Paulo Sousa is adamant that Brendan Rodgers, the manager who replaced him at Swansea City, is the man to lead Liverpool back into contention for honours, but he has no compunction about eliminating him from the Champions League first.
Basel need a draw at Anfield on Tuesday to pip Liverpool to second place in group B and, after beating them in Switzerland in October, manager Sousa is confident his team can confound a coach who profited from the foundations he helped lay down in south Wales four years ago.
Sousa, colouring in the template sketched by Kenny Jackett and given a flourish by Roberto Martinez, had just led Swansea to seventh place in the Championship, their best position in 27 years, when he decided that Leicester City represented a better career prospect. He regrets making the change – he lasted 86 days under owner Milan Mandaric – but feels no bitterness towards Rodgers, who completed Swansea’s journey into the Premier League via Wembley in May 2011 and earned himself the chance to manage Liverpool.
The Portuguese has yet to see Sliding Doors, the Gwyneth Paltrow film where contrasting stories which unfold after missing or making a train are run side by side, but it is tempting to wonder how he might have prospered by staying put. “I haven’t seen the film, but in any case, I am not someone who likes to live in the past. I focus on the present and the future,” said Sousa, who also managed Queens Park Rangers.
“I did regret leaving Swansea, but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do, and I felt that Leicester was the right club for me. I am pleased to see that all my former clubs are now in the Premier League and hope they all do well.
“The decisions I took have led me to Hungary with Videoton, Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv and now to Switzerland with Basel, and I am happy with our prospects.”
His motivation for doing well against a Liverpool side whose form has recovered slightly after a poor start to the season, is not driven by a desire to put one over on Rodgers, nor to buff up his CV back in England. Finishing between Real Madrid and Liverpool will be an honour in itself for the Swiss Super League leaders.
“If we can make it through, we will be delighted,” the 44-year-old said. “That was the target for us in the first place, and we knew how difficult that would be, but we are just one game from making it a reality. I respect Brendan, and the job he has done for Swansea and Liverpool, but on Tuesday we will focus on getting what we need to qualify.”
He is convinced Rodgers will eventually come good at Anfield once Liverpool have fully adjusted to life after Luis Suarez: “Brendan, as a coach and as a person, is someone whom I admire. His achievements are clear to see, and he likes his teams to play good passing football with intensity. I’m certain he has more success ahead of him.
“Brendan is a progressive coach and his teams play in the right way, the way football should be played. Any team would miss a player of Luis Suarez’s quality. Liverpool have many world-class players, and I am sure they will be successful – just, hopefully, after they play us.”
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