"Brendan Who?" was the response of most Watford fans, and many others, when the struggling Championship side appointed Brendan Rodgers as their manager last week. One man, however, knew all about the 35-year-old rookie. Jose Mourinho took time out from overseeing Internazionale's defence of their Serie A title to recommend Rodgers to Watford's board personally. Understandably, they took note.
Rodgers thus completed a journey which began at the age of 20 when, after suffering a knee injury, he called it quits on a professional playing career which he had begun to appreciate was never going to scale the heights, and turned to coaching.
Beginning with Reading Under-15s, he worked his way up to head their youth academy. Four years ago Mourinho, having been alerted to Rodgers by Chelsea's then assistant Steve Clarke, recruited him to Stamford Bridge as the youth team coach. In 2006 the Portuguese promoted Rodgers to reserve team coach, allowing him increasing involvement in the senior side.
Rodgers and Mourinho share a birthday – 26 January – and much else besides. "I like everything in him," Mourinho has said. "He is ambitious and does not see football very differently from myself. He is open, likes to learn and likes to communicate." Mourinho began coaching youngsters after realising he would not make it as a pro and Rodgers said: "We had a rapport because he saw something in me that was similar to him." There is, though, one obvious area of divergence. Rodgers is a football purist, which has already provoked strong opinion at Vicarage Road.
Even before his first match one post to the Watford Observer website said: "Oh great, another first-timer. League One here we come." The previous first-timer was Rodgers' predecessor, Aidy Boothroyd, who took Watford into the Premier League. Watford were immediately relegated but reached the play-offs last season in their first campaign back in the Championship.
Boothroyd's reign was notable for the direct style of football, which got Watford up but was soon exposed at the higher level. He had attempted to refine the method with limited success. Rodgers intends a total conversion to a passing game but the first demonstration of it, in Saturday's 1-1 home draw with bottom club Doncaster Rovers, has had a disgruntled reception.
"Playing that style of football will take us into Division One along with Doncaster who in [Rodgers'] own words are 'The best footballing team in the Championship'," read one post on the Observer site.
Ninety minutes is too soon to judge any manager especially one who, by his own admission, is changing the culture of a club. "An era has come to an end and I want to come in and change the philosophy of the club because I am a different tactician," Rodgers said. "I have come from a level where you have to play football. I am also looking with one eye on now, and one on the future, because if we get promotion in the next two to three years we need to be prepared to go into that level. Everyone that knows me within the game, knows my identity as a coach and from that the identity of Watford changes." Rodgers is certainly well connected. As well as family links – his cousin, Nigel Worthington, is manager of Rodgers' native Northern Ireland – he speaks of a close relationship with Frank Arnesen, has appointed Frank Lampard Snr, Frank's father, as football consultant, and was on the Pro-Licence course with Roy Keane. Indeed, one of the first texts he received was from Keane,. It read: "Welcome to Hell."
Rodgers will have laughed at the time. After his first match, and Monday's resignation of Graham Simpson, the chairman who appointed him, following a boardroom battle, the epigram may not seem as funny. But Rodgers does not lack self-belief. He said yesterday: "Without sounding arrogant I know I am good at what I do or else I would not have made the ride I have in such a short space of time."
Tonight the Carling Cup holders Tottenham visit Vicarage Road, enabling Rodgers to pit his wits against a man who began his management career when Rodgers was a 10-year-old schoolboy, Lampard's brother-in-law, Harry Redknapp. A place in the semi-finals awaits.
Path to Vicarage Road: Rodgers' credentials
Born: 26 January, the same date as his mentor Jose Mourinho, in 1973.
* Like Mourinho, Rodgers plans to trade on his linguistic abilities; he learnt Spanish on frequent trips to Spain while coaching Reading youths.
* Rodgers has already raided his old club Chelsea to sign the reserve team captain Liam Bridcutt on loan.
* Rodgers' son, Anton, is currently a member of Chelsea's Academy.Reuse content