my football philosophy
Pressed on the resilience of the approach in resisting a reversal in results the answer was telling: “For sure. It’s something that I think is very important. It’s just about reinforcing the philosophy for playing the game, and continually working hard on developing the game. I have real inherent belief in this way of playing.”
Lip-service isn’t a currency Rodgers deals in. When the Swans’ lost 1-0 to Manchester United at the Liberty Stadium in November, full-back Angel Rangel could have shouldered the blame for the short inﬁeld pass that lead to Javier Hernandez's goal. However, criticism wasn’t forthcoming; it was one of Rodgers’ players playing the game in the way he’d asked it to played.
Humble, thoughtful and considered, there’s a deepness to Rodgers’ dead-pan utterances. Amidst the thick Northern-irish tones there are few inﬂections uncovering any emotion. There’s intensity and an embedded sense of determination. Where Rodgers cannot disguise his expression is in his work. It requires little imagination to envisage his manner on the training ground - an environment where he feels at home and somewhere he places much importance.
“We work on the four phases of the game very closely. We work on opening up the pitch and our build-up [play] through the team; so our construction from behind; we look to the phase of creating opportunities and taking those opportunities; and then we look at the two phases of transition, which is very important to the way we play, in particular the defensive transition,” he explained.
It would be naive to think that any aesthetically pleasing team is conjured by chance. Intuition needs an organisational platform from which to grow and Rodgers has an inherent belief in his idea. The design of the vision is not passing fancy or surrender to a current trend; there’s history and cultivation.
Rodgers cites an upbringing inﬂuenced by his father’s admiration of the great Liverpool sides of times past as well as formative years watching European football. Recollections of his own playing career pervade too.
“I played internationally for Northern Ireland as a Youth international and I always felt that at that time I spent more time without the ball, than with the ball,” explained Rodgers.
It is an experience many of Swansea’s opponent’s are familiar with. Being starved of the ball was something the possession-hungry Northern Irishman also experienced when he landed as a young player at Reading.
“The culture [in England] was very much long and direct and that didn’t suit me as a player. When I then had to quit football these memories stayed in my mind. My initial thought then was to make a difference. I was a technician, but the games I was asked to play wasn’t really how I enjoyed playing.
"So I started on a journey to try and make young players feel important and give them conﬁdence to deal with the football.”
The journey has been thorough and varied. When injury curtailed his playing career at Reading aged only 20, Rodgers remained at the club. Rising from the humble position of U9 coach, Rodgers progressed onto Academy and Youth team manager. His methods didn’t go unnoticed, and suitors soon sent overtures. In 2004, Rodgers was head-hunted by Chelsea and joined the Stamford Bridge club as youth team coach.
“I had a lot of wonderful experiences working with different managers, a lot of education, listening to different people and worked my way through from the U9s all the way through to working with some of the biggest players in European football at Chelsea.”
The request to join the West Londoners came as a direct instruction from [the then manager] Jose Mourinho, a man for whom Rodgers has much gratitude.
“My single biggest inﬂuence [in my career] was Jose Mourinho, because he put so much conﬁdence and trust in me, but I wouldn’t want to disrespect anyone because my journey has covered so many people and i’ve learned a hell of a lot.”
In 2006, Rodgers was promoted to Chelsea reserve team boss. This upward trajectory continued with an offer from the ﬁrst-team department. Although grateful of the offer, the detail of the role represented a point of principle for the Northern Irishman. Rodgers politely declined.
Time on the pitch with players was his number one intention, not watching others doing the work. Abiding by principles, it seems, is true in both the design of Rodgers’ teams and in the narrative of his own career.
Reward for the single-mindedness that has guided his ﬁfteen year coaching study came when he joined Watford as manager in 2008. His tenure, however, lasted less than a year before being tempted back to his spiritual home – the Madjeski stadium – becoming Reading manager in June 2009. On paper the marriage was right. However, in reality things didn’t work out. Rodgers lasted only 18 months leaving by mutual respect.
"Everyone is different and everyone will ﬁnd different ways to win games. I learned very early on in my career – having had the sack at Reading – that it is very much about winning games."
After Reading, Rodgers was adamant that any future management roles had to match his unwavering vision of the game. Swansea proved to be the perfect ﬁt.
“If I was going to go in again as a manager I had to go in to the right club and Swansea just felt right. I’d seen them play for a couple of seasons and they understood the principles [of Rodgers’ own style].”
Although some of the structure was in place the Swans’ manager has had to add his own elements of design. Personnel have helped the process and the Northern Irishman has provided a new home to a number of waifs and strays along the way. Few without an eye on the lower-leagues knew much about Leon Britton, others tossed aside Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair, and how many Premier League sides had Gylﬁe Sigurdsson and Danny Graham scribbled on their wish-lists.
“I like players who can deal with the ball, players who are technically strong, players who tactically understand the game and players that are learners and who want to learn,” outlined Rodgers. Having toiled for opportunities in his own career, Rodgers is willing to back those who ﬁt his ideal.
“For me it's about a football vision and it's about opportunity. You can build a belief and conﬁdence in a player. I always think the player plus the environment equals the performance. If you have a player who wants to learn and you put them in an environment that allows you to be creative and build, then you hopefully get the performance level. That’s an equation I’ve always looked at.”
It would be misleading to paint Rodgers as a football romantic. There is a pragmatism when discussing his method and he is quick to temper any thought that creativity doesn’t require physical effort, rigour and sweat on the training ground.
“I place a big demand on players and a big intensity. It’s something that is very important. A lot of my work is related to the real game: the intensity and the level at which the players play. Training is very important to me. It has to be like game-day and that stretches players to be at their very best.”
Motivation is often provoked through example and the Swans’ manager cannot be accused of shirking a challenge. Last summer, having guided the Welsh side, via the playoffs, to the summit league in English football, Rodgers embarked on scaling another peak: Mount Kilimanjaro.
Rodgers joined a team of climbers from the Football League, including fellow manager Aidy Boothroyd, to take on the challenge. Rodgers had an added sense of drive.
“I wanted to pay a respect to Mum who had recently passed away. She was a wonderful worker for charity and obviously at the time my father had been diagnosed with cancer, so I wanted to raise some money and awareness not only for them but for all the people of Swansea who’ve shown me wonderful support in my time there and given me a great backing. It was one of the best experiences of my life, a real life changing experience and something that I will never forget.”
Time in Rodgers’ company exudes the sense of a man relishing further challenge. With his stock currently high it comes as no surprise that his name is tested next to other clubs. By way of an answer it is unsurprising to hear pragmatism meet searing ambition.
“I want to continue the job i’m doing at Swansea. I still think there’s a lot of improvement that we can make, both on the ﬁeld and off the ﬁeld. But of course, I’m like any other manager and one day you want the chance to win trophies at the highest level.
"I look back at my goals that I set and it was to become a manager at 38, so i’m ahead of schedule. The lesson I learned from Reading is to have one eye on the longer-term but modern football is about the short term and you need to make sure that you can survive and develop in that world."
There’s no doubt that he’s doing just that.
Brendan Rodgers is currently manager of Leicester City.