Dear Brendan Rodgers, the journey to your 'destination' has only just begun.
Four weeks ago, Liverpool Football Club appointed Brendan Rodgers as their new club manager. They have released their record selling new home kit but have yet to add any new signings on the playing side to wear it and, as yet, there is no news on the potential new stadium/redesign. The Euro's are almost over and there are only four weeks until Liverpool embark on their pre-season tour. With 'real' football back on the agenda in the coming months, the fans will swiftly start to return to debating all things Liverpool and the work being undertaken by the new manager will come under much greater scrutiny than has been the case so far.
Brendan Rodgers has played his first few weeks in charge relatively well. The proverbial cap has been dothed towards the outgoing King Kenny, the Shankly-like quotes from his well delivered press interviews have brought a slight murmuring of acceptance from the fans, and the captain and other senior players in the squad have spoken in complimentary tones about the new manager and his approach to the game.
This is all well and good, but Rodgers will know that no football has been played under his management yet. The pressure of some of the most knowledgeable and success hungry fans in the game has not started to weigh on his shoulders and he has yet to face any real challenge from the individuals who haunted his predecessor more than anything that happened on the pitch - the press and media.
Nobody is questioning the ability of the new Liverpool manager. If he, or others, did not believe he could do the job then he would not have got it, or accepted it, in the first place. The real challenge is that Liverpool have taken a risk and all risky decisions need to be monitored to see if they pay off. Rodgers is about to start being monitored pretty intensely.
Having said all of this, the new Liverpool manager's ability to coach and develop an attractive style of play is clearly evidenced. He has been given the job on ability, not because he is a big football figure or has an interesting European name. No, he got the job on merit, he is at the helm because of what he has done, not who he is. Now, as the pressure starts to build toward the beginning of the new season, Brendan may start to really 'feel' the size of the job. Should he choose to read this article, he will find some valuable pointers to drive him on during those challenging times ahead.
First and foremost, he needs to remain true to himself. His ability and style have got him here and it is not time to start changing direction or thinking he has to become someone else now he is at the country's most successful European club. The manager is an even more important figure at a club like Liverpool and the fans need to get to know him, what he stands for and who he is. They don't mind you having flaws, in fact they kind of prefer it if you have, but they need to be able to become accustomed to the new guardian of their footballing dreams.
Secondly, Rodgers needs to stick to his beliefs, buy well and build confidence in the players. He will need to provide evidence that he is sending the team out to win games, not to avoid defeat. This attitude will further harness the pride fans have in the Liverpool jersey and feed the unnatural confidence all the top clubs fans like to have at the beginning of the season. Some people will say that the level of confidence Liverpool fans have is way too high and it needs managing or even lowering. Roy Hodgson tried to do that and we all know how that ended.
That approach is nonsense. The moment fans start to accept anything less than the achievement of their dreams is the time when the woodworm that is 'mediocrity' starts to eat away at a football club and the slide downwards starts to gather momentum. Instead, Rodgers must accept the pressure of success, history and expectation. He must fuel it and even encourage it. Get this right and the 'holy trinity' of fans, manager and players talked of by Bill Shankly may just take Liverpool where they want and need to be.
There is one other complication in today's game though--the owners. Rodgers must work hard, and potentially harder than the previous manager did, to keep the owners on side. Whether the hardened legends like it or not, football is about money today, and big money. The owners need to see the vision for the playing side of their club, buy into it and be advocates of it in the face of the media, investors and fans. Delivering change at a club steeped in history, and keeping the fans on side through that change will be a key area that the new manager will need to be focused on.
Having said all of this, football is still a simple game. It is simply about winning games. Whatever football's romantics may like to profess, fans, owners, sponsors, new stadiums and money never won a single game for any team. Players, systems and tactics win football matches and this is where the manager wins, or loses, the right to make changes, to take risks and to control the destiny of his club. This is the single factor that has won Alex Ferguson control at Manchester United and it will also determine the level of freedom the fans, owners and press allow Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.
The final challenge will be dealing with those legends that carried Liverpool through one of its most trophy barren periods since the 1960's. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have fought to keep the club at the highest level. As fans and players, their dreams have not all been achieved. They still have plenty of football in their legs and are undoubtedly a part of the club's future well beyond their playing careers. Just what part that is will be for Bredan to decide. Handling this well, and managing the reaction from fans, will be a key moment in the early days.
It is not the job of the fans to tell the manager how to manage, but they are about to begin judging him as if they did have those rights. Survive these early pressures, stay true to your beliefs, show the fans who you are and do everything you can to deliver results. Do all of these things and there can be little doubt that Liverpool Football Club may, in time, become the 'destination' Rodgers talked of in the early days following his appointment.