Liverpool manager issues rallying batle cry from Gladiator as Anfield prepares for biggest league game in 24 years
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers could not have been more evocative in summing up the sense of destiny, history, and emotion at Anfield ahead of his club’s most significant league game in 24 years.
Rodgers did not sound like a Premier League manager issuing a rally cry, but had more in common with a commander-in-chief addressing his battalions ahead of the conclusive battle.
An appeal to the Kop to “unleash” its power against title rivals Manchester City prompted reference to a passage from the movie Gladiator.
The walls in Liverpool’s training complex at Melwood are decorated with numerous sound bites from footballing legends, from Diego Maradona to Johan Cruyff and Fabio Capello.
If his ability to capture the mood is matched with trophies during his Anfield career, Rodgers will require several walls of his own.
“We’ve an army of supporters behind us who are incredible; we’ve got a team high in confidence and belief, knowing we can beat anyone; we have no fear,” Rodgers said.
“If you become fearful of it, that’s the first-class ticket to fail. The roar is different here at the moment. I have sensed it.
“Anfield is a different place to drive up to now. Growing up, watching on the TV and seeing it from the outside and hearing it and seeing the bloom of Anfield inside, there’s a touch of that again.
“We will unleash the supporters yet again on our opponents. Anfield is a very, very difficult place for people to come and play now. I have felt the power of the support here.
“I remember the game against Chelsea [in the Champions League in 2005]. I was a youth coach at Chelsea at the time but I went to the game and the players and the manager himself said that the supporters won the game.
“That’s the beauty of Anfield. The support is so tight to the action, they really will the team on. It’s an iconic ground and for us it’s so important in our destiny in the next five games.
“It was interesting hearing some of Kenny Dalglish’s comments, saying Liverpool looks like it’s back to the old Liverpool.
“That was great from someone of that iconic status who knows the club better than anyone.
“I’ve seen and heard a lot in the last number of months about the direction the club is going, from people on the outside looking in. There’s still a long way to go.
“This club dominated British football for many years but it’s nice that people who have been around the club and the city for a long time should say that.
“We are hugely privileged but we’ve got to keep on working because we haven’t achieved anything yet. I sense a real nostalgia about the place. It will help drive us forward, not hold us back. It has been a long time since the league title was on Merseyside.”
This alignment of past and present has been a theme of Rodgers’s reign. He has studied, comprehended and embraced every detail of the most celebrated and traumatic moments in the club’s history and sought inspiration where many of his predecessors found intimidation and irrelevance.
This fusion of eras will never be more pertinent than on Sunday.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini – once considered for the manager’s job at Anfield – will lead his side into an arena in a state of near hysteria as it considers the title possibilities, but also spurred by the poignant timing of such a consequential game.
For this fixture in particular to take place on this weekend – marking the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster – is too persuasive for those who believe in fate to ignore. Rodgers says the remembrance will stir his players.
“I think they’ll feed off it,” he said. “We’ll pay our commemoration before the game and the emotion will come in the memorial service next Tuesday, that’s going to be where the raw emotion comes out.
“For us, our job is to provide a lift to the supporters, families and victims in terms of our performance.
“We embrace that and it’s not something that’s going to sabotage our work. It’s going to help us grow and help us accept our responsibility. We know what that is and hopefully we can use that to good effect.
“We carry it every day of our lives here: manager, players, supporters. The victims and the families are with us every day and that is why we work hard to ensure they can have some comfort from seeing their club move forward. This weekend will be huge for that.”
While the romantics have favoured Liverpool all season, City head to Anfield knowing a draw would shift the balance back their way.
It is a meeting of the multi-millionaires against the mega-billionaires rather than serfs versus Sheikhs as some would have it, but if there was any pointed remark from Rodgers towards the opponent, it was his reference to the different ‘models’.
The contrast was made between a spending club and a ‘developing’ one.
“We’ve invested some money but our net spend is probably a way below what it would be for others,” Rodgers said.
“I won’t disrespect what [City] have done because they had a lot of new money come into the club in order to gain success.
“They have invested that money wisely in a lot of top players and that has won them the league, the FA Cup and the League Cup.
“Liverpool as a club is very much a development club – development for players and for people.”
The best atmospheres at Anfield through the decades
By Chris Bascombe
Liverpool 3 St Etienne 1: European Cup quarter-final
March 16, 1977
A goal down from the first leg and having conceded an away goal, this was one of the great European comebacks. Phil Neal recalled: “I couldn’t help but look up in amazement at the crowd.”
Liverpool 2 Inter Milan 1: European Cup semi-final
May 4, 1965
Three days after Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, Bill Shankly increased decibel level by having the trophy paraded before kick-off. “The people were hysterical,” Shankly said.
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0: Champions League semi-final
May 3, 2005
When Jose Mourinho suggested the crowd scored the winning goal by Luis Garcia, the Kop said ‘and your point was?’ Steve Heighway, who played in ’77, said the noise eclipsed anything he had heard.
Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2: Title decider
May 26, 1989
A reminder not all the great Anfield occasions were victorious for the hosts. The Kop remained full for the trophy presentation and there was generous applause for George Graham’s side.
Liverpool 3 Auxerre 0: Uefa Cup 2nd round
Nov 6, 1991
The start of an inauspicious period, but the Anfield magic never really faded. Two-nil down to the French after the first leg, the 23,000 spectators sounded more like 50,000. Liverpool won 3-0.