AT a time of poignant Liverpool memories, Brendan Rodgers allows himself to recall some family values which could prove heartrending in the coming weeks.
By: Murray Walker
If the Premier League title is claimed against all the odds next month, the 41-year-old Northern Irishman will fondly remember his grandad’s obsession with a club built for greatness by Bill Shankly.
He will think of his father, Malachy, who imbued his football-crazed son with the true values of the game, never tiring of watching the great Brazil sides.
Rodgers will also take a walk back in time to 1990 – the year of Liverpool’s last championship success – when he was just starting out on a professional career with Reading.
His two family footballing mentors are sadly not around to share the wonderful achievement of a charming, humble manager who has helped bring some comfort to tormented lives on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. No doubt the 96 will be there in spirit as Rodgers closes in on the pinnacle achievement of his career.
Asked where he was when Liverpool landed their last title, he replied: “I was a first year apprentice at Reading. I’d moved to England in 1989 and just completed my first year as a young player. At that time Liverpool were recognised as one of the best clubs in the world, the most successful.”
He corrected assumptions that his father had been a Liverpool supporter. “No, he wasn’t but my grandad was. My dad loved watching the great Brazilian teams. He just liked good attacking football.
“My grandad loved Liverpool. They would be on the TV at home. I grew up watching Celtic. I loved Paul McStay, Danny McGrain, Roy Aitken, who was a leader, and obviously Packie (goalkeeper Bonner), being the Irishman in the team.
“I wouldn’t know who my grandad’s heroes were. He just loved watching Liverpool and the great football they played. For me, it was about the teams of the Seventies and Eighties.
“He was an influence because he enjoyed good football and that was passed on to my father. My dad just loved attacking football. He liked the Brazilians and the Europeans. When you are young your dad is your hero, and even though he was never a sportsman he was into great technical players. That was all that was ever spelt out to me – technique.
“You’ve got to be brave and clever to be a technical player. Against Manchester City, we were expected to go more defensive, but we actually went more lightweight but technical.
“Coaches have to encourage players to express themselves. Just let them develop and grow, rather than sabotage that quality and freedom. I’ve worked with top European kids and those at Chelsea and Liverpool, and there’s no difference in terms of ability.”
It’s why a Liverpool side charged with attacking virtues would be popular winners of English football’s greatest domestic prize. A new contract would almost certainly be Rodgers’ reward in the summer, allowing him to pursue his long-term ambitions for the club.
“I came to Liverpool because I hoped it would be a destination, not just a stop-off,” he said. “It had everything you would want as a manager – to be at one of the leading clubs in the world, to be allowed to build and develop a club without interference and to have a great relationship with the owners.
“As a manager you know your value, your worth and that will always come into it (in contract negotiations). I feel valued at this football club.”
He would love to be at Anfield in five years, creating a dynasty to slot alongside those of Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. Rodgers said: “It’s been a wonderful 20 months. There have been tough times but I love being here.
“I’m looking at the expansion of the stadium. Imagine Anfield with another 20,000 supporters. I look forward to seeing new pitches at the training facility and at Anfield. That will quicken up our game again because the pitches aren’t very good.
“So there’s a project here I want to oversee. I’m 41, I’ve many years as a manager ahead of me hopefully and there aren’t too many bigger clubs than Liverpool.”
Now it’s about completing the amazing job of turning a side which finished seventh last season into champions. He insists there is plenty of hard work ahead, starting at relegation-threatened Norwich today.
Rodgers addressed his players on Thursday, after title rivals Manchester City had been held 2-2 by Sunderland. “It’s a warning that with four games to go teams are fighting for their lives, their families, their livelihoods,” he said.
“They want to be Premier League players. They won’t lie down and die.”