When Brendan Rodgers left us in 2019, my abiding memory of that week was a video posted on social media. Put together by Tam Sellic’s Son, it was video of Rodgers with the music to the “Wedding March” but with the lyrics changed to “You are a c***!!”. I was genuinely shocked by how many Celtic fans that I know who are usually reserved or just shrugged their shoulders when somebody leaves, liked the video and/or passed it on. The support at that moment was furious.
We all knew that 2018/19 would be his last year (given events the events around and after the AEK game) but most of us thought he would at least be here for the season, given we believed his affection for the club and the trophies that were at stake. But Brendan decided otherwise. Back then he seemed genuinely hurt by the fans reaction to his departure. He couldn’t seem to understand it. If you watch the Luis Figo documentary about his transfer to Madrid, he has the same attitude – “why do those who loved me now damn me”. Well. I’m afraid that if you kiss the badge, say to the fans, “look I’m one of you” and then do something that those same supporters would never countenance, then the reaction isn’t going to be pretty.
That is why – despite it being the second week of the season – its still strange to see Brendan Rodgers in the dugout. None the less, once he left, for me personally, I drew a line under it. I didn’t hope that Leicester City lost and I took no satisfaction when the axe fell on him in the Spring of this year. He made his decision to leave, but we still achieved the “treble treble”. Rodgers had a decent spell in the Midlands where he won silverware.
By all accounts he’s come back here determined to prove something in Europe – and if that means the club finally having ambition to still be in these competitions by April then that is a huge step forward. We all now probably accept that he could well leave us if an offer comes in. However the idea that Potter, Marsch, Maresca or whoever else who could have rocked up at CP, would be any different is naive. Its the world we live in.
I’m certainly not unhappy at his return. We needed and could offer a decent experienced manager a good and improving set up. Sure, I wanted Graham Potter as my first choice but that was always very very unlikely to happen. Rodgers did tick a lot of boxes and overall I think he CAN be a good appointment.
Its true to say that there are more managers who fail the second time than succeed. For every Smith at Rangers or Heynckes at Bayern, there are far more Kendall’s at Everton, Dalglish at Liverpool or Lennon with ourselves. So in order for it to work this time there are areas that Rodgers needs to address. Its pretty obvious that Brendan’s reigns at various clubs have all shown a similar curve. Initial success, getting more out of some existing players followed by a plateau and dip when players leave and new players need to be brought in. Recruitment and squad management has historically been a right achilles heel for BR.
Things at Anfield seemed to go awry after Suarez was sold and a whole load of new players arrived. Of course at CP we had the summer of “Terminado” in 2018. Now he will point to a previous CEO for that summer’s debacle. And yes the handling of McGinn and Piccini was shambolic. But you also have to remember the January transfer window of the same year that saw us get Musonda, Compper and Hendry. That was down to Rodgers and his chief scout Lee Congerton.
At Leicester this time last year, he was moaning about not being able to buy new players. But the club was seriously in debt and had the league’s 7th highest wage bill. And what had happened 12 months before that seemed to have been completely forgotten by Brendan. in 2021, he was given net £60M which was spent on Patson Daka, Vesetgaard and Soumare. None of those players have proved their worth. Some Leicester fans insist that Daka might still make it but if that’s the case, this season is make or break and will he have to show some consistency – a feature that he has failed to do for more than two years. The other two players have seen their values plummet. Indeed Vestegaard was training with the reserves last season after a huge fallout with Rodgers. Leicester would be hard pushed to recoup half of what they paid for any of the players. And make no mistake, the person responsible for those signings was Rodgers.
One another weakness that Brendan will have to address is when to get rid of players. In his first tenure at Celtic, we had total bids between £25M and £30M combined for N’tcham, Simunovic, Boyata and Craig Gordon – all of which were rejected. All four would eventually walk out the door for nowt. Only in the case of Simunovic, where the bid was made in almost the last week of the window, was there a decent enough reason for it to be knocked back – although there is an argument that his non-appearance in Astana should have forced our hand. N’tcham was never going to be a player you could build a team around, Gordon’s inability with the ball at his feet meant he was never suited to Brendan’s style of play and Boyata had signalled that he was not going to sign a new contract. To turn down those bids made no sense.
At the New King Power stadium this summer, seven players left for free including Tielemans, Soyuncu and Perez. For a club with that debt, it was madness. In 2022, Rodgers or somebody within the club should have insisted that in order for any kind of sensible long term planning, they had to be sold. Clubs have to be run on a sensible financial footing and have a squad management philosophy that is beyond the immediate season.
You also have to hope that Brendan Rodgers has learned that by moaning publicly to the press about things going on behind the scenes that it achieves the square root of nada. If there are issues, he must keep them in-house. Bumping his gums publicly makes the situation worse and I hope those running the club have told him this.
Given how Celtic are now managed, there should be no repeat of some of the stuff that happened in 2018 close season. Our current CEO doesn’t have a huge ego which results in quagmire negotiations when it comes to signing players and he doesn’t brief certain folk in the media or in cyberspace. Rodgers has – correctly – not been allowed to pick his man as head of recruitment. Simply the club could not afford a repeat of the Compper debacle, when the turned up for his first training session and coaches are looking at each other going “wtf!!”. With regards to squad management, the sale of Starlet and the acceptance that if Hatate wants to go, he can, suggests that lessons have been learned in this regard also.
Rodgers is a good coach and if he can ensure that previous mistakes from the past are not repeated together with the board showing some ambition, then it augurs well. At the time of writing we certainly need yet to bring a few more players in. But with serious money getting spent on our training, reserve and data facilities, appointments such as a club doctor (finally !!) and a manager giving the Europe the kind of priority it deserves, it seems to me that we are at least beginning to head in the right direction.