According to Wikipedia.org, the messiah complex (also known as the Christ complex or saviour complex) is a state of mind in which an individual holds the belief that they are, or are destined to become, a saviour. Rodgers certainly doesn’t outwardly exhibit this, and conversely, the faithful of Liverpool Football Club aren’t holding him in this regard. Well, not yet, at least.
In the process of creating his dynasty, Bill Shankly created an aura for his predecessors to forcefully inherit. This aura requires the charisma of messianic stature to command a brand of loyalty to the manager to be as fervent as loyalty to the club itself. In simple terms, the manager was the club and vice versa. Iconography depicting these managers is prevalent, with songs being belted about them still ringing around Anfield. There are a few exceptions, of course, but generally when you take the reigns of Liverpool Football Club, expectations are high for the incumbent to immediately challenge again for the title.
Dalglish’s first highly successful reign cemented the Messianic aura even further. Coming from within the ranks of player and observing Paisley, the religious parallelism was carved even deeper. It made him the Prodigal Son.
Even in the barren years of English Premier League, Houllier’s years of modernization got the Kop singing optimistically. But true to the typical nature of a double edged sword, the optimism bore the heavy weight of expectations, with the diminishing patience finally getting him replaced.
Winning the ultimate European prize in his first season didn’t just give Liverpool supporters reason to believe that there was an abled heir sitting in the manager’s seat, but it garnered a new generation of supporters spanning regions across the globe. Each of Benitez’s seasons had the potential to result in honours and the uncanny Shankly imitation of fighting the owners for the sake of the club and it’s supporters resulted in the engraving of his face onto the flowing flags on the Kop.
The civil war ensuing within the club crumbled all foundations including all realistic hopes of challenging for major honours, but none dreamt that Liverpool would fall out of the European race altogether.
The prodigal son’s return ignited flickering hope and believe, unity and order restored, all singing from the same song sheet. But Liverpool fell further down, reversing the malaise proved an even more challenging task, thus killing any notion that whoever managing Liverpool had the right to challenge for honors just by virtue of sitting at the helm. Patience wasn’t so expensive anymore.
Brendan Rodgers, along with his comprehensive technical dossier, became Liverpool manager within these circumstances of sobering reality. This context is vital to answering the question as to why, today, are the club’s supporters almost uniformly cautiously optimistic about Rodgers’ tenure and if he can deliver them to the Promised Land. One third of the season completed, sitting pretty at the lofty heights of second in the league and yet the majority expects the club to still finish around 4th or 5th. This is indeed a stark difference to expecting the club to win the league five years ago.
Harking back to the halcyon days of ‘pass and move’, Rodgers has faithfully molded a team, within a season and a half, to excite the stands with attractive technical play and more. This is definitely one facet of progression, although the ultimate marker would be the club’s position in the league at the end of the season. But even so, the lack of a glittering resume sprinkled with proven conquests is Rodgers’ figurative ball and chain that weighs him down along with the supporters’ expectations which have taken flight but are nowhere close to soaring yet. There is no past trend to study, no past glories to emulate, which would suggest that he can propel the club to heights not seen for the last 24 years, unlike Benitez’ or Dalglish’s. No doubt a resume of 39 years with trophies won in much lesser competitions can also be a red herring, but quite often winning the La Liga or Championships of the old while playing progressive football qualify as useful references.
The adoration that Rodgers deserves, although not to the heights of being hailed as the next messiah, dissipates more when there is mention of the ‘Being Liverpool’ series. When asked about it, the manager grimaces. “I didn’t like it … I’m a very private person,” he says. “I know it was great for the American supporters to see, but my own personal feeling is I don’t like being intruded on and for people to see my private life.”
But, apart from what he thought about himself in the series, what was intended to be educational became almost satirical in nature, and inadvertently discourages the mysteriousness that the messianic aura requires. What Rodgers should have meant to say about the series was “How can I be taken seriously if I’m a satire of myself?”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if there is a genuine messiah or a prodigal son leading the faithful, because in today’s cold business-like reality, a fresh new perspective that is not bolded and underlined with history and past glories may be the best dose of reality required to usher in a new era. After all, the builder of a dynasty almost typically never has a glittering background to being with. Such was how Shankly started from scratch.
Maybe Rodgers just needs to grow a goatee…?