Liverpool manager change causes English frenzy

Newly appointed Liverpool football club manager Brendan Rodgers poses for photographers with a team...

Newly appointed Liverpool football club manager Brendan Rodgers poses for photographers with a team scarf to announce his arrival at Anfield in Liverpool, north-west England on June 1, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES)

JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:40 AM ET

Patriotic England has produced a great forest of flags for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and even Roy Hodgson, the embattled new manager of an injury-decimated national soccer team, has pledged his ambition to add to the fervour in the European Championships which start in Poland and the Ukraine next week.

In the not so old days the flags -- and even the massive plastic impression of Her Majesty which currently stands in front of the pub around the corner -- would have conveyed not so much royalism on the march but a madly implausible idea that the football team was about to repeat at a major tournament the World Cup success of 1966.

In this matter, though, the flag-waving has been replaced by trepidation over the outcome of the opening Euro game against a France side resurrected under the stern command of former heroic defender Laurent Blanc.

However, it has to be reported there is one pocket of the land where both the Jubilee and England's fate in the second most important tournament on the international soccer schedule might be happening on another planet.

This is the Republic of Liverpool, where this last week the appointment of 39-year-old Brendan Rodgers in succession to the fired, but still legendary, Kenny Dalglish has dwarfed every other item on the news and sports agenda.

The move by the American ownership has created a frenzy of both dismay and hope.

Those who are most dismayed like to think they are the keepers of the flame first lit by the great Bill Shankly back in the seventies. They refuse to believe that the iconic Dalglish deserved to be dismissed despite a Premier League season which left Liverpool, who had invested more than $200 million in new players, 37 points behind champions Manchester City and Manchester United. If the noisiest section of the club's support couldn't have the old hero Dalglish, or former manager Rafa Benitez, who was fired after using up the credit gained by his Champions' League win in 2005, it would have preferred a big name like Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola to the young charger Rodgers.

Keepers of the flame, did we say? Fantasists might be a truer description.

For those a little nearer to reality, the signing of Rodgers -- a tough-minded Northern Irishman who after a brief, injury-wrecked playing career impressed Mourinho, no less, when he worked with young players at Chelsea -- was not only sound, but potentially outstanding.

Having taken Swansea City to the Premier League at the first time of asking, Rodgers not only secured an impressive 11th place. He produced football of excellent quality, which on one occasion got the better of Arsene Wenger's cultured Arsenal, and, perhaps more crucially, Liverpool. Some critics were so impressed by Swansea's pressing, possession football they talked about the Welsh version of Barcelona.

That was something of a reach, no doubt, but unquestionably Swansea produced a superior game quite remarkable in their first season in the Premier League.

Liverpool owner John W. Henry, who a few days earlier had been pictured strolling in Miami with another candidate, Wigan Athletic's survival expert Roberto Martinez, was at pains to point out that Rodgers was always the first choice.

"We believe he is the man to take Livepool back to their old place in the game," he added.

Rodgers' arrival at Liverpool on Friday for his official unveiling did nothing to dispel such a possibility. He made it clear that he came with his own idea of how any club, big or small, should be run -- and this did not include the manager working under a "director of football."

At one point Liverpool had been wooing the veteran Louis van Gaal, whose career portfolio includes a Champions League title and stints at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich for such a role.

Rodgers, however, was quite emphatic. He said if Liverpool wanted to hire him it had to be as the man in charge of a massive challenge to re-make a great club. They certainly had the right to appoint such a distinguished figure as Van Gaal as their football director. But they had to understand they would also be looking for another team manager.

So there it was, Liverpool had not only signed the manager -- but also The Man. The fantasists, of course, bellowed on but, encouragingly for more reflective souls, they were suddenly talking largely to themselves.

James Lawton writes for The Independent in the UK.


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