Carra meets Rodgers
Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher chats in-depth with Reds boss Brendan Rodgers about the task of keeping star striker Luis Suarez, the rise in form of Jordan Henderson and the difficulties of taking over from club legend Kenny Dalglish...
Last Updated: 02/02/14 8:40pm
This season has seen a revival at Anfield, with Liverpool helping to banish the thought of previously disappointing seasons by being an almost constant resident in the Premier League's top four and even leading the table at times.
With help from their star duo, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who have helped propel the club up the standings, manager Brendan Rodgers has also received widespread praise for masterminding a number of impressive victories, including their recent 4-0 demolition of Everton, since succeeding Kenny Dalglish in the summer of 2012.
Before the Reds' 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, Sky Sports pundit and ex-Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher chatted exclusively with his former boss, Rodgers, who gave an insight in to the club's successful campaign so far.
Jamie Carragher: How difficult were those first few months at Liverpool after you took over? Kenny Dalglish had left and you came in as a young manager. How did you find it?
Brendan Rodgers: "That early period was difficult. It was not until the fifth game that we got a win. As you say, I was replacing an iconic figure. It is great Kenny is back at the club again now but to come in and replace someone of that status is always difficult. But I have been around football a long time. I have been coaching nearly 20 years. I had confidence in what I would do. I did not see myself coming in to replace Kenny. I was someone to come in and continue some of the great work he had done in the period he was here. I was coming in with different ideas on football, a different person, and knowing that over time I could hopefully put those ideas in place. But guys like yourself and Stevie (Steven Gerrard) were brilliant for me in that period and gave me great support and understanding of what this club is about. Now, looking back on it, that was really beneficial for me."
JC: "In those few months before the 2013 January transfer window, did managing Liverpool become a bigger and more difficult job than you first thought?"
BR: "For sure. I knew there was a huge task in terms of working how I wanted to work and knowing it was going to take that wee bit of time. But I also had the great confidence of the owners. The reason I came here to be a big part was because of them. I had made mistakes earlier in my career and I felt that if I was going to move away from a great club like Swansea then I needed to go to a place where I was at least going to be given a little bit of time to implement my ideas. They gave me great confidence but I knew then coming to January that we needed to do some business on the type of players who had the profile of how I wanted to work. That was key for us."
JC: "How big do you think that January transfer window was in terms of the Liverpool we see today?"
BR: "It was critical because from that moment of getting those two players (Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho) in our fortunes have changed dramatically."
JC: "Did someone else come back into the team around that time?"
BR: [laughing] "Yeah there was a guy, a centre-half, who was a decent player (Carragher). You set me up for that! We had the spine of the team organised. In fairness, I will give you a mention. I was going to give you a mention! We needed a bit of organisation from behind. You were brilliant for me in the cup games. You maybe had your mind set on leaving but the longer I got to work with you, I understood the real big qualities that I always knew you had but it was more that you still had that determination to make Liverpool succeed. For me, after the Stoke (3-1 loss 26/12/12) game, it was a no-brainer for me that you came into the team and probably only put one foot wrong in the time. Sturridge came in and gave us that bit of pace and Coutinho came in and gave us that magical touch with the ball and the technician that I felt could give us another outlet in midfield. From that moment, I think the players started to understand the methods, the rhythm and probably my character as well. I was never a big player. So it is hard for people to judge me in terms of a playing career because I did not have any, so people were still working out whether I was a winner. Hopefully we have seen over the time I have been here that it is a real desire of mine to be a winner."
JC: "You mentioned Sturridge and Coutinho, and you cannot escape how important Sturridge and Luis Suarez are as a partnership for the team. Watching Liverpool this season, how do you find it fitting them both into the team? I think you have tried maybe two or three different ways now. Is it a case of you have to play them?"
BR: "It is not that they have to play. We have shown when one or the other has been out of the team that we have still been successful. I have tried to build the team ethos on and off the field so we are not reliant on a player. But there is absolutely no doubt when you have top players you have got to find ways in which to put them into the team. The example is the Everton game the other night. My thinking of that started before Everton. I was thinking to have a look at it against Bournemouth so we played Luis through the middle and Daniel from the side. I was looking to see how Daniel and Luis would work with one up and one on the side and then interchanging, because it was important when one of them changed position that their function changed. I thought, in the first half against Bournemouth, it needed to be better."
JC: "When you first arrived at Liverpool, I think it is fair to say Jordan Henderson was not in your first choice XI. When was it that you finally thought, 'we have got a player here'?"
BR: "I always liked Jordan. I remember watching a Sunderland game on television and thinking, 'what a good player that is'. I remember watching his progress and thinking he is a talent. When I came to Liverpool, I was taken aback by his physicality. He has got a stature to him. I was working with a really honest boy. I was having to trim the squad at the time. I was having to balance wages and having to get players in. I certainly did not want to push Jordan out the door. But we had a real, honest conversation towards the end of the transfer window, when a few clubs were interested in him, and from that conversation he showed me the appetite that he wanted to succeed here. He was willing to fight and willing to learn how I wanted to work. From that moment, both of us knuckled down. I like to improve the individual player so it was also an objective of mine to help everyone but in particular this kid. From that moment on, he has grown in stature and played a really pivotal part for me.
JC: "A lot has been made of Steven Gerrard's new position. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?"
BR: "I have had it in my mind for a while, to be honest, because I have looked at Steven over the years and the brilliant player he has been for this club. I also thought he had other attributes. As you become older, you change. Some players quit and go into the media [laughing at Carragher] and some will maybe want to stick it out and be on the field. I just thought this is a guy who is one of the best passers in world football, whose game intelligence over many years of playing has grown. I always spoke to Steven about it. I was always going to do it but it had to be the right time and the players to make it work. I thought the Everton game the other night was a really pivotal game for him in that position. I thought he was brilliant. I text him at about three in the morning after watching the game to say I thought his positional play was superb. It was a performance which showed me that over these next few years he can be the standout player in that position in European football."
JC: "Going back to last summer and the Luis Suarez situation, when your best player was thinking about maybe moving on and you were trying to reintegrate him into the team, how difficult was that for you as a manager?"
BR: "It was a test. You are a young manager at a big club and you have got a player who has given you everything and Luis and I work very well together. I restructured the team around his talent in order to get the best from him and his qualities. Obviously it was difficult but I always went back to why I was here, which was to protect the club. I was always ambitious for the club and there were two things. I needed to protect the team and I needed to protect one of the best assets in the world for the club, and eventually, through great leadership from the owners, the supporters, the fans and the players he eventually stayed. We all know him, you know him Carra' having worked with him, that once the window had shut there was not going to be any fallout from that because he is 150 per cent not just every game but every day. It has been great to see that, it has been great to see the maturity. I have brought him in closely as well to myself, we speak a lot. I made him one of the real pillars within the team. We needed leaders and winners in here so he has embraced that role, we see in his performances now that he is at that world-class level."
JC: "Do you think his game has gone up a level this season?"
BR: "I believe so. I did not see him when he first came in here, I knew him from Ajax. Certainly in the period I have been here I have seen the improvements in his game. As I said, that central role where he can move and change positions is perfect for him because he is not having to play off the second ball or find the space where he is like a No.10, because he is the furthest player from a No.10 I have ever seen, he has never been a No.10. His quality is absolute world class but what there also is, is that will and desire and I think we see that consistently with him. He is improving all the time and he has just turned 27 so he has still got plenty of time and it looks like hopefully he is going to be here for a long time."
JC: "What was your first derby win like?"
BR: "It felt nice. It felt really good. I have been up here for 18 months and it is a real unique build up to the game. I had obviously had a couple of games last year that we drew which we should have won, certainly one of them anyway. The significance of the game the other night as well, this was a big pressure game for both clubs and we still had to retain our focus to perform well. I will be honest, win or lose I never get too carried away, or I never get too disappointed. I am so delighted for the supporters, there is obviously the banter that flies about but at least I can now put my thumb up at the traffic lights instead of getting shouted abuse at by the Everton supporters."
JC: "How important was it in the top-four aim for the club and psychologically that win over Everton?"
BR: "I think psychologically it was a big win but there is stil an awful long way to go; there are still 15 games to go and a lot of work to do but certainly it helps your confidence. We have always said that we have got a lot of the rivals to play at home and if we perform like we did the other night with that confidence and quality, we have only got Manchester United to play away and obviously we have got difficult games to play but I think it is important for us to maintain the momentum and let us see where we are at when we get to 10 games. I have talked about it since day one, just being in the conversation this year; enough times you and I would have looked at the table last year and we were never even in the top, or you would listen to the radio on the way home from games and we were never talked about, so it is good for us to be in the conversation. I feel that there is still a long way for this team to go, we are still building something here and to get in the top four this year would probably be a year early from what I was thinking, but you cannot always plan perfectly. We have had a terrific season up to now and we can only get better."