BRENDAN RODGERS will not deliver any special message to the Kop ahead of tomorrow’s emotionally-charged Anfield showdown — because he does not feel he needs to.
By PHIL THOMAS
He leads Liverpool into battle with fiercest foes Manchester United in a clash which has become about far more than football.
The Reds will mark their first Anfield game since last week’s verdict into the Hillsborough disaster absolved their fans of any blame in the tragedy with a host of tributes to the families who fought so hard for justice.
It has sparked calls from both sides for calm on the terraces — and an end to the vile chants which have blighted meetings between these two bitter rivals over recent years.
Yet Rodgers, 39, will not be reinforcing them with any calls of his own to Kop fans for one simple reason — he has as much faith in them behaving as he has in his own side coming good.
The Anfield chief insisted: “It is an emotionally-charged game but I will not sit here and tell Liverpool fans how to behave. How they have behaved over many years has been fantastic.
“These are well-educated supporters who value humanity. I have no issues there and the message will be clear from Sir Alex Ferguson too.”
In fact the main message from Rodgers will be to his players, as he looks into their eyes before they leave the dressing room — and he will tell them to focus on the game, not the occasion.
For all the new Kop gaffer is slowly transforming the club, the fact remains they are desperate for points, after a granite-tough opening to the fixture list.
Rodgers knows that, as vital is it is to pay tribute to the Hillsborough families, his players cannot afford to be sidetracked by the emotion of the day.
He added: “It is twofold — there is the emotional side but there is also the football.
“There will be a part of you on that emotional side and no one can help that but when the whistle goes you have to play with your brain and I will be reinforcing that message certainly.”
Last season’s showdowns were, of course, marred by the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra race row — and the subsequent storm over the Kop star’s reluctance to shake hands before the Old Trafford clash.
Yet after working with the Uruguayan striker for nearly three months, Rodgers has no fears about a repeat this weekend.
He insisted: “I think the whole situation last season was tiring.
“It just went on and on but we have brought closure to it. I can only speak to working with the guy and talking with him.
“Both in football and social life and I find him a really, really good guy, a good man and very family orientated.
“He is very passionate about his life, he prepares himself well and he does everything it takes to be a footballer. He is not here to steal a living.
“He’s out there every single day looking to improve and be better and takes that passion on to the field.
“Of course, he had his incidents last year and whatnot but people will boo good players no matter what they do.
“Luis might get a wee bit of stick but he can take comfort from the fact that he is a top player and that’s probably the reason he gets it.”
Liverpool certainly need Suarez to be at his brilliant best tomorrow, as Rodgers tries to further stir a club bristling at suggestions it has become a sleeping giant.
The similarities between his arrival at Anfield and Fergie’s at Old Trafford — when Rodgers was just 13 years old — are not lost on the Liverpool manager.
When Ferguson took over, United had gone 19 years without a title.
Rodgers checked in on Merseyside 22 years after Anfield last flew the champions’ flag.
Yet he is hugely confident his methods can slowly narrow the chasm which has developed between the two — or he would not have left Swansea in the first place.
He admitted: “When he arrived at United he had been a manager for a long period of time, he had won trophies and whatnot.
“When he entered there in 1986 he had a massive job to do. It was a failing school.
“He was having to pick it up from his knees and was looking to put his own stamp on it. He was looking to youth to have no fear and then grow from it, and for me, the similarities are there. I have come in to an incredible club.
“But I wouldn’t have left Swansea for many others because I like to get peace and satisfaction with how I work.
“I would rather work with a group of under-10s than say “smash a ball up the pitch”.
“When you’ve been a club of this standing for so many years but in terms of on the field you’ve fallen behind, yes it hurts.
“But it also brings great motivation to show we’re going to fight to keep moving forward and, hopefully over these coming years, we can close the gap. That’s the reality.
“Off the field our supporters are the best in the world but on the field we need to make up the gap.
“But I’m very optimistic in my life and it is why I have arrived at where I have arrived in terms of being young.
“I understand if you are fearful you don’t make the next steps. If you are frightened to lose you don’t do enough of what it takes to win a game, so I always look to get the team out in a positive.”