Rodgers: 'Manchester City gave me back my confidence'
But how long will it last? Offer to join Mancini's staff restored self-belief – new manager must now do the same for Liverpool
At various times, Manchester City have restored his wavering self-belief, brought home the reality of the Premier League and then proved to him that he belongs there. No wonder that Brendan Rodgers, for two months the manager of Liverpool, cannot wait to take them on today; and never mind the small incentive of proving to his new club's supporters that last weekend's 3-0 drubbing by West Bromwich Albion was something of a freak.
He says of that occasion, when Liverpool started well before conceding a wonder goal and two penalties as well as having Daniel Agger sent off: "It was really unfortunate, in my short career as a manager I've never known a game like it." The opening match last season, when his newly promoted Swansea City side went down 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium, had a similarly harsh scoreline, but carried a lesson in the merciless economics of the big league, when the home team brought on as substitute Sergio Aguero, "who cost more than our stadium".
After three more games, Swansea had still not scored a goal and sat 19th in the table. Yet by the spring, a 1-0 victory in the return game with City carried them into the top half, where they were unfortunate not to finish.
That game still rankles with Roberto Mancini, although the managerial handshake at the end of it was accompanied by a knowing nod, as both men were aware they could have been on the same side.
When Rodgers was suffering the one dip in an otherwise upward trajectory of a career three years ago, having been sacked by Reading after only six months, he received an invitation to join City's coaching staff, travelling to Italy to discuss the idea with Mancini. But before terms could be discussed, the sort of opportunity he really craved came along: to be his own man at Swansea.
"[Manchester] City gave me my confidence back," he said on Friday. Admiration for the way he used it in taking the Welsh club into the Premier League and establishing them there was sufficiently widespread to reach Liverpool's American owners when they decided that Kenny Dalglish was yesterday's man and that tomorrow's was waiting on the Gower peninsular.
Reviving a club who had just finished eighth – Liverpool's lowest position for almost 20 years – would be a challenge whatever the method. Rodgers's chosen means, to have the whole squad playing possession football, does not make it any easier, yet to do otherwise would betray what he has always believed in.
"Our game is based on possession with penetration," is how he sums up what an early mentor, Jose Mourinho, would call his methodology. "Always looking to control the ball and dominate. The players have been absolutely fantastic. Even though Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have been involved at the club for many years, they are still really focused and excited about the future."
What of a newer hero, Andy Carroll? "There's been all this stuff about him not fitting in with my style and so on. But I want to go with three strikers and I've got Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini and Andy Carroll." Which implies the ponytailed one will be staying at Anfield.
There he will be joined by Nuri Sahin, not only an impressive capture as a loanee but one who preferred to join a club in the Europa League than take part in Arsenal's Champions' League campaign. The Mourinho connection may have helped in securing the Real Madrid midfielder, but the decision was ultimately the player's, and Rodgers's way of persuading him provides an insight into how he works: "I promise players three things. The first is my communication. I won't bluff players, I'll be totally honest and open with them.
"The second is that they'll become better, that the quality of work will improve them as players.
"And thirdly I promise ambition. I want to be the very, very best I possibly can. I grew from nothing into something through sheer ambition and work and determination. If they want anything else they have to go to another club."
And no hard feelings either, he insists of someone such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had been expected to follow him from Swansea to Anfield but chose Tottenham instead.
Ensuring Sahin, Germany's player of the year two seasons ago, did not also decamp to north London has naturally delighted Rodgers. "He's a very clever guy, he's done a lot of homework on myself as a manager and the club itself.
"The most important thing for me is the club's success, and if we can get top players in here, once we're striving to get back to where the club belongs after a lot of trauma here in the last few years, it's a great boost."
Liverpool v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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