FROM CARNLOUGH TO THE KOP

Brendan Rodgers (front row, third from left) pictured with the Ballymena United team who played in the 1988 Milk Cup.
Brendan Rodgers (front row, third from left) pictured with the Ballymena United team who played in the 1988 Milk Cup.

THE broad smile is familiar, even if the wavy hair is no longer present...

Who would have thought that when this photograph of the Ballymena United team for the 1988 Milk Cup was taken by the Ballymena Times, that it would include a future manager of Liverpool Football Club?

That situation has become reality with Brendan Rodgers (third from left in the front row of our photo) having taken over the managerial hotseat at Anfield.

Brendan began his playing career with Star United under the tutelage of Arthur McClean, where he played from the ages of 12-16, his performances as an energetic midfielder earning him a call-up for the Northern Ireland Milk Cup - a competition which Rodgers would later revisit in his coaching role with Chelsea, where he was reserve team manager during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Stamford Bridge.

“He was very dedicated - most of the other boys in the Star team would have been from in and around Ballymena but Brendan’s father Malachy would bring him up from Carnlough each week.

“He was a good player and he could well have had a very good career in the game, had he not suffered from injury.

“He was confident in his own ability without ever being arrogant - he was a nice lad to work with.

“He has done very well for himself - he was very highly thought of at Chelsea and he worked wonders at Swansea.

“I was talking to him when he was over here with Chelsea for the Milk Cup a few years ago - he was recalling the times when the boys used to train by running laps around the Showgrounds and the old sheep pens at the bottom which are no longer there.

“I’m very pleased for Brendan and it’s great that he has landed a job as big as Liverpool,” added Arthur.

Coleraine boss Oran Kearney is also delighted to see another local man getting his chance at the top of the game.

“It’s fantastic to have a local man in control at such a high profile club,” Kearney told Times Sport.

“He did a tremendous job at Swansea and hopefully he will be given the time to make things work at Liverpool as he deserves his chance.”

Rodgers appointment has also got the backing of local fans. Gary Scott of Coleraine Liverpool Supporters’ Club said he has all the qualities to make him a success at the Reds.

“It’s great to have someone from Northern Ireland managing Liverpool,” said Gary.

“He’s humble and he goes about his business well and that’s all the values Liverpool stand for and to be honest this is a very exciting appointment.

“I think it will be onwards and upwards for us now under Brendan.”