loomed large in almost every feature written on the manager, as he struggled to shrug off the vaguely buffoonish image that even Liverpool fans seemed happy to perpetuate.
Something remarkable started to happen as 2012 became 2013. The arrivals of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in the January transfer window seemed to be the catalyst for a new and exciting brand of football. It was surely no coincidence that the addition of two quality footballers allowed the manager more flexibility and options in his approach to the game. Whilst generally still trying to be brave in possession and press the opposition high, this new Liverpool side had found a couple of alternative ways to play, and more importantly, to win. Rodgers had seemed to free himself of his own death by football philosophy. This was a more ruthless and cynical team, perhaps reflecting the manager's own steep learning curve.
Fast forward a year or so and Liverpool are sitting deservedly in the Champions League positions, having topped the table as recently as Christmas. This, my friends, is an exciting time to be Red, with the team and its ambitious manager in possession of that most enviable of commodities -- momentum. Only perhaps Manchester City can claim to play a combination of more attractive and effective football, and Liverpool's recent 5-1 demolition of the then league leaders, Arsenal, was as complete a performance as the top flight has witnessed all season.
In Luis Suarez, Liverpool possess perhaps the world's most in-form footballer and the fact that Daniel Sturridge is almost matching his strike rate is a testament to the spirit-shocking impact this once-dismissed player has had since moving to Merseyside. Around these two embodiments of supporters' hope players like Jordan Henderson and the Scouse Cafu, Jon Flanagan, are in the form of their lives. Coutinho, after a disappointing slump, is beginning to reemerge as the most exciting young playmaker in the Premier league.
Rodgers, once overly prone to naive outbursts which betrayed his comparative lack of big-club experience, is a more measured man these days. He is not given to the same kind of predictions and has slowly been imbued with the club's traditional one-game-at-a-time philosophy. He is typically quick to attribute generous praise but retains a pleasing grasp of the club's relative position as Liverpool, not smothered in petro-dollars, attempts to remount their famous perch in achievable increments. His team are ahead of his own schedule, however.
"The momentum has been building and building, but I just think it would be unprecedented to go from being where we were last year in seventh position to first," the manager cautions. "We've got so many young players, who are still growing and developing and our squad is small. So I feel that we've still got work to do. But when we play like that and perform like that (on Saturday), people are obviously going to ask the question (can you win the league?). We're five points behind Arsenal, four behind Manchester City and six behind Chelsea and we still have them to play here at Anfield.
"But the main objective is just to finish as high as we possibly can and let's see where that takes us. Right the way through this season and throughout my time here, we've started to just chip away in our development and improve. It was another wonderful result for us (on Saturday) and what was particularly pleasing was the performance. It was an incredible display from a group of young men who are growing and getting better all the time. It was very pleasing."
In Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have a coach whose sincerity and earnestness are often misunderstood, and in his enthusiasm to be part of a larger narrative some of his pronouncements can have the whiff of hubris about them. So it was, in this same interview, when he stated his desire that the club's success would lift the city as a whole.
"I really only focus on the team and the football club, and make no mistake - I want to get into the Champions League for the people here at the club and the people of the city," he said. "I came here to try and inspire the city as much as the team. I know what Champions League football can bring to a city like Liverpool and everything it can generate."
Taken in isolation his words may have a kind of aspirant messianic quality to them and many were quick to sneer, grasping greedily at the first opportunity to mock the Northern Irishman. In context, however, it is clear that Rodgers simply wishes to be central to an improvement in Liverpool's fortunes and the attendant benefits that will bring to the city as a whole. Surely such lofty ambition and admirable self-confidence should be praised. Were Jose Mourinho to utter the same words, would the press not fawn over his marvellous self-possession?
Brendan Rodgers is an impressive coach who is, admittedly, learning as he progresses. He is, however, a quick learner and Liverpool's future would seem to be in very reliable hands. There will be further disappointments and set-backs. He will, no doubt, present his most vituperative critics with further material to sneer at, but there is no good reason to doubt that this man is steering Liverpool Football Club along a path that all can enjoy travelling.