When the cameras stopped rolling and the spotlight shifted from Brendan Rodgers and onto whomever the next Premier League curiosity was at the time, Liverpool were left with a young manager in charge who had only ever overseen one full season as a top-flight boss.
It was the end of September and Rodgers had lost three of his first five Premier League games as the man in Liverpool’s hotseat, drawing the other two. It was a far-from-ideal start for a then-39-year-old who must have felt that the eyes of the world were fixed upon him. It was make-or-break time already.
Yet Rodgers simply took that attention on board and smiled a smile which has become familiar in the weeks and months which have followed.
The Northern Irishman is many things to many people.
To some, he can come across as an over-promoted middle-management type—a struggling man simply fond of buzzwords and overly protective of the positive approach that he has been so keen to demonstrate during a season which, from purely a results-based perspective, is yet to show any significant improvement from Liverpool’s previous three.
The previous three seasons featured three different managers.
To others, Rodgers is the brave visionary who has dared to try to implement a style of play on Liverpool with which the players were not previously familiar—not that the likes of Daniel Agger and Lucas Leiva were often seen launching long balls forward, of course.
Viewed through these eyes, Rodgers comes across as a genuine man who might be a little overawed by his task at Anfield but is determined not to show it. He is a skilled man, a worker. He seems determined that this job won’t beat him.
The truth about Rodgers almost certainly lies in between these two polar opposite opinions. He is neither of them, but rather a very watchable mix of both.
He’s made mistakes during his brief Reds reign, of course.
He wasn’t totally to blame for the August transfer deadline day shambles, which eventually left Liverpool without any cover or support for Luis Suarez for the first half of the season, but it would be difficult to imagine a manager at one of the other top teams in the country allowing that to happen.
Similarly, errors were made in team selections that didn’t allow the Reds to put up a fierce enough defence of the renamed Capital One Cup trophy and saw them have to muddle through to the later stages of the Europa League. The team’s shape was the problem in the recent loss at Manchester United. Some might even say the way Rodgers handled the Suarez diving controversy was wrong too, a symptom of the manager being just a little too open with the media, perhaps.
Despite his mistakes, however, the positives are winning this particular battle with the negatives in the eyes of many.
The endless positivity exuded by Rodgers can be infectious, and the stylish football his team plays has won him more fans than anything he has done or said.
Man-management with players such as Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing has worked well. The professional attitudes shown by the likes of Andre Wisdom, Suso and most notably Raheem Sterling have demonstrated that the faith Rodgers puts in his young players is always likely to pay off.
As well as the approach on the pitch, the fitness and conditioning work put in off it make Liverpool look a much fitter side than they’ve appeared in recent years―witness the continued impact of Steven Gerrard for every minute of every league game this season. Once these standards are set as a rule of thumb, the club will only improve for them.
Of course there have been setbacks, with the FA Cup loss at Oldham Athletic the most embarrassing, but Rodgers even emerged from that with another opportunity to stamp his authority on the club. He left his charges no doubt as to who was boss.
He’s been doing that ever since those tricky opening weeks, and he’s been doing it well.
He’ll get things wrong in the future, but he’ll also get them right too. The longer he’s at Liverpool, those wrong decisions should become less and less frequent, with the right ones taking over.
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