Not so jolly Rodgers reveals strong streak of pragmatism at resurgent Liverpool
Liverpool manager savvy enough to let striking duo do his talking
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers in contemplative mood as he watches his side during their match against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Saturday. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
Most of those associated with Liverpool FC will have gone to bed last night pleased to be joint top of the league, but Brendan Rodgers will have endured a couple of nights of sleepless torment since their 3-1 win over Crystal Palace, judging by his remarks to the media before that match.
Rodgers told journalists that one of the darkest hours of his career came after his Watford side beat Swansea 2-0. “It got voted performance of the week and everybody was elated, but it was probably the worst I have felt after a game.”
The reason was that Watford, their victory notwithstanding, had fallen short of the Platonic ideal of football that Rodgers carries around in his head. “We played counter-attack football, which was okay, but I worry because I like my teams to control the game and the ball and be aggressive with it,” said Rodgers.
For a football man as uncompromising as the Liverpool manager, winning alone is not enough. “We have to keep wanting to progress otherwise you just become content with winning games. I am not the type of coach that is happy just to win games.”
Given that outlook, Rodgers must have suffered after Liverpool’s second-half performance against Palace. Three up at half-time after two brilliant individual goals from Sturridge and Suarez and a penalty converted by Steven Gerrard, Liverpool found themselves outplayed by markedly inferior opponents after the break and struggled to close out a game in which they should have added at least two more goals. It was the seventh Premier League match out of seven in which they have faded out of the game with half an hour still to play.
When Rodgers talks about not being happy merely to win games, he is presumably trying to set an example of obsessive devotion to improvement. It’s same kind of thing Gerard Houllier meant when he told Liverpool’s players “aim for the moon and you might land among the stars”, or what Mussolini was trying to do when he ordered that the light in his office was to be left on all night.
While Rodgers’ commitment to a higher plane of football is laudable, to talk about not being satisfied merely winning games, to claim that his worst moment as a manager came after a 2-0 win in which his team didn’t play the right kind of football, is to flirt with self-parody. Could he really have felt worse after beating Swansea 2-0 than he did when, for instance, he lost 3-0 to West Brom in his first competitive game as Liverpool manager?
Winning games is difficult enough without worrying too much about the manner of your victories. The most successful coaches – Ferguson, Mourinho, Trapattoni – have always been prepared to win by any means necessary, then put a positive spin on the way it was done.