BRENDAN RODGERS will take his two hats to the Liberty Stadium this weekend. But increasingly it seems the Liverpool manager need not pack another piece of headwear.
Rodgers make his first return to the scene of former glories this weekend intent on underlining the progress made by his new team during recent weeks.
Such has been the scrutiny during a difficult first six months in charge at Anfield, the Northern Irishman has stuck on a metaphorical hard hat in the face of fierce questioning of his methods.
Criticism, though, is now on the wane with Liverpool having embarked on a seven-match unbeaten Premier League run and still on course for qualification to the Europa League knockout stages.
That improvement will be given a stern test on what is certain to be an emotionally-charged afternoon for Rodgers at Swansea City on Sunday.
While spending only two years at the South Walians, the 39-year-old managed to first guide them to Premier League promotion and then safely keep them in the top flight, all while playing an attractive brand of football that claimed scalps such as Arsenal and champions Manchester City.
Swansea also held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield before winning 1-0 at home on the final day of the season in what would prove to be Rodgers’ last game in charge.
The Welsh side, now helmed by Michael Laudrup, maintained that form by putting one over their former manager by dumping out the League Cup holders 3-1 at Anfield last month, a game before which Rodgers discussed the “two hats” of his professional desire to win and his personal affection for past colleagues.
“I had some fantastic professional and personal experiences at Swansea City,” he says. “I got great support from the city, the people and South Wales in general.
“It’s a result I always look out for because they are real good people and I always want them to do well.
“Swansea are an incredible club. They are a real shining light for many clubs coming through.
“They have real sound business principles, a chairman who is a visionary, who understands the game and the philosophy and picks managers to come in and implement that and add their own slant to it.”
It’s remarkable to consider it was only four years ago on Saturday that Rodgers made his first foray into senior management at Watford before his sacking by Reading led to a six-month sabbatical before the phone call came from Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins.
“It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” says Rodgers. “To be manager of Liverpool in that short period of time is a real privilege. It’s been a real whirlwind.
“But coaching is something I have been doing for more than 20 years so it hasn’t happened by accident.
“I’m 39 and still have a lot of development. Every experience is a learning experience. I’ve always tried to map out where I’ve wanted to go, it’s a lot easier that way.
“All you can do is work well and continue to learn. I will continue to do that and my ambition will always be in the best interests of the club.
“The period I’ve spent here has already given me more motivation and made me hungrier to be successful.”
Swansea will face a much stronger Liverpool line-up than in the League Cup, a defeat after which Rodgers made the unusual move of publicly criticising his players for their performance.
It was a rare blot on an increasingly positive landscape, with the Anfield outfit now nudging ever-nearer the top four and, in Luis Suarez, possessing arguably English football’s leading player at present.
“We are doing well in the Premier League now,” says Martin Skrtel.
“We’ve gone seven games unbeaten in a row. We are trying to carry on this way.
“In the last few games we have shown better performances and have had a few good results. We have to carry on in that form.
“The start of the season was obviously not the best for us but things are getting better now and there’s not a real gap now between where we are now and the place where we want to be at the end of the season, which is top four.
“The new manager has come in and tried to change the way we play. That takes time and we needed to learn from the new tactical idea the manager wanted.
“We are working together now for four months and things are starting to work. In the last few games, the performances and results have been better.”
Of Suarez, who has netted 10 goals in 12 top-flight games following his brace against Wigan Athletic last weekend, Skrtel adds: “For me personally he is the best striker in the Premier League at the moment. I’m happy to have him here and happy for him to play well and keep scoring. I hope he can keep helping us.
“As a defender he is difficult to mark. The goal he scored against Newcastle was one of the best I’ve ever seen. He is unmarkable at times.
“I’m pretty sure that opponents are scared of him. I play against him every day in training and I see how hard it is to mark him. I’m sure ever defender in the Premier League has a nightmare facing him.”
Facing Suarez was such a nightmare for Swansea and Wales skipper Ashley Williams that he this week declared he wants to “knock him out”.
“Suarez has that aura about him that says ‘I’m untouchable’,” said Williams. “I’d go as far as to say that the manner in which he approached the game (at Anfield last season), with utter contempt for us all, means that he’s streets ahead of any player I’ve truly disliked since we’ve been in the Premier League.
“His manner and behaviour made me want to knock him out.
“I don’t like the superior manner he brings on the field with him. Basically I have no time for the guy at all.”
For Rodgers, the comments seemed out of kilter for his former player. “I was surprised when I saw that,” says the Liverpool manager. “My experience of working with Ash is that he’s a responsible, mature player.
“I also know Ash and how he is. He certainly wouldn’t have meant it the way it came out.
“But I think every opponent who comes up against Suarez will feel that his unpredictability and his ability is incredible.”
Suarez, and Liverpool, will want to make Williams regret those words come Sunday afternoon.