When Arsenal were recently looking for a successor to Unai Emery, Brendan Rodgers was also considered a candidate. The opinion of the English experts was clear: the question was not whether the 46-year-old Northern Irishman would be fit for the job, but why he should give up his job at Leicester City at this time.
Rodgers has been manager of the East Midlands club since February and has done some amazing things during this period. He has taken the sensational 2015/2016 champions out of the league midfield’s lead and are currently forming a team that could definitely establish itself in the Premier League’s leading group. Second in the table, Leicester are the surprise of the season and want to reduce the gap by ten points to leaders Liverpool on boxing day (9pm; SPIEGEL ticker live; TV: Sky).
Rodgers, who worked for Liverpool from 2012 to 2015, is at the start of a project. His plan is to develop the team over the long term. “My goal is to build something for the future with the club,” he says.
To that end, Rodgers gave up a comfortable job. He has already worked for Celtic, where he won one title after another and headed for the third hat-trick in a row. However, in February, he accepted the offer from Leicester City, who had just lost their third manager since the league title and were still struggling to deal with the accidental death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in October 2018.
Rodgers brought Celtic fans against him with his departure midway through the season. But from his point of view, the move was inevitable, as he recently told FourFourTwo magazine: “As a coach, you have to have a clear goal in mind. My goal was to have more time with a new group,” he said. Last season he again led Leicester from 11th to ninth place. In the new season, his formula is fully in place, as evidenced by second place, victories such as the historic 9-0 against Southampton two months ago and the best defence in the league – with Liverpool.
The current Leicester have little in common with the champions. “The way we play is completely different. At the time, we were very counter-oriented. Now we have a lot more ball possession and dominate the games – with the same result,” says Christian Fuchs in an interview with SPIEGEL.
The Austrian left-back was a mainstay four years ago, but has since lost his place to young England international Ben Chilwell. As regular players, only goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Jamie Vardy are still there. However, he has almost never scored 17 goals in 18 games.
The Foxes have a well-balanced team of rookies, smart acquisitions and junior players. It’s a team with perspective. Six professionals in the regular starting line-up are 23 years of age or younger. One of them is the former Freiburger Caglar Soyoncô. In his second season in England, he has become one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, replacing Harry Maguire, who has joined Manchester United for almost 90 million euros.
For Rodgers, the current success is a satisfaction. It is waging a “struggle for acceptance,” as the Telegraph put it in November. His career was already in danger of failure after losing the Championship with Liverpool in 2014. At the time, Rodgers and his team were five points clear of the season, with Manchester City winning the title. After that, Liverpool fell into mediocrity.
Call of a pretentious self-actor
Unhappy public appearances and quarrels with club owners have earned Rodgers a reputation as a pretentious self-promoter. His skills as a coach were in question because the title of vice-champion was mainly attributed to the individual class of striker Luis Suarez, who at the time scored 48 goals in 33 league appearances. Jurgen Klopp took over at Liverpool in October 2015 (and moved into Rodgers’ home in the chic seaside town of Formby).
Rodgers then chose the detour over Scotland and underwent a transformation during that time. “I was a winner at Celtic. I really have an appetite for more success,” he said in the FourFourTwo interview. In the external representation, it seems mature. Professionals praise his leadership. He’s going to look at the players and respect them. He also sees them as an individual with individual needs. The players are grateful for that and make it all the more important,” Fuchs said.
Leicester do not want to be considered a title contender. Defeats at Manchester United, in the away game at Liverpool and more recently at Manchester City show that the team is not yet ready for the rebroadcast of the Champions League miracle four years ago. But the chances are better than then to establish themselves permanently in the leading group of the Premier League. Leicester is already a more attractive employer than Arsenal, at least for manager Rodgers.