When Liverpool target Roberto Martinez left Swansea to drive up the M6 to Wigan, a young manager called Brendan Rodgers was experiencing tough times in his second managerial job at Reading. As Martinez’s reputation grew in his early months at Wigan, so Rodgers’ plummeted at Reading, leading to his dismissal in December 2009. As Martinez consolidated on Wigan’s oft precarious position in the Barclays Premier League, Rodgers remained out of work. Out of work until Paulo Sousa got a little too big for his Gucci boots at Swansea and left the club for Leicester City. Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins drew up a list of managers for the post, and we now understand that Rodgers was number seven on that list. Well, whether that’s true or not, it was certainly lucky seven for Rodgers – and more importantly – Swansea City, as since his appointment, neither the popular Northern Irishman, nor the welcoming Welsh club have looked back.
Rodgers masterminded a Championship promotion via a Wembley play-off in his first season, and despite being odds on favourite to lead his team to instant relegation from the top tier, instead, Rodgers led his team of lower division stalwarts and top division cast offs to the highest position of all the promoted clubs, finishing 11th, and only missing out on 10th by one single goal. How on earth did he do that? Well, apart from the hard work and commitment that he displays in bucket loads, Rodgers did it because he gets it. He gets it all. He gets the fans, he gets the players, he gets football and he gets the press. He gets it all.
He’s never made a Martinez “here for life” comment, but what he has said is that he’ll give his life to the club as long as he’s here
You will hardly hear a Rodgers interview where he doesn’t somewhere mention the fans and their importance to the club. He knows that it is the fans who provide the loyalty in football, not him, not the players, but them. Therefore, he demands of himself and his players, complete loyalty to them – whilst they are there. That’s the important bit. He’s never made a Martinez “here for life” comment, but what he has said is that he’ll give his life to the club as long as he’s here – a very important distinction, and one that the fans respect him for making.
Rodgers has carefully selected players to deliver his vision of football. He has instilled a belief of playing football in a certain way in those players, and when they have done so, he has given them total credit and taken none for himself. But when it has gone wrong, he has taken the blame. Look at Angel Rangel. He made a horrible mistake in the 0-1 home defeat to Manchester United in early season. Giggs swooped on his error, crossed for Hernandez, lightning finish, game over. On TV that night, Alan Hansen crucified the Spaniard and questioned Swansea’s decision to play passing football in defensive areas. Rodgers response? “I take 100% blame for that, it was nothing to do with Angel. I ask him to play that way, and he was doing what I asked, playing with courage.” I’m guessing if you point the Spaniard at a brick wall and whisper to him quietly that Brendan might like you to run through it, dust and rubble would be the outcome.
In his time out of work, Rodgers studied, and studied hard. From the termination of his own playing career, ended early due to injury, he’d studied at the highest tables of football learning – the Dutch way, the Spanish way. What he learnt was that possession is King. Simple really, if we keep the ball, they can’t score. When we haven’t got the ball, if we get it back quickly, then we can build again. In his brief sabbatical he resolved that he was going to commit 100% to his beliefs if he got a job again, it was just a question of finding the right club on which to test out his theories.
Swansea completed an astonishing 17,881 passes
Reading’s loss has proved very much Swansea’s gain. This season, Rodgers’ Swansea completed an astonishing 17,881 passes, just 119 fewer than Champions Manchester City. By way of comparison, Manchester United completed fewer, 17,227, Arsenal 17,420, Tottenham 16,592 and Chelsea 16,079. Oh, and Stoke. Stoke completed 7,520. Well, we’re constantly told diversity is good aren’t we?
So Rodgers has assembled a team out passed only by the Champions. Of course – and Rodgers knows this only too well – there’s much more to football than just passing, you have to score goals. But passing gives you a base from which to defend, and 13 clean sheets in a debut season in the Premier League is an astonishing achievement. “If we keep the ball they can’t score.” Rodgers turned Swansea’s season into one of substance married into one of style, and ultimately, one of great success.
I am a lifelong fan of Kenny Dalglish, as a player, as a manager and as a man. But as the season developed and King Kenny continued to morph into some bitter, belligerent, antagonistic caricature of himself, so Brendan smiled, charmed and laughed his way through press conference after press conference. Here is a man who never sought to placate the media, far from it, he understands it and moreover recognises that when is all said and done, these are human beings just doing a job. Kenny, instead, treated them with utter contempt. I’m told that the media savvy Fenway Sports Group are avid viewers of Match of the Day, and use it as a valuable resource with which to gauge the game in this country. Well, I’m guessing that when they saw the way that Rodgers performed compared to their King, well, we all know what has happened since.
(Stats quoted – courtesy of eplindex.com)
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