We all remember coaches or teachers who had the ability to motivate and galvanize us. Men and women whose words truly had a capacity to connect and impel. At 16, I had an English teacher who reminded me I wasn't utterly awful after three years of being spirit-crushingly shunned by a wretched harridan. I'll never forget his quiet inspiration. That same year, one of my football teams were doing quite well. After Thursday training we often had on-pitch team meetings. At one such hebdomadal gathering I had the audacity to suggest that perhaps we weren't utilising our defenders in the most efficient fashion. There was a sudden palpable chill in the air and our two mentors sniffed haughtily. "You are only the players," said one. Only the players. Stirring stuff. Needless to say, we lost the next game -- shambolic defence was blamed.
Brendan Rodgers is what we used to call a proper coach -- a man who has a plan but who also knows his players and inspires utter loyalty and trust. One gets the impression that Rodgers is genuinely fond of his group. Fowler knows, this is not always the case. At every level of the game, there are those who brandish the whistle and wear the tracksuit but remain aloof, convinced of their own importance, barking instructions at demoralised players. For some, that detachment is an innate personality trait. Others, develop an exaggerated sense of self-worth when they see the absurdly full bank account that their mediocrity has gleaned for them.
The Liverpool boss, still a comparatively youthful 41, walks amongst his men, sizing them up, reading their moods and responding to their needs. Of course, he is not unique in this but a glance at last year's Premier League table or the kind of football his sides play will tell you that he is a touch better than most at seamlessly managing the transition from the the training pitch to the stadium. Nowadays, lean and reinvigorated, he even carries off the snug fitting training kit with the same effortless panache as his ubiquitous sharp suit and knitwear combo, all the while smiling that toothy smile that manages to be both warm and oddly frightening.
Watching the Antrim man go about his business on the training field is a revelation. He's an eloquent but tactile individual who favours eye-contact when endeavouring to imbue his charges with his footballing gospel. The salient point will be accompanied by an earnest hand on the arm, an even more solemn cupping of the face or a playful pat on the backside. His mood is mostly jovial but can switch to deathly serious in a second. Nobody messes with Rodgers and he is not intimidated by the superstars, their money or their egos -- the deference Steven Gerrard displays towards him is a most revealing case in point.
If Rodgers' managerial skills were ever tested by a player, however, then it was the recently departed Luis Suárez who provided their most stern examination. Over the two seasons Rodgers worked with the Uruguayan, he had to deal with a lot of headache-inducing behaviour from his superstar which bears no further analysis here. Suffice it to say that for all the onfield magnificence of the masticatory madman, there was a great deal of less pleasant stuff for the gaffer to cope with and cope with it he did, helping his errant forward to find the form of his life whilst simultaneously curbing his less savoury behaviour.
Rodgers, however, bears no ill-will towards Suárez, following his departure to Barcelona and is at pains to point out that for all the good service the player gave to the club, he in turn received an opportunity to develop as a player, culminating in what was one of the most impressive seasons many of us have witnessed from a Liverpool player in decades. The club would prefer to have retained his services, the manager insists, but there will be no looking back.
"We did everything we could as a club to keep Luis," Rodgers averred. "He wanted to go and play in Spain, and unfortunately when a player no longer wants to play for you, we need as a club to look at it. It was his decision for him to go, he's gone to Barcelona, a club he wanted to play for and now we'll move on. I'm not sure if he would have gone regardless of the World Cup. But I never felt that towards the end of the season, and likewise he never said he would give us another year either. He had obviously signed a new deal so we had that.
"But I think we have had great service out of Luis and it's one that we can't worry too much about now, it's done, it's gone and our focus is here. There is a lot of work going on with the recruitment team in terms of getting in the right player and I am sure we can identify that. This club and many other clubs have shown over a period of time you move on, and believe me, it will be a really exciting season for us. He was a good man, a great performer for Liverpool and hopefully I have played a part in him and his progress. I will continue to do what I have always done which is improve players and add value to them, which ultimately benefits the club."
Even more heartening is to hear the effusive Liverpool boss speak of the future. The post Suárez era has started with a general feeling of gloomy wariness amongst many supporters, as they analyse the club's transfer activity critically. This time last year, those same fans sneered derisively when Rodgers spoke of his plan to add 20 goals to the 80 the team had scored in his first campaign. "He's at it again," they said. They were wrong. This summer, the manager calmly contextualises the loss of the star and says that his group can improve overall. Would you argue vehemently against him?
"I think we have seen Luis has missed a lot of our games and we have still won a lot of those games so for us we just have to move on. There is certainly no dwelling on it, we have loved working with a fantastic player, but a player who obviously benefited from our work at Liverpool. We have every confidence in the current group we have - plus the group we will bring in with more signings – that we can improve them and hopefully they can improve to the levels Luis Suarez improved to in the last few years.
"It’s one where in my short career as a manager I have lost people who I thought would be key players for us but then you go away, reflect and ensure you bring in the right kind. And always after that my teams have been better teams. Luis is a fantastic player but he’s gone, we won’t dwell on it. This is Liverpool Football Club - not a small club but one of the great ones in world football. I think we will be stronger again this year in terms of depth."
Last season, Brendan Rodgers managed to get the most wounded and justifiably cynical bunch of supporters in the world gathering along the coach-route before games and chanting his name with passionate gusto as the team he assembled topped the league, playing the best football in the land. He may still be evolving himself, but this scribbler wouldn't swap him for anyone. He's a proper coach, you see, and many of us simply cannot wait to see what he and his charges do next.