Rodgers & The Merseyside Derby

Posted by Garstonite on October 29, 2012, 01:38:26 PM

“He just gets us”. It’s become a clichéd, self-mocking phrase by some who suspect it is overused to some extent. As with most clichés, however, it undoubtedly has a large element of truth attached to it.

Roy Hodgson’s grin at Moyes after his side’s inept display in the October 2010 derby was the final straw for many. This, of course, coming in the same week the club had just been sold to our new American owners – offering a stark reminder if one were needed that much work were to be done not just to restore Liverpool’s reputation, but also their pride and identity. Contrast that to the feeling we shared witnessing Kenny Dalglish lead the side out against Everton at Anfield just three short months later. His first home game back at the helm.

The Merseyside Derby is the litmus test. I couldn't help but be reminded yesterday of the comparisons between this game - Rodgers' first - and the one in 2004 - Rafa Benitez's first game at the helm - where Lee Carsley bent a shot around Chris Kirkland at the Gwladys Street end with both sides in relatively similar circumstances going into the game as they were yesterday. Not least the two young hopefuls thrown in at the deep-end under necessity. In 2004, Sinama-Pongolle and Neil Mellor. Yesterday, Suso and Raheem Sterling. Liverpool a rebuilding project; Everton a side with lofty ambitions. There was much criticism of Benitez after that game. He was accused of "not taking the derby seriously enough" (largely because it came off the back of years of Houllier's derby domination). People said he "didn't get" English tradition. He was accused of the same after the humbling defeat at the hands of Burnley where he opted to field a somewhat scratch side at Turf Moor.

Amidst those criticisms though, I felt something that season. There was an overriding sense that we were onto something good. Istanbul aside, there were glimpses in our play of a forward-thinking, progressive football side. So while Rafa's comparison with Houllier was unfavourable when it came to the Merseyside Derby, it was one you look back on and argue we might have had to take on the chin.

Inbetween the dreaded "Hodgson Derby" and Rodgers first glimpse into what it's all about, as I alluded to, was of course Kenny. Now, you can criticize Dalglish for some of the mistakes he undeniably made last season. You can even argue that we’re still paying the price for a lot of them. But I don't think you should underestimate what he did for this club in what was truly an hour of need.

I remember attending a youth cup game on the 8th January 2011 (in the back of my mind dreading the fact we were facing Utd at Old Trafford in the cup the next day). Upon my arrival to the ground, I was informed by my friend, “Roy’s gone! And they’ve appointed Dalglish as caretaker manager!” It’s rare you get fed information like that in the days of mobile phones and twitter and whatnot. It reminds you of how innocent life once was. It’s underrated. After initially thinking he was on a wind-up, I was soon overcome with emotion. I was a child at Christmas. Instantly, Liverpool were back!

He was thrown in at the deep-end with the fixture schedule, but with the same group of players at his disposal as Roy did, we suddenly felt that we had a fighting chance. The shine faded throughout the course of last season, but the celebrations after Carroll's late Wembley winner - securing a hat-trick of wins over Everton - will live long in the memory.

The doom and gloom we felt amidst these Derby wins had quickly evaporated. We're making strides again. It's healthy that we have a manager again who isn't immune from criticism and who knows has everything to prove. Rodgers is learning on the job and I feel proud that the vast, vast majority of our support are behind him. He has the cojones to throw Suso on when we're down to ten men against one of the best sides in the league. He has the cojones to give a young lad his senior debut when a cup game is in the balance. We've signed a little Welsh magician; we've convinced our best performers from last year that we’re on an upward trajectory; and most important of all, we're slowly regaining a footballing identity, purging the squad of the hangers-on that have held us back over the past few years. Brendan Rodgers "gets us".

Hodgson, simply, irrefutably, didn't. He downplayed our ambitions. He alienated players who the fans had taken to their hearts. He clung on to the hope of maintaining the reputation he had forged while at Fulham. He dodged the bullets you have to take from  the media as a manager of a top club. The “Mr Nice Guy”; the media-friendly Grandfather figure. But, in attempting to preserve his status, he lost those that mattered most – us, the fans. And the October 2010 Merseyside Derby embodied all that was wrong with the club at that time. A side playing with an identity bestowed upon them by a manager with antiquated views. A side who had lost heart. A side embodied by their manager.

Rodgers, by comparison, went into yesterday with those great big cojones of his. Did he anticipate the frenetic pace and highly-charged nature of this game? You’d have to say from his half-time changes, no. In his defence, I don’t think any prepping could ready a manager for the level of sexually-frustrated fuelled bile and bitterness spewed from the mouths of Everton fans. But yesterday, I was proud again. Everton, to their credit, are a good side this year, but we went in fearless, attempting a progressive game. A game based on the principles laid out from his most successful predecessors. A side that embodied their manager.

Were Everton the better team? Maybe. But there were signs today, as there have been all season, that this project will come good. It was the 2004 feeling, rather than the dreaded 2010.

The talking point from today will be Suarez’s disallowed goal and Everton fans will laugh it off, but they knew that this game was their chance. There’s something brewing at Anfield and it might not happen overnight, but every Sterling miss and Wisdom foul is a lesson learned. We’re progressing every day, just as Rodgers is. The majority can sense it. Just as Rodgers did after his name bellowed out from The Kop after an inevitably controversial defeat at the hands of Manchester United. He knows this is not just an ordinary football club.

The "Goodison Derby" is a test no newcomer can properly revise for, but he was a professional linesman away from passing it with flying colours today. More importantly than the result though: he gets us.

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