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A Small Minority of Idiots

The Rise and Fall of Brendan Rodgers

How should history remember the manager's time at Liverpool?
October 5, 2015, 1:06pm

Photo of Brendan Rodgers by Geoffrey Hammersley

It was easy to laugh at Brendan Rodgers. It was easy to imagine him standing in front of the huge painting he has of himself in his house, repeating, "You're a winner, Brendan," under his breath, again and again. It was easy to imagine him writing down choice quotes from books about how to get ahead in business and then repeating those choice quotes to Jon Flanagan in the Liverpool FC gym at Melwood. It was easy to imagine that this man, who looks like a hammerhead shark in an M&S suit and speaks, at times, like a door-to-door insurance salesman, was far less talented than he obviously thought he was.

It was easy too, for that laughter to turn into a form of contempt. To imagine that, because he could be a bit of a tit, he was also not a good football manager. As a Liverpool fan, I found myself beginning to think like that at the end of last season, when Stoke beat us 6-1, a defeat in which Liverpool reject Charlie Adam largely spent beating us about the head with our own hands, shouting, "Why are you hitting yourself?" I looked at Rodgers and thought, "Why don't you just fuck off back to the regional business park you came from?"

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When the news broke of his sacking yesterday evening I remembered that contempt I'd felt for him and felt uncomfortable. I watched footage of Rodgers shaking his players hands following the half-decent draw at Everton and felt the sadness well up inside me. Is it true that we never really know what we have until it's gone? I watched his post-match interview and there he was, a dead man walking, speaking well about the game and about the challenges to come and acknowledging that he might not be in charge to meet those challenges. I thought about that piece of foreshadowing. Did Brendan step out into the late afternoon air and see a crow wheeling away to his left before descending into a nearby house?

Brendan Rodgers' time had come but his sacking owes far more to the confused, short-sighted, money-obsessed world of modern football than it does to ancient justice. On Match of the Day 2 last night, Ian Wright said that Rodgers didn't really deserve to take much credit for the incredible season Liverpool had in 2013-14. Apparently the talent of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling meant that that team "could take care of itself" in the final third. Rodgers' job was to make sure it could defend, Wright said, and he hadn't done that job.

I don't really have the time to go into why that's really fucking stupid but believe me: it's really fucking stupid. Why is a manager responsible for the defence and not the attack? Any sane Liverpool fan will tell you that the 2013-14 season was the greatest full season we've had since we last won the league. Liverpool in that season were rampaging, careening dervishes in red. Yes, the defence wasn't great, but who cares about that when the attack is so, so good? A team whose wage bill is the fifth highest in the league nearly won it, and they did with one extraordinary player, a handful of good ones and one inspired manager.

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The problem, perhaps, was that when the going was good, Rodgers was too keen to take the plaudits. His hubris was always an issue. Steven Gerrard talked in his recent autobiography about how Rodgers was too confident before the fateful slip-up against Chelsea and that hubris was on display again last season when journalists were told that Liverpool's brief mid-season revival was a result of Rodgers' tactical acumen (he'd decided to play three at the back). But hubris is punished and when Liverpool failed to win the league and then when their 3-at-the-back revival faltered, Rodgers was made to look like a fool.

Rodgers was not solely responsible for Liverpool's extraordinary near-triumph and he isn't solely responsible for the team's lurch into mediocrity. Football still has a hard-on for the 19th century's Great Man theory, by which history can be explained by the actions of great men. Personality cults spring up all over football – look at Mourinho – and they spring up all over society, in politics, business and of course in the world of entertainment. We're all obsessed with the individual. Perhaps Rodgers believed in this. Perhaps he believed in his own hype. Perhaps he gazed into the eyes of his self-portrait and thought to himself, "You, Brendan, you are the all-seeing eye of the world."

But football is still a team game and questions of money and off-field management are more important than ever. FSG, Liverpool's owners, have a lot to prove. If they wanted to sack Rodgers, why didn't they do it in the summer? If they wanted to give him a chance – as it seemed they did – why didn't they give him till Christmas? It's true that the hope seemed to have drained from the manager and the supporters but who are these Americans in charge of our club? Who are these men, with their money and their links to the dark regions of power, including, it has been reported, the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme?

They talked, in their statement regarding Rodgers' sacking, about "winning and ambition", words that sound about as hollow as "aspiration" when used by a politician. All eyes should be on them now. If they can get a manager like Jurgen Klopp, then the fans will be pleased, for the moment. But big questions will still remain about their long-term plans for the club.

In the end, Rodgers did seem to have lost his way. The team, as many have reported, didn't have an identity any more. But let's not allow the ending to spoil the middle. Let's not allow the fact that he could be a bit embarrassing and a bit annoying to cloud the fact that he was a big part of Liverpool playing the best football they've played in decades. Let's not forget Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge destroying teams in tandem, with Rodgers on the touchline, a smile on his face, his hand in the air.

@oscarrickettnow