Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has divided opinion this season quite unlike few before him have been able to, with many seeing him as a yuppie-talking David Brent impressionist with the very worst brand of corporate spiel ever to grace the top flight, and others buying in hook, line and sinker into his footballing ‘philosophy’ and everything that comes with it, but is he more widely liked or disliked because of it?
The club haven’t had the best of PR departments in recent times when it comes the men at the helm and while there may be a fair slice of sighing at Rodgers cliche-ridden rants at times, on the whole he enjoys a positive rapport with the press. Take a look back through the past, though, and you will see that’s not always been the case in recent history at Anfield.
First up we have current interim Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez and any criticism of him was always slightly tainted with a hint of xenophobia to it. He was labelled ‘defensive’ for playing a 4-2-3-1 formation despite every side in Europe five years on using that now and having a side that scored the most goals in the league during the 2008/9 season.
His ‘facts’ press conference aimed at exposing the hypocrisy of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was widely seen as some sort of mental breakdown and responsible for Liverpool’s title bid coming up short, conveniently ignoring the fact that the side beat United at Old Trafford 4-1 shortly afterwards. You see, the talk of him as being some sort of wild eyed loose cannon is a neatly pigeonholed narrative in the media as they sought to create the impression that he was the latest manager to fall at the feet of Ferguson’s majestic ‘mind-games’ and his relationship with the media was always patchy at best.
Next up was Roy Hodgson, who just looked completely out of his depth and dampened expectations far too much even during an undoubted period of transition and financial uncertainty. He may well make a very good England manager when we look back on his tenure in ten years times, but from not backing his players after direct criticism from Ferguson, to lashing out at the fans, sometimes certain managers and clubs just aren’t a very good fit and the impression created of him was one of a hapless buffoon, just six months after leading Fulham to the Europa League final.
The return of Kenny Dalglish is perhaps the greatest example of how the press and the manager’s seat at Anfield in recent times haven’t always enjoyed a fruitful relationship. The press moaned about a lack of communication and access and they weren’t shy of showing their displeasure during the whole Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism affair, which led to some journalists being banned from the club for their perceived overly negative coverage; Rodgers is the complete antithesis of this antagonistic way of thinking. He is much more of an open book and can often be seen trying to create news where none exists.
The clear problem when a manager outlines so clearly his vision for the future is that whenever there is a noticeable setback, they leave themselves open to attack. Cordial relations with the media can help during times like this, as Jose Mourinho and Harry Redknapp have shown to great effect in the past and Rodgers appears to be buying in to the same approach.
The appointment of Rodgers was not met with widespread approval from fans, particularly with several other more qualified candidates available such as Andre Villas-Boas, Louis van Gaal, Unai Emery and even former manager Rafa Benitez, but FSG seemed intent with their pursuit of both Roberto Martinez and the Swansea boss that they wanted a young and ambitious manager with a clearly defined style. This in effect leaves the support base split upon his arrival and unwilling to change their opinion on him until tangible success, perhaps even in the form of silverware or a top four finish, no matter how unlikely either may be, for them to think otherwise.
For most Liverpool fans, though, there is the dawning realisation that while not everyone backed the sacking of club legend Dalglish at the end of last season, that this is a period of transition and Rodgers has delivered a side that plays with style and looks set to meet expectations this term. He’s done many positive things, such as integrate several promising youth-team players, give the club its identity back and provide stability during a what has been a turbulent few years for the everyone involved on the red half of Merseyside.
It’s been far from perfect and there are times when he simply sets himself up for a fall with grandiose talk of top two ambitions, and embarrassingly fawning praise of mediocre performances, while he is absolutely wretched to listen to for anything more than two minutes, but Rome wasn’t built in a day as the old adage goes. He clearly loves the sound of his own voice even is most others don’t, which means he’s become something of a figure of fun for neutrals and fans of rival clubs.
In all honesty, when you actually assess the job he’s done at the club, Rodgers comes about par for the season so far and what was initially expected of him considering the circumstances he’s worked in and the context of the upheaval at the club. Nevertheless, many, if not most, find it difficult to separate the image of the man and his job performance and struggle to differentiate between his Brent-isms and whether he is having a positive impact on the squad.
Every club has hystercial fringe elements and Liverpool’s are just as vocal as any, but to say Rodgers is either loved or loathed would be a step too far for the more rational among us. For fans that deal in absolutes and matters of black and white, he can often cut plenty right down the middle, but putting aside all the PR guff he spouts, the real challenge he faces is dialling down the rhetoric and keeping his undoubtedly large ego in check, particularly in the public arena. The job at the club is a large one that requires patience, and while he may continue to split opinion with his image, we need to show retraint for the time being to accurately judge his performance as a manager, which may even extend beyond the end of this season and next.