If reports are to be believed Liverpool’s search for a new manager has been narrowed down to two likely candidates, Roberto Martinez of Wigan and Brendan Rodgers of Swansea. Karl Matchett had a look at how Martinez and his lauded 3-4-3 formation might fit at Liverpool the other day. While the support for the Martinez appointment has grown over the last week or so, my belief is that Rodgers is the better fit for Liverpool.
The key to my belief is the structure that FSG appear to be putting in place with a Sporting Director and a Technical Director to be appointed along with Manager who’s more likely to be a Head Coach than the traditional English style Manager. Martinez is believed to be demanding control over the footballing side of the club, which is something that in my opinion he’s not ready for. Not at a club like Liverpool. I don’t believe Rodgers is ready to have full control over the footballing side of the club either, but my thinking is that he may be ready to have control of the team and I don’t think he would be as demanding as Martinez because I think he’d be far more comfortable in a coaching role than the Spaniard who has no real coaching experience and has always been given free reign at the clubs he’s managed. Rodgers as worked in a variety of positions at the clubs he’s been at, so a Head Coach position, where he handles mainly the training, tactics and team selection, while be just part of the decision making process on things like transfers, might be more to his liking than Martinez’.
It has been said that the method and structure Liverpool are planning to adopt is that which clubs like Lyon, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Juventus and others have been using for years. It’s a set-up where the traditional manager’s role is split up among three or four people with the premise being that many great minds working together can make for great ideas and great decisions. With the Sporting Director and the Technical Director being in place to not only share the workload but also to act as sounding boards for the Head Coach and support him in whatever ways he requires.
I thought I’d take a look at the different factors which have led me to believe that Rodgers is the better fit for the Liverpool job from the apparent two remaining candidates.
With the role being largely centred around the coaching aspect, Rodgers truly stands out from the crowd. Having retired from football at the age of 20 due to a combination of injury and not believing he was ever going to be good enough to play at the highest level, Rodgers began coaching at Reading. He began by coaching at the youth level and worked his way into the job as youth team manager. He served the club in this role for almost nine years whilst also being involved in the coaching of the first team, and the reserve team as he continued his coaching education. During his time at Reading he also spent significant time travelling around Spain picking up ideas and philosophies which would help shape the type of manager he became. He spent quite a bit of time at Barcelona, where he took note of the clubs philosophy of football. He also traveled to Holland and spent time at Ajax which gives you an indication of the type of football he wants his teams to play.
He was plucked from Reading and brought to Chelsea by Jose Mourinho who was clearly impressed with Rodgers and his work at Reading as he made him his first external appointment after taking over at Chelsea. Rodgers has said the following about making the move to Chelsea,
“Jose played 4-3-3, or a 4-4-2 diamond, and he wanted a coach to implement his methodology. As you can imagine I was nervous meeting him, a guy I’d read a book about. But he was brilliant, and made me his first external appointment. He took me under his wing a wee bit, maybe because he saw something different in me, or maybe there was a bit of empathy because, like him, I hadn’t had the big playing career. Anyway, that started one of the best times of my life. Jose had learnt from his mentor, Louis van Gaal, and I learnt from him, that there must never be a lazy day in training, and that preparation is vital.”
Mourinho’s influence on Rodgers is a huge factor in my thinking, Mourinho methods on the training ground are widely praised and Rodgers is believed to have gleaned quite a lot from them and implemented them in his own regimes.
When Rodgers moved into management at Watford in 2008, he had fifteen years as a coach, youth team manager and reserve team manager under his belt. That’s a rarity in football, even moreso in someone who was only 35 years old at the time.
Another aspect of Rodgers make-up for which he has received significant grounding from Jose Mourinho is the man-management side of things. Mourinho is widely regarded as one of the best man-managers in world football. He makes a connection with his players that few others can even dream of. Rodgers has made a similar connection with his players at Swansea who are all fiercely loyal to him. An example of that is the young Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson who seems set to turn his back on moves to bigger clubs to make the permanent move to Swansea, as long as Rodgers is still at the club. Rodgers strikes the right balance between being the players friend, and being their boss. It’s a difficult balance to get right but Rodgers seems to have managed it at Swansea.
A key aspect in man-management is getting the players to buy into a philosophy and at Swansea the players have done just that with Rodgers. Swansea’s players have embraced his ideas and teachings, and the results speak for themselves. Players who, before being managed by Rodgers, had often been seen as being slightly lazy – Scott Sinclair to name one, Danny Graham to name another, are now totally committed to working hard for the good of the team every time they set foot on the pitch. The work rate of Swansea’s midfield and attack is truly exceptional and is often overlooked due to their attractive style of play.
When Kenny Dalglish returned to Liverpool as manager one of the things that fans were most excited about was the idea that the pass and move style of football that was such a big part of the success in the past would return to the club. Rodgers is the sort of manager who plays the type of football that Liverpool fans love to watch. His team play a fantastic style of football based on making the ball do the work when you have it which allows you to have more energy to get it back when you don’t have it.
Rodgers is on a crusade to rid the world of long ball football. He believes that if you keep the ball, and pass it well, you win football matches. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the Guardian earlier this month which is well worth reading.
“I like teams to control and dominate the ball, so the players are hungry for the ball,” Rodgers says. “You’ll see in some of our exercises this morning, a lot of our work is around the transition and getting the ball back very quickly. Because I believe if you give a bad player time, he can play. If you give a good player time, he can kill you. So our emphasis is based around our positioning both with and without the ball. And for us, when we press well, we pass well.”
Winning the ball back quickly and high up the pitch was a key feature of Barcelona’s approach under Pep Guardiola and, as Rodgers explains, is much more sophisticated than it may appear. “You cannot go on your own,” he says. “You work on zonal pressure, so that when it is in your zone, you have the capacity to press. That ability to press immediately, within five or six seconds to get the ball, is important. But you also have to understand when you can’t and what the triggers are then to go for it again because you can’t run about like a madman.
“It’s decision-making and intelligence. And this was always the thing with the British player, they were always deemed never to be intelligent, not to have good decision-making skills but could fight like hell for the ball. I believe they have all of the [attributes] and, if you can structure that, then you can have real, effective results.”
That’s very much the same idea that the Liverpool teams which dominated played under. It’s something that Liverpool fans can relate to.
Rodgers team sets up as a 4-2-3-1 when they don’t have the ball, but when they are in possession they take more of 3-4-3 formation with the fullbacks pushing forward, the central defenders moving ten yards in either direction, Leon Britton dropping back between them, Joe Allen and Sigurdsson as dual attacking midfielders, and Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair pushing forward either side of Danny Graham. That 3-4-3 variation is something that Rodgers has been doing at Swansea for two years without people falling over themselves to credit him, instead preferring to credit Roberto Martinez for apparently re-inventing the wheel by taking on a 3-4-3 in desperate times at Wigan.
Rodgers style of football is one that works very well and translates well to all levels. While Arsene Wenger amongst others have made note of Swansea “not being brave” and often “not doing much with the ball”. that’s quite short-sighted and ignores the fact that for the most part, that Swansea team was made up of players who had never played in the Premier League before, yet managed to outplay many of the best teams in the country, and finish comfortably in mid-table without ever looking likely to become entrenched in a relation battle. With a higher calibre of players, Rodgers style of play would be more effective and more difficult to contain.
Against teams that “park the bus”, rather than try to bludgeon them into submission as Liverpool attempted to do last season and in previous seasons, it’s a more measured approach aimed at creating chances rather than forcing chances. One of Liverpool’s big problems last season was that while they had huge amounts of shots on goal, a lot of them were not clear chances. Luis Suarez, for example, was often guilty of trying to do too much because his team-mates weren’t able to create clear chances for him. With Rodgers more patient style of build up, and his creative style of passing football, that should not be an issue.
Against the higher calibre of teams, Rodgers’ style of play is suffocating. He likes to starve the opposition of the ball, and then force them into mistakes when they do have the ball. That high pressing style is something Rafa Benitez was noted for during his time at Valencia and Liverpool but his sides were never as good at keeping possession as Swansea are. Rodgers believes in tactical discipline, mixed with creative attacking play. It’s the perfect blend when correctly put into practice.
In my opinion, one of the reasons Liverpool struggled last season was a lack of preparation for matches against teams outside the top four. Far too often it just seemed that Liverpool went into matches with the mindset that they should just be walking through their opponents because “We are Liverpool, and they’re not”. In the matches against United, City and Chelsea, Liverpool came out with clever tactics and a set gameplan. In matches against the likes of Swansea, Sunderland and others, they did not. And it cost them.
Rodgers is noted for his meticulous preparation for both training and each individual matches. This again is something he learned working under Mourinho, but a lot of what he learned came from a certain Andre Villas-Boas who, depending on who you believe, is either in the running for the job or has been ruled out/ruled himself out. Rodgers helped Villas-Boas in the scouting of future Chelsea opponents and preparing reports for Mourinho who would then adjust his tactics accordingly. Rodgers operates in a similar way, having his assistants prepare reports as per his instructions and then tailoring tactics and training accordingly.
He also puts a large amount of time and effort into preparing his training program in order to make sure players don’t go stale by doing the same things day after day. His players look forward to going to training because he puts in that time and effort and makes sure they while they work hard and are constantly learning and improving, they’re also having fun.
Existing Relationship With Van Gaal
Rodgers learned his craft as a manager under Jose Mourinho after getting a solid basis through his experience as a coach. But Mourinho alone is not the only man who’s shaped the mind and helped him develop. When Rodgers was beginning his career as a coach he spent a lot of time at Barcelona studying how they did things. The Barca manager at the time was one Louis Van Gaal who is widely regarded as one of the best teachers of potential managers in the world. His star pupil is Jose Mourinho, to whom he served as a mentor for many years but Frank DeBoer, Frank Rijkaard and a number of others have also turned to Van Gaal for advice.
With Van Gaal looking likely to arrive as Sporting Director, having that existing relationship in place could be of huge benefit. Van Gaal would not be the only person at the club that Rodgers already has an existing relationship with. He worked very closely with Steve Clarke during their time together at Chelsea and that could be highly beneficial if Clarke is retained as assistant manager. Clarke is someone Rodgers knows and trusts and having Clarke at the club might help put his mind at ease if he does have any doubts about not bringing his entire backroom team with him from Swansea.
Ambition, Dedication, Determination
These are three things you want to see in any up and coming you manager and Rodgers displays them all. His ambition is to manage at the highest level of the game, he’s stated that openly in the past. This is generally the aim of every manager but Rodgers has gone about it the right way. He got his experience as a coach at a good club in Reading, travelled and learned the methods of others managers and coaches in other countries, spent his time learning Spanish, and now Italian in order to not only be able to go and manage in Spain or Italy at some point, but also to be able to speak with Italian or Spanish-speaking players at any club he went to. He went and worked under one of the best managers in the world and used the opportunity to learn as much as possible. All of this shows the type of dedication he has towards achieving his ambition. As does his hard work throughout his coaching and managerial career. Rodgers has his footballing principles and won’t change them. It would have been easy for Swansea to come into the Premier League and play an ugly brand of football and fight their way through a relegation dogfight, Rodgers never even entertained the idea. That, to me, shows a man determined to do things his way, using his philosophies and his tactics. That’s admirable.
A Risk That Others Have Taken
Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, Rafa Benitez at Valencia in 2001. Two managers who had not had what you might call “stand out” careers prior to getting those jobs. Two men who before they got those jobs were never mentioned in discussions about being among the best managers in world football. Klopp is many people’s favourite choice to be the next Liverpool manager, but that looks highly unlikely. Benitez, of course, would leave Valencia in 2004 to join Liverpool and write himself into Anfield lore by winning the Champions League in his first season. There are many people who want Benitez back at the club but he’s not in FSG’s thinking for one reason or another.
The point about the two managers I’ve just mentioned was made to me on Twitter during the last week or so and initially my thinking was that Liverpool are a bigger club than both Dortmund or Valencia and therefore it was less of a risk those clubs to appoint Klopp and Benitez than it would be for us to appoint someone like Rodgers. As I’ve already said, I don’t believe Rodgers is ready to manage a club like Liverpool, but having given it a lot of though I’ve realized that we’re not looking for someone to manage the club, we’re looking for someone to manage the team. That’s what this structure gives us. It separates the team from the overall club and the man who takes over as Manager/Head Coach is being asked to take care of the team.
Van Gaal, one of the most respected and successful managers in the world, is likely going to be the man who takes over the running of the club. He will likely be aided by Pep Segura and Rodolfo Borrell. Having those three men in place would allow the Head Coach to focus solely on the team. I believe Rodgers is ready to manage Liverpool as a team. Whilst, as a club, Liverpool remain amongst the worlds biggest, as a team they are currently nothing more than a mid table team fighting to get back amongst those challenging for the title. While you can excuses for why Liverpool finished 8th last season, the fact remains that in the last three seasons Liverpool have finished 7th, 6th and 8th. That’s mid-table. Rodgers is more than ready to manage a mid-table team.
Kristian Walsh made the point on the Redmen TV season review that when Liverpool are targeting players they should be looking to get them before they become stars. He used the examples of Falcao and Alexis Sanchez, rather than buying players like them from Porto or Udinese, Liverpool should be looking to buy them from River Plate or Cobreloa. Porto made a profit of about £30million on Falcao, whilst Udinese made a similar profit on Sanchez. Liverpool could therefore save themselves that sort of money by buying those players directly from South America and developing them in-house. It’s a great point and one that could also be put towards the Head Coaching role in this circumstance. Rather than getting Benitez or Klopp from Valencia or Dortmund, get them from Tenerife or Mainz. To translate, get Rodgers from Swansea before he goes elsewhere and becomes more of a known quantity. Get him now and allow him to become a great manager at Liverpool, rather than letting someone else get him and then trying to get him at a later date where bigger compensation, large wages and more competition for his signature would all be a factor.
With Van Gaal at the club to act as a guiding hand, Rodgers could thrive, learn and develop into something very special. With the structure that’s going to be in place, the internal pressure on him will be lessened and he can focus on the team and getting the best from them.
I don’t know for certain if Brendan Rodgers is one of FSG’s two or three favourites for the job, nobody knows for certain who’s on that list of what jobs people are actually being interviewed for. But if Rodgers is a candidate for the Head Coaches job, I can see why and I hope that after reading this article, you can see some logic in it as well. My own personal preference would be Villas-Boas, but I think Rodgers is the next best thing with the potential to be just as good.