Tús maith leath na hoibre is your scribbler's native Gaelic way of saying a good start is half the work. It's an oft-quoted mantra used by benignly condescending teachers and fussy but kindly parents to cajole the young into grudging industriousness. Sadly, my fellow Irishman, Brendan Rodgers, has had to contend with a motley collection of beginnings over the period of his Liverpool tenure. His first campaign was stricken by transfer window ineptitude and injury. The second, although impressively driven by Daniel Sturridge's happy knack of scoring solitary winners, was impaired by the absence of a certain carnivorous Uruguayan goal machine.
This current season has been the most ill-starred by far, with a combination of wretched teething troubles for the legion of newbies, a serious injury to the aforementioned boogeying points grabber and some uncharacteristic indecisiveness on the part of the coach combining to leave the team in the doldrums. Never mind half the work being done, Liverpool's first four months had doubled the amount of effort required of them if the second half of a season that looked beyond redemption were to be salvaged.
Thankfully, as the Anfield club's garrulous gaffer likes to remind all who will listen, his teams tend to gel and produce their best form in the latter half of a campaign, thereby showing a flagrant disregard for the sage advice offered in the proverb of his mother tongue. The Lazarus act of Rodgers' first and third seasons has been remarkable to behold but the unholy cataclysm of both openings was enough to test the faith of even the most devout disciple of the Antrim man's gospel.
To his credit, Rodgers does not try too much revisionism when he reflects on these dismal beginnings but it is thoroughly unsurprising when he accentuates the positive and plays up the sensible but thwarted methodology behind his approach. Never one to down-play the successes of his tenure or be reticent when asked to explain his grand philosophy of the game, the young manager was on typically ebullient form when explaining the physical and psychological reasons behind why it is that his sides seem to finish so strongly.
"If you look at year one, when I came in it was all about putting in place a system and helping individuals to become better," he told the Liverpool Echo. "It was a new way of working and it was bound to take some time. It all came together in the second part of the season. At the end of my first year here there wasn’t a lot of change. A few additions came in to help the group but we already had the key principles in place. We all saw the benefits of that last season as with that improvement and development we nearly won the title.
"Last summer there were major changes again, so there was another period of adjustment," he continued. "We increased the depth of the squad but we lost players and I had to re-define the way of working which took a bit of time. But I always said that as this season went on we would get better and that’s proved to be the case. I’ve got great faith in this group and they are working well. I hope next season we’ll be in a cycle like my second year here, so we’re able to be in a position to challenge for trophies and compete for the title at the same time."
This wouldn't be a proper Rodgers interview without some earnest guff about mentality, and to be absolutely fair, only an idiot would ignore this most crucial aspect of team preparation. Famously, on the recommendation of Craig Bellamy, the manager employed the services of eminent sports psychologist, Steve Peters, a man with a ready line in the kind of soothing counsel required to placate one's inner chimp. His efforts with last season's squad were trumpeted by no less than the club captain, who felt that his own sessions with Doctor Peters had played a valuable role in quieting the Huyton man's irksome anxieties. Rodgers is typically unequivocal on the topic of the importance of the correct attitude.
"The mental side of it is also very important," insisted the man the red tops have been touting as a potential successor to Manuel Pellegrini. "The measure of our game here is based around confidence. We go into the pressure situations towards the end of a season and our game is well suited to pressure. It’s about using various tools to allow us to find the cause. It’s important to find the cause that motivates players to work. For me the second part of the season is massive in terms of tapping into the psychology of players -- re-inforcing the commitment to what we’re doing and why we’re here. Ultimately, we have an inherent belief in what we do. That combination makes us improve as each day goes on."
Unfortunately for Rodgers, there will always be a cohort in the Liverpool fan base who will listen to these heartfelt words and sneer at their solemnity. For them, the manager's loquaciousness is proof only that he is a snake-oil salesman -- all surface and no substance. Rodgers, however, is no charlatan. Comparatively young to have attained the status he has, the amiable Irishman has shown himself to be fallible, certainly, but with the happy knack of learning from his mistakes and possessed of a pleasing inclination towards innovation and inventive problem-solving.
More important, in the overall scheme of things, is that his players have bought into his philosophy and methods. It is no coincidence that the newly recovered John Flanagan has cited the manager's daily encouragement and the assistance of Peters as crucial in his rehabilitation. Liverpool, under Brendan Rodgers, do seem to be on an upward trajectory and one of these seasons the manager and his charges will marry a thunderous inception to the now-expected explosive finish. Perhaps then, at last, the club will retain the prize they once won with such pleasing regularity.