FROM Carroll to Suarez to Borini, Brendan Rodgers has started making big decisions as he attempts to turn around Liverpool. Sportsmail’s Michael Walker recalls a conversation with Rodgers in which the manager revealed the roots of his exciting footballing ideology
Sporting his red Liverpool training top, hammer in hand, Rodgers was pictured beneath the remounted ‘This Is Anfield’ sign on Monday. It was clear that his work has begun.
Already there have been decisions on Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini, and possibly one on Andy Carroll too.
Next Monday Liverpool fly to Boston and will be based at Harvard University; Rodgers recalled a friend who went to Harvard who informed him of the message of ‘ruthless simplicity’ that was drummed into students.
Rodgers, 39, absorbs such messages. Sitting with him when he was manager at Reading, he described himself as a ‘sponge’. In football and in life, he comes across as a man keen to learn and just as keen to impart knowledge in a streamlined manner.
This has been the case as a coach at Chelsea and boss of Watford, Reading and Swansea City, but it has not always had the same result.
It was December 2009 when Rodgers made his sponge remark.
The interview was based around Reading’s forthcoming FA Cup tie against Liverpool. He spoke of having ‘a lot of admiration for Rafael Benitez. It’s the pressure that comes at that level. You cannot feel that pressure unless you’ve done it’.
Rodgers was sacked by Reading before that match. The interview was set aside. But, in Steve Coppell’s old office, Rodgers had produced dossiers of thoughts on the game and talked about his earliest days.
Rodgers grew up in the small Irish village of Carnlough on the north coast, the eldest of five brothers.
Last month he returned to his old school, St Patrick’s College in Ballymena, but going home is likely to have been bittersweet: Rodgers has lost his mother, Christina, and father, Malachy, in the past 15 months.
“Carnlough is a small village on the Antrim coast,” he began that day at Reading. “I had a wonderful upbringing there. The community is really one, regardless of what political issues there were in Ireland at the time. It was mixed and strong.”
Nigel Worthington, the former Northern Ireland and Norwich manager, is Rodgers’s cousin. Both started their playing careers at local Irish League club Ballymena United.
“I just wanted to follow my dream and to come to England was every Irish boy’s dream,” Rodgers said. “So I left the shores at 16. I didn’t like it at the time, but I was told that if I was going to be a success then I’d never return to live. Nigel’s mother and my granny were sisters. So I grew up with him ahead of me.
“He obviously had a real good career in England but, other than that, there was no football in the family — we didn’t even play it at school, we played Gaelic. I started late, didn’t play until I was 13.” At school Rodgers played basketball and, as he said, Gaelic games — hurling and Gaelic football. ‘Soccer’ was seen as un-Irish.
“But then I joined a club, Star United, and played in the same team as (former Manchester City, West Ham and Northern Ireland midfielder) Michael Hughes,” he said. “I was a technical player, left-sided.
“I got into the schoolboy international team. I was a typical Irish boy, went to about 400 clubs when I came over — went to Manchester United. I went there a number of times in 1985 and 1986.” Liverpool were one club Rodgers did not go to. He went to Reading.
“I fell in love with Reading, my family felt secure with Ian Branfoot, who was the Reading manager at the time. When I was 20 I had a year of injuries — groin, hernia, bad knee, blah, blah, blah.
“By that time I’d gathered what my level was going to be. I knew I was not going to be what I hoped to be. I had a choice: continue playing and be a journeyman or be a coach, a youth coach.
“I wanted to be one of the world’s best young footballers; now I wanted to be one of the world’s best young coaches. I knew the game, I could communicate, I was technically gifted, so I could demonstrate. I enrolled on my first course at 20. I was younger than everyone.
“Some coaches would tell me that I should still be playing but I knew that, on a day-to-day basis, I couldn’t last physically. And I knew from my very first night on the course thats what I wanted to do. “I got a job at Reading’s academy. I am very much a learner, a sponge, but there were questions because I was so young.