It was probably in his first Premier League game in charge of Liverpool that Brendan Rodgers first realized the true extent of the task ahead of him.
As he watched the Reds lose 3-0 at West Brom in August 2012, Rodgers was mercilessly mocked by the home fans. "There's only one Brendan Rodgers," they taunted as his side was ripped apart.
Liverpool's final four fixtures
||Crystal Palace (a)|
It was a theme that continued for much of the campaign. Rodgers had to wait six league matches to record his first victory as Liverpool manager, with the players looking confused by his tactics and the defense constantly exposed by his deployment of a high line.
Nor did the behind-the-scenes documentary "Being Liverpool" display the Northern Irishman in a positive light. In one scene, Rodgers told the players that he had written down a list of three of them who would let him down during the course of the season. It was meant as a motivational trick but offered fuel for those on social media who likened him more to David Brent of "The Office" than Bill Shankly.
As the Reds were forced to settle for a seventh-place finish last season, there were only a few signs of improvement on the sort of results that his predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, had managed.
Indeed, Rodgers may have reflected on his experience at Reading, where he was not afforded the time he expected to implement his ideas and lost his job after just six months.
In an incredible story, the 41-year-old is now a certainty for manager of the year and Liverpool is now on top of the Premier League table, four victories away from becoming the champion for the first time in 24 years.
As Anfield rocked to its foundations during the 3-2 win over title rival Manchester City on Sunday, Rodgers watched on calmly from the sideline, only letting go of his emotions once as he danced on to the pitch following Philippe Coutinho's winner 12 minutes from time.
|ON THE CUSP OF GLORY
|RODGERS' LIVERPOOL CAREER
Rodgers is, first and foremost, a coach. Seven of the starting XI that faced City were inherited from Dalglish but all have shown remarkable improvement over the last year and are playing in the manager's image.
Rodgers' priority is for his team to always show for the ball and to be brave in possession. It comes through in the kind of blistering attacking soccer it again showed as it put three past City.
Jordan Henderson is a prime example of a transfer arrival who looked anything but a 20 million pound player and was once branded as a flop. He has become a key figure for the Reds under Rodgers and should be a certainty for England's World Cup squad.
Rodgers' bravery in the transfer market has been rewarded. While Henderson stayed at Anfield, the former Swansea boss told owners FSG to cut their losses on several expensive signings who did not fit into his plans. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam have left permanently, and Pepe Reina is at Napoli on loan.
Coutinho arrived for 10.2 million euros and has just scored the winner in the club's biggest league game in decades. Daniel Sturridge cost 12 million pounds and has scored 20 goals in 26 Premier League matches while forming an electric partnership with Luis Suarez. There are some who have yet to find their feet — namely Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas — but their lack of impact has not been felt.
Rodgers also dealt perfectly with Suarez last summer. After the Uruguayan tried to engineer a move to Arsenal, he was forced to apologize to all of his teammates and trained away from the squad before being reintegrated into the side. He has been the driving force for the Reds this season, hurtling them toward the title with 29 goals.
His man-management style is not to rant and rave, but he delicately handled the Suarez situation to show strong leadership while not completely alienating his best player.
In every corner of the main stand at Anfield stands a reminder of Liverpool's history: the 18 titles and five European Cups. Pictures adorn the walls of managers celebrating trophy wins: Shankly, Paisley, Dalglish, Benitez. Now Rodgers is on the verge of joining them.
KEANE'S RIGHT: ARSENAL STARS NEED REALITY CHECK
There has been quite a backlash from Arsenal supporters to Roy Keane's criticism of the players for their celebrations of the penalty shootout FA Cup semifinal win against Wigan on Saturday.
"These Arsenal players need a reality check," said the former Manchester United captain. "They are celebrating beating a Championship team.
"We saw last year when they got in the top four, they celebrated at Newcastle. We're talking about Arsenal football club here. It's about winning trophies."
Keane was spot on. Yes, celebrate getting to the final with your teammates and show your appreciation for the fans, but it's a bit much when Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey are taking selfies on the Wembley pitch.
Cazorla made a valid point earlier in the week about Arsenal's lack of winning mentality, yet that incident highlighted exactly why the Gunners haven't won a trophy in nine years.
And, in case they forgot, they still haven't won anything. If they, as expected, beat Hull in the final, the Arsenal players can celebrate all they want and they won't get any arguments from this writer.
PULIS PERFORMING MIRACLES AT PALACE
Fear of relegation has seen all of the current bottom six in the Premier League table change their manager this season.
While the title race promises to go down to the wire, so too does this season's relegation battle. But how many of these clubs can claim that their managerial changes have been for the best?
In truth, none of the bottom six — from Swansea in 15th to last-place Sunderland — have done any better for making managerial changes.
It's easy to understand why boardrooms panic about the prospect of going down, but the only new appointment that has worked has been at Crystal Palace, where Tony Pulis has performed sensationally since replacing Ian Holloway.
Palace looked destined for relegation but now seems safe in 12th place. Pulis has organized the defense and the club is playing some exciting attacking soccer.
The former Stoke boss is a worthy contender to Rodgers for manager of the season and has proved to be the exception to the rule at the foot of the table.
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