“I love to run on the streets around here. I love seeing the people going about their business. These are our people. I love running late in the afternoon, when the doors are open and the dinners are on, and you can smell the mince cooking.”
He’s back. Or at least he’s nearly back. Sort of. He’ll be on the TV this weekend, anyway. For pretty much the first time since he was sacked by Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers will begin his emergence from his self-imposed exile, journeying back from the wilderness and into the world of football by having his thigh squeezed by Kammy and awkwardly bantered at by that vacantly handsome chap from morning telly. Or ‘will appear on Goals On Sunday’, if you prefer.
The Premier League has felt a little strange without Brendan around. Even if you didn’t like him you could still enjoy whatever ‘off-beat’ pronouncement he dreamt up that week, or read aloud from a sheet of ‘Wisdom of the day’ toilet paper. He was a source of entertainment, whether you cared for him or otherwise, and while Jurgen Klopp has his own foibles and eccentricities to enjoy, they generally involve the wearing of hats or swearing in press conferences. Not quite the same.
“What I say to players is this: ‘The crown is on your head, my friend. You are the king of your destiny. Don’t come crying to me. I will put everything in place for you. I will be open with my communication.'”
The question is, where now? You sort of assumed that Rodgers might take the David Moyes, Steve McClaren route of rehabilitation after the binning from a high-profile job in England, and head to Abroad. Foreignland. Overseas. And that would be welcome, for no other reason than it’d be entertaining to see how an interpreter dealt with his fortune cookie wisdom. Spain would be nice, France a possibility, Holland perhaps too; somewhere relatively low-key where he could impose his ‘philosophy’ and work out how to be a manager again, without the baggage that his reputation brings in England.
“My rule has never changed. You see, for me, how I’ve worked with Liverpool is no different from how I worked with the under tens at Reading. No different. I don’t see myself as a coach, or as a manager. I see myself as a welfare officer. I look after the needs of the player, and the group.”
And that’s probably the biggest challenge for Rodgers in his return to the game. A version of him exists in the collective consciousness of English football that is a buffoon, a Brentian boob who is a caricature and not to be taken seriously. It’s a persona that he has created, perhaps not deliberately, but that he definitely plays up to and one that has become the popular image of the man. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of self-awareness with him, and the sense that he genuinely believes in his ‘brand’ as football’s last great philosopher is tough to escape.
This is where the silly statements, the extensive explanations of what the difference between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 is, the sense that he just takes himself all a bit too seriously, could be damaging. It’s not hard to imagine that a chairman or chief executive with a job opening might think for a minute and wonder whether this is really the bloke they want as the public face of their club. It probably shouldn’t matter, but it might do.
“When I speak to young coaches I say ‘Listen. You’re entering into a life where you will grow old but the timeline of the players you will be working with will stay the same, from 16 to 35, more or less. You must stay modern, and you must stay young, without being a d*ck. It is important that as you grow away from that age band, you stay in touch with it.'”
And yet he still does have a reputation as an excellent coach. If you listen to his peers talk about him, it’s clear the respect he still has within the industry, admittedly a rather closed house, an old boys’ network in which backs are slapped and scratched. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wrong.
Equally, it’s not just his mates saying he’s good which provides evidence that, well, he might be. The merits of Rodgers have been discussed over and over, but those who simply say that Liverpool’s implausibly thrilling 2013/14 season was just because of Luis Suarez are at best reductive, at worst vindictive and wishing to diminish his managerial prowess or reputation. There are plenty of holes to pick in his record or ability, but there’s also plenty of evidence to suggest he knows something, too.
There are essentially two Brendan Rodgers: there’s Brendan, the figure of fun who says absurd things and might as well be reading from tarot cards for all the sense he makes. And then there’s Rodgers, the still relatively young coach who can produce inventive and exciting football.
The question for him, and indeed football in this country in general, is which will take over now he’s back? If it’s the latter then he should have no problems finding work almost wherever he wants, but if the former then we might be left with one of the stranger coaching careers of recent times, unfulfilled and incomplete.
The quotes in italics are all taken from ‘Living On The Volcano: The Secrets Of Surviving As A Football Manager’ by Mike Calvin, which you can buy here.