Stephen Halliday: Brendan Rodgers is proving his return south was best for both him and Celtic

Brendan Rodgers is flourishing at Leicester City. Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Brendan Rodgers is flourishing at Leicester City. Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images
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So much for trading immortality for mediocrity.

When Brendan Rodgers walks through the front entrance at Anfield this afternoon, he may just permit himself a little grin of satisfaction at how things have panned out since the jilted Green Brigade unveiled that unforgiving banner in reaction to his departure from Celtic back in February.

Four years and a day since he was sacked by Liverpool, Rodgers returns to Anfield for the first time with his reputation as one of the most progressive and effective managers in British football very much restored.

If his remarkable and unprecedented success in charge of Celtic cut little ice with those in England whose disdain for Scottish football knows few limits, his work since taking charge of Leicester City has prompted a widespread revision of opinion when it comes to assessing the 46-year-old.

Since replacing Claude Puel at the King Power Stadium, Rodgers has completely reinvigorated a team who were languishing in 12th place in the Premier League when he was appointed.

As they travel to face current leaders Liverpool today, Leicester are sitting in third place and just six points off the pace being set by Jurgen Klopp’s European champions.

Only Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City have collected more points in the Premier League than Leicester since Rodgers took the reins.

Such is the restored level of his status within the English game, Rodgers has been freely touted by pundits and bookmakers alike over the past week as a serious candidate for any forthcoming vacancies at Spurs, Arsenal and even Manchester United amid the varying current troubles of those Premier League giants. His success at Leicester City can never be defined by silverware in the same way it was at Celtic, where his run of seven consecutive domestic trophy wins, including the undefeated ‘treble’ of his first season, established a vice-like dominance of Scottish football.

But there are already some strong similarities in the transformational effect Rodgers is having in the East Midlands with what he achieved in the east end of Glasgow.

His success in revitalising 32-year-old striker Jamie Vardy, often out of favour under previous boss Claude Puel and written off as past his best by some observers, carries echoes of his influence in the spectacular renaissance of Celtic captain Scott Brown, whose effectiveness for the Scottish champions was a matter of some doubt when Rodgers succeeded Ronny Deila in the summer of 2017.

Brown’s delivery of another commanding display in Celtic’s 2-0 Europa League win over Cluj on Thursday night was just one reminder of Rodgers’ positive legacy at the club where he so markedly enhanced the development of other players, including Callum McGregor and James Forrest. The impressive manner in which Neil Lennon has picked up the managerial baton again at Celtic suggests that the timing of Rodgers’ exit, as contentious and inopportune as it was regarded by many when it happened, was actually in the best interests of all parties.

Some Celtic fans may never forgive Rodgers but the more rational element of their support will appreciate, however reluctantly, that his decision was every bit as pragmatic and judicious as Kieran Tierney’s choice of a move to Arsenal this summer.

The harsh reality is that the only mediocrity involved in Rodgers’ departure was to be found in parts of the environment he left behind, one it was increasingly evident he found professionally unfulfilling last season.

With all due respect to Livingston, where would he rather be this weekend – by the side of a plastic pitch at the Tony Macaroni Arena or a central figure in front of the Anfield Kop?