In the interests of clearly establishing the moral dubiety of your scribbler and therefore eliminating the possibility of any accusations of authorial pontification, let's begin today's ramble with a few frank disclosures, shall we? I'm the guy who kicks his golf ball out of the rough to a better spot when nobody's looking. In a single football match I once clothes-lined an opponent who was through on goal, knowing I was on the referee's blind side, then later punched the ball clear in Skrtel-esque fashion and, when the game looked to be going away from us, dived to win a penalty. I've even cheated during a family quiz on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Day. Yes, gentle reader, I'm that guy.
Perhaps it is a lamentable foible peculiar to my own character but there have been many unscrupulous guides who've led me along a murky and deleterious path over the course of my four decades. When some of us attended our first senior training session as wide-eyed 15 year olds, we thought we'd entered an idyll of technical coaching, a Shangri-La of one-touch wonder. Instead, we spent 45 minutes shivering as some jaundiced old cynic taught us how to work the line on throw-ins, gaining territory rugby-style until we were in a position to knock it in to the big man at the back stick. All the while a hoary old campaigner regaled us with nefarious methodologies for leaving a bit on the other lad early doors in order to let him know you're there.
This type of thing was not atypical. In fact, in Ireland and Britain, such coaching was the norm. The object of the game was to win. That was why one played, wasn't it? I doubt I'd be alone in saying that for many years playing and training were less of a joy and more of a stress. Losses were cataclysms and led to days of morose introspection. It was all about winning, you see. That's what they told us. As years passed, society evolved a little but when I attended my daughter's early sports days it was hard for me to hide my disdain for the new custom of giving everyone a medal, even though the inclusiveness at the heart of such a policy is undeniably positive. The notion of the importance of winning had been deeply ingrained, inculcated over many years and although I do question the validity of erasing competition, there is a way to win well, to be dignified in victory,
We fans of Liverpool Football Club have a proud tradition of winning with grace. Alas, those halcyon days of regularly displaying such class are a quarter of a century old but with the current side perched justifiably on the top of the Premier League, we can look to a manager who has the kind of values that his predecessors held dear. Let there be no ambiguity here. Brendan Rodgers is a driven winner but he has an old fashioned belief in honesty of effort and moral courage that transmits itself directly into the football his teams play. Simply put, Rodgers believes bravery, application and talent operating within a coherent framework is enough. He's no naive ingénue, you understand. Rodgers is fiercely competitive but the Northern Irishman does not share the passion of, say, José Mourinho for some of football's darker arts.
One of the pleasing things about watching Rodgers evolve into a manager of real standing has been noting, with quiet satisfaction, the way in which he has refused to be drawn into the tawdry mind games so beloved of the Portuguese serial winner and the various disciples of the former Dark Lord of Mancunia. Rabid television reporters have tried all season long to provoke the Carnlough man into a moment of hubristic folly or spiky defiance but he has simply smiled benignly and firmly stuck to finding the positives in his own group. Manager and captain are beautifully in tandem on this and Steven Gerrard's on-pitch rallying cry and hilarious dismissal of Geoff Shreeves after the game was a perfect illustration of focused, dignified determination. Leave the psychological jiggery-pokery and on-field shenanigans to those who do not trust their own ferocious desire to win. Rodgers is clear in his thoughts on this topic.
"We will try to do it in the right way," averred the 41 year old boss. "I take great pride in winning in the most sporting way we can. If you look at us we are top of the Premier League and we are top of the Fair Play League. We don’t surround referees. We want to win, but it shows you a mark of our behaviour. They are the values of this club. It’s a club that has won many trophies in the past but had the humility and the class. One word I always had in my mind when I joined Liverpool is ‘class.’ So that is important to me -- that those values are restored.
"I believe you can’t affect refereeing decisions," he added. "There will be little bits of luck that go for and against you but I like to think as a sporting team and a team that’s trying to work well we’ve got our rewards this year. At West Ham, I had a quiet word with the referee on the way out. Calm, get his reasons behind it, and then move on. The bottom line is I went into the dressing room at Upton Park, it was 1-1. I said to the players, ‘Listen, you can have an excuse. I can tell you your excuse after the game - the referee gave a poor goal. But it won’t change anything.’ All we can do is focus again and get our flow and rhythm again. We try to have a no excuses environment here."
I can already hear the groans and gripes of the cynics and it is a touch unfortunate that these words come after a rare Jordan Henderson red card and ninety minutes of old-style Luis Suarez petulance. However, no matter how noble the manager's sentiments, there will always be a cohort who whine about Rodgers and say he "talks too much". Were the rightly lionized Bill Shankly to have uttered similar sentiments these same fans would put them on banners. The difference, my friends, is winning. If Rodgers can guide his talented group to a first Liverpool title in 24 years, then his measured words will acquire an added import and suddenly become imbued with extra nobility. So, you see, winning matters and unlike the admirable Liverpool boss, some of us iniquitous souls don't care how it happens. We just want to win.