Liverpool may have got off to a losing start in the league at West Bromwich Albion last week but Brendan Rodgers is hopeful Nuri Sahin will be present at Anfield to watch Sunday afternoon's game againstManchester City. As the loanee from Real Madrid could just as easily have joined Arsenal, that represents a first win of the season for the new Merseyside regime against top four clubs.
"The player had his mind set on going to Arsenal and we had to convince him to join us instead," Rodgers explains. "As soon as we realised he might be available it became our task to change the direction of the deal that was going through and wrestle the momentum away from Arsenal.
"As you can imagine, that was very difficult, because Arsenal are a wonderful club, they can offer Champions League football and they play a style of football suited to his qualities. But we've been able to persuade him to come here. He's a clever guy, he's done a lot of homework on the club and myself as a manager, and he's made a decision that this is the best route at this stage of his career."
Rodgers did a fair amount of homework on Sahin too, speaking at length to José Mourinho and making use of a friendship forged at Chelsea to establish whether or not the Turkey midfielder would be a good fit for Liverpool. "Shinji Kagawa was the player of the season in Germany last year, and the year before that it was Nuri Sahin," Rodgers points out. "All my contacts spoke very highly of him and José has been fantastic in talking about his qualities and strengths. But obviously he hasn't played so much there. It's a great opportunity for us to bring in a top technician. He's got good experience too, for a player of 23 – it's important to have players who can cope with the game."
Yes, but slow down a bit, Brendan. How exactly do you persuade a player who has not been getting enough game time at the Bernabéu to pass on a move to the Emirates and guaranteed Champions League appearances, in favour of a club still trying to get back into the top four and with only Europa League football to offer? It is just over two years since Swansea of the Championship made the then jobless Rodgers an offer that took him to South Wales instead of taking up an invitation to join the Manchester City coaching staff under Roberto Mancini. To say his rise has been meteoric would be understating the case, but it now sounds as though he could qualify as salesman of the year as well.
"When I talk to players, I promise them three things," Rodgers says. "The first is communication. I won't bluff players, I'll be totally honest and open with them. The second is that they'll become better, that I'll make sure the quality of work will improve them as players. And third I promise ambition. I want to be the best I possibly can. I grew from nothing into something through sheer ambition, work and determination.
"So I can promise them all those things, and I can guarantee they're playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world with some of the greatest supporters in the world, in a style and culture that will suit them and in a city where their family can grow and enjoy their life. If they don't go for that I'll just take out my guitar and sing them some Irish songs! You can't win them all. We lost the boy Sigurdsson to Tottenham, but there's no drama, you just get on with your job."
Rodgers' preliminary discussions with City went as far as flying out to Italy to meet Mancini and being given a tour of the club's facilities by Brian Marwood, so although he always knew he would prefer to manage in his own right rather than work as an assistant, he had a particular interest in Swansea's games against the eventual champions last season. They lost at City but won at home, though it is Rodgers's contention that for three-quarters of both games Swansea were the better team.
"In the first game they brought on Sergio Agüero and he cost more than our stadium," he says. "For an hour at City we played very well and then their sheer quality came through. Agüero is a phenomenal player. At home we were the better side and we won the game 1-0, and that showed the improvement we had made. City have quality players and once you have won the league it gives you greater confidence. But for us, if we are going to do anything this year we need to ensure that Anfield is a real cauldron, a difficult place for opponents to come to, and that starts this weekend."
With Andy Carroll's future still uncertain – though both Rodgers and City's Joe Hart said independently of each other that the centre-forward is a lovely bloke and a dedicated professional – there are bound to be questions over Liverpool's goalscoring ability, particularly as they drew a blank on opening day and needed an own goal to overcome Hearts in midweek. "I've been asked if we have someone who can get us 30 goals this season," Rodgers says. "I don't think it matters whether we do or not. If we are going to get into the Champions League we need to score 65 plus, and to achieve that we need the whole team to be scoring. Centre-halves, full-backs, midfielders are all going to have to weigh in. I think we have enough quality at the front to get goals but they have to come from other areas as well. City scored 93 goals last year, United 89, Arsenal 74 and Tottenham 69. So that's the target area, that's what we need to work towards."
Rodgers recites those figures without recourse to notes or a reference book, as though they have been buzzing in his head all summer. Most managers in his position would be daunted by them, or at least tempted to stock up with a striker or two, though Rodgers maintains his belief that midfield is the key area.
"We are always going to carry more central midfield players than most, because I will always play with three and a couple might get injured at the same time," he says. "I want our game to be based on possession with penetration, always looking to control the ball and dominate, so the midfield is crucial.
"I want to go with three strikers this season, and that's what I have at the moment in Andy, Luis Suárez and Fabio Borini. If that's the situation when the transfer window closes I won't complain. I'll just be immensely glad, like every other manager I imagine, because then I can stop commenting on rumours and gossip and get on with working with the players."