This week, Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio turns to the Premier League’s newest boss. A man who is a philosopher, a tactician, an inspiration and a mentor to himself. A man who smells mince cooking on every corner. That’ll be Brendan, then.
Who Are Ya?
Brendan Rodgers is 46 and was born in the seaside town of Carnlough in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. His playing career as a defender was cut short by a knee problem aged just 20, by which time he’d played schoolboy football for both Norn Iron and the Republic, which just seems a very Brendan thing to do.
Was signed as an 18-year-old by Reading and after his forced retirement he worked there as a youth coach, whilst also holding down a role at the most Brendan of stores: John Lewis. I bet he loved being called a Partner rather than just a shop assistant. Easy to imagine a young, keen Brendan approaching us in the electrical department and extolling the outstanding qualities of an Amstrad VCR by using some sort of convoluted metaphor.
Impressed Jose Mourinho enough to get an invite to be youth coach at Stamford Bridge, then became reserve-team coach. In 2008 he took Watford as his first managerial job. Did OK for a while. Jumped ship to Reading and was rubbish and left after six months. Hopefully he’d kept his job at John Lewis on. “It’s an outstanding pan, madam. You can almost smell the mince cooking in it already.”
The following summer, somehow he got the Swansea City job and it was here the man we now know more conceptually as Brendan was really born and here where he became like Madonna or Sting: someone who is known only by one name. There are a lot of Brendans but there is only one Brendan.
Got the Swans up via the Championship play-offs and had a decent first season in the top flight. Liverpool came calling and we began to see his full quark, strangeness and charm take flight.
Here now was the permatanned philosopher with skin like a sweating old leather briefcase, huge pores exuding moisture, a portrait of himself on the wall as though in honour of Dorian Gray, his fabulously ovoid head, usually a shade of varnished golden creosote. With bright, excited, restlessly darting eyes, a massive broad boxer’s nose and an incredible set of teeth that look like they were constructed inside a nuclear reactor, there is absolutely nothing indistinct about him. His broad-thighed, thick set physicality give him a hobbit-like quality. Easy to imagine he has very leathery pads on his feet and possibly lives in a burrow of some sort.
Has a distinctive fashion sense. Suits usually look a size too small, in the fashionable mode. Always goes for the tight thin wooly pully under the suit, but overdress shirt and tie, which looks like it’d make you a hostage to very damp pits. Loves to wear sports gear too – one suspects that he’d favour the old school shorty-shorts if given half a chance. Sports the sort of haircut that doesn’t ever seem to quite fit his head. Teeth can be seen from space. All sticky-out physical features are thick, large and rubbery-looking.
Absolutely no-one talks like Brendan. He is a rare wordsmith who speaks a language all unto himself. Sometimes he appears to be trying to channel Wittengestein, Brendan Behan and Phil Lynott all at once.
And while you can laugh all you like at Brendan’s propensity to say silly things in pursuit of profundity, the fact is we all need people in our lives who are different. It’s easy to mock them, but rather they than someone bland and unmemorable. Since my school days I’ve always thought it was unfair that those who dress or talk differently were always the ones to get bullied, as though conformity to a supposed norm was the most desirable thing.
His Wiki entry says he speaks both Spanish and French, though, knowing Brendan, he may have stated this purely because he once bought some chorizo and listened to a Daft Punk record. The fact the same page says his nickname is ‘Buck Rodgers’ suggests to me that he’s edited it himself and has put this in, not because anyone calls him such a name, but because he would just love to be referred to as ‘Buck’.
If you look at some of his most famous quotes, the reason they’re so amusing is because you kind of know what he’s reaching for, but ultimately the words he says make little or no sense or he’s mangled them in the moment. Take this for example:
“I always say a squad is like a good meal. I’m not a great cook, but a good meal takes a wee bit of time. But also, to offer a good meal, you need good ingredients.”
The second sentence there is entirely superfluous. It suggests, via his own analogy, that he’s not a good manager/cook, and it dilutes the point he’s making in the first and third. But how can the squad be both like a meal (the finished product) and be simultaneously the separate comestibles in the final cooked creation? One follows the other. It’s almost right, but just a bit wrong and that’s the essence of being Brendan.
One of his most famous utterances is “My biggest mentor is myself because I’ve had to study and that’s been my biggest influence”, and it just doesn’t really make any sense. A mentor is, by definition, someone who is not you. You cannot be influenced by yourself, because you are not a separate entity from yourself. Even if you refer to yourself in the third person – and that is very much something Brendan would aspire to do – you still can’t influence yourself.
My pal Jeff says that Brendan is “a thick person’s idea of a clever bloke”. But I think that’s all a bit harsh really. Then again when you’ve just been beaten 2-0 away and you say “It is great for the public here at Sunderland to see us. They must have been wondering what this team everyone is talking about are all about and now they have seen. We were wonderful”, you do leave yourself open to ridicule.
And when you fancy yourself as JB Priestley, Alan Sillitoe or even Simon Armitage and say “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…” you will make eyebrows raise.
However, I do love this example of Brendanism. I’m sure it is a florid poetic invention and that the smell of cooking mince did not pervade the streets he ran on, but I admire anyone who would even think of saying such a thing. It shows some soul and imagination to romanticise working-class lives in this way. It’s a sign of someone who creates a context to live in, who doesn’t just drift and let life happen to him. Pretension is underrated in its ability to, albeit accidentally, deliver real vision and understanding and I’d wager that his mince story has glazed many an eye.
His time at Celtic saw him pull back a little on some of his tortuously extended metaphors involving barbed wire and holes, and speak more human, albeit with plenty of the usual ‘outstanding’ references, which seems to be his go-to word for any situation. However, claiming that a Rangers fan welcomed him to Glasgow did seem a little far-fetched. But then this is the mythical beast that is Brendan: an unusual creature to whom odd things happen, that would not happen to anyone else. So, who knows?
As soon as he was appointed Leicester manager, the OTT fella returned and hopefully not for the last time. “I’m very privileged and honoured to be here as Leicester City manager and I’ll give my life to make the supporters proud of their club.” Now that’s what I call commitment. It was just such a comment that caused us all to look at each other, grin and say ‘welcome back to the Premier League, Brendan.’
Media Hit or Miss?
He’s not called Box Office Brendan for no reason. Brendan is a star. He really is. He’s the sort of man that football needs for TV and radio because you just never know when you point a microphone under his nose what he’s going to say. It could be a twisted simile to illustrate a boring 0-0 draw that involves a golden eagle, Malcolm X and a boy with a blue balloon, or it might be a self-referential bit of homespun wisdom in which he refers to himself as Gandalf, Delia Smith and Van Morrison. Literally anything could be about to emerge from that most distinctive of heads.
Oh and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that he is also a very good manager who could, just could, make Leicester City into a more potent force in the Premier League, and in doing so end their post-title-winning existential crisis.
His press conferences are always held as though the assembled media are there to absorb words of wisdom at the feet of the kung-fu master. A lot of great leaders have something of a Messiah complex and you can’t beat that as a media attraction. His every utterance will offer some sort of hostage to fortune which the press can later dredge up and hold him to account against.
That’s the bravest thing about him: in an era where confected outrage, indignation and exaggerated but shallow emotion are routinely passed off as rational and genuine by both fans and press, the fact that Brendan will walk towards the fire holding a can of petrol in the form of a phrase designed to sound profound, but which doesn’t quite make any sense, deserves our praise.
Proper Football Man Rating: Mince
The boys get nervous around Brendan. He has the sort of physique that suggests he may be able to quaff the finest of Reidy’s toilet duck cocktails, mixed in a wheelie bin at a toxic waste dump just outside of Egremont. And he’s also divorced, which the boys think is essential for any man worth his smelling salts, because she knew what you were like when she married you and so it’s all her fault by the way and I knew something was wrong when she started spending so much time at that yoga class.
But then he’s always saying weird things what don’t make no sense, Jeff. Mind you, this might be just because he’s super brainy. But then, your PFM doesn’t like intellectuals who read books and watch BBC4. But they do like running through streets which smell of mince – and probably still could, because they never had any pace to lose. Ha ha. Great joke, Thommo.
The boys really don’t like anyone who uses metaphors. Doesn’t that involve waving flags at boats, Gary? Also, the fact he’s from Northern Ireland fills them with a horror of committing some terrible political faux pas that will lead to someone in a balaclava on their doorstep.
They’re also secretly worried he may be a foreign. How can being Irish makes you British, Chaz? It’s literally a separate island from us, like Australia or Iceland.
All this talk of being a welfare officer for players and not treating them like dogs really curdles the PFM’s tripe, feeling, as they tend to, that the world is one big Lord of the Flies situation and the best kid in school was the bully because he could get whatever he wanted off the weedy boys and what’s wrong with that? And they know that treating footballers and women is like how you treat an Alsatian puppy. You have to show them who’s boss from day one because if you don’t, one day they’ll turn round and give you a right savaging.
All in all Brendan seems far too wet and liberal and clever. And this doesn’t fit into the PFM Trumpean outlook which is to know almost nothing about almost everything, but shout very loudly about how much you know and how what you do know is the best knowledge there is to know.
What The People Say
I’m not alone in enjoying the different and unusual. Many Liverpool fans also remember well just how wonderful THAT season was with our man at the helm. That has since been painted as though it was just lucky, but it really wasn’t. It was all down to Brendan and his methods and basically, if he’d an an ounce of luck, he would now be a Premier League title-winning manager.
If he didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him.
— Both English and European. #peoplesvote (@EvilGazebo) February 28, 2019
‘On Brendan’s first day at Melwood, my six-year-old son was able to meet the players and staff at training. Brendan had done his homework on us and couldn’t have made him feel more special, put some star players in the shade. The shorts look with sliders and white socks we’ll say less about.’
‘Managed Leon Britton in the season he had passing stats similar to Xavi. You might say that’s…what’s the word…ah, yes: “Outstanding”.’
‘Box Office Brendan is a unique and interesting voice in football. Great for the nearly neutral to have him back in English football. Manager most likely to refer to his players as ‘headcount’.’
‘Fantastic coach/manager domestically, absolutely no question.’
‘Has the balls to back himself and lots of people don’t like that for some reason. Yet here we have a British manager trying to play progressive football and largely succeeding. I’ve only got good things to say about him and wish him success at Leicester.’
That may not seem like much, but managers have a knack looking like the job’s killing them, ageing, losing hair and what not
He seems not to be suffocated by the job
— Lord KIA (@_KunleAjao) February 28, 2019
‘Is he the only manager to have a unique goal celebration? Brendan’s right arm extended/left hand in trouser pocket jollification is utterly distinctive.’
‘When Swansea played us, I thought the football was excellent. Rate him as a manager and am sure he will do very well for Leicester.’
‘One of a number of British managers who wears v necks with a v too high to be worn with a tie. Unaware, it seems, of Loro Piana’
‘Outstanding. Even though we lost 6-4. We were outstanding. I was particularly outstanding. Outstandingly outstanding in fact.’
‘Seems to improve the players he’s got, but his record in the transfer market is questionable at best. No unqualified successes (Coutinho and Sturridge were good in patches in my view).’
‘That 13/14 season was the most enjoyable time I’ve ever had watching Liverpool, I know we didn’t win it in the end but life is all about the journey and my god what a journey that season was.’
‘It’s quite amusing to think he and Sean Dyche were at Watford at the same time, given how the teams they subsequently managed play football.’
‘The sort of guy who you can trust to look after a nice car, but doesn’t know the best way to drive it, or get his head around the gearbox.’
‘Talk of managerial philosophy and Brentisms are an easy stick to beat him with but I always felt it masked a deeper insecurity at Liverpool – wanted to evoke and harness the history & tradition of the club but it overwhelmed him.’
He reminds me of the local manager of Lidl who carries himself like he’s running a business on the New York Stock exchange.
— Vincent Mulcahy (@vin30leixlip) February 28, 2019
‘He seems like a decent enough fella struggling under the weight of an insurmountable and overwhelming small man complex.’
‘Think he is a great coach and clearly handles players egos well. His narcissistic side makes a caricature of himself though. I actually think that hubris has elevated him to where he’s at.’
‘Sure he called Liverpool’s bluff when they were swithering between him and Martinez.’
‘I should also say that he just seems like a thoroughly decent man. I can’t recall him ever slagging off Liverpool after being sacked.’
‘Just comes out with such incredible nonsense that I can’t help but love having him back in the league. “I’ll give my life” this week was fantastic.’
‘Forget Gerrard’s slip (said with a gentle tear), if Mignolet doesn’t flop to the ground vs Man City and let Negredo fluff a badly executed dink through his chocolate wrists (nice guy tho), Rodgers is a title winning manager. Most entertaining football played by Liverpool for years.’
Underestimated by most. Overestimated by himself.
Unshakable, but slightly misplaced, self-belief.
Joins the list with Moyes, Allardyce, Pardew who can all do a very good job at a certain level, but should never be anywhere near a top 4 job.
— Aaronaldo (@Aaronaldo3883) February 28, 2019
How Long Has He Got?
King Power sounds like a term that Brendan might use to describe himself, doesn’t it? If anyone is King Power it is Brendan. And as Leicester City are the strangest of clubs, having one of the strangest managers seems entirely appropriate. If the players take against him – and it’s hard to see Jamie Vardy being much of a fan of Brendan’s philosophical bon mots – they’ll make life difficult for him.
They are one of the many victims of the existential crisis that the Premier League has created, where most of the sides have no idea what they’re even for any more. The only point of most clubs seems to be to stay in the league and hoover up money, purely to spend it to stay in the league to hoover up money, to spend it to stay in the league, to hoover up money etc etc repeat until fade, until one year, they are mercifully relegated out of this Premier League purgatory and can once again enjoy playing in a competitive league.
Leicester somehow managed the opposite, of course. After winning the title, even though no-one at the club expects it to happen again, that success inevitably makes everything else seem like failure. So ending up 7th will not make Brendan seem successful and the feeling that he’s only using them as a stepping stone to get another top six job will set in and soon enough, he’ll be out.
In the current climate where 18 months is a typical tenure at any club, if it takes two years for the malaise to set in, he’ll be doing well. But no matter, in whatever time he has before he gives his life to make the club successful, we shall all have a lot of fun. Welcome back Brendan. I’ll get the mince on, shall I?