BRENDAN RODGERS’ decision to quit Celtic for Leicester was one of the more controversial managerial moves in recent British football history. In Glasgow, he went from all-conquering hero to public enemy No.1. In the east midlands, the arrival of the former Liverpool manager was a rare piece of good news in a tragic season to forget.
With both clubs at home tomorrow for the first time since the switch — against Aberdeen and Fulham respectively — we try to see it from both sides.
The view from Glasgow
‘You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud,’ read a banner unveiled by Celtic supporters at Hearts the day after Brendan Rodgers’ recent departure.
If that was not melodramatic enough, they followed it up at Hibs with the Jock Stein quote: ‘Cups are not won by individuals but by men in a team who put their club before personal prestige’.
You sincerely hope none of these grown men are ever dumped by their girlfriends, such has been the outpouring of teenage-poetry level angst since being spurned by Rodgers. One awaits the next stanza when Aberdeen visit Parkhead tomorrow.
The jilted high-schooler act is, however, partly understandable.
Rodgers was never slow to talk about how much Celtic meant to him and how he was living his dream in the east end of Glasgow, while he repeatedly flirted with the notion of bringing ten consecutive league titles to Parkhead.
To then turn down the chance of an historic treble Treble to take over a Leicester team aspiring to finish the Premier League season in mid-table obscurity was the equivalent of promising it will last forever, only to dump your date on the night of the prom.
Rodgers did not help the situation by claiming at his first press conference at Leicester that he was still a Celtic supporter and would love to return as manager one day. ‘It’s not you guys, honestly, it’s me.’
The botched departure, though, was just about the first thing the Northern Irishman had done wrong since taking charge in 2016.
An incredible unbeaten Treble in his first season was a hard act to follow but another domestic clean sweep and a second consecutive season qualifying for the Champions League group stages was a pretty decent effort.
Some poor signings and humiliating European batterings — 7-0 at Barcelona and 7-1 at PSG — were offset by the magic he worked on the training field, turning Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Stuart Armstrong into Scotland regulars and making the club millions in transfer fees and prize money that look certain to maintain domestic dominance.
Former Dundee boss Paul Hartley was a firm believer in Rodgers’ methods after witnessing him at work.
Hartley said: ‘He is an incredible manager and I think he has brought life back into Scottish football, not just Celtic.
‘The respect the players have for him… on the training pitches he is outstanding, as a person he has time for everyone.
‘He has changed a lot of things in the background in how they are trying to develop and he has made the players better, that’s the key thing for me.’
It is a sign of the new global order that none of Rodgers’ fellow Premiership managers were surprised by his decision to leave, just by the timing.
New manager Neil Lennon hailed his predecessor as a club legend and insisted the fans will eventually decide it was better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
He said: ‘You can understand the soreness and the agitation, but what we have to remember is what he did for the club and the legacy he’s left.
‘When they look at it in the cold light of day, he’s up there with the greatest in terms of the success and enjoyment he’s brought to the club.
‘There’s never a perfect time to leave but Brendan has made a career decision and it has to be respected.’ BRENDAN CROFT
The view from Leicester
WHATEVER the rights and wrongs of Brendan Rodgers’ decision to leave Celtic at a crunch time of the season, it feels like a coup for Leicester. Certainly, the balance of power has shifted since the start of the millennium when Martin O’Neill saw the chance to manage Celtic as too good to turn down after four-and-a-half years at dear old Filbert Street.
Rodgers goes from targeting a treble Treble north of the border to a side aiming for seventh place. But despite winning everything in Scotland, a man clearly sensitive to his public image was never going to be satisfied with repeatedly banging his head against a glass ceiling.
They may have won the Premier League three years ago but even the most die-hard Leicester fan knows that was the anomaly, dizzy heights almost impossible to replicate. Even so, it makes the Foxes more of a lure for a manager of Rodgers’ track record and ego.
A big advantage in the eyes of supporters, and probably players too, is not being Claude Puel.
The fans, like those at Southampton before them, tired of what they saw as the Frenchman’s unadventurous approach. And while he was always dignified — indeed, statesmanlike after the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha — Puel’s public persona was no less dour.
There was no connect with the fans, he never sought to rouse their passion, and the evidence suggests his relationship with the players was little warmer.
Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness has accused the dressing room of wielding too much player power, while title-winner Robert Huth said of Puel’s sacking: ‘I don’t suppose there will be too many disappointed players,’ suggesting it felt as though the former manager was ‘working against the players’.
It is easy to mock Rodgers’ bravado — the David Brent comparisons are never far away — but the Northern Irishman, given his big break by Huw Jenkins at Swansea because ‘his personality and character shone through’, has wasted no time stamping it on the King Power.
Whereas Jamie Vardy admitted Puel’s style of play did not suit him, Rodgers has promised to play to his strengths — the striker responded instantly by scoring with a typical run and finish at Watford.
While Puel preached caution and discipline, Rodgers’ approach is all about energy and getting on the front foot — something that should be relished by exciting young talents such as Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell.
The Northern Irishman’s Liverpool side which came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2014 scored 101 goals with star man Luis Suarez — hardly a shrinking violet himself — speaking glowingly in his book about a manager whose role feels like it has largely been airbrushed from recent Anfield history.
With Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, Harry Maguire and those exciting youngsters — many championed by Puel — the new manager inherits a good squad at the King Power. While the chase for seventh place represents a more modest prize for Rodgers than he is used to at Celtic, at least life for Leicester’s new manager — and those working under him — is unlikely to be dull. JOHN PAYNE