There is much to admire about Brendan Rodgers. Clearly, his tactical and technical abilities as a coach are wonderful and he is known to be an outstanding motivator of the young men from whom he elicits such excellence but it is in his dealings with the media that the Liverpool manager cuts a truly unique dash. The trim and tanned 41 year old, a fine exemplar for all gents of a certain age, manages to convey a unique combination of open earnestness, effusive enthusiasm and playful brio when the sound and video equipment starts to roll. These traits continue render the Antrim man vulnerable to mockery and cynical derision from some but, over time, even chary and jaundiced individuals like your scribbler have come to enjoy his ebullience and been generally gruntled by his press conferences and post-match interviews.
Not for Rodgers the narcissistic wisenheimer act of Jose Mourinho, the homiletic bombast that will soon become associated with Louis Van Gaal or the faux laddishness adopted by the likes of Harry Redknapp. Instead, the Anfield gaffer, invariably bedizened in the increasingly fitted Warrior habiliment he now prefers, engages his questioners with an exuberant zeal and the kind solemnity that has caused fans of the Redmen to wince at times. Indeed, some of Rodgers' pronouncements in the early days had more than a whiff of hubris about them, but even then the painful intensity of the young man's aspirations were underpinned by a humility and playful wit that remain intact.
Liverpool's boss has already experienced the peregrine lifestyle of the coach/manager, having logged spells at Watford, Reading, Chelsea and Swansea before landing the job of a lifetime at Anfield. He has made it clear to all that he wishes to remain in L4 and environs for a long time but remains proud of his efforts at his previous clubs. Henk Ten Cate, the Dutch coach who won the Champions League alongside Frank Rijkaard, shared some time with the Carnlough man at Chelsea during the first reign of the aforementioned Portuguese eye-gouger. Ten Cate recalls Rodgers' passion and eagerness to learn, traits which he continues to display.
"He was a hell of a guy," Ten Cate told the Irish Times’ Second Captains. "We had a lot of conversations. Brendan would ask about the Dutch philosophy of football. We spoke a lot. He is a good guy and a fantastic manager as he is demonstrating. I am pleased for him because his career didn’t start off really well but thank god that people still believed in him. He knows a lot about football and he is a very hard working guy."
Ten Cate's words will resonate with anyone who has seen Rodgers operate over the last two campaigns at Anfield. However, when it comes to doling out kudos and expressing admiration, the Dutchman is positively taciturn in comparison with his old Stamford Bridge mucker. With a vocabulary of ever-more-familiar terms, Rodgers likes to talk-up the abilities of his charges. To be fair to the man, he always roots his inclination to panegyrize and eulogise in a healthy paternal concern with always needing to improve and do more and never being the finished article.
In the wake of his pre-season exploits, Raheem Sterling came in for the full range of Brendanspeak, with the gaffer actually pushing the boundaries of his own effusiveness by making a perhaps ill-advised comparison to the player many consider the greatest ever. Needless to say, click-bait outlets everywhere have run with that particular snippet as their headline but there was a lot more to what Rodgers had to say.
"Something we said to Raheem when he first broke into the team and something we've reiterated is that you have to have an identity as a player," insisted the loquacious coach. "His identity is he has to score goals and create goals -- that's what the job is. He scored 10 goals last year and this kid is only going to get better. You look at one of the goals he scored against Manchester City (in New York) -- he cushioned it and then the finish -- how many times have we seen (Lionel) Messi produce a touch like that? Taking it through bodies and when it's so tight in the box. The great thing with watching him now is that he gets you off your seat. When he gets the ball you think 'something could happen here'. There was a moment against Manchester City when he had (Gael) Clichy, (Jesus) Navas and another midfielder coming back to press him and block the space. So for teams to have that fear of him as a young player shows his development.
"There is still work for him to do, but he knows that and is a really good boy who is developing really well," Rodgers continued. "When you're so young, it's important to understand exactly what your role is. It's not just about looking good. You have to be efficient and effective. His development has gone to a new level. He's way above the level from when he first came in. Tactically, technically, and what has been beautiful to watch with Raheem has been his maturity and he's turning into a beautiful young man, with all the responsibility. Raheem is taking it all in his stride and now he's in a good place with every part of his game. It's just about maintaining that commitment to his work. He's still only 19, but in big games he's performed and he's a wonderful talent."
No doubt Sterling will face a torrent of teammate abuse on the back of Rodgers' insistence that he is a "beautiful young man" who's "beautiful to watch." Footballers may not be the most observant types, as a rule, but the denizens of Melwood won't have missed that opportunity for a little light ridicule. The Carnlough native's outdone himself there and one can only imagine the unimaginative japes and witticisms that Jose Enrique et al will be pinging at the young England man in training this week. Sterling, whose hairstyle transmutes from one shocking 'do to the next as quickly as the ever-motile forward himself gets around the park, will no doubt cope as admirably with the playful ribbing as he has with the far more violent challenges of the Premier League's centre-halves. At the risk of Rodgersian hyperbole, there is no more exciting talent in the top flight as we head into the new season and that, dear reader, is beautiful.