As his mentor frets and flails, lashing out at all the usual suspects, from the Premier League to referees and fate itself, Brendan Rodgers is sleeping very deeply.
When Jose Mourinho takes Chelsea to Liverpool tomorrow the atmosphere around the stadium will be fevered, but at the heart of Anfield the mood is oddly calm. “People come up to me and say that I must not be sleeping at night,” said Rodgers; “well, I haven’t slept better. People talk about pressure and you see our players and they are really enjoying their football. I am really enjoying being top of the league.
“The pressure is on Manchester City or Chelsea, who have spent that money and expect to win the league. The only pressure on us is from within. If you spend around £100m, then you are expected to be challenging for the league. And if we don’t win it, then it won’t be the end of the world.”
That is what sets the Liverpool manager apart from his rivals for the title. For Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, failure to win the Premier League might not be the end of the world but it could be the beginning of the end.
The men from Abu Dhabi did not pour their oil money into Manchester to win the League Cup and Mourinho’s demeanour has echoes of his last days in Madrid. There, he had fallen out with Real’s captain, Iker Casillas, the Spanish media and the men running the Bernabeu, who considered his displays of petulance and rudeness unbecoming to Spain’s greatest football club.
It should be different. Mourinho is many things to many people but to Rodgers he is the man who gave him his biggest break by making him head coach of the Chelsea academy. It is something that should give Mourinho a significant psychological advantage.
It was a hold Sir Alex Ferguson knew how to employ. Steve Bruce, perhaps the most successful of all his former players who have gone into management, never recorded a win over the man he still referred to as “gaffer”. When Bryan Robson oversaw his only victory over Manchester United, a 3-2 win for Middlesbrough at Old Trafford in December 1998, Ferguson was absent, dealing with a family bereavement.
The education Rodgers received at the Chelsea training ground at Cobham was a good one, with similarities to the challenge he faced at Melwood. Like Mourinho with Bobby Robson at Porto and Barcelona, Rodgers was not afraid to push himself forward. Glen Johnson remembered him as “always in among the first team, working very closely with Mourinho”.
Rodgers recalled: “From my perspective, I was preparing to be a manager and I could look at his ideas and the way they were put into place. Ten years ago, Chelsea were striving to be winners, they hadn’t won the league for 50-odd years. A decade on and the club has become synonymous with winning. Chelsea had to go through some dark periods in order to win and I learnt a lot through that.”
Rodgers knows Mourinho’s threat to employ a weakened team at Anfield is not an idle one. Should Liverpool lose, the main beneficiary will not be Chelsea but Pellegrini, a man Mourinho detests – and any result will seriously drain his resources before they face Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge. For all his frothing petulance, Mourinho is still on course to become the only man to win the European Cup with three different clubs.
“There is no doubt that if Jose puts out the same team on Sunday and the same team on Wednesday there is going to be a cost,” said Rodgers. “It was the same for Manchester City. They played us in a really intense game and Manuel admitted he felt the cost of that when they dropped points to Sunderland. But whatever team Chelsea put out, it will cost more and be more experienced than ours.”Reuse content