In the soap opera world of Premier League football, Brendan Rodgers has been one of the leading characters since his arrival at Anfield back in 2012. Sky Sports were live on the air recapping their Super Sunday offering just after 6pm when the ‘BREAKING NEWS’ of his sacking was met with gasps in the studio, and Thierry Henry’s comical reaction would have been fittingly followed by the dramatic ‘Eastenders’ drumbeat intro but unfortunately the Sky producers missed their cue. The strange mix of inevitability and shock around his departure fits neatly with the differing views held by observers who have both mocked and praised his efforts on Merseyside in equal measure. All in all it’s been a mixed bag with Rodgers over the last 3 years, but ultimately the thrilling highs (their goal-frenzied 11 game winning streak that took them to the brink of the title in 2014) have been out-numbered by some pitiful lows (Dejan Lovren’s calamitous performance in the 3-0 home defeat to West Ham at the end of August) and now the club’s American owners have made their move to cut him loose.
Liverpool will do very well to appoint a successor who’s character is analysed as much as Rodgers has been during his tenure at the club. His persona has balanced finely between ‘tactical genius’ and ‘spoofer’ to the point where nobody seems to know for sure which category he falls into. His first pre-season at Anfield in the summer of 2012 was documented in the unforgettable ‘Being Liverpool’ – a series made to help build the club’s profile in the US, but Rodgers emerged as the real star with a performance that earned him comparisons to The Office’s ‘David Brent’. His hilariously cringe-worthy proclamation of “Jonjo Shelvey, the King of the Golf” was only a taste of things to come. B-Rod’s apparent lack of self-awareness, particularly in the early period of being in the Liverpool spotlight, has allowed for some memorable quotes such as “My greatest mentor is myself” and “I’ve always said that you can live without water for many days, but you can’t live for a second without hope”.
He talked a good game from day one, and as his physical appearance improved (he underwent a complete makeover that included a new set of teeth and a visible weight loss) so did his team’s performance on the pitch. In the 2013/2014 season Liverpool came from nowhere to mount their strongest title challenge of the Premier League era, steam-rolling the likes of Arsenal, Man Utd, Spurs & Man City to bring themselves into contention in the closing weeks of the season. With Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling, Rodgers’ side were thrilling neutrals almost as much as their own fans with a swashbuckling brand of attacking football that was blowing their opponents out of the water. Their title challenge was elevated by a wave of emotion coming from the Liverpool supporters that few other clubs can match, and with the Messianic ‘Coach Rodgers’ at the helm – their destiny of a first league title in 25 years was in sight…..until Gerrard slipped, the wheels came off and the rest is history….
With this unlikely title challenge Brendan’s revolution was way ahead of schedule, and despite ultimately coming up short he had earned himself enough credit with the public that many ignored the now seemingly obvious idea that Luis Suarez was the real driving force behind the team’s success. But after Suarez left and Liverpool slipped back into mediocrity, the ‘Oracle of Anfield’s magic dust was no longer having the desired effect. As people began to write Rodgers off after a poor first half of the 2014/2015 season, the magic returned in the form of a 3-4-3 formation that Rodgers himself admitted to devising late at night during some soul-searching at their Melwood training complex, aided by tea, toast and a tactics whiteboard. He turned the tide and they went 13 games unbeaten from December to March. The Messiah was back. But Brendan couldn’t help himself, and his boasting to the media of how his tactical sorcery had changed their fortunes allowed fate to conspire against them again, and a devastating defeat at the hands of Man Utd sent their season into a tailspin that ended with a disappointing 6th place finish.
Rodgers’ tactical experimentation has been seen as brave and innovative at times, particularly when the going was good – but in the sticky periods the changes that used to be innovative now appeared desperate, and by this season there was nothing left to resemble a ‘philosophy’ in play that suggested Brendan had much of a future at the club. His attempts to mask his side’s poor performances with constant over-use of the word “outstanding” in post-match interviews did little to deter the notion that he was a dead man walking, and as much as he has championed ‘the power of positivity’ with his many pearls of wisdom over the last 3 seasons – in recent weeks he has cut the figure of a man who has lost faith in the myth he himself created. A change may do him good, and no doubt he’ll be back before long. Hopefully with a renewed sense of confidence and vigour that will enlighten us once again – because whether he’s being mocked or admired, without Brendan there is a lot less to talk about.