I am not ‘in the know’ at all; I live as far from Anfield as is possible really. However I watch every match, the training highlights, the Vine videos that pop up from training occasionally, read the reports from reputable sources and try to keep abreast of stuff. The one and only one thing I have of inside info comes from a former colleague of mine, who was close friends with a guy named Darren Burgess. This guy.
He once told me that during a conversation about football, he mentioned that Rodgers was the most ‘hands-on’ of all the managers he had seen at Liverpool, and that he was very much a ‘coach’ rather than a standard manager. This is pertinent to the current situation because when people are under stress, they resort to doing what they are most comfortable with. Brendan had always worked as a coach, specifically with youth players, prior to becoming a manager. He never had the ‘game day’ intensity of a full professional player, so has always done his work on the training ground. For me, the biggest difference between a coach and a manager is that a manager focuses on the games, the 90 minutes of competitive play, whereas a coach focuses on training, the bulk of the time spent with the players, tweaking their individual skills and running drills. A manager sees training as a means to an end; a coach sees training as the end.
This would then explain some of the interesting decision making we have seen; Rodgers is making his decisions from his ‘safe place’ when stressed. When the team performed well, the stress lifted and he was able to be tactically flexible, and work on the whole ‘man-management’ thing. But when things went downhill, say most of last season, he may well have gone full coach mode. Now that he is entering his fourth season, no doubt with a fairly clear message from FSG about what he must achieve this year to retain his job, he is under as much pressure as we have seen. The result? Decisions based on training ground performance over match day performance.
Is there evidence of this playing out? Definitely.
It is common knowledge that Stevie G was a compulsive trainer, intense from first to last second. This would not have changed last season despite his game day performances; a manager might reconsider Stevie’s role in the side, but a coach that sees Captain Fantastic in training every day may not.
Luis Suarez was often forced to stop training, such was his intensity. Rodgers built his whole team around Suarez (although his obvious natural abilities would have inspired this as well as his work ethic). Coutinho and Sturridge were brought in and prospered under Rodgers, because they just wanted to play football. Jordan Henderson was dropped and shelved during Rodger’s first season, yet he is known for his intense work ethic. He is now captain (and well deserving of it). Joe Allen has always been commended for his work rate. Adam Lallana is a great professional player; Jordan Ibe stays back for extra sessions. James Milner was targeted by Rodgers, and he is as professional as they come. Joe Gomez is the most recent example, with his application on the training ground being what convinced Rodgers to keep him. Finally, Rodgers said of Lovren only days ago;
There's no doubt your confidence can be affected but what he has continued to do is to work very hard. He listens and learns.
So there is consistency there, at least to my eyes. There is an obvious flip side to this though.
Mario Balotelli, even to his most passionate supporters, isn’t the hardest of trainers. Even when his match day performances seemed positive, a coach would see him goof off occasionally and take it as a lack of respect. Alberto Moreno has been spotted excessively celebrating after nutmegging Glen Johnson in training, which could be seen likewise. Enrique is on holiday more often than at Melwood. Nemanja Matic said of Markovic that "he has such massive potential that if he changed his attitude in training, he could be one of Europe’s best players in his position." Even Sahko, our beloved Mama, has been known to pull funny faces, practice his juggling skills and have a joke at training.
I’m not defending Rodgers, far from it, but I am simply trying to find patterns, correlations of behaviour that may explain the decision making that does occur. To date, this is the best I have and I’d be interested in your thoughts.