Celtic to Leicester: Brendan Rodgers’s leap of faith back to the English Premier League
Last week, Brendan Rodgers was appointed by Leicester City as their new manager, on a contract until June 2022. Given the ever-changing landscape of football management, particularly in the Premier League, this shouldn’t have been controversial news. But, given the nature of his departure from Celtic and his so-called affiliation with the Hoops, it was.
Reaction to Rodgers’ sudden re-appointment in England was met with mixed reaction. Understandably, it wasn’t received well in Glasgow’s East End. Just days after the announcement, Celtic fans unfurled a banner during their game against Hearts which read: “You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud.” Rodgers has left behind him not only a sour taste in the mouths of those die-hard Celts, but an opportunity to complete an unprecedented treble-treble of domestic trophies, with Celtic in prime position to retain both domestic cups along with the Scottish Premiership title once again.
But what was the rush? Why did Rodgers leave such an opportunity behind, along with the chance to leave on more amicable terms in the summer, regardless of achieving this historic feat or not? There could have been no complaints of his exit then, even from the most ardent Celtic supporters.
What’s more, Leicester would have waited. They had identified Rodgers as their man and made it abundantly clear, with speculation beginning even before his predecessor Claude Puel’s sacking. The likelihood was that he would’ve entered immortality at the climax of this season had he stayed, but the Northern Irishman obviously felt the need for speed:
“Well it was a very, very difficult decision. If I was making this decision with my heart, I’d be at Celtic all my life.” Rodgers continued, “It all happened very quickly…Celtic are a huge club.”
For Rodgers, the motivation is clear. He sees this as an opportunity; a chance for redemption and to revive his damaged reputation:
“But, it’s not the case of whether it’s bigger, it’s about coming to the Premier League. The challenge of coming in and working against top players and top coaches. That was the real draw.”
In moving to Leicester, Rodgers has taken a leap of faith, perhaps at this early stage in order to properly prepare for the start of next season. The Foxes realistically have nothing to compete for other than jostling with the likes of Wolves and Watford in mid-table, so this may in fact have been the perfect time to start. Putting aside any obligation to the Scottish Champions – something Rodgers had no problem in doing – he can start to develop relationships and impose his philosophy on the team much earlier than he could have had he waited and seen out the season.
This job provides Rodgers with a means of redemption, as he will feel he has unfinished business after his time with Liverpool. Having come desperately close to leading the Reds to their maiden Premier League title, Rodgers’ relationship with the fans became increasingly strained as his ego got in the way.
It is this ego and a cold-heartedness that has often singled him out for criticism – in 2014, under increasing pressure in his role at Liverpool, Rodgers defiantly claimed: “I think the message for me is clear. I don’t think there would be anyone better to do the job here.” This is but one example of the unwavering confidence the man has in his own ability, but some would say he has to be praised for making this move. While it does seem strange that Rodgers apparently didn’t even say goodbye to the Celtic players before he left, it certainly fits with the picture that has previously been painted of him. As recently as December, he said:
“I have compassion for players, especially those that have done amazing for me, but what I don’t have is sentimentality.”
Sentimentality is not one of Rodgers’ strong points then. Yet, he has many strengths that make him a brilliant coach and the perfect fit for this particular project at Leicester, none more so than his track record of working with young British talent. Here, the likes of Ben Chilwell, Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes will be encouraged by the appointment of a man who can be given credit for kickstarting the careers of young stars such as Raheem Sterling, Kieran Tierney and Callum McGregor in recent years.
Despite all this, while weighing up ill-feeling with excitement for the future, the facts remain. Rodgers turned down the chance to enter folklore at the Scottish Giants for the top job at the 11th best team in England as we speak. He lost his first game in charge, against Watford on Sunday.
The football community waits with bated breath to see how the return of Rodgers plays out. What cannot be doubted, however, is that (similarly to his exit from Liverpool) Celtic fans will happily see Rodgers walk alone, and as far away from their club as possible.