Football is often said to be defined by small margins, something Brendan Rodgers found out last season when his Liverpool side were pipped to the Premier League post by Manchester City.
Minor differences can also make an impact away from the pitch, as explained by the Northern Irishman when acknowledging that Louis van Gaal was nearly implemented as his sporting director in 2012. Rodgers wished to run the club his own way, without a middle-man, favouring a clear route of communication to the owners whose job it is to finance his quest.
As reported by James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo, Van Gaal's potential tenure on Merseyside was never a possibility for Rodgers:
I’m not sure how many people the club spoke to but certainly for me coming in, I was always going to work with a team of people, rather than for a director of football.
I always think the manager is the technical director. He is the man who oversees the football development of the club, and I believe you should take on that responsibility when you are manager. I work best whenever I have clear communication lines with owners.
Van Gaal, now manager of Manchester United, is tasked with fulfilling a similar goal to Rodgers' original challenge at Anfield. The Red Devils slipped out of Europe under David Moyes and face a season of rebuilding under the Dutchman who recently took the Netherlands to an impressive third place at the World Cup.
Rodgers was in a similar position upon his arrival at Liverpool, where he managed to usurp United's Champions League place in two years. The two managers have employed contrasting transfer techniques this summer, highlighting next season's needs for both clubs.
At the time of writing, Liverpool's foray back into Europe's elite competition has seen six new signings add vital strength in depth. United have tightened their squad with two acquisitions in a summer that has also seen key defenders Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra leave.
In an alternate world, Rodgers and Van Gaal would have been high-fiving at Moyes' failure to keep United among England's best.
The duo are preparing to meet in the final of the International Champions Cup on Tuesday morning (1 a.m. BST), a Miami-based contest that is sure to draw major attention.
While the result is largely inconsequential, it provides Rodgers with his first chance to weigh up Van Gaal. The 41-year-old notes changes already made under United's new boss, reported by Pearce:
We played a variety of systems last season that worked well for us, and Louis has come in and adopted the 3-5-2.
He obviously had success at the World Cup with that, and is looking to roll it out at Manchester United, so yeah, it’s not what you’d call two standard systems or two standard coaches, it’s two coaches who are thinkers of the game.
While both managers will be plotting to overcome the other, Van Gaal recently indicated it will take time for him to make an impact, per Elko Born of ESPN FC:
Rodgers has certainly worked meticulously throughout his Liverpool career. The team's fast-paced attacking football stems from a manager who has tirelessly ensured each of his players know they can have freedom on the pitch if they carry out their duties.
He weighs every single opponent up and doesn't stick to one system just because it captured three points the week before. This was most apparent against United last season, where Rodgers deployed Raheem Sterling's pace through the centre to challenge Vidic's creaking legs at the back, a ploy that worked brilliantly.
Unlike previous Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson, Rodgers isn't willing to let his team roll in second gear, even if it gets the job done. He is always thinking of a way to better results, whether it's the difference between scoring five or six.
Such a characteristic isn't dissimilar to Van Gaal, whose willingness to switch strategies during matches helped the Dutch progress through the World Cup.
It's likely the pair would have clashed at Liverpool. Both are single-minded and have their own ways of doing things. A conflict of power may have slowed Liverpool's progress and certainly would have forced United into finding an alternative replacement for Moyes.
Whether both can qualify for the 2015-16 Champions League remains to be seen. There's no doubt the Premier League is richer with the prospect of their future battles, which are no doubt likely to be settled via small margins.
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