Glen Johnson: 'I always saw Brendan Rodgers as a top manager'
Once at Chelsea, now at Liverpool. The defender on his manager and today's crunch clash
Sunday 13 April 2014
Both Brendan Rodgers and Glen Johnson have been on the other side of Anfield when Liverpool have craved victory. The pair were on the Chelsea bench as coach and substitute for the 2005 Champions' League semi-final the night the main stand shook with noise and Jose Mourinho's Premier League-winning machine was undermined. Chelsea conceded after four minutes and, with the crowd providing what the Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard, called "an endless injection of adrenalin", there was nothing Mourinho could do to drag the tie back.
"It was incredible," said Johnson, relishing the prospect of the same input at this afternoon's potential title showdown with Manchester City. "When the atmosphere is like that, the fans are known as the 12th man for a reason."
Rodgers was part of a formidable backroom staff Mourinho assembled at Stamford Bridge that included Steve Clarke and Andre Villas-Boas. "Brendan was very much involved," said Johnson. "The way the set-up was, we used to see a lot of the youth team and the youth-team coaches. I used to speak to Brendan quite regularly then.
"We were as close then as we are now. Brendan was always in among the first team when he was there. He took some of the training sessions, he would always work closely with Mourinho and you could see that in training.
"I always thought he had the potential to become a top manager, if that was what he wanted. Obviously, I didn't know what his aims were then but you could see the way he was with the players – he enjoyed seeing them improve."
Perhaps the key to Rodgers' success as he prepares for his supreme moment as a manager is that he has taken the principles of youth-team football and applied them to the often cynical, sometimes jaded world of the first team. "When you are young sometimes everything comes so easily that you just want to get on the ball and play," said Johnson. "That is what Brendan encourages.He wants everyone to get on the ball in what some people class as dangerous positions.
"When some people wouldn't be looking for the ball, he teaches young players not to be afraid, to get on it early and believe in themselves – a lot of people can run into positions where they look like they want the ball but they don't really."
Johnson described Rodgers as a calm man: "He gets his points across when he needs to, but in a kinder way than just losing his top, screaming, shouting and kicking things about." Rodgers will need that quality because Merseyside is becoming very agitated indeed.
"You always meet people who wish you luck throughout the season but in the last few weeks I've had people shouting it across the street," Johnson said. "There is a general excitement around the place, you can see it in people's faces and we saw it on the coach before the Sunderland game.
"We have had some great nights here. I remember playing against Benfica in one of my earlier games for the club and that was similar, with the crowds starting 200 yards down the road from the stadium as we approached it."
Johnson is one of only three men in Rodgers' squad who have won the Premier League title – Kolo Touré and Daniel Sturridge are the others. "The first time I won the League with Chelsea we were pretty much unstoppable but you feel the pressure because you get excited, the city gets excited and your families get excited.
"There would be times halfway through the season when you would dominate a game completely and think to yourself that if we play like that we could win the League, although you would never say it."
Many feel the moment Liverpool players knew their prize could be greater than just making the Champions' League was the astonishing opening 20 minutes that shredded Arsenal. "Not many teams do that to a team like Arsenal," agreed Johnson. "But then we have done it to Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United. It is not a fluke, we have proved we can do it and we need to keep that belief."
Today is not the only time clubs meet this week...
Liverpool and Manchester City will clash for a second time this week on Thursday — this time in the Women's Super League.
This will be City's first season in the top flight and they have recruited four England players, including the new captain Steph Houghton.
Football remains, though, a largely part-time occupation for the players. Only seven of City's are full-time, with another 11 on part-time contracts, but the FA believes such is the money coming in, and the initial success of the WSL – which this year adds a 10-team second tier beneath the eight-strong top flight — that a league of full-time players is looming.
"In the last four years we have gone from amateur non-contract players through to semi-professional," said Kelly Simmons, the FA's director of the national game and women's football. "Most of those now are on contracts, some are earning a full-time living, some earning part-time and have to top up with other jobs. That has been quite a big shift over a short time.
"Over the next four years WSL One will be full-time professionals. The work clubs have done to generate income and partners, and the work the FA has done – we can get to a point where there is enough investment for teams to go professional."
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