clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Walking The Walk

Endless fervid debate has taken place between the members of Liverpool's spectacularly divided fan base over the words spoken by their manager, Brendan Rodgers. They're only words, guys...

Oh god, not the Full Monty, Brendan. We know you're in great shape, man, but none of us need that...
Oh god, not the Full Monty, Brendan. We know you're in great shape, man, but none of us need that...
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

You knew it was coming, if you're honest. The grand clarification. The quietly indignant rationalising. It's the nature of the beast and in many ways it's eminently understandable. It's been hard-earned. You'd do the same, in his position, for all your grousing about the manager's overly loquacious nature. You would, in fact, have likely gone much further and jumped on that media platform before riding the Self-Righteous Express all the way to Smugsville. Hell, you'd probably have long since leapt across the microphone-strewn desk and mercilessly throttled some of the hacks who were cynically prodding and taunting during the dark days of this campaign's first months.

Brendan Rodgers, to give him his due, didn't LASH OUT at his critics or BLAST fans, as red-top parlance would have it. Despite a third season in a row where cataclysmically wretched luck dogged his preparations, he didn't even really moan, apart from an oddly uncharacteristic persistent line of digs at Mario Balotelli. Generally, the personable Irishman retained his poise and maintained at least a facade of unshakeable self-belief. And he talked. Through triumph and disaster, he has always talked. Some find his openness and almost belligerent positivity admirable, others loathe his garrulousness with a passion and lampoon him mercilessly as a kind of Brentian clown. Old stagers like your scribbler can see only a good coach who sometimes harms himself with ill-advised verbosity.

Until recently the manager's words this season had been the chastened circumspect sort of thing that an odious beginning to the season compels one to speak. As form has steadily improved and looked less fragile, there has been more emboldened chat of incremental gains, taking one game at a time and the outstanding effort of wonderful technicians. This has really irritated some folk. Like Roberto Martinez, Rodgers' language tends to embrace the more expansive adjectives. There is a school of thought that would prefer the manager to be as adversarial in tone with the media as Kenny Dalglish was in his second tenure, and yet that kind of disdain is patently unhelpful to the club. Rodgers could not be more different to his successor in his interactions with the 24 hour chroniclers of football's minutiae.

Of course, even Rodgers loyalists (and they exist in what is an almost comically riven fan base, perpetually involved in histrionic screeching at each other across social media) will wince a little when they hear the effusive praise of the team's effort after a lethargic display. All this does is convince the critics of the manager's foolishness and make his supporters feel uneasy. This, however, is all part of the Antrim man's dance. It is a constant source of confusion to this admittedly dull-witted scribe, that people cannot simply accept him as he is. If his sunny disposition and insistence on accentuating the positive irritates you, why listen? In my home, for example, Robbie Savage is a voiceless pantomime dame whose on-screen mincing is rendered comical by the mute button. There are strategies, people!

If one is to essay even-handedness, there must be a separation of Rodgers the coach and Rodgers the media presence, as the latter tends to unfairly cloud the discussion of the former. The wittering of these paragraphs is not, nor will it ever be, the place for in-depth statistical analysis. There are others far better qualified to dive down that murky rabbit hole. However, even a cursory glance at points acquisition, goals scored, finishing positions and the overall elevation of the club's current status in the major competitions would suggest a man who has been at least a qualified success in the role. Ask yourself how you felt this time last year. Elated? Excited? Hopeful? Relieved at being back in the conversation? Oh, so a bit like you do right now? You can see where I'm going with this, dear reader -- bile-laden dismissal of the man as Liverpool manager simply doesn't stack up.

Like it or not, Rodgers' image of the club and his role in it is grandiose. Personally, I have no issue with that perception. The man has a vision, a plan. The plan, however, must be fluid -- that was a lesson he was forced to learn, after his initial insistence on death by football failed to yield the desired results. As the carnage of this season's first half unfolded, manager and fans alike looked on in horror at the hideous contrast in form with the end of the previous campaign. This was not football to line coach routes for. The team had lost its shape and sense of purpose and the manager persisted with personnel and a system that simply did not work. It was the closest, this most upbeat of men has felt to desperation. Who were these players? What was he doing?

"We had no identity and everyone could see it," admitted the 42 year old. "I probably was low because it was not working. We had a huge challenge, probably the biggest I have had as a coach or manager, at a club the size of this one, where I love being. We just weren’t the team I had built over a couple of years. You try to give everyone a chance but it just wasn’t happening for us and of course that can eat away at you. I certainly wasn’t going to roll over and die. I have always been that way and always will fight for my life. I love it here and I want to be successful here. And after the Palace game in particular, I felt it doesn’t matter how much support you have, the team is not functioning and it could not go on really. I respect and understand that."

If one was to play a game of Brendan Bingo, one could surely bank on some mention of perilously fatal combat for a cause, but as ever, those words are warmly received by this fan, melodramatic as they may be. He clearly cares. This is good. This can only be good. There is also evidence of his very healthy self-regard in the phrasing of those words, but one cannot argue against the fact that it was a team he had built. The side is now almost completely constructed of his players. All the very best managers -- Shankly, Clough, Ferguson -- with the exception of our own Bob Paisley, have had that unshakable certitude about their own centrality to the fortunes of the club they guide. Rodgers is in that mould, and unlike the empty blustering of Alan Pardew or Tim Sherwood, Rodgers has at least begun to earn the right to speak about his own qualities.

"I am an innovative coach, and I needed to find a way to make us play better," he insisted, surely aware that the sentence would have his detractors rubbing their hands with glee. Perhaps, he simply doesn't care. "It is a complex way in which we are working and playing but it suits what we have. I knew I needed to do something earlier than when I did do it. We played the system away at Newcastle but I couldn’t really work on it in training because we didn’t have the time. At Newcastle, Raheem played as one of the wide players. What did I get out of that game apart from a loss? I learned that Raheem probably won’t be able to play wide in what I was looking to do because he’s not in the game enough.

"I knew what I wanted to do earlier but after Newcastle we had Real Madrid and I wasn’t going to go into a game of that magnitude with a system that I knew I needed more work on. It was just about the timing and the timing was right for the Manchester United game. By that stage I was comfortable that we had the players to make it work. I think the transformation in the team has been really good to see and to see the confidence, and everyone talking about the system and how dynamic it is, and the fluency. I should have done that earlier!"

Well, that's torn it. Almost 1300 words spent in the name of tolerance and calm assessment destroyed by what many will interpret as the rampant egotism of a man who sees himself as the most important cog in the machine. Classic Brendan, you might say, but guess what? He is the most important cog in the machine and I, for one, will happily listen to endless anecdotes about how he steadied the ship or discovered the solution, if it means Liverpool Football Club are winning things. Brendan Rodgers is a fine manager, learning as he develops. In the grand scheme of things, he will ultimately be judged on his success, not his pronouncements, although Rodgers' actions will have to strain that little bit harder to be louder than his words.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Liverpool Offside Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Liverpool FC news from Liverpool Offside