Brendan Rodgers is always looking for those triggers. Anything that he can use to motivate. This is a man fascinated by psychology. He studied neuro-linguistic programming for many years and sees it as his job to get inside the minds of his players.
“I used it as much at the time from a personal point of view because I wanted to be the best father that I could be for my children,” he tells Sky Sports. “How could I learn techniques that would help them? But it was to cover me in both – my professional and my social life.
“It really opens your mind up to your communication with people, which is so important. I have always leant on it. I studied it for quite a long time and I still feel the benefits of that.
“It helps me to understand players and what it is that they want to achieve. Most players know where they want to go. So, how can we help them to get there? What is the plan?”
When James Maddison took note of Jamie Carragher’s critique on Sky Sports in a game between Leicester and Sheffield United earlier this season, Rodgers sensed an opportunity.
Carragher mentioned that the player had to add more goals and assists to his game. It was Maddison who was the driving force in finding a solution but Rodgers was keen to use it.
“It has been a continual theme between him and myself but when you hear it out there from someone else who he respects in the game, you can use it in a positive way.
“It was a great example of his mindset. He took the positive from Carra’s observation. It tells you everything about him and how he wants to grow and develop as a person.”
Carragher, who had once been close to taking on a coaching role under Rodgers at Liverpool, assumed the role in the end, then?
“Absolutely,” he says with a smile. “He is a friend of Leicester.”
Sometimes these little nuggets that spark a reaction come from outside. On other occasions, they come from within the club. That is what happened when a throwaway line from Hamza Choudhury helped Rodgers to tap into a feature of Harvey Barnes’ game.
“It was funny. It was just a conversation outside with Hamza. We were laughing because we were talking about an incident where Harvey had got angry and been terrific. Hamza pointed it out. ‘He plays well when he is angry, boss. He was like it in the youth team.’
“Again, you are looking for triggers. You pick up on things like that.”
Identifying what will inspire one player but make little impact on another is a skill that Rodgers has learned through experience.
Establishing rapport is one of the key tenets. It is why these conversations are among the first that he has when a new player arrives. Summer signings Cengiz Under, Wesley Fofana, and Tim Castagne have different backgrounds and different goals.
Rodgers’ job is to work out what makes each of them tick.
“I always enjoy talking with players to find out what they want to achieve because each individual is different. I think once you understand what their objectives are and what they want to achieve, you are looking to find that commitment from them.
“Of course, they will have an environment to work in but it is their responsibility. The crown is on their head. They are the kings of their own destiny. Wherever they want to go as a player, the possibility is there. But you have to dedicate your life to get to that level.
“So if someone tells me they want to be the best striker in the world or one of the best midfielders in the world, there is a commitment to that, work that you have to do to reach that level, that standard. It is important to have a plan for them and how to get there.
“For many, there are different sources of inspiration. For example, Harvey’s father was an excellent player who had a really good career. He is striving to have a good career in the game himself. For some, it is professional ambition. For others, it is social need.
“I have seen many examples of why people want to succeed. Each player will have their motivation. It is about understanding who they are in order to manage the person better.
“My job every day is to challenge the players to test themselves, to keep pushing them to your limits in order to succeed. It is about never letting them get comfortable.
“I think you have to do that with young players. When you are an established player and you know the highs and lows of the game and you know where you are at, OK, they might need a poke now and then but particularly it is for young players who are learning.
“You are trying to find ways to challenge them in a positive way in order for them to succeed. How can they become better or more efficient? You can never get tired of that.”
Fofana has been one of the breakout stars of the Premier League season, impressing following his move from Saint-Etienne. The 20-year-old defender was a standout performer for Leicester yet again in their 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park in midweek.
However, one heavy touch led directly to James Rodriguez’s opening goal for the opposition. Asked about the youngster after the game, Rodgers chose to emphasise the positive – framing the mistake in the context of Fofana’s overall performance.
“You can never shy away from telling people what they need to hear, that is clear. You cannot ignore something. But I always believe there is a way of saying it. Not everything in their professional life is going to be 10 out of 10. But there is a way of getting it across to them so that they come out of it with a positive feeling.
“I had an example with Wesley when we played against Southampton. I took him off early in the second half because I felt he was on a yellow card and he went into one challenge where had to come out of it. I did not want him feeling like he could not tackle because it is a big part of his game. He is aggressive.
“But I did not want to risk the team going down to 10 men so I took him off. Then I have to explain to him going into the next game why he had to come off and that it had nothing to do with performance and that this is part of his development as a player.
“In his next game against Chelsea, he was fantastic.
“You have to say things that they don’t always want to hear. But it is the way you tell it to them. The response then is much more positive rather than beating them with a stick.”
There is a famous story of how Sir Alex Ferguson would sometimes call out Wayne Rooney in the dressing room when he wanted to send a message to Nani. The legendary Manchester United manager knew that Rooney could take it better than his team-mate.
Rodgers has heard it. He even has a tale of his own. “I remember saying to one player, who was a fantastic player, that it must have been his brother who was playing in the first half and now I wanted to see him come on and play well in the second half.
“But I am not a shouter and a bawler. I am not sure it works. There are messages you can get out there, though. You have to be able to deliver a story or find a moment to poke a player to get a reaction.”
This commitment to the technique of framing the conversation to ensure positivity is being tested to its limit at the moment. The loss of Jamie Vardy to injury at such a pivotal stage of the season robs Rodgers of his talisman and the news that key midfielder Wilfred Ndidi will also miss the game against Leeds on Sunday is another significant blow to the team.
It would be easy to bemoan their absence, but Rodgers is wary of doing so. The challenge is hard enough. Do not make excuses.
“Again, it goes back to how you frame it. If I am sat here talking about all the players we are missing, it is not giving great support to the players who are maybe behind those.
“I have always tried to show the players here that trust. It is our job collectively to find an answer. Of course, if you don’t have Jamie Vardy on that last line, when he is arguably the best player in Europe at timing those runs in behind, then logic tells you that you are going to miss that. But can you find another way? That is the challenge.
“For me, that is an exciting challenge. OK, Wilf Ndidi is out. Jonny Evans has missed games. Other players too. But let’s trust in our ability as a group, let’s trust in the collective.
“Let’s find the idea together.”
Brendan Rodgers is always looking for those triggers.
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