Jim White

Rodgers may rise to the challenge

Jim White

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After losing down there in their last game of the season, Liverpool appear to have developed something of a Swansea obsession.

It seems the clever dudes who run Anfield out of Boston have decided to give the job of manager either to Brendan Rodgers, the man who steered the Swans through a successful Premier League survival campaign, or Roberto Martinez, the man who effectively built the side Rodgers so efficiently guided. And to think, at one time Liverpool recruited from the very elite of European football.

Rodgers is the favourite to sign on the Americans' dotted line. Martinez, despite his chairman's insistence that he has been offered the job, appears to have faded from view. And when the Ulsterman does so, the owners will finally have got what they want: a young, dynamic, articulate, organised manager who has the intellectual capacity to take charge of a complex modern business.

What's more, he is unlikely to put the parent company into embarrassing situations with his handling of any crisis that comes his way. Rodgers does not do confrontational, prickly or grumpy. He is an emollient media figure — friendly, helpful, dignified.

As a PR presence he is more or less the antithesis, in fact, of the previous incumbent, whose attitude to those who delivered the company's communications message at times bordered on the comically obstructive. The age of the dinosaur is about to come to an end at Anfield.

Plus, and this is what will matter to the faithful in the Kop, when it comes to football, Rodgers's instincts are entirely in the right place. Swansea survived not through the long ball, through chucking it in the mixer, through the insistent application of elbow and stud, but through pass and move.

Their ability to keep possession was exemplary. The ball was shifted about their midfield with pace and purpose. The noise emanating from the stands at the Liberty Stadium last season was often very close to purring. Of course, when your midfield consists of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stuart Downing, it will not be easy to coax out such qualities. But Rodgers excels on the training field: he will create a training culture in which possession is king.

Yet, for all his manifest qualities, there is a big question hanging over Rodgers: he has never been close to an organisation on the scale of Liverpool. This is not Swansea times ten, this is on another planet entirely. In terms of attention, intensity and focus it is way off the scale of anything he will have experienced. And remember, his experience is limited to the Chelsea reserves, Watford and Swansea, with a brief failure at Reading in between.

As Roy Hodgson - a man who had been round the block so often he knew its every intricacy - discovered, Liverpool is not a place forgiving in its scrutiny. Sure, Bill Shankly's experience before arriving on Merseyside was limited to Grimsby, Workington and Huddersfield. But that was then. Nowadays - thanks to a trajectory Shankly started - Liverpool are the second biggest sporting institution in the country. Not a place, you might think, for a beginner. Not a place for someone whose experience of managing a team in a European campaign is exactly on a par with my own. Or yours.

And yet, John Henry and his selection panel will have seen something in Rodgers that they felt fitted with their vision for their property: an unerring ambition. Like his mentor Jose Mourinho, he grew up a football obsessive without the requisite skill to channel his competitiveness into a successful playing career.

He worked out as young as 20 that he wasn't good enough to make it as a player. If he wanted to taste success it would have to be as a coach. Thus he studied, trained, learned. Like Mourinho he marries an intellectual understanding of what is required to win with a visceral need to make it happen. Something he shares not just with Mourinho but with Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, not to mention two men who didn't do too badly in the Anfield dugout, Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez.

Given that the obstacle of his own lack of a playing career has never been something that worried him as he made his way in the game, he will not regard a lack of relevant experience as a huge hurdle. He will approach the new challenge as he has all his previous ones: methodically, carefully and with confidence in his own ability to thrive.

Of course it is a gamble. Of course Rodgers — if he is the man - is not exactly from the top drawer of international management. But it has the possibility of being an exciting appointment. Which, for Henry and the rest of the Fenway Sports Group, will count as the first they have made since they arrived on Merseyside.

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