If only Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers were realistic candidates for the England national team post. Champagne vs Lambrini, you may think – Guardiola’s achievements far outweigh those of Rodgers; 22 trophies to 0, in fact. No contest. The Catalan’s fevered attention to detail and paternal approach with young players is nothing but a fantasy for the FA, a paradisaical scene played in an intoxicated hallucination. But the underrated Rodgers has vast experience in the English game. He wriggled his way through the ranks, starting his coaching career with Chelsea’s youth team and eventually overseeing the most eye-catching football Swansea City, and then Liverpool, have produced in the last five years. Trophies may separate them but they’re not too dissimilar, this pair. Both forward-thinking, both dedicated to the development of young players. Coaches who love to coach.
Nevertheless, a fantasy for the FA who yet again find themselves with red cheeks. Sam Allardyce left his position as England manager after just 67 days on Tuesday night, after being secretly filmed offering advice on how to “get around” player transfer rules. Gareth Southgate – a man with the personality of beige wallpaper – takes over for now, but the search for a manager capable of restoring some charisma to the national team is officially on again. Guardiola or Rodgers, in an ideal world, would have been brilliant.
Those searching for a glimmer of hope among the rubble may tune in to Champions League Group C’s tie between Celtic and Manchester City tonight, as Rodgers and Guardiola go head to head for the first time. Neither coach is expected to sacrifice the hustle of their current roles for St. George’s Park any time soon, but Southgate, or whoever happens to land the job on a permanent basis, should benefit from their work with exciting young wingers Raheem Sterling and Patrick Roberts.
Guardiola has been credited with transforming Sterling from an under to an overperformer. The 21-year-old already has four goals, six assists and a Premier League Player of the Month award in the eight games he’s played this season and is the player expected to step up to the plate with Kevin De Bruyne set for a three-week spell on the sidelines. That’s a fairly dramatic turnaround from a lad who was subject to the treatment that, well, a pint of wine drinking, gluttonous and arrogant England manager may have expected this summer. Don’t underestimate Guardiola’s influence; his hand on the shoulder has been healing, but it is confidence, not talent, that he has restored. The talent has always been there and it is Celtic’s manager who applied the first brush strokes to this developing masterpiece.
Rafa Benítez and Kenny Dalglish were admirers too – the former brought the QPR winger to Anfield in 2010 for a fee of £600,000 before Dalglish handed him his senior debut two years later against Wigan Athletic, but it was Rodgers who made the 18-year-old a key player in a side that went within touching distance of the league title in the 2013-2014 season. There was something unusual about the 5ft 7, 10 and-a-half stone teen. Skillful dribblers, particularly of Sterling’s age and build, are prime targets for seasoned, snarling Premier League defenders wishing to assert their power, but Raheem was fiercely strong on the ball, never one to shy away from a tackle. In Liverpool’s most successful season since 2008-2009, Sterling was seen skipping away from opponents down the wing and, as he did so devastatingly against Norwich City in a 3-2 win back in April 2014, through the middle where his speed and balance would leave the opposition choking on dust. Rodgers had been rewarded for his trust.
Add humility to the Englishman’s list of qualities. Speaking ahead of his reunion with Rodgers, Sterling had nothing but praise for the Northern Irishman who he credits for his ability to play in a number of positions.
“He was massive for me. Every manager that I’ve worked with I’ve tried to learn as much as I can and he’s one that I definitely learnt a lot off. Credit to him he was a fantastic guy.
“Playing me in different positions, making me understand the roles and maturing in certain systems… he gave me a lot of confidence as well.
“He’s someone who gave me my full chance in the Premier League and gave me loads of starts and loads of confidence. It will be good to see him again and wish him well but on the day it all comes down to trying to win that football match.”
Hoping to follow a similar path is City’s Patrick Roberts, currently on an 18-month loan deal at Celtic Park. He too is a humble lad who enjoys passing the time with his dog, Fred, and recently rejected the opportunity to represent England at the U19 championship in favour of helping Celtic progress to the Champions League group stages. Qualities of this kind are valued as highly as pace and trickery by managers who are aware of how poisonous a bad mindset can be. Ravel Morrison was once described by the best manager to ever grace the English game as the best talent to walk through the doors of Carrington, but pure talent will never blow out the flames of pure dickheadery.
You can only admire Sterling for how he handled himself this summer. After everything that happened, he kept his head and got on with it. That’s difficult, especially for a 21-year-old who perhaps like myself finds it difficult not to smash windows when he can’t find his shoes. And now in the middle of his own tough situation, Roberts must follow Sterling’s lead if he is to make the most out of his remaining time in Glasgow.
Despite netting 7 goals in 12 appearances in his first season with the Bhoys and picking up the Scottish Player of the Month award for April, Roberts has started only one league game this term. Speaking to City Watch this week, editor of Celtic fan magazine ‘Alternative View’ Matt McGlone told us that Roberts seems to be struggling with the ‘physicality of the league’ and that ‘his end product leaves a lot to be desired’. In form, however, Roberts has proven that he can be Celtic’s most dangerous player and Rodgers should be excited about getting his hands on the 19-year-old once he has fully recovered from a knee injury he sustained in August.
However, if he’s not, and if it’s the case that Rodgers simply does not see that much in Roberts, then the former Fulham-man must prove that he has as much control off the pitch as he does on it. It is easy for a young player fully aware of their ability to go off the rails in circumstances as frustrating as those Roberts now finds himself in, but keeping a cool head, as Sterling did this summer, will be the making or breaking of him. That’s unlikely to be the case, however, and with hard work on the training ground Roberts should find himself back in the first team sooner rather than later.
The teenager City paid £11m for in 2015 is eligible to face his parent club tonight, a perfect opportunity for Roberts to impress the two most important managers in his life right now. But if it is deemed too much of an ask to throw him in front of the side he returns to in May, Roberts should take his seat, whip out the notepad and pay close attention to City’s right flank.