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Jack: Brendan Rodgers: Man of the Year in the Premier League

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Kristian Jack
4/6/2014 9:44:44 PM
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It is the summer of 2012 and Brendan Rodgers is on the outfield grass at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

The Liverpool manager has been in the job two months but already he knows the weight the club's crest on his shirt carries.

It is a weight he tries to ease with every careful word that leaves his mouth and lands on the newspaper pages back home.

Rodgers approaches the fence to say hello to the some passionate Liverpool supporters.

"Are we going to win the league this year?" asks one.

The new boss ducks the question with a smile. He, more than most, knows exactly what he has inherited. For a club like Liverpool this is rock bottom.

It is the first time in the Premier League era that Liverpool have finished outside of the top four in three successive seasons.

The previous season, under Kenny Dalglish, the Reds achieved their fewest amount of wins in a Premier League campaign, winning just 14 of 38 games on their way to an eighth place finish.

They scored just 24 home goals in that 2011-12 campaign, their lowest amount since 1903-04.

In the two seasons under Roy Hodgson and Dalglish, Liverpool lost 21 of 38 away league matches.  During that time they spent over 100 million pounds on players called Andy Carroll, Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen, Jonjo Shelvey, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jose Enrique, Sebastian Coates and Danny Wilson.

Many of these average, overpriced players stood just yards away from Rodgers on the Fenway grass and if he really wanted to give an answer to such a ludicrous question all he would have needed to do was open up his arms and nod his head in their direction.

It is August 18th, 2012 and the club is at The Hawthorns for a game against West Bromwich Albion to start their first season under Rodgers.

There is evidence of a change in style as a scoreless game gets close to half-time but then Zoltan Gera blasts a screamer into the top corner and Rodgers is forced to make his first half-time team talk as a losing manager. It goes from bad to worse in the second half as Daniel Agger is sent off and Liverpool lose 3-0.

"We'll have more days like this, that's the reality," said Rodgers after the game.

It is August 26th, 2012 and eight days after their opening day loss the Reds are at home against the champions, Manchester City. They take the lead twice but are forced to take a point when central defender Martin Skrtel, attempting to play the way Rodgers desires, keeps the ball too long and plays a mistimed back pass to his goalkeeper, one that is intercepted by Carlos Tevez who scores to make it 2-2.

The 'Being: Liverpool' cameras follow Rodgers after the match and once again he chooses words carefully, but this time shows just how much he is aware of Liverpool's plight.

"We are at the beginning of a process where we hope to build to make this club competitive again. People have asked me 'are we going to win the league?' It is ridiculous to even say that. All of that takes time, hours. I came here not because it was an easy job, but because it was an extremely difficult job."

Rodgers would be proved correct. Liverpool would score more than one goal in just four of their opening 15 games of last season.

It is the last week in March 2013 and Steven Gerrard places the ball on the penalty spot at Villa Park. The England captain blasts home the winning goal to give the Reds their fourth win in their last five games. In the 13 league games after Christmas they have scored 32 goals after netting just 23 in the first 17 matches.

There is a resilience about the group, featuring intelligent pressure on the ball, a cohesion to their attack and an aggressive tempo to their style, particularly in their passing and defensive game, that never existed under Dalglish.

"People have said we have turned the corner but I don't think we're at the corner yet, we've still got a long way to go," said Rodgers that day at Villa Park.

Five clean sheets in their last seven games of the season helped Liverpool finish on 61pts in seventh spot. They had moved up just one spot than the previous year under Dalglish but the table didn't tell the full story of progression.

In the first half of the season they had scored 28 goals and claimed 25pts. They were a team on pace to finish 8th/9th with a total in the low 50s. They fell behind ten times and came from behind to win just once, losing six.

In the second half of the season they had scored 43 goals and claimed 36pts. They were a team that would have finished in the top four with a total in the 70s over a full season. They fell behind nine times and came from behind three times, losing just twice.

It is August 2013 inside Anfield and a buoyant crowd is excited for the opening day of a new season. Unlike the year previous, the schedule makers have been kind to Rodgers and his team. Seven of their first eight opponents didn't finish in the top half of the league last season.

Their first opponents, Stoke City, are one of them but after a thoroughly dominating performance, the Reds are up by a single goal to nil in the final minute when the visitors are awarded a penalty.

It is only game one of 38, spread across ten months, but new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet makes the biggest save he will make all season and another Rodgers signing, Daniel Sturridge, scores the game winner.

It is now, well and truly, a team molded by Rodgers.

The manager, known to hold back on predictions and grand statements, has no such reservations about Sturridge: "I think he can be one of the top scorers in the league this year."

How right he was. With Luis Suarez suspended, the former Manchester City and Chelsea striker scores in each of the club's first four games to lay a foundation for the team to build on.

The Reds would lose just two of their first 17 matches before suffering back-to-back narrow defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea in the span of four days.

In 13 Premier League games in January, February and March, Liverpool went on to win 11 and draw two. They arrived for their game at West Ham on Sunday as, by far, the best team in the league for over three months.

It is the first Sunday in April. The Upton Park pitch is playing slow and Liverpool's style isn't working as well as it has in previous weeks. Rodgers makes another tactical adjustment and the versatility his team has shown so often this season comes to the forefront once again. Liverpool finds another way to win another type of football match.

As night falls on Merseyside the team arrives home knowing just how close they are to achieving the impossible dream. Five games to go and still they lead this enthralling Premiership race.

In April 2012, one of the most iconic sports franchises was on their knees with a pathetic 46pts through 33 matches. Down the stretch they lost to West Brom, Fulham and Swansea.

It is little wonder Rodgers is the calmest man in this title race. Not even he imagined all of this would come so soon.

There is no award for 'man of the year' in English football but it is, without question, Rodgers who deserves such an honor.

That question, that once seemed so ridiculous, that one that Rodgers laughed off, is no longer funny. He may continue to not answer it but deep down he now knows the answer. Liverpool cannot just win the Premier League, the way they are playing they should win it.

Five games to go to complete one of the biggest turnarounds English football has ever witnessed.

Brendan Rodgers (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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