Forget the false dawns - Liverpool are finally the real deal

Brendan Rodgers 2

Brendan Rodgers has laid the foundations for Liverpool to mount further serious title challenges.

After several false dawns, Liverpool can finally dare to dream again. Should they finally end a 24-year wait to win the Premier League title this season, comparisons between Brendan Rodgers and Bill Shankly would be appear incredibly generous but not without some validity.

For the Northern Irishman to go from managing in The Championship to arousing one of English football's sleeping giants from its slumber and to become champions of England in just three short years would be unprecedented and a feat last rivalled at Anfield by the legendary Shankly.

When Rodgers was appointed as Kenny Dalglish's successor over 18 months ago, the combination of apprehension and cynicism was understandable. With five years' sporadic experience in senior management, few anticipated much from the new Kop boss.

The hallmarks of Liverpool's glorious past have served a constant reminder to Rodgers of just how high the bar has been set. Every morning he has to walk past a replica of the Champions League trophy in the foyer of Melwood, with Rafael Benitez's signature adorning its display case.

At Anfield the historical spectre looms larger; highly-decorated former players are ever-present in the directors' box while the logistics of the new Premier League TV deal dictates that his post-match autopsies are now held in a lounge plastered with images of their glittering past triumphs.

Yet rather than be daunted by the enormousness of the task of recreating former glories, Rodgers has embraced every facet of Liverpool's heritage. The red goal nets and original 'This Is Anfield' sign, both absent for over two decades, were restored at the beginning of last season.

And unlike some of his predecessors, he has engaged with rather than shunned the club's former on-field servants while Dalglish, the man whose legacy he was elected to build on, has been welcomed with open arms back into the club whose hierarchy had previously deposed of him.

At 39, Rodgers was five years older when he took the reins than Dalglish in his first spell, but did not inherit a similar infrastructure that the Scot had enjoyed during his initial and halcyon period.

Being head strong saw him refuse to work alongside a Director of Football, despite the likes of Louis van Gaal and Johan Cruyff both lined up as potential suitors to the role.

That independence has actually stood both he and Liverpool in good stead this season. Few could have envisaged that they would be heading into April still vying for domestic supremacy.

To even finish third this season, behind the juggernauts of title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea, would be significant progress but there is a genuine belief, not least from Rodgers himself, that their hunger to quench this particular thirst may actually see them conquer all.

John Cleese's oft misquoted line, "I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand" from the film 'Clockwise', released during Liverpool's 1986 double-winning year season, typifies the latest wave of angst currently sweeping through Anfield; they are so near, yet equally so far.

What makes the hope all the more unbearable for supporters is the weight of legitimacy this title challenge carries compared to previous attempts. Those that went before, most notably in the 2008-09 campaign, have developed a mythology greater than Heracles in recent years.

It was claimed that the 86 points Benitez's side amassed would ordinarily be enough to win the title, but with the exception of Chelsea the following season, only three other teams - Manchester United on all occasions - have won the title that points tally or less in the current millennium.

A series of dropped points at home towards the end of 2008 proved the tipping point for the Benitez's solitary title charge. After one of those goalless stalemates, against West Ham United, Liverpool were booed off despite the point earned taking them back to the summit.

To this day it remains a particular bone of contention for many of the Spaniard's supporters, as does the lack of credit attributed to Liverpool's 4-1 win over United at Old Trafford in March of that season - a result that still left them four points adrift of the champions-elect.

A yo-yo battle for the top spot continued until mid-April when United pulled clear while Benitez found himself preoccupied in a battle of wills with Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Liverpool's then owners, to strengthen his position at the club with a new five-year contract.

Further fallacies can be found in their challenge prior to that in 2001-02. In a season that saw them rocked by the well-being of manager Gerard Houllier, they finished seven points adrift of champions Arsenal - a cat-and-mouse chase that, as with 2009, petered out before April was out.

Even if Houllier had maintained a clean bill of health, his management style was never likely to yield a repeat of his historic treble in the previous campaign. The infamous clash between Robbie Fowler and assistant manager Phil Thompson showed why Liverpool were still lacking the mental resolve that had eluded them during their era of unfulfilled promise under Roy Evans.

While United's lofty fall from grace has been highlighted and Tottenham's £100 million shortcomings exposed, Rodgers has quietly fashioned a side that does its talking on the pitch and one geared towards the sustained longevity of future challenges, be it in the league or Champions League.

Should Liverpool's current crop fall short come May 11, it will not be due to immaturity or psychological inferiority, nor will it be down to the personality clashes or managerial megalomania that unseated his predecessors when the pressure was cranked up on their shots at bounty.

Register for LIVERPOOL team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch