By David Lynch
On Saturday afternoon, Brendan Rodgers will resume his efforts to turn perennial sleeping giant Liverpool around – the sort of herculean task for which the 39-year-old undeniably possesses the necessary confidence.
However, the Reds’ upcoming opponents at Anfield will perhaps serve as a timely reminder to the Northern Irishman that self-assurance alone will not get the job done. Reading represent the only failure thus far of an admittedly short managerial career and the sort of error-strewn reign he must not replicate if he is to remain in the Liverpool hotseat.
When Rodgers was appointed by the Merseyside club back in June, his time at the Madejski Stadium was intentionally ignored as an unsavoury footnote in what appeared to be a meteoric rise. He arrived having not only taken Swansea from the Championship to the promised land of the Premier League, but having kept them there with a brand of attractive attacking football which did not logically align with a recently-promoted team.
Thus, that seven-month spell in Berkshire was given little thought by fans, even though an obsessive thinker such as Rodgers is likely to have dedicated much more time to assessing what went wrong less than three years earlier.
Having steadied the ship replacing Aidy Boothroyd at Watford in only his first managerial role, the ambitious Rodgers jumped at the chance to move to Reading, despite having only joined the Vicarage Road club halfway through the season. The move was widely criticised by Hornets fans but was perhaps understandable in that it offered the novice an opportunity to continue learning his trade in more familiar surroundings.
Rodgers had ended his professional playing career after just two years with the Royals, not as a journeyed defender, but as a 20-year-old seeing his dreams crushed by genetic knee issue. But his association did not end there, as he remained at the club for a further 14 years, learning his trade as a coach and eventually taking charge of the youth team.
The sizeable blow of early retirement is doubtless what drove him to act so ruthlessly in sealing a quick return to Berkshire, but that characteristic alone could not save him. His homecoming lasted just 32 games; six wins, six draws and 11 losses proving damning enough to see chairman John Madejski break with sentimentality to end Rodgers’ career at Reading for a second time.
In his press conference prior to a reunion with his former club, the Liverpool boss hinted at the hurt pride he still carries over having his project cut short. He told reporters: “It proved to be a difficult six months, especially with what I was trying to implement which was always going to need that wee bit of extra time.
“It had probably been my only bad experience in football since becoming a coach and a manager. But I don’t really see it as a bad experience – it was a great learning experience for me. I learnt many things in that six months that allowed me to go on and hopefully carve out a career for many years in the game.”
The accusation that Rodgers tried to change too much too quickly at Reading often surfaces, and it is perhaps a concern to which Liverpool fans – who have seen their team commit a barely believable amount of individual errors this season as part of a steep learning curve – can relate. Evidently, the time which the new boss was denied at Reading is required here, but the unprecedented level of scrutiny Rodgers faces at the club just a matter of months into his tenure cannot help.
The ongoing ‘Being: Liverpool’ documentary has allowed football fans an overdue look at the inner workings of a Premier League football club and a chance to feel closer to the stars they idolise. However, for Rodgers, it is simply a further examination, a chance for doubters to twist his words into evidence he is destined to fail.
It is, of course, not Rodgers’ fault either, the documentary had been scheduled to start during a period in which the ever-so-slightly-less PR-friendly Kenny Dalglish was at the helm. Regardless, that has not prevented the management speak so prevalent at football clubs up and down the country being (perhaps unfairly) intrinsically tied to him.
But, if he is to consign talk of such irrelevancies to the past, then results are the only legal tender where fans are concerned. Reading must become his equivalent of Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated reign at Benfica, Sir Alex Ferguson’s spell at East Stirlingshire or Arsene Wenger’s time with Nancy-Lorraine.
In the sort of twist of fate which football often throws up, he must start that journey against the very club he hopes will represent the sole blip in a storied career.
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