Celtic fans are right to be surprised that Brendan Rodgers is on the verge of moving to Leicester City at this stage in the season. Joel Sked looks at the reasons why the Northern Irishman may want to swap Scotland for the Premier League.
Hit his ceiling
Celtic were giving a good account of themselves in Valencia last Thursday. A goal didn’t look too far away and with that they would have been perfectly placed to produce one of their most memorable away performances in Europe, overturning a 2-0 deficit from the first leg at Celtic Park.
Then, moments after a promising attack came to nothing, the Scottish champions were down to ten men, Jeremy Toljan picking up his second yellow card of the first half.
With his exit from the pitch Celtic’s hopes of progression from the last-32 of the Europa League all but evaporated.
Rodgers has conquered Scottish domestic football. An unbeaten season, two league titles, in pole position to add a third, every domestic trophy won, 24 domestic cup games won in a row. Europe was the final frontier.
Following the Lincoln Red Imps debacle Celtic have reached the Champions League group stages twice and the round of 32 in Europe’s secondary competition on two occasions. But that is as far as they have got with few signs of troubling the latter rounds.
Is the domestic dominance enough to satisfy his ambition? Does he feel that the club match his ambition in Europe? The answer to both is much closer to no than it is to a yes.
In November 2017 Celtic chief Pater Lawwell said he wouldn’t swap Brendan Rodgers for any other manager in the world. It is a view likely held by Celtic fans at the time. The Northern Irishman could do little wrong.
Fast forward to the summer of 2018 and a rift emerges in public.
“Divisions between the pair entered the public domain during a summer of discontent when Rodgers made his feelings plain, and often, that the transfer activity conducted then had left his squad weakened as targets – notably John McGinn – were missed,” Andrew Smith wrote in The Scotsman.
The Celtic boss admitted at the club’s AGM in November that he was “disappointed” with the recruitment. As well as missing out on McGinn, the club failed to strengthen the centre of defence.
It led to the situation where Dedryck Boyata pulled out of a crucial Champions League qualifier to try and push through a move to the Premier League and Rodgers was left to play Jack Hendry against AEK Athens. Hendry did not have a good game as the team dropped into the Europa League qualifiers.
Celtic were left scrambling around at the end of the transfer window.
January didn’t indicate that there was long-term planning under Rodgers.
Short-term, quick fixes were signed in the shape of Oliver Burke, Timothy Weah and Jeremy Toljan. All three are fine young players but ones who had little positive influence where it mattered most, on the European stage.
However, it was another recruit, a permanent one at that, which was most enlightening.
Ukrainian international Maryan Shved was signed on a four-and-a-half-year deal and loaned back to Karpaty Lviv.
Rodgers’ comments prior to the confirmation of the signing were interesting and spoke of a manager not completely involved with the club’s recruitment strategy.
“I can’t say I know a great deal about him but what I have seen he is a talent and something that will probably benefit the club in the future,” he said.
“We’ve got about a million wingers and don’t need another one but he’s a talent and in the summer we’ll probably lose wingers and he’ll look to come in. It’s an opportunity for the club to sign a young talented player but not one that will probably help us now.”
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Fear of missing out
Rodgers has been linked with a number of jobs since taking over at Celtic Park, however tenuously. The only offer he has confirmed has been a lucrative one in China.
Despite the prospect of a huge payday it is one that will unlikely have appealed to the 46-year-old.
Meanwhile, Celtic supporters were dreaming of Rodgers leading the club to ‘10 in a row’. Such an achievement would see Rodgers go down in the Parkhead history books for eternity.
It is only natural he has ambitions of managing in the Premier League again, especially with the way his Liverpool career came to an end.
The timing is very unwelcoming with the idea of taking over at Leicester in the summer much more favourable. Yet, if Rodgers feels this is his big chance to make the move back south he has to trust his gut and strike.
Timing is huge in football. If he rejects it and nothing emerges in the summer he’d still be at Celtic but with regrets and it could go stale.
Figures published by Sporting Intelligence, in their annual Global Sports Salaries Survey show that Leicester City pay an average annual salary of £2,710,710 per player. It dwarves Celtic’s £865,614.
In addition to paying handsomely in wages, Leicester’s outlay in the transfer market over the last four seasons has surpassed £300million.
In financial terms, Rodgers isn’t going from minor league to major league. He is going from clearing the pitch of dog muck before play can get started to major league.
He will be operating in a different stratosphere. Celtic fans can’t expect a person with their manager’s ambition to be content in Scotland when he’ll want to get back to working with players of the calibre of Luis Suarez who he managed at Liverpool and helped earn a move to Barcelona.
“The job at Leicester is develop a very talented young squad, to transition to a new playing identity, to show a bit of (cup) winning ambition - and to connect with a fanbase that loves to see its team having a go.
“Rodgers would be ideal.”
Those were the words of Jonathan Northcroft, Sunday Times football correspondent and the author of Fearless: The Amazing Underdog Story of Leicester City, the Greatest Miracle in Sports History.
After the relative failures of Craig Shakespeare and Claude Puel following that famous season under Claudio Ranieri when they won the Premier League, the club, under the ownership of King Power International Group, want to build a new Leicester. A younger, more vibrant, progressive, outwardly team.
Such a project is, as Northcroft said, “ideal” for Rodgers. He will see the chance to mould a team and club in his vision as he has done with Celtic. Only he is doing it in the Premier League where success brings grander rewards and another chance with an elite club.
This had to be included. There was one - possibly more - supporter on social media who blamed Rodgers’ decision to seek a move to the Premier League on the referees in Scotland.
“The referee’s (sic) have done this, sick and tired of the cheating up here,” read one tweet.
It would be quite the story if Rodgers admitted that the reason behind his defection was because of Scottish referees. Imagine the reaction. Just imagine.
However, someone as respected as the Northern Irishman is unlikely to use referees and their “cheating” as the explanation for leaving the soon-to-be champions. The team that is set to make it EIGHT league titles won in a row and potentially NINE domestic trophies in succession.