EXCLUSIVE: I take the praise but you're a hero one minute and a bum the next
22:31 GMT, 23 March 2012
Brendan Rodgers is quick to make the distinction. ‘Personally and professionally, it couldn’t have been more different,’ he says. ‘For sure, one has helped take my mind off the other.’
Swansea City’s manager is looking back at the past two-and-a-half years, reflecting on that trip to Wembley, the night they beat Arsenal at their own game and the ‘crazy’ speculation that starts when you are doing things right in management.
‘Quite a lot has happened,’ he says. ‘The football side of things has been pretty good.’
Happy in his skin: I love coming to work, says Brendan Rodgers
As understatements go, it is up there.
It has been seven months since Swansea went to Manchester City for their first Barclays Premier League match. Then, as Rodgers enjoys reminding people, the odds suggested ‘there was more chance of seeing Elvis alive than us staying up’.
On Saturday, Swansea host Everton knowing a draw will land them on the 40-point mark with eight games to spare.
A club who do not own a training ground and nine years ago were one defeat away from the Conference are close to achieving something extraordinary.
‘My only regret is that my parents aren’t seeing this,’ says Rodgers, 39.
It is the cloud that has been ever-present during his best years in a lifetime of football.
‘With my mother, we didn’t see it coming,’ he says. ‘She hadn’t been ill.’
High times: Rodgers led Swansea to the Premier League via the playoffs
Christina Rodgers was 53 when she suffered a sudden heart attack and died in February 2010. Rodgers had been out of work for nearly two months by then. He had been keeping himself busy by writing, filling pages with his thoughts as he attempted to make sense of what happened at Reading.
‘I like to think in ink,’ he says. ‘I’ve always liked writing; actual writing, not on a laptop.
‘Some people like to move on from these things, but I wanted to reflect, to go over what had gone right and what hadn’t. It’s one of those things that help you learn.’
Feeling Blue: Rodgers got a 'Harvard education in management' while at Chelsea
Reading had been a step up for him when he joined in the summer of 2009, a progression from Watford, whom he rescued from relegation to League One in his first seven months as a manager, to a club who had just reached the Championship play-offs.
Reading was a second home for Rodgers. They were a club he had served for 14 years, first as a player who retired injured and unused at 20, then as their detail-obsessed academy coach until 2004.
He left to work for Jose Mourinho at Chelsea — a ‘Harvard education in football management’, as he puts it — and then, after that brief but successful time at Watford, he was back.
Rodgers was sacked, aged 36, after six months.
‘I think, in leaving Watford, I wanted to move too fast,’ he says. ‘I came in at Watford during the season and it went well. We got some good results, got out of trouble. Reading came up in the summer and I gave it a go. I wanted to progress and fast.
‘I lost my job on December 16. It was the first time I’d been out of work since I was 16. It was tough. I remember going away straight after that, my wife and I, to get some sun for 10 days. I started writing, trying to work things out, and then my mother died.’
Rodgers pauses. ‘It was hard, very hard. I pretty much lost interest in football and everything else. At that point it was more important to be with my family. I have four brothers — you help each other through.
Taking the praise: Swansea, who lost 4-0 at Manchester City on the opening weekend, beat Roberto Mancini's men last time out at home
‘It took a little while before I could get myself motivated again. You just struggle, stop exercising, shut down a bit. But I started going to the gym again and took it from there.’
Two applications were made for jobs and twice he was knocked back. He was offered the chance to join Roberto Mancini’s coaching staff at Manchester City — ‘that was great for my confidence’ — but management opportunities had dried up.
‘Football’s a hard game,’ he says. ‘It
was a difficult time, personally and professionally, the seven months I
was out. I was confident in my ability as a manager but you do wonder if
your chance has gone. You work so hard for something, building a
reputation, and then…
BRITS CAN PLAY REAL FOOTBALL
Rodgers: 'We've had a lot of praise this year for the way we’ve played, which is nice of course, but I’m glad people are realising British players can play football.
'There is this idea British players don’t have the technical ability to play the way they do in Spain and elsewhere. That’s not true. I worked with some of the best young players in Europe at Chelsea and the British can play as well as any.
'A Spanish boy is born the same as a Welshman, Irishman or whoever. It’s about how you are brought up and the coaching philosophy. With the right confidence and intelligence, and by not being afraid to lose the ball, they can be as good as anyone.
'England’s players are certainly technically capable of playing a passing style, but you have to be prepared to make mistakes. It takes time to adapt that mentality. In that sense, we are very fortunate at Swansea because our supporters buy into what we are doing.
'The culture in the stands needs to change. It’s incredible how educated the supporters at the Liberty are. They don’t get on our backs when things don’t work. It’s a huge reason for us being able to play the passing style we do.'
‘I think those adverse situations are the ones that develop your character, tell you if you are right for this kind of life. It was a hard time. But I was determined not to let what happened at Reading define me as a failure.
‘At that point, all you can do is keep your confidence and hope someone gives you a chance.’
That someone was Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins, a local businessman who was part of the consortium who saved the club from going under when they bought it for 1 in 2002.
‘He thought I could do a job here,’ Rodgers says.
On the wall in his windowless office is a picture of him celebrating at Wembley last summer. Reading were their opponents in the Championship play-off final that day.
‘Things have worked out here,’ Rodgers says. ‘The players I have here have been incredible, they really have. I love coming to work with them. They are hungry players and I like that. That day at Wembley was just fantastic.’
He pauses again. ‘My father was in the crowd at Wembley — that was special. It’s very comforting with what happened that he was there when we won.’
Malachy was struggling with throat cancer by then. ‘We knew he didn’t have much time left,’ Rodgers says. ‘But it means a lot to me that he was there. And it means a lot that he saw us take our first steps in the Premier League.’
/03/23/article-2119476-0C56D62F00000578-343_468x350.jpg” width=”468″ height=”350″ alt=”No hard feelings: Rodgers admits he's rushed the move to Reading, the move which ended in his sacking six months later” class=”blkBorder” />
No hard feelings: Rodgers admits he's rushed the move to Reading, the move which ended in his sacking six months later
Rodgers, reluctant as he is to take the credit, has become one of the most talked about managerial talents in the Premier League. He signed a new contract at Swansea only last month, but since then Chelsea have sacked another manager and Tottenham are likely to lose theirs soon. Rumours have started.
‘I want to build a career, not destroy it,’ was his response.
In his Swansea home there is a notebook from 2010 that explains his thinking.
‘When I was writing and reflecting about my time at Reading, I realised I had moved too fast — I won’t do it again,’ he says. ‘I am ambitious and I want to win trophies and I want to be around a long time.
'I’m realistic and know there will most likely come a time when I leave Swansea. But my only goals at the moment involve Swansea City.
‘It’s obviously nice to get the praise that I am getting, but I take it all with a pinch of salt. In football, one minute you are a hero and the next you are a bum.
'I have seen what happens when you move too fast and I’ve been around just about long enough to know you shouldn’t believe your hype because it can be fickle.
‘Right now, my drive is to get Swansea as far up the Premier League as possible. Until the season finishes we won’t celebrate anything. When it’s over, then we can talk about a great year.’
Professionally, at least.